These Are the Students Who Benefit from Maker Education

Maker education with kids coding a robot.I remember Robby. He was the kind of student who was pretty hard to forget. He struggled academically and behaviorally all through elementary school, and he didn’t have a lot of strong connections with his peers or his teachers. In sixth grade, he had accumulated his share of discipline referrals in addition to a string of mediocre grades. His teachers were trying to stay positive but were out of fresh ideas to try to pull this student back into the learning. You may know a student like Robby — reserved in the classroom and active in the hallways, withdrawn in the lunchroom and picking fights on the playground. Robby was on a path that was not leading to a positive outcome.

One day Robby came into the makerspace at lunchtime and asked if he could look around. He found his way to the woodworking area, where he started tinkering with the saws and drills. After spending a few lunch periods in the space, he asked if he could stay after school to finish up a project he was working on. Robby had found something that he liked — and also something that he was really good at!

While Robby’s grades didn’t miraculously change overnight, we did see some positive changes in both his academic progress and his behavior. He started staying after school and connected with a teacher who also enjoyed woodworking. He expanded his peer group and began friendships with some other students who also found their niche in the makerspace. Here, Robby was able to contribute, and he could share his skills and abilities in a way that he rarely did in the classroom.

That same year, we welcomed a young student from Russia to our first-grade classroom. He spoke very little English and had difficulty transitioning into our school. The classroom teacher tried diligently to find out what the student liked and what his strengths were, but the language and cultural barriers were a challenge.

One day, the student was walking through the hallway and happened to pass the library, where a group of students were using some robots on the floor. He immediately pulled his teacher into the space, pointing and smiling. He was mesmerized by the lights and movement of the robots.

While he didn’t possess the language skills to communicate effectively in the classroom, in the makerspace he became a star. He understood the computational thinking required to program the robots and was elated when he was able to get them to move across the floor. His teacher used this as a way for the student to build language skills, connecting the robot’s path to letters, sounds, and sight words.

As makerspaces are created in our schools and libraries, more and more students are gaining access to new and different learning materials. Maker education is an approach that connects to all subject areas and embraces hands-on learning through designing and building. It works for kids like Robby and for every other student who is looking to lead with their strengths.

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Maker Education Benefits for Every Child

Making Builds Relationships

Tinkering in the makerspace can be a social practice, as makers come together to try new materials and learn different skills. It’s a place where relationships build and conversations grow between educators and students and from peer to peer. Sometimes the relationships that start in the makerspace are exactly what a student who feels marginalized may need. For students like Robby, the makerspace provided time and connections with caring adults who could support his new learning.

Making Levels the Playing Field

For students who may not demonstrate academic strengths in the classroom, maker education levels the playing field. In the makerspace, it doesn’t necessarily make a difference if a student has high test scores or can memorize all of her spelling words. The learning isn’t targeted at students who excel in math or reading. The makerspace provides an opportunity for every child to bring their personal strengths to the space and learn in a way that makes sense for them. It’s a chance for students to shine in new and different ways. For our Russian student, the language barrier didn’t prevent him from excelling in robotics. In the makerspace, he demonstrated the skills and dispositions needed to accomplish a complex task that was beyond many of his peers.

Making Taps into All Learning Styles

Whether students are hands-on learners by nature, kinesthetic learners, or artistic and creative thinkers, maker education offers the chance to learn in all different ways. It gives students a personalized pathway that meets their unique needs and interests. Students who may struggle in traditional classroom environments can benefit from the flexible space within a makerspace. When presented with the hands-on opportunities of a makerspace, students who are challenged by traditional classroom tasks can thrive.

Maker education isn’t one size fits all, but rather, it fits all learners by providing a flexible and creative approach to learning tasks.

Making Is for Everyone

Making is not for an elite group of students who have advanced math and science skills. It’s not just for the artistic students with bold imaginations or for primary grade students who benefit when learning is hands-on. Makerspaces benefit students with academic and behavioral barriers to learning, as well as students who are nonverbal or those whose first language isn’t English. Maker education is an opportunity for every child to learn. It offers experiences in so many different types of hands-on learning, from circuitry to sewing, from coding to design, that every learner will find something of interest in the makerspace.

Making can build relationships, level the playing field, and provide access to every learner, no matter what their learning style may be. As you plan and implement maker education in your schools, ensure that there is time and space for every child to reap the benefits. Provide tools and materials that will engage all types of learners. When given access to maker learning, students can pursue things they are curious about, engage in new opportunities, and reach their potential.

Author

Dr. Jacie Maslyk

Dr. Jacie Maslyk

As a connected educator and established school and district leader, Dr. Jacie Maslyk has served as a teacher, coach, principal, curriculum director and assistant superintendent. She has presented at the state, national and international levels, including FETC, ILA and NAESP. An invited keynote speaker, Dr. Maslyk also consults with school districts looking to implement innovative practices in their schools.

A published author, Dr. Maslyk has written articles on the maker movement, STEAM education, instructional technology, leadership and literacy. In 2015 she received the Frank S. Manchester Award for excellence in journalism. She is the author of STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom, as well as a chapter in the upcoming EduMatch Publishing book on makerspaces. Dr. Maslyk is currently writing a book on unlocking creativity in the classroom.