Tag Archives: maker movement

Maker movement makes rural life make sense

mountain forest with fog cover obscuring top half of photo
Rural America is a place where place-based learning and the maker movement can meet for economic development  when rural teachers take the lead.

A blog post by earlier this week by Leah Shaffer at MindShift begins by contrasting maker programs in cities with rural ones:

The maker movement has expanded greatly in recent years and much of the attention has focused on cities with high population density and large well-funded school districts. In rural districts, teachers are also developing maker projects to help students gain the benefits that come from hands-on experiences, while better understanding the needs of their communities.

Maker projects in Montana and Iowa

Shaffer reports on work by a students in a Montana community who built and programmed air sensors to monitor pollution from forest fires and wood smoke cause year-round air pollution, and one in which Iowa high school students analyze agricultural data they gather by flying drones over farm fields.

photo collage of drones in air surprinted "Drones gather data from farm fields, boost students' skills"

Shaffer’s sources note the need for teachers to anticipate skills students are likely to need a decade or more in the future and design projects that help them develop those skills.

Her sources also point out that schools can’t just equip a maker space and assume students will know what to do: Initial experiences must be structured.

Read the entire blog post.


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Filed under Rural schools, School-community relations, Workforce readiness

What the Maker Movement Can Teach Writing Teachers

The Maker Movement can give writing teachers useful tips on how to teach writing.

Words "maker" and "writer" Of course, writing isn’t making. It’s harder than that.

But kids or adults who grasp the idea of making products—whether the products are silk pajamas or software platforms—will be able to grasp how to go about writing to produce something good enough that it can be refined to be really good.

They may even stick with writing long enough to write something awesome.

Borrow Maker Movement techniques

Writing teachers can incorporate some of the characteristic procedures of making things in the process they teach students for writing things.

1. Start fast.

Words "maker" and "writer" Makers learn the least they need to know to get started making.

Incorporate that same quick-start into your teaching: Teach the least students need to know to get started writing.

I start with the thesis statement. That’s the idea that will guide the rest of the development process.

As concepts go, the thesis statement about as hard to understand as the concept of cutting a board with a handsaw. And like the handsaw, that one sentence is harder to use than it looks.

Just cutting a board into two pieces can be success for the first-time carpenter; just writing a clear thesis sentence can be success for the beginning writer.

2. Fail fast.

Words "maker" and "writer" Makers understand that failing is good: It not only gives hands-on practice, but it shows what not to do the next time.

Nobody wants to put in hours of work developing a great idea only to find after six weeks that the idea can’t possibly work. Fast failure is essential to get students to try a second time.

Until students are competent writers, I avoid any writing assignments that can’t be entirely completed in short sessions (typically in 10-30 minutes) a day for five or six consecutive days.  That’s drawn out by Maker standards, but within the ability of young people who have other things to do that matter more to them than writing class assignments.

3. Move on when skills are good enough.

Words "maker" and "writer" Makers don’t need to be aces at sawing boards before they try nailing together their first cut pieces. Trying to align boards cut crooked is an incentive for learning to cut straight.

Darcy’s bird house may be lopsided, but Darcy will learn more deeply and more quickly how to build a bird house by making several birdhouses than by practicing each component to mastery.

Darcy’s first essay may be lopsided, too, but Darcy will learn more deeply and more quickly write an essay by writing several essays than by practicing each component skill to mastery.

I like to get beginning writers producing an essay in a week, building one or two components a day.  Instead of having students revise and edit those first attempts, I allow students to scrap those awful early attempts.

Students will know when they’ve produced something that merits extra attention. When that time comes, they’ll put in extra effort, perhaps even learn some additional information or a new skill, to do the fine tuning to make their work good instead of just good enough.

4. Iterate.

Words "maker" and "writer" Whether someone is building a bird house or writing an essay, making something in which all the parts together make one distinct product requires repeated practice in the entire process.

When the product developers—whether makers or writers—don’t have to think about what step comes next, they can focus their attention on doing the job at hand well.

Writing teachers must make sure student writers have many, many opportunities to become so familiar with the processes and tools of writing that they can do the next step, use the next tool without stopping to ponder, “What do I do next?” It’s only when writers are that sure of the process that they can give serious attention to the message they are trying to communicate.

5. Consult.

Words "maker" and "writer" Makers talk about what they are making. They explain their thinking, their processes. They allow others to ask them questions, to suggest options they may not have considered.

Writers also can derive benefits from talking with others about their plans. The first benefit comes from hearing how the idea sounds when it’s articulated out loud. The second comes from having the benefit of others’ reactions and suggestions.

The maker’s audience may tell about their own experiences in similar situations; the maker isn’t required to accept that advice.

[Fixed bad link 2016-01-22]

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Filed under Teaching writing

Writing Is Not Making

English teachers on the prowl for the next big thing have picked up the language of the Maker Movement. Writing is no longer just Writing (so last-year!); writing is now a type of Making.

the single word MAKER, each letter made of different materials

Writing an essay has been transformed into making media, in the same way killing civilians was transformed into collateral damage.

Teachers may believe that writing is making, but students won’t be fooled.

the single, handwritten word "Writer"

Writing an outline is not like drawing a floor plan for a kitchen remodeling job. A finished document is not like a remodeled kitchen.

The Maker who designs the remodeled kitchen doesn’t have to find the trees from which to build the cabinets or mine the metals that go into the plumbing fixtures.

By contrast, Writers have to make their own raw material.

Writers start from nothing—or as near to nothing as to make no difference—and manufacture every sentence that goes into the finished product. When they finish, the sentences may turn out to be unsuitable: They may not have the strength to carry the weight of the thesis.

It may even turn out that Writers neglected to manufacture a thesis, leaving them with nothing but a trash bin full of paper or pixel construction debris.

Instead of trying to pass writing off as making, writing teachers should latch on to similarities between writing and making that will help students understand why writing is so hard and takes so long. We’ll look at that topic next Thursday.


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Positive Thinking, Pollyanna, and Play

Learning is not just a cognitive activity.

How well we learn — and if we learn — is influenced by other factors, including whether we feel some kinship with the instructor, when we ate  last, and how long it’s been since we were able to get out of our seats to move around.

I read a blog post yesterday that listed phrases that students could use as self-talk messages. Positive self-talk creates a self-fulfilling prophesy. Such messages can be very useful in helping people modify their behavior in positive ways.

As I read, I started to wonder when it became necessary to give students scripts to encourage themselves to take on challenges.

Restroom signs

I was mulling that over as I went to the store for milk. A woman and three teenage girls were in the store.

One of the girls was standing in the back aisle by the stockroom door. As she caught sight of her mother, she called, “Is this where I go?”

Small towns like mine don’t have public restrooms, but neither do they make local folks wet their pants in public. Since nobody comes to the local stores except local people, if you’re desperate, the clerk will let you use the employee restroom.

Not finding a door marked restroom, the girl didn’t know what to do.

The woman said to me, “Wouldn’t you think she’d know to open the door?”

I doubt that the girl’s problem is lack of knowledge about door opening.

I suspect its something more basic, like attitude, expectations, and experience.

Just about 100 years ago — in 1913 to be precise — Eleanor H. Porter scored a big hit with her novel Pollyanna. It is the story of an orphan whose father taught her to look for something to be glad about in every situation.

Even though the world Pollyanna lived in was a tough place, people generally believed the world wasn’t a bad place: You could always find things to be happy about.

People believed the bad parts could be made better:

And they believed they were competent to help bring about those improvements.

I can’t put a date on when that attitude changed, but I’m pretty sure was the same period when playing was replaced by play dates and supervised after-school activities.

As a kid, I had chores, but they were adult-directed.  I’d as soon have thought myself competent because I brushed my teeth than because I’d mucked out the horse stall, which was one of my daily chores. Doing as you’re told does not generate a sense of personal competence.

I got my  initial sense of competence from play.

playground sign: Play at your own risk

Nobody had to tell me to say “I can problem solve” because I was an experienced problem solver. My play consisted mostly of damming the creek and building stuff out of junk salvaged from the neighbor’s dump. It was dirty, and slightly dangerous, and totally engrossing.

Going back to a world where children find their play things on the dump is probably not desirable, except perhaps to children.

But living in a world in which kids can make stuff from found stuff is desirable.

The maker movement is a step in the right direction.

Kids who have had the experience of taking risks, trying different approaches, working within the constraints of what’s available won’t need to be given a list of positive thinking phrases to memorize.

Hands-on experience will make them feel competent to open a door to find the restroom.


Photo credits: Bathroom Signs by clambert; fun and games until… by nosheep

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Filed under Lifelong learning