From the iconic Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams, comes the now famous line “If you build it, they will come.” Over the years, I have heard maker educators use this same line when speaking about their personal efforts to bring a maker space to the school in which they work. There’s even a documentary by the same name that focuses on the story of two designer-activists who work with teens from a rural North Carolina town to build something meaningful for the community. (This film is an inspiring watch for educators looking to implement meaningful making in their schools.)
So, does this phrase “If you build it…” hold weight around the topic of a maker mindset in education? I believe it does. I have had the good fortune over the past six years to help develop a number of maker spaces in schools, selecting the flexible furniture, the wall storage, the amazing tools ranging from electronics and robotics equipment to miter saws, laser cutters, and CNC machines.
More important than the space, the furniture, and the tools, however, is the frame of mind required by both students and teachers to bring this approach to learning into all classrooms and learning spaces. This frame of mind helps one to envision the creation of something relevant to what is being worked on, to have the wherewithal to consider the tools, the materials and the skills needed to accomplish project goals.
In the schools where I have worked, the progression from maker space to maker mindset has been gradual yet inevitable. While the space starts the conversation, the mindset carries the bulk of the work.
This school year, the maker mindset manifested in a number of ways outside of our space.
Scale Project: In one math class, studying the concept of scale, students recreate every day objects in larger or smaller format based on a calculated scale. This year, students working on a 9V battery 3D designed and printed the terminals.
Roller Coaster marble catcher: Also in math, students build a paper roller coaster whose goal is to keep the marble in action for as long as possible. “Budget money” is spent on the building materials and “earnings” are awarded based on how long the marble stays in play. The goal is to make a profit by the end of the project. This year, students built their marble catchers at the end using designs they created in Tinkercad.
Civil War Crests: In social studies, while learning about the U.S. Civil War, students were tasked with creating a crest that showcased an aspect of the Civil War that they were interested in sharing. The crest served as one piece of a larger research project students represented in multiple ways, graphically and in written form.
Passion Project: In the final months of their 8th grade year, students engage in a capstone called the Passion Project. The U.N. Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) serve as the foundation for their work, while they correlate a personal passion with a global issue. This year, topics ranged from environmental concerns like clean water, to bringing music to the elderly, to designing comfort blankets for hospitalized children. Each student chose the manner and methods for approaching a solution to their problem, and often brought making into the process.
Sloth Lovely Blankets: This student sewed these sloth blankets (based on a pattern she found online) to provide comfort to hospitalized children. She also laser cut wooden medallions as a “gift” inside the blanket for children to discover when they open them up for the first time. You can read more about this project here.
Sandy the Shark: To help keep our public places clean and safe, this student designed and built an eye-catching trash can to help raise awareness about beach and coastal pollution. While much of his work took place at school, he also welded parts at home, and tested his creation on the beach. Learn more about Sandy the Shark here.
Prosthetics for Athletes: With a passion for athletics in all forms, and a desire to help others that might otherwise not have the ability to engage in sports, this student researched prosthetic limbs and the feasibility to bring this technology to those who might not have the financial means to afford it. She 3d printed and painted a prototype mechanical hand as part of this project. Learn more here.
Personal Projects: Students often come into the space to work on personal projects. I think this is some of the most interesting work, whether based on a project that was initiated in another class, or simply an idea from home. Students request time at recess or lunch to come in and access the tools. Or, they send a model and request a print or cut. It is vitally important to empower our children to think for themselves and to imagine how these newfound tools, materials and skills can benefit them in all areas of learning.
Teacher Empowerment: Finally, part of a successful proliferation of the maker mindset is providing professional development and support to faculty. We hold regular sessions on the use of a variety of tools and encourage our faculty to bring the maker mindset into their classrooms and curriculum.
“If you build it, they will come” has less to do with the space you build, and much more to do with the mindset you help to develop, regardless of the location or the topic of study. I look forward to a new school year with students and faculty ready to apply the maker mindset into new meaningful avenues of learning and sharing.