Flashy spaces and shiny toys in makerspaces are enticing, but it takes time and explicit scaffolding to develop a true Innovator. Building and providing the space for Making to happen is one thing; nurturing a mindset that gives students the mental tools to engage with said spaces is a much larger, and timely, endeavor.
Best defined by the research and work of Carol Dweck, Jo Boaler and Eduardo Briceno, growth mindset is the recognition of the brain as a muscle that—with practice, effort, and nurturing—can continue to grow and develop. When you think of an inventor or innovator, past or present, what descriptors come to mind? Creative. Persistent. Curious. Fearless. Passionate. But educators know that most students don’t show up to your class on the first day of school exhibiting these qualities.
So how do we provide not only the physical tools but the mental tools to Make? Here are the essential pieces:
1. Give students permission to play
In Free to Learn, developmental psychologist Peter Grey argues that “free play is the primary means by which children learn to control their lives, solve problems, get along with peers, and become emotionally resilient.“ Too often our education system disregards the power of play in fostering the creativity and passion that naturally exists within students. As a result, students are schooled to abandon their innate sense of curiosity and expression and trained to see the teacher as the be-all, end-all authority. Similarly, teachers will look to the administration for examples of acceptable use of class time. As educators, we often create additional pressure to “stay the course” and stick to pacing guides at the risk of being responsive to our students needs and passions; instead let’s all agree to offer up permission to engage in intellectual play. To bring this theory into practice, consider the following:
Create more opportunities for collaborative brainstorming to solve problems with new ideas. Consider using a protocol such as NSRF’s Wagon Wheel for collaborative brainstorming.
Provide materials and tasks such as an inventor’s box to elicit outside-the-box (pun intended) thinking for the design of a new product or creation.
Allow more free-time for self exploration through mechanisms such as Genius Hour, and educators are always devising more and sharing them with #geniushour.
2. Build those Maker muscles
If you want to get better at a specific sport, you must go to practice. It’s an obvious point, but it’s easier to be disciplined about practicing if there are built-in structures to support such efforts. What does this look like for Making? Schools can build in structured time throughout the day for students to engage in learning activities related to their personal interests and passions. Examples of such structures include a Tinker Time or Genius Hour once a day or week for students to pursue a project of their choice. Likewise, “Choice time” or “download time” can offer students 20 minutes after lunch to explore a topic, material or activity outside the realm of classroom learning through centers and stations. Finally, Student Interest Groups are elective style classes led by school teachers based on student interest/request. Students will need frequent opportunities to try on their role of a Maker. Let’s give them those chances.
3. Reflect often
To ensure that students are intellectually and emotionally engaged, it is critical to reflect on their learning while Making. Reflection is a built in “pause point,” where the teacher asks students to mentally step outside the task in front of them and think about themselves as learners. Examples of reflection could include journal entries, think/pair/share discussions with a partner, listening dyads or even video blogging. By doing this students, take the time to consider the consequences of their actions, and rethink how they may approach a future challenge. “Going meta” daily will ensure that students are constantly reflecting about themselves, their behavior, their failures and celebrations. Reflection asks your students to see themselves and where they need to go.
4. Have some accountability
Yeah, I said the dirty word. To uphold the rigor of Making, there should be a purpose and final outcome for students. Schools and communities may decide to host a Maker Faire as an exhibition of student efforts, or individual teachers may decide to have some form of a gallery walk or presentation. Teachers may even chose to use a rubric such as the one developed by new Tech Network. Building in a mechanism that holds students accountable for staying on task and creating high quality work is critical to ensuring that learning—content mastery as well as intra and interpersonal learning—is happening.
5. Cultivate an appreciation for failure
It’s important to not only reward creative thinking, but also to highlight and celebrate failure. Too often students view failure as something unacceptable and derogatory, and will go to great efforts to avoid it; in fact some of the greatest inventions and ideas were born out of struggle and failure. Frameworks such as Design Thinking make this acknowledgment feel natural through the initial stages of a project. Trying as many things as possible is essential to beginning any Making. It’s why it has it’s own name: prototyping. Celebrating failure can also happen simply through quick reflections put up on an “our favorite fail wall” or through verbal share-outs.
6. Use role models to inspire students to become Makers
Offering voice and choice in what and how students Make is critical to engagement, but so is inspiration. Students look not just to their peers but to adults for inspiration. As often as possible, students should have the chance to interact with expert Makers and see the cool stuff they are creating. Teachers, you can be these expert makers. Dive in next to your students to model what it means to become a Maker.
We must exercise the discipline to refrain from attaching too quickly to an idea just because it’s new. Making is no exception, so to truly prepare ourselves to be successful in this new venture, let’s be sure we set our students up to have the right mindset to be courageous innovators.
Jennifer R. Pieratt, PhD, is an educator and founder of CraftED Curriculum (@craftEDcm).
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