OK, here's some background. In the spring of 2014, I started a maker club at the middle school. It was solely supplied by stuff from my basement--odds and ends, some fabric, paint, craft sticks, stamps, a couple of boxes of Legos. It was an instant hit. Kids were delighted to come and play around with stuff. It was noisy and messy. I loved it.
I applied for a teacher grant from a local foundation and got it--$1500 for materials for the 2014-15 school year! Spending it was a blast--loads of duct tape, LittleBits electronics kits, some Arduinos, batteries, LEDs, paper, hot glue guns. Parents and staff members came through with donations of fabric, yarn, more duct tape, and other fun odds and ends. The new middle school principal--a former science teacher--was completely on board. I again went with a very open model. I put out 3 to 5 activities per session. There was usually something on the iPads (GarageBand, Stop Motion animation, 123D), a coding activity, sewing, and some kind of engineering activity like catapult building or constructing chairs out of paper. We sometimes drew 50 students, which is a lot when you consider that my TA and I were the only adults in the room. After a few months of that, we limited it to 30 students to save our sanity.
There was nothing that was really wrong with this model. The kids loved the freedom to explore. But as the year went on and our district STEM/STEAM team started to meet, I began to think about what I was doing with maker club and where I want it to go. What I see when I look at the kids is tons of enthusiasm and curiosity--and a significant lack of basic skills. If I want to move students along the maker spectrum, from using up toward experimenting and creating (if we use the uTEC model), then they need to be able to focus more on gaining skills instead of just messing around. We have lots of kids who love to play around with something for a week or two but then get bored or frustrated and try something else. That's fine--they need to try lots of things until they find something that really grabs them. And with just 2 adults on hand, it's hard to focus on one or two students. I do know, though, that some students would love to really master a skill, whether it's sewing or making a piece of music or creating a game. So, the challenge for this year is how to meet all these different needs with limited staff.
A few ideas:
- Recruit more adults. Teachers are required to be in their classrooms during the time maker club meets, but maybe I can find a parent or two who can help out.
- Balance the needs.
- Some students will want to mess around with materials and not commit to anything. Maybe we can keep 10-15 slots open for them and continue to put out a variety of things for them to use. One of the adults can be in charge of overseeing this group.
- Other students may be ready to commit to a particular project or skill. Can we offer mini-courses to help them? We could start the year by soliciting ideas for mini-courses and see what would fly, then teach a few of them throughout the year. That way, they could build some skills and see a project through to completion. We could recruit adult mentors if students want to do projects that are beyond my knowledge and ability.
- Write another grant to cover materials for this year.
I love having a maker club--it lets students of different grade levels and social groups interact, it lets me see the students in a different light, and it gives the kids a sense of play and possibility. It stretches all of us in new and unexpected ways and creates community. Long live maker club!