‘Making’ as a (Student-Centered) Approach to Learning

June 17, 2016

The White House will celebrate the National Week of Making beginning today through the end of next week (June 17-23), inviting formal and informal learning spaces to host events showcasing the power “making” has had in their communities.

Makerspaces celebrate do-it-yourself interactions, creative thinking, and idea-sharing. The maker movement was first introduced by Maker Media. Maker projects often combine arts with technology in non-traditional ways, and as new technologies are becoming increasingly accessible (such as home 3D printers), the movement has, too. Maker Faires (events that invite the community to share their latest projects) can now be found all over the world, and bring together tens of thousands of patrons and participants annually. (For those completely new to making, I would recommend looking at the classic Makerspace Playbook, or the recently released Start Making!, both published by Maker Media).

As an avid maker myself, I have witnessed the growth of the movement over the last few years, and have seen its impact over time. In particular, I’ve enjoyed hearing and seeing how teachers and school leaders are interpreting and implementing maker culture in classrooms—tinkering with the model itself in attempts to provide innovative programming to a school setting. Some aspects of the maker movement are nothing new to student-centered educators: for example, the lynchpin of maker education—project-based learning—is often used in student-centered classrooms in order to increase relevance and connection between students and their academic work. Though there is definite crossover, maker culture and “in-school” models often don’t explicitly intersect and teachers can struggle to find ways to bring a “maker” sensibility into their classroom. Here, I’ve identified some potential ways maker education could positively impact learning in the classroom.

Documentation and alternative assessment

Maker education lends itself to competency-based or proficiency-based models, which embrace flexible uses of time, multiple means of assessment, and opportunities for students to present their understanding of core concepts in different ways. Like competency-based learning, the maker movement gives equal weight to both the process and the project outcome. Documentation of learning, which includes both progress and failure, is a key component of a maker’s “story.” In an excellent piece by Lisa Yakana on Edutopia, she describes how to create and utilize a three-part rubric that assesses process, understanding, and product. The rubric is meant to be used with students, introducing them to the concept of assessment as learning: a key concept in both student-centered learning and maker education.

Recognizing the value of the Engineering Design Process and “tinkering time”

The engineering design process (EDP), a popular learning model within many makerspaces, has one critical component that presents a challenge in most classrooms: ensuring (and acknowledging) time for revisions. In a more traditional classroom, teachers and students can find themselves short on time. Making strategic choices about scheduling, lesson planning, and cross-classroom collaboration opportunities can help provide space for revision time. For some examples of how to do this, this guide on project-based learning discusses strategies for scheduling this revision time (page 46) and Teachers at Work provides a practical example of how to create space and time for feedback and support.

Play as a tool for civic skill-building and awareness

Oftentimes, making looks a lot like play—banana pianos, giant cardboard robots, an animated music video about boots and cats. While that’s exciting for educators and students, it might be concerning or misread by folks outside of the classroom. Teachers can find connections between play and meaningful work by considering opportunities to “make” for the community outside of the school walls. EL Education and the Institute of Play provide wonderful resources and guides to bridge a lot of the characteristics of a makerspace into a classroom setting. For example, this video documents the work of a group of “citizen scientists” from Portland, Oregon. Teachers can also gather project ideas from sites originally aimed at “makers,” including Instructables and Makezine.

Clare Bertrand was a contributing writer on this post

We’d love to hear the ways you’re bridging student-centered learning with maker education. Connect with us here, or join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #sclchat.

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