6 Ways Short Maker Activities Benefit Students and Teachers

Hands-on learning activity using plastic strawsIn an ideal educational world, a maker-minded teacher or administrator would design a program where students have complete freedom to make what they are interested in and solve real-world problems using the design process. This kind of teaching and hands-on learning requires a mindset shift, access to materials, and lots of time for students to make, troubleshoot, and refine their creations.

For many teachers and schools, however, that amount of time just isn’t available in a tightly scheduled school day. The cost of materials needed can also be prohibitive, even with donated or upcycled materials. In order to provide opportunities for students to learn through making, we may need a different approach.

“Short-and-Sweet” Maker Activities

The good news is that many makerspace activities don’t require long chunks of uninterrupted making time for students or an expensive list of materials. When time and budget resources are limited, a short maker activity using upcycled or craft materials still benefits students by providing opportunities to develop a maker mindset and skills such as problem-solving, fixing, perseverance, and creative thinking.

If you’re a busy educator who teaches on a tightly controlled teaching schedule, short maker projects may also provide a stepping stone towards creating (and funding) a true, dedicated school makerspace.

Benefits of Short Maker Activities for Students

  1. Students become familiar with and learn to use a wide variety of materials and tools.
    • A lack of materials can be turned into a challenge to combine materials or create something similar from different materials. For example, if you run out of cardboard toilet paper tubes, students can learn to cut paper towel tubes into smaller pieces with cardboard construction tools or heavy-duty scissors.
  2. Students can focus on practicing one specific skill at a time during shorter maker activities.
    • Maker skills can build on one another over time during multiple class periods.
      • For instance, young students or beginner makers will benefit from folding duct tape into a bookmark before they attempt to create more complex duct tape creations.
      • Students can combine individual maker skills after they have developed them in isolation.
  3. With a flexible approach, students can still exercise a great deal of choice in how they build or create something, which is a cornerstone of the maker movement and hands-on learning.
    • Even if a maker activity has a prescribed set of materials, students can still choose the colors and design of those materials to make something unique and personal.
    • You can expand many school crafts and hands-on learning “craftivities” to include more student choice of materials.
      • For instance, if the activity is creating a valentine that includes a paper circuit, students can design the card layout, message, colors, and what is lighting up in the valentine.
      • A wider variety of materials provides greater opportunities for creativity. However, even with just paper, colored pencils, and simple circuit stickers, students can learn about how circuits work and apply that knowledge to create something that is meaningful to them.

Benefits of Short Maker Activities for Educators

  1. Shorter activities are easier to implement in a tight schedule.
    • By starting small with familiar supplies, it reduces the amount of time you’ll need to dedicate to planning maker lessons and learning (and teaching) new tools.
    • A maker activity that can be completed start to finish in less than 60 minutes (and often less than 40) is much easier to fit into an allotted teaching block.
    • If a 40-minute maker activity is too long, try dividing it into two 20-minute chunks of time over subsequent days.
    • Look for ways to tie in maker activities to other subjects, such as with a read-aloud or anchor text in language arts.
  2. Less consumable supplies are needed, and clean-up time is shorter.
    • When students must complete an activity in a given amount of time, they have less opportunities to waste supplies or use more than necessary.
    • With practice and experience, students will learn to manage their time better. The first maker activities won’t likely get finished in the time given, but the natural consequence of not finishing will help with time management in subsequent activities.
  3. Maker activities of any time length provide opportunities for teachable moments.
    • Young students and beginner makers often will not be able to figure out creative solutions to challenges — that’s a maker skill that needs practice. Talking about how they could or would do things differently during or immediately following a hands-on learning activity will help them develop those skills.
    • Collaboration is another maker skill (and general life skill) that requires practice and sometimes learning from mistakes. When you introduce a group or partner maker activity, students are given an opportunity to discuss and practice ways to resolve conflict, compromise, and work together in socially healthy ways.

Maker activities of any length can be used to encourage students to develop a maker mindset, and getting started doesn’t have to mean vast investments of time, energy, and money. Download a free sample of the Demco Maker Activity Task Cards for Arts & Creativity and Design & Building to get started with short maker activities that can be completed in one to two class sessions.

Author

Collette Jakubowicz

Collette Jakubowicz

Elementary Teacher-Librarian
Collette Jakubowicz is an elementary teacher-librarian who has been teaching for over 12 years. She is the author of the Mrs. J in the Library blog, where she writes about makerspaces, library centers, whole number Dewey cataloging, and practical, innovative ideas for elementary librarians. You can find her online at MrsJintheLibrary.com and on social media @MrsJintheLibrary.