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A common obstacle that teachers face in their classrooms is keeping students engaged because, let's face it, not all students are passionate about every topic or class. Teachers need to find multiple access points for students to connect with the content. Maker education is one way that allows students to fully engage with the curriculum while still having fun.
Maker education is the concept that students can create to demonstrate their understanding of various aspects of curriculum. Instead of asking students to identify parts of the human body on a worksheet at the end of the unit, students create their own life-sized drawing of a person and label all of the important parts covered in class.
With the worksheet, students take the information they learned, dump it onto the paper and forget it. The only people who will see that worksheet are the students and the teachers. A maker ed approach has students creating something they can share with the rest of the class. I have seen this work year after year in the seventh grade science classroom. Here are some ways you can bring maker education to your class to increase student engagement.
1. Cut down on the worksheets
Worksheets, which have been around for decades, offer an easy way to quickly ascertain whether students have an understanding of what they’ve been studying in class. Unfortunately, they’ve become the standard in many classrooms, and students tend to skim for the answers or just copy off a friend to get it done.
Giving students an opportunity to create something to demonstrate their understanding makes learning more relevant and meaningful because they are required to do more than just recall facts. When they create something that represents their understanding, they are using higher-order thinking.
2. Tempt students with a maker opportunity
One of the things that really takes engagement to new heights is letting students know at the start of the unit that they will have an opportunity to make something at the end. This increases student engagement because students understand they need to have a strong grasp of the content if they want to create an amazing artifact.
Students want to be excited for things. They love knowing they will have a chance to create something for class. Many will have project ideas bubbling in their minds and will study the material through the lens of how the content can be used for their work. This is the kind of high-level engagement teachers don’t see for a standard multiple choice exam at the end of a unit.
3. Turn assessments into projects
Let’s face it, many students don’t perform well on a sit-and-get high-stakes exam. Those students can be disengaged in class because they feel they are fighting a losing battle. They might love the content and really understand it, but the assessment is something they continue to struggle with. Why bother engaging if the assessment is going to lead to failure anyway?
Maker opportunities for students who struggle with traditional assessments lead to an overall increase in engagement. Self-confidence rises for these students because they feel they can finally demonstrate what they know.
4. Make projects cross-curricular
Students who love math class will be more likely to engage with work in an ELA class if they are making something that requires measuring and calculations. These students might prefer to code a game version of The Hunger Games that demonstrates their understanding of characters and plot. Perhaps a student wild about the arts will want to write a song that explains the three states of matter using a Taylor Swift melody.
When students are given a chance to create something for class, they will tap into areas where they feel comfortable. This often leads to students using skills from other classes to make amazing artifacts to share.
5. Build in opportunities for creativity
Students need to flex their creativity muscles. Students may have a various ideas of what it means to be creative, but they want to showcase their talents in a way that suits their own creative itch. Painting a picture to depict a social movement, coding a robot to solve household problems, designing the fashion of ancient Romans, creating a new game to support cardiovascular health, and other diverse maker projects allow students to showcase their creativity in ways that are not possible with traditional approaches to education.
Embracing maker education is easier said than done. Teachers need to get comfortable with students having agency over their work and this can be a huge shift for teachers and for students. But students desperately want to play an active role in their education.
Handouts and multiple choice tests do not let them do that. Implementing maker education across the curriculum allows all students an opportunity to explore education in ways that are meaningful to them. When the students find that meaning, they are fully engaged.
Want to learn more about maker ed? Join Nicholas Provenzano at ISTELive 23 where he will present the session Project-Based Learning and Makerspaces Across the Curriculum. Register for ISTELive and then add his session to your favorites.
Nicholas Provenzano is the makerspace director at University Liggett School. He is also an author, international speaker, consultant and Provenzano Family Jarts Champion. Read his thoughts on educational issues on TheNerdyTeacher.com. His best-selling books, Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces, The Maker Mentality and Beyond The Poster Board are read by educators around the world. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram at @TheNerdyTeacher.