Skills Badges in a Maker Space

For some years, I have wanted to implement a system for badging students as they learn new skills. I always loved stickers as a kid and, although I wasn’t a boy scout, I remember classmates showing their badges and accomplishments at school, and thinking that was cool, but also something they took great pride in because they earned them.

When we began a 1:1 iPad program at St. Matthew’s Parish School years ago, it seemed a proper fit for badging. Students could earn badges for learning new apps, or reaching different stages of proficiency, aka leveling up. I initially looked at a digital platform for doing this, and at that time these systems were beginning to emerge.

One of the most prevalent was Open Badges, from the Mozilla Foundation, which is still going strong. As their name implies, they focus on digital skills badges that are recognized worldwide. In coordination with digitalme, they have even created a world map of all the open badge systems, called BadgeWorld.

Working with digital badges for a 1:1 program made sense at the time. Students could have a screen that showed the badges, use them as their background image, or even have an app for storing badges. We currently have a 1:1 Chromebook program at Westside Neighborhood School, and while digital badges could still work here, I was seeking something more tangible.

I wanted physical “badges” in some format because the work I do with students is more hands-on, and I wanted the badges to reflect that, and to be visible without having to turn on a device. My first attempts in this regard were 3D printed and laser cut prototypes. I designed very simple badges in Tinkercad and Adobe Illustrator for fabrication.

While I enjoyed developing these prototypes and saw the value of creating a badge in the format of the identified skill, I quickly realized a few limitations. For one, they take a long time to produce, particularly the 3D printed versions. Secondly, the cost in both money and time adds up when creating your own badges on your own machines. Finally, there is the issue of breakage, which I predict could happen quite often in the life of a middle school student.

Enter, StickerMule. As targeted advertising seems so eerily efficient these days, StickerMule came across my Instagram feed a few months ago. The quality of the printed sticker looked great on the screen, so I decided to check it out. At the time of this writing, they offer a sample pack for $1, which provides a sampling of all types of stickers, die cut, circular, square, transparent, and more. You can also order custom samples, 10 copies of your own design for $9. Hard to resist for me. I sent in a couple of designs and had them printed at different sizes. I went for the die cut version since my badges are hexagonal.

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Two samples, at 2″ and 3″ respectively.

I have to say I am a fan. The print is high-quality, the material doesn’t tear, and a proofing process allows you to view the design and request changes before printing. The stickers adhere to most surfaces, and on the laptop, for example, can be carefully removed without leaving any residue.

Stickers, while not visually or texturally the equivalent of sew-on badges, still resolve my three aforementioned challenges. They are much easier to produce, they won’t break, and they won’t break the bank either. The more you order, the cheaper it gets, and if you order multiple designs at the same time, yet another discount is applied for each new design.

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Finalized designs for Tinkercad and Scratch coding badges.

How to Earn Your Badge

I use a tool called ClassMarker to get an initial assessment of the students. It is a robust online quiz maker, which allows for question banks, randomized questions and answers, embedded images, and even digital certificates for passing. All results are stored in a spreadsheet, and you can get results emailed to you when a student takes a quiz. There are free and premium levels for ClassMarker, so that you can dive in at no cost and upgrade if you need the extra features.

For some skills, ClassMarker will be sufficient to earn a badge. For others, I require a face-to-face skills check. Learning to use power tools, for example, requires that students can show me they know how to use the drill, the miter saw, the band saw, efficiently and safely.

Do you use a badge system in your classroom? I would love to hear from you, and what methods and materials have worked, or not, for you and your students.

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