Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Philosophy Behind Maker Success

For many students, school has become an irritating experience grounded in boring lessons and learning activities. A national focus on standardized testing and accountability has only made the experience worse for kids who only crave relevance, meaning, and value out of the hours of time spent in classrooms each school year.  To make matters worse, many states, districts, and schools made knee-jerk reactions when the budget ax came down a few years and cut traditional hands-on courses such as wood shop, agriculture, metal shop, and cooking. In many cases, elementary schools have even taken the fun out of school for kids by cutting recess.  

These courses represented a lifeline and a glimmer of hope in what has become a day fraught with relentless preparation for college and careers.  However, the powers that be found that they consumed precious time from the school day that could have been spent on more important curricular endeavors.  In the end, students, especially those most at-risk based on learning needs, have immensely suffered.  They desperately need an outlet during the long school day.  If not, their motivation to learn in all their other classes will wane, resulting in either a lack of effort or desire to even attend school.  The bottom line is that many schools have deprived students of real-world learning experiences that are needed now more than ever. 

This might seem like a bleak scenario that I describe above and it should.  Our students deserve activities that will not only prepare them for vital trade careers but also allow them to openly explore the solving of problems that are relevant to them. During my tenure as New Milford High School Principal, our district cut wood and metal shop.  Over the years, I have also seen recess time dwindle for my own kids and others who attend the New York City Public School System.  All hope is not lost, though, for any school looking to create a better learning environment that works for kids.  The solution for all schools comes in the form of makerspaces

A few years back, I heard of the concept when I was a principal.  When I hired Laura Fleming in 2013 to take over the traditional library, she was tasked with giving it a reboot and was given complete autonomy to do so. Her vision and subsequent plan resulted in a collaborative learning space open to all students where they could come to tinker, invent, create, and make to learn.  It was like having a 21st Century version of wood and metal shop back in school, with the main difference being the infusing of technologies for students to engage in informal, self-directed learning tasks.  Her Worlds of Making theme gave hope back to kids that had lost and needed it most. Don't just take my word for it. Read about what the makerspace did for Chris HERE.

There is a great deal of content out there about maker education. In addition to Laura’s website and book, I highly recommend you check out the work of Jackie Gerstein. Laura also collaborated with Steven and Debby Kurti from Tabletop Inventing to publish a series of articles featured in Teacher Librarian magazine that not only discuss the philosophy of makerspaces, but also provide practical implementation tips. Below are the three articles:

Schools today have a golden opportunity in makerspaces to increase relevancy while providing powerful ways for students to engage in self-directed learning. When embarking on this initiative, don't discount the importance of leadership during the planning, implementation, and evaluation process.

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