Making Possibilities

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First things first: Today, I built a spider-bot, a duct tape wallet, an origami house, and a light-up paper airplane.

But I also met educators from around the country excited about bringing the Maker movement to their classrooms, museums, libraries, and afterschool programs. More than 100 of us gathered at Intel headquarters in Silicon Valley for the first-ever Making Possibilities Workshop. It was a great opportunity for educators of all types to meet each other, talk about strategies for incorporating maker projects into our curricula, and most importantly (which is why I started with it), get our hands on some toys and play around with some fun projects.

The fun started before we even got in the door, when we were given an hour to build “art bots” — simple “robots” that jitter around randomly thanks to a battery-powered cell phone vibrating motor (did you know that the vibrator inside your phone was the result of spinning a simple motor?). By using Q-tips for the legs and dipping them in watercolors (or incorporating markers into the design as “legs,”) you can create fun line drawings on┬ápaper.IMG_20140515_075814_241

Simple projects like these are a classic example of what educators think of as “maker” based education — they use “junk” that is cheaply bought or even salvaged from other parts, and they require a demonstration of simple electrical or mechanical know-how (in this case, how to complete a simple circuit) in order to complete the task. As Dale Dougherty, founder of Make Magazine, reminded us during his morning keynote address, the product itself is the assessment — and in our test-crazed educational system, it’s crucial to identify how a teacher will know that a student has learned something.

The morning also included a panel of kids who have participated in school-based and afterschool making programs, as well as those who pursued projects on their own. One of those kids, Joey, became famous a few years back when he brought his air-powered marshmallow shooter to the White House and let President Obama fire off a round. Joey is now an intern at Intel, and his latest project is a 3D array of LEDs.IMG_20140515_121850_846

Our workshops included strategies for developing maker activities for preschoolers (would you really hand a hot glue gun to a 3-year-old?) and maker projects specific to out-of-school-time settings. Both of them emphasized the importance of incorporating kids’ amazing storytelling abilities into the activities, which will keep them engaged and make the project relevant to their interests. I loved the project ideas themselves, particularly these awesome light sabers:IMG_20140515_141659_950

But as I looked beyond the general principles to the specifics of implementing these lessons at the museum, the sessions actually left me with more questions than answers: Can the Science Factory find floor space in our small exhibit hall for maker projects? Do we have the budget for all of those materials? Who will facilitate the programs? When is the right time of day or year for these programs? Are they drop-in programs, closed workshops, or both? I will have lots to discuss with the rest of our staff as we come up with strategies for bringing more of these projects to the museum.

Our closing keynote address was by Sylvia Lebow Martinez, author of Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Sylvia gave us a valuable reminder that, as much as we see maker projects as inherently fun and valuable, we need to do the hard work of implementing them in ways that align with the existing standards and assessments (and, more broadly, explaining the value of making to school leaders, community partners, and parents who may have a narrower view of education).

I had fun today making things. That much was almost a given before the day even started. But unless I can translate it into workable programs for the kids I educate, my fun isn’t all that valuable. I’m inspired by the hundreds of other teachers who have found ways to put making into practice, and I’m excited to make it happen at the Science Factory.IMG_20140515_140212_716

Thanks to Intel and Maker Education Initiative for making today’s event possible. Tomorrow: Mini Maker Faire Producers!

One Response to Making Possibilities

  1. Wow, sounds like the creativity, opportunities and networking support in San Fran are very inspiring! Can’t wait for June 7 at SF in Eugene!