Paul Wurster
a group of student work on a robotics project

Switching to a new teaching model like design thinking — or even just adapting an existing one — can be an intimidating process for educators.

But Caroline Haebig says it doesn’t have to be that way. Author of the The Maker Playbook, Haebig says teachers don't have to overhaul the way they teach to reap the benefits of a creative and engaging maker culture. It's possible to fold aspects of maker learning and design thinking into the teaching they are already doing.

“Not everyone wants to jump wholeheartedly into a big design project, but knowing that there are little entry points can make this digestible for teachers as well as students,” Haebig says.
The Maker Playbook provides key resources that teachers can use and modify to scaffold the student design process, guide how learners navigate a makerspace and resources, and provide tools to support reflection and self-regulation during the learning and design process.

Strategies and resources in the book align with the ISTE Standards and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles and guidelines.

The following four tips serve as entry points for teachers who would like to join the maker movement, but don't know where to begin.

1. Start with your learning targets.

Use your curriculum, content standards and learning targets as entry points into maker learning and design thinking. Every content area offers an opportunity for learners to grapple with real-world problems and make connections to the world around them. Get started by specifically identifying opportunities that invite inventive problem solving. Identifying authentic problems for learners to explore and having them develop possible solutions for is a powerful way to engage students in deeper learning and innovative thinking.

For example, if students in a psychology course are studying the brain, cognition, memory and learning, they could focus on a challenge that requires them to create a solution that could be used to teach someone something new or abstract, based on what they’ve learned about the brain. The goal is to identify ways for students to engage with the content they are already studying by asking questions, identifying problems, and coming up with inventive ways to deal with those problems, Haebig says.

“The more learners are able to make real-world and self-to-world connections to the content they are studying, the more authentic and meaningful the learning will be,” she says. “Start with your learning intentions and targets as an invitation into this work as opposed to looking for a place to make something else fit. That is step one.”

2. Focus on specific design-thinking skills.

The design process can be divided into six steps:

  • Form an empathetic connection
  • Define the problem
  • Ideate possible solutions
  • Sketch, make and test prototypes
  • Iterate
  • Reflect

Rather than attempting to incorporate every step into a project, identify specific elements that can help learners hone specific skills. Use the ISTE Standards to identify specific skills that can be developed as students work with elements of the design thinking process.

For example, creating opportunities for learners to work on how they generate and evaluate ideas is a great starting point. Provide students with time to individually brainstorm ideas before working with peers and offer protocols for how students can work collaboratively to evaluate and sort ideas. 

“This is about taking skills that are a part of the design-thinking process and integrating them into the work that we are already doing,” Haebig says.

3. Scaffold the learning experience and design process.

Scaffolding can help increase the rate at which students develop specific design-thinking and maker-learning skills. Templates are a great way to provide this type of support. For example, provide students with accountable talk stems or sentence frames for providing feedback on prototypes. Give students a checklist of elements that they should include in prototype sketches. Provide a pre-made slide deck that outlines specific slides and prompts that are dedicated to documenting different phases of the design process.

These and other templates allow students to document the progress of their work, create reflections, and engage in goal-setting, Haebig says.

“It's about how to outline and guide students through the skills that they are developing,” Haebig says. “Scaffolding provides concrete ways for learners to think about what they need to know and do, know where they are in the process, and set goals.”

4. Invite learners to self-reflect.

Be intentional about building in time and experiences that will help students engage in goal-setting, reflection and visible thinking. Begin by identifying specific tools that learners can choose from to engage in visible thinking and share their thinking using different modalities during different points of the design process.

For example, some students may want to sketch or draw, others may want to record their voices or create a video, and others may prefer typing or writing a response.

Creating portfolios to help students document and reflect on the design process is another way to help them develop an awareness and understanding of their thought processes, foster the ability to document progress, and reflect.

“Easy-access self-regulation charts can be used to prompt learners to share their feelings about their progress or show where they are in the design process,” Haebig says. “Having exit tickets or Google forms designed to check for understanding also increases the likelihood that teachers will be able to collect formative assessment data in a consistent and timely way.”

the maker playbook

Paul Wurster is a technical writer and editor based in Eugene, Oregon.