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Makerspaces should not be specialspaces, they should be in classroomplaces

 

This year I am teaching at an alternative high school.  We have a population that despises traditional school work and for the most part, simply will not do it.  During the course of the year I noticed that the makerspace movement was gaining steam.  Conferences were featuring makerspaces, blogs were featuring them, and conference sessions were highlighting their importance.  I could not help but notice the trend of moving the “making” out of the classroom and into a special space.  As if “making” was some special academic program that classroom teachers could not handle.

I remembered back to my early years of teaching.  We were always “making” things.  We built a greenhouse and planted Thomas Jefferson’s garden.  We were always building models of things we were learning about. And when we were not “making,” we were tearing things apart.  Years later when it was no longer acceptable to spend time making things, fewer and fewer units contained a “making” component.  That is when finally I separated the back of my class into a “making” space.  There were drawers of things to explore, things to build with, stuff to take apart. and tech to play with.

image by pbogush
image by pbogush

 

I stumbled upon that old picture a couple months ago and it made me reflect on the fact that my kids do in fact “make” less nowadays, and we are giving up the “making” in schools to special teachers and special spaces.  There was one thing to do, and that was to make something for the next unit.

We were studying World War 1 and after discussing this with the kids, they decided to make a trench warfare scene.  Each kid specialized in one part, and all the parts together would add up to one final product.  Some things the kids focused on were supplies and uniforms, first aid stations, tanks, and life in the actual trenches. Each kid researched their topic.  They found primary source text and images, planned what they were going to make, and then scrounged around for available items.

One student wanted to focus on chemical warfare and make a gas mask.  I think my response was #ummmm.  How do you make the superstructure?  The ventilation tube? The cartridge?  He found some cardboard, duct tape, an orange juice bottle, coffee can, spray paint, old shirt, and old vacuum cleaner hose.

gasmask 3

gas mask
gasmask

finished gas mask

gas mask qr code

Go ahead, take out your phone and scan the above code.  The soundtrack behind the narration was made from scratch by the student.

Another student needed to make sandbags.  Can you tell what they are made from?

tea bags

One of the most difficult things was actually how to get World War 1 soldiers.  You can buy bags of cheap World War 2 soldiers, but only tiny bags of expensive World War 1 soldiers.  The solution?  One student simply took World War 2 soldiers and painted them to look like World War 1 soldiers.

elypainting

In the end they all took their ideas and objects and added them to our trench warfare scene which you will see in the video at the end of the post.  What is not in the video are the QR codes that are the board.  If you scan a code you will listen to a soldier tell you a little about what it was like to be in the trenches.  Some of those voices you will here in the video. They were written by the students.

tank QR code

When you see the final product you have to redefine what success looks like.  This might not look as grand as what your class might produce, it might have more mistakes, and it might need more editing, but in the end what was completed was an amazing product for my kids.  There is no way I would have thought this was possible when we started in September.

Here is the video we made with our objects.  The sound effects in the background were make from scratch, and the German class from the high school helped us out with the shouting soldiers in the background 🙂

The opening shows the kids making, at 2:20ish the content kicks in.

 

 

More assessment ideas can be found here!

 

 

8 comments

  1. You forgot the best part of makerspaces – the curriculum which defines how and why it should be used. Kind of like the curriculum for the monkey bars, swings and slide. Wait – there is no curriculum for those???! Won’t someone get hurt?

    Making is a manifestation of caring – you make soup for someone sick, a card for a spouse, a song or poem for a loved one. To imagine making as something so discrete and unconnected to life in a regular ed classroom as to necessitate a separate, sequestered (quarantined?) space for it is to imagine the separation of education and emotion. We’d do well to imagine curriculum as a vehicle to educe a caring, making reaction – that your specific kids made something as a result of caring about social studies is the greatest triumph.

  2. Chris, that second part is beautiful

    And it makes me think….

    .The second line…”To imagine making…” Are we disconnecting learning from life by the fact that we corral kids into a special space everyday to get graded on their making/learning? Does a curriculum, simply by existing, separate learning and emotion?

  3. Short answer – yessiree.

    Been thinking since yesterday –

    Wanting to learn is a manifestation of a student’s belief that they will be important someday.

    Making is a manifestation of a student’s belief that they are important now.

    Both are important. Again, especially so for your students. The industry pushes “life-long learning” – how about “life-long making” instead or in addition? I know the term is not your favorite, but it begs the question nevertheless…

      1. I’ve seen that article – probably through you. Is there a video equivalent?

        Funny you mention – I was busy doing something else yesterday at the end of the day when there was a big flash of light from one of my “breakerspaces” at the back of the classroom… Seems that one of my kids took a cut wire with a plug at the end of it and plugged it into a wall socket – the electricity arced somehow and caused the flash… I did all I could do to not freak and calmly say that when figuring out “what will happen” with electricity, to call me over so we can take this little journey together… 🙂

        P.S. the same kid then showed me melted places on a tool where a similar thing had already happened earlier in the year. I didn’t know about that one.

  4. Paul,
    Your class has done amazing work. I am a huge believer in the power of projects. Students engage because they have ownership and you provide the structure and the creative license to explore their own learning.

    I enjoy your blogs and appreciate your work. Thank you for sharing.

    Kind regards,
    Eric Rosenthal
    Head of History at Upton Court Grammar School
    Slough, England

  5. I was moved by your students’ WW1 project and video. I think using the soldiers’ trench experiences as the touchstone for the larger study of war is brilliant.
    And, your thoughts on making are spot on. Some of the bifurcation between head learning and hand learning can be attributed to Eliot’s Committee of 10, who met in 1892 to decide what a formal education ought to involve. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Committee_of_Ten
    We’re fighting 134 year-old battle!

  6. I heard Will Richardson say last week that we are too focused on doing wrong things right. Seems any attempt to fix school ends up with trying to do the wrong thing right. Wish we could start the conversation with what would learning look like if there was no school.

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