The Maker Movement Conquers the Classroom

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Whether it’s a paper airplane or a robot that walks, kids have always wanted to create functional objects with their own two hands. These days, many educators are channeling that natural urge to build with help from the wider “maker movement,” which has spawned maker faires  and dedicated “maker spaces” in classrooms and media centers around the country. Pam Moran, superintendent of the Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia, contends that American classrooms of the past regularly fueled this type of creativity, and now is the time to bring back that spirit of innovation. “I see the maker movement as being a reconnect, both inside schools, as well as in communities, to redevelop the idea that we are creative individuals,” Moran said. “We are analytical problem-solvers, and we are people who, in working with our hands and minds, are able to create and construct. We are makers by nature.”

Glen Bull, a professor of STEM Education at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, agreed that while the urge to create endures, the tools available to students have changed. He said that the current maker movement “is buttressed by accessible technology, both in terms of cost and ease of use. You can go all the way back to the 1950s and find that they had numerically controlled milling machines, but they were expensive. Now you can get reasonably priced 3D printers and computers.”

From Club to Classroom
After-school Lego Robotics clubs have been a mainstay in many districts for years, but Moran and others believe it’s time to bring these hands-on activities into the classroom during regular school hours. In Albemarle, Moran is working to engage some of the district’s 13,000 students in 26 schools by offering customized options and pathways. “We have two public charter schools,” Moran enthused. “If you went to one of our community charter middle schools, you would see kids engaged in an arts-infused curriculum in which they are making. In our regular schools, you would see the same thing. If you went to one of our 16 elementary schools, you would find maker spaces permeating classrooms where kids can work on projects and use tools. We had four of our elementary schools that ran maker schools instead of traditional summer schools.”

Coexisting With Standardized Tests
The cold realities of end-of-year assessments can conflict with high-minded learning philosophies. In Charlottesville, Gertrude Ivory makes every effort to reconcile so-called traditional teaching methods with maker concepts and project-based learning (PBL), but she admits that it’s not easy.

“The standards don’t necessarily lend themselves to the kind of teaching that goes into the maker activities,” she said. “Teachers sometimes have a really hard time embracing the project-based activities because they feel so compelled to get students ready for standardized tests. We have a few teachers who do understand, and are risk takers, and they see the payoff. The students remember more. We’re seeing some of that with our science and engineering classes, but the teachers are a little reluctant to let go of the traditional, tried-and-true practices because they’re afraid until they have a lot of success with it.”

Read the entire article by Greg Thompson on THE Journal at http://thejournal.com/articles/2014/04/30/the-maker-movement-conquers-the-classroom.aspx

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