Making a difference with making

If your region is anything like mine, there is a tremendous need for support related to makerspaces. The Maker Movement is one that centers on putting the design of learning, and all that comes along with it, ultimately in the hands of the learners themselves. Whether putting a pre-existing device together, solving a problem through the building of a device or designing a model for something that doesn’t yet exist, making is as much about the process of behind-the-scenes learning as it is about the product being formed.

In truth, making is so much more than re-imagining the tech or shop classes of our past. We’ve learned over the last few years that to appropriately support schools and districts in their journey to make meaning through making, we need to keep in mind a few important ideas.

Expand the view of who can lead maker initiatives

As the DIY Movement came into the spotlight, educators began to discuss who was going to take on the work of making and what it might look like. Initially, some wondered  whether technology education teachers would be responsible and whether there was a need for anyone else to focus on it. Maybe the science educators could get involved as well. As we’ve seen in our region, the role of maker, and the pool of people able to lead students down that path, has grown. Many of our districts, for example, now see the library and its media specialist as foundational to making programs in their schools. Library media specialists have often celebrated the chance to delve into the learning process in schools. In fact, our library systems coordinator has taken on the task of designing and supplying some of our maker support directly through his library networks. No longer simply in the wheelhouse of technology or science educators, making the most of making means thinking more broadly about who can lead the work.

Build capacity to sustain capacity

Supporting maker initiatives in our region is not just about providing information on strategies to help design and facilitate a makerspace. One lesson we have taken from providing support to districts is that sustaining capacity regarding maker initiatives is just as important as building it. Our region has put its support behind a collegial group made up of makerspace leaders. The group includes teachers, administrators and librarians. In fact, our group facilitator is a library media specialist from one of our local districts. This group is one of the first professional development opportunities we provide each year, and it is consistently one that spurs excellent conversation and important questions. We have gained further evidence that true professional growth does not exist without follow-up learning. Along with this collegial group, we have worked hard to provide follow-up learning opportunities for those who have already built their initial capacity. Whether it be through a wearable electronics workshop or a maker experience tied exclusively to early elementary learners, sustaining instruction for makers is key to long-term growth.

Seeing is believing

As we began to provide assistance around maker work, we noticed something was missing. Our learning opportunities tended to be led in our regional workshop center, and they were often facilitated by consultants. Over time, we have worked to include visitations of makerspaces into our collegial group. Our lead facilitator sets these up with her members, and we’ve altered some of our workshops to be led entirely by teachers immersed in the making process in their schools. This required a shift in control, and we saw our share of challenges as we made this change. Nevertheless, nothing can beat seeing a strategy demonstrated by those who actively practice it.

Makerspaces have tremendous potential to make a difference in the lives of both young and adult learners. As we consider ways to support the growth of these initiatives, we need to remember: Anyone can be a leader in making, and if we’re willing to provide opportunities for those we serve to learn continually from models of good practice, we can support making in ways that create meaning for everyone.

Fred Ende (@fredende) is the assistant director of Curriculum and Instructional Services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Fred blogs at www.fredende.blogspot.com, Edutopia, ASCD EDge and SmartBrief Education. His book, Professional Development That Sticks is available from ASCD. Visit his website:www.fredende.com.

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