Blog, Tips for School & District Administrators

Get Hands-On in Professional Development — Maker-Style

By Jennifer Gunn

We encourage teachers to get hands-on in their classrooms, but often professional development isn’t so interactive. We’ve all sat through Powerpoint presentations and article readings. Let’s shake up professional development and make it truly reflective of what’s happening in classrooms. Get busy tinkering, designing, and modeling the practices of makerspace learning in professional development! Read on to find out how to begin.

Makerspaces in the classroom

Makerspaces began to appear in Europe and the U.S. in the early 2000s as a way for innovators to experiment, discover, and invent new products. President Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address put out the call for the United States to prioritize tech innovation to become more competitive in the world market, and the STEM (now STEAM) movement inspired creative action.

In the past seven years, makerspaces and maker-learning programs have become widespread in school districts across the country, backed by grants, maker organizations, and PD training. “A hallmark of the maker movement is its do-it-yourself (or do-it-with-others) mindset that brings together individuals around a range of activities, including textile craft, robotics, cooking, wood crafts, electronics, digital fabrication, mechanical repair, or creation — in short, making nearly anything,” says Kylie Peppler and Sophia Bender in their article Maker Movement Spreads Innovation One Project at a Time.

Former middle school teacher and author of several books on creativity and learning, John Spencer, believes that makerspaces are crucial to classroom learning. “Creative thinking is as vital as math or reading or writing. There’s power in problem-solving and experimenting and taking things from questions to ideas to authentic products that you launch into the world. Something happens in students when they define themselves as makers and inventors and creators.” Spencer argues that makerspaces allow kids to take risks, fail, iterate, and to become systems thinkers. That sure sounds better than students merely becoming good test takers! Read more about the history of STEM/STEAM.

Makerspaces in professional development

The Learning Policy Institute notes that professional development should be active, not passive. “Active learning engages teachers directly in designing and trying out teaching strategies, providing them an opportunity to engage in the same style of learning they are designing for their students,” according to Linda Darling-Hammond, Maria E. Hyler, and Madelyn Gardner in LPI’s Effective Teacher Professional Development. “This approach moves away from traditional learning models and environments that are lecture based and have no direct connection to teachers’ classrooms and students.” If professional development should act as a model for classroom teaching and learning, then engaging in makerspace learning in PD is a must for providing a space for educators to practice and learn how to incorporate maker learning into their curriculum.

3 ways to get started with maker learning in PD

  1. Problem-solving inventions + design thinking: Give your teachers a box of supplies and some paper to craft a problem-solving design or invention for your school. Groups can sketch out their ideas, make a prototype and present their work to the whole group. They can reflect upon the skills they used and how STEAM subjects applied to their project.
  2. Test out some makerspace projects: Check out, or even Pinterest for awesome maker project ideas to try out in PD that teachers can then use in their classrooms. Teachers can test projects and report back to the whole group with a review and the learning possibilities for given projects. Together, the staff can build a bank of useable projects and lessons for the school!
  3. Design a cross-curricular maker lesson: Have teachers work in groups or pairs to design a unit or lesson that incorporates cross-curricular maker learning. Imagine what a biology teacher and a visual arts teacher could come up with, or a pre-algebra teacher working with a band director and a language arts teacher. Research some possibilities to spark their interest. Encourage teams to get creative and hands-on. Staff members should design, prototype, and build a useable lesson or unit plan that aligns to their standards, meets their students’ needs, and gets them excited about makerspace learning.

More resources for maker learning

Jennifer L.M. Gunn spent 10 years in newspaper and magazine publishing before moving to public education. She is a curriculum designer, teaching coach, and high school educator in New York City. She is also cofounder of the annual EDxEDNYC Education Conference for teacher-led innovation, and regularly presents at conferences on the topics of adolescent literacy, leadership, and education innovation.

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