With startups popping up all over the bay area, Silicon Valley is known for its successful innovations across a plethora of tech fields. Creative and innovative makers are in high demand here! Our kids, the next-gen young makers, are going to need tons of innovation and creativity to solve the problems of the future. Many educators call for more of this maker mentality and design thinking in their classrooms. Many parents search for these types of opportunities for children in non-traditional educational settings. Segue to... Maker Faire 2019!!!

Moxi challengeThis year's Bay Area Maker Faire boasted both a wide range of young makers as well as an abundance of resources for would-be young makers. One of the most inspiring groups of young makers included high school students from Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy in Santa Barbara County. These industrious youngsters learn critical analytical, design, and problem-solving skills through project-based learning approaches. Binary CalculatorEspecially impressive was their mindset when things didn't work as expected. One group of students created an amazing binary number calculator that could add, subtract, multiply and divide using binary ones and zeros. Part of the mechatronics of their levers did not survive the long truck ride up the coast. Instead of giving up or getting angry, these young makers just laughed it off and demonstrated each step manually. Then, they even let some of the on looking elementary kids tinker with it some more!

Golden Ratio ToolsAnother curious exhibit displayed all sorts of fun math tools and toys and focuses on making math. MathHappens is dedicated to creating math models and supporting development of mathematical experiences outside of the classroom. With highly accessible wood tools for creating anything from golden ratios to Fibonacci trees and Sierpinski’s triangles and other fractals, this group of mentor makers introduces very deep and engaging topics in easily accessible ways to encourage young creatives to question and explore the mathematical patterns around them.

Maker Faire represents so many more opportunities to develop local Makerspaces for problem-based and project-based learning that rely on tactile, collaborative learning experiences as a method for solving authentic problems. Makerspaces are also often directly associated with STE(A)M learning as these disciplines lend themselves to the maker movement. With all these opportunities for student learning, is anyone trying to bring this experience to education?

Yes! In her presentation on the state of Maker education, Kyle Cornforth of MakerEd spoke about how "non-traditional education experiences are essential to truly prepare students for their lives on this planet, with the belief that teachers, administrators, and schools need to adapt their practices to the shifting world." She detailed seven key elements in creating a successful Makerspace in education.

  1. Agency
    1. Young makers need to know they have the power to make choices and contributions in the community.
    2. Makerspaces engage the community and invite cross-generational learning through relevant making.
  2. Design Process
    1. Young makers need to be able to plan, create, test, and iterate their designs.
    2. A structured Maker design process is used in classroom lessons like this Maker Challenge Activity and this Simple Machines Discovery Unit. Makers can engage in less formal ways with a Family Design Challenge as well.
  3. Social Scaffolding
    1. Young makers need to be active participants in a community that supports everyone's learning.
    2. Makerspaces are adaptable learning settings that allow for differentiation and multiple intelligences, providing an individualized educational experience.
    3. Educators can use creativity and social skills to enhance STEAM education by establishing strong group dynamics and by encouraging students to express feelings and manage conflict throughout the Maker session.
    4. Teachers can also nurture the emotional intelligence of young makers by building awareness of strong feelings and emotions that arise while learning from mistakes and improving designs during Making.
  4. Productive Risk-taking
    1. Young makers test ideas outside their comfort zones and learn from failures.
    2. Educators can encourage a mathematical mindset by providing students with an opportunity to research and discover concepts on their own then discuss various strategies and approaches together.
  5. Troubleshooting
    1. Young makers develop skills, tools, and persistence to solve problems through trial and error.
    2. Educators can help build resilience in overcoming obstacles by encouraging flexible thinking and watching for common triggers of frustration like hunger, exhaustion, and feeling misunderstood within the group.
  6. Bridging Knowledge
    1. Young makers connect personal experience, culture, and knowledge to the current project.
  7. Content Knowledge
    1. Young makers deepen their understanding of interdisciplinary concepts and phenomena through making.

Using these Maker elements, teachers can encourage and incorporate Makerspaces in their classrooms in a variety of ways. Include lots of cheap items like straws, cardboard, paper towel rolls, glue guns, scissors, tape measures, straight edges for cutting, safety goggles, and lots of different types of tape. Maker design processThe most important tool for any teacher is the growth mindset of thinking and learning. Graphic organizers are a great way to simply structure ideas and develop effective habits of mind. An effective graphic organizer for a Maker challenge should include scaffolding for each step of a Maker design process. First, students need to develop a design or research question and ask themselves "Exactly what problem do I plan to solve?" Ideally, this solution should address an issue within their local community. The next step is deep dive research into the history of this topic and whether anyone has attempted to solve this issue before. Once the research is done, students should brainstorm possible solutions and select their optimal solution. Now it's time to build a prototype. Decide what supplies are needed to test and evaluate the object or system. Look at each part and its purpose, analyze the results, and draw some conclusions. What worked? What didn't work? How can this design be improved? For a great implementation of a Maker design process, check out this Maker Challenge Activity in action. For additional ideas, explore this deep dive discovery unit on simple machines or this design activity for open house or family game night.

With creative and innovative makers in such high demand, students need more practice brainstorming their own ideas and experiencing productive risk-taking as they learn from failures in order to build to success. Redesign is a good thing! Now that the Maker movement is becoming more mainstream, classrooms can celebrate this Maker design process and create a strong mindset of design thinking in their classrooms. Parents can also generate these types of opportunities for children simply by using this reiterative process of improvement while crafting and creating with their kids in a variety of non-traditional educational settings. So go ahead... get creative and MAKE!


Photo Credit: SparkFun Electronics on Flickr