A favorite app used in our classroom is Monster Physics. The app allows students to build various contraptions including cars, cranes, rocket ships, tanks, planes, and helicopters using an assortment of parts made from different materials. The parts are connected by welding them together, drawing chains or ropes between them, or using special joints. After completing an invention, students test their creations. In addition to learning and applying physics concepts, students using creative-thinking and problem-solving skills. We use the lite version, and you can check out how Mac and Jack have been tinkering with the app in the video posted below. Below that video is a promotional video of the full version of the app, showcasing the additional features.
After the successful implementation of STEM activities in our school, I have been casually researching the Maker Movement as another revolution in education through which to develop complex ideas through hands-on fun and creativity. The Maker Movement was born from the success of MAKE Magazine’s annual Maker Faire, a gathering in which “makers” from all disciplines (science, engineering, art, technology, performance, literature, crafting, etc.) share innovative things they have made or learned. These events have been replicated around the world, even in Detroit. This grassroots movement is quickly increasing momentum, and these crafters, tinkerers, hobbyists, tech enthusiasts, and students are creating new products and even starting their own companies. The movement is also finding its way into classrooms.
The founder of the Maker Movement, Dale Dougherty, feels that students should be offered opportunities to make things in order to view themselves as producers, not just consumers. “My goal is that all people, young and old, come to see themselves as makers, creators and doers because I know that all people who have the skills and knowledge to make things have the power to make the world a better place,” says Dougherty. Consequently, the maker movement dovetails perfectly with best practices involving STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics), problem-solving, and hands-on, student-driven learning.
These ideas made sense to me, but it wasn’t until teacher friend Laura McDonell recommended a book, Worlds of Making: Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace for Your School by Laura Fleming, that I decided to get serious about exploring the Makerspace concept. Fleming’s ideas resonated with me and perfectly aligned with my philosophy of education. Fleming argued that to be successful in the knowledge economy of their future, students need to be skilled in using creativity and inventive thinking to continuously innovate and manage novel and improved goods and services. Making fosters those skills and also integrates multiple subjects. Making also connects concrete, hands-on learning with high-tech digital tools. Learning while making is student-centered and personalized. These concepts epitomized my vision of the ideal modern classroom, and I especially felt inspired by this quote from the book: “The Maker Movement is about moving from consumption to creation and turning knowledge into action.”
The inspiration was energizing, but providing the time and a space for students to “make” while in the midst of teaching the mandated curriculum was a challenge. Again, Laura McDonell solved that problem. She was experimenting with making in her classroom at St. Clair Middle School, and she had shared two videos of students participating in a “Makerspace Box Challenge” that she facilitated. Laura suggested sending a challenge to my class for one or more students to complete. I knew this was the perfect opportunity to dive in to the Maker Movement!
The materials and challenge arrived in my school mailbox, and I chose two students, creative in different ways, to work on the challenge in the hallway. Other than checking in on them and taking a few pictures now and then, I did not supervise the process. For about twenty minutes, the students took the lead to choose an idea, brainstorm, design, gather tools and extra materials, build, improve, test, and refine their invention. The result was incredible! The two created a very clever camera, but the success of the activity was not about the product or the materials used to produce it. My students had collaborated, applied their knowledge, made connections between concepts, and made sense of the world in a way that I couldn’t develop in a traditional lesson. Those were the outcomes that meant the most. I am so proud Carly and Isaac, and I cannot wait to offer “making” opportunities to the rest of my students.