Looking for a concoction that will reinvigorate your passion for teaching and provide your students with relevant and engaging learning opportunities? A Maker-centered PLN is the perfect dish, chock full of the essential 21st Century “food groups” of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.
- 2-50 teachers (likely to expand during cooking) displaying some measure of the following “secret sauce”: energy, enthusiasm, creativity, adaptability, willingness to try something new, tolerance of noise and “mess”
- 1-10 administrators ranging from willing participants to tolerant observers
- 1-100 community members with a desire to see students more engaged and involved in their learning and a willingness to share time, expertise, tools and materials
- 5-500 students, of any and all varieties
- Raw Materials:
- Typical craft items (like popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, bottle caps, cardboard tubes)
- Construction materials (like scrap wood, dowels, PVC pipe and fittings, nuts, bolts, screws, nails)
- Tools and Technology (to taste)
- Ranging from scissors and hot glue guns to 3D printers and laser cutters, based on availability
- Variety of devices for capturing photos and videos of the process (rather than of the product)
- Access to internet for inspirational ideas and sharing
- Combine a small group of teachers together. Cooking time is decreased if at least one has experience with some sort of hand-made classroom-proven project such as compressed air rockets, water rockets, marble machines or wind tubes. Note to administrators: If you are the lead chef in this project and none of the teachers present believe they have enough experience with making, provide potential candidates with the above links along with a copy of a book like Tinkering and look for the teacher whose eyes light up. Provide him or her with the necessary resources to put together one of the projects (less than $100), and wait for a short period of time. Your future champion will likely invite you to his or her classroom to witness unparalleled student engagement.
- As more of these projects and activities are introduced into classrooms and shared with students, regularly gather teachers together to share successes and failures and to document curricular connections. This can be done virtually through an online forum, but ideally will also include physical meet-ups at rotating locations so that participants can see a variety of implementation models.
- At various stages in the process, invite community members to contribute their particular skills, passion, energy, tools and materials.
- Attend and/or organize some public event like a mini-Maker Faire for students to share their work and excitement.
- Obtain more storage space, you’re going to need it!
Clearly there is no single “recipe” or “right way” to implement and maintain a Maker-focused PLN, but the above ingredients and strategies have helped to produce a vibrant and growing network spanning from kindergarten through university level across a demographically mixed range of public and private schools. I received a crash course in the philosophies and tools of the Maker Movement with my involvement in the first Project Make class at Makermedia in 2011. The excitement I witnessed in the students and community and the renewed enthusiasm I felt towards teaching made me eager to share what I had learned with others.
This started with informal, after school meetups with teachers and progressed to a more formal set of classes and work time, funded by our local Rotary club, in which teachers could use the tools in my shop to make custom items to bring back to their schools to help others see the potential impact. Luckily, the leaders at the Sonoma County Office of Education are at the forefront of innovation and brought me in part-time as a Teacher on Loan to work with other local K-12 teachers to help establish and grow making opportunities for students. In describing the role of administrators in general and county offices in particular in helping to foster a Maker Mindset, Mickey Porter, Deputy Superintendent at SCOE, stresses the importance of providing launchpads to increase opportunities for doing, not just talking about making and the importance of partnerships.
In addition to ongoing workshops, evidence of Sonoma County’s commitment to providing a launchpad includes the establishment a new Design Lab/Makerspace so that educators can experience a functioning space and can learn about and use both high and low tech tools. The focus on partnership has resulted in the establishment of the Maker Certificate Program at Sonoma State University, a collaborative effort between SCOE, SSU and Makermedia. The program, created by teachers for teachers, features online and face-to-face courses held at functioning school makerspaces around the SF Bay Area. After just one year, graduates from the program are taking leadership roles in their communities, leading workshops and creating and teaching new classes for students and fellow teachers.
Increasing the opportunities for students and becoming more of a maker educator is fun and rewarding, but it is also a lot of work. Being connected with a network of fellow teachers eases the process in many ways, including the sharing of resources and skill sets, best (and worst!) practices and the highs and lows inherent in the taking on something new. Your recipe might look different than mine, but you don’t have to cook entirely from scratch.
In the few short years since I first started down this road, the amount of information and the availability of resources has exploded. In addition to browsing the sites hosting the projects listed above, I highly recommend looking at the Idea Sheets at RAFT, the math and science activities at HowToSmile.org and the incredibly well documented projects at the Community Science Workshop Network. Those seeking to connect with a group of like minded educators might want to check out the Bay Area Maker Educators Google+ community. Good luck, and please share your recipe!