How One Maker Cart Transformed Hands-On Learning for an Entire School
One shout carries above the bustle of the after-school Maker Club at Mineral Point Middle School, and a student runs over to the TeacherGeek® Maker Cart to grab some new supplies. The club is on their second week of designing and building balloon-powered cars, and so far none of the cars have gotten off the starting line.
As I walk around the library where the club meets, watching the kids tinker with and improve their cars, the atmosphere of collaboration and fun is tangible. The students aren’t just building; they’re helping each other use the tools, offering suggestions for design changes, and testing and adapting their creations. It’s not long until the first success — a car made from a plastic water bottle, cardboard, duct tape, and TeacherGeek building components races down the hallway outside the library doors.
Identifying a Need
Hands-on learning isn’t new to the students and educators at Mineral Point Middle School and High School. Before they acquired the cart, the Maker Club was already up and running and hands-on projects were being integrated into classroom instruction, but Library Media Technology Specialist Kris McCoy saw an opportunity for improvement.
Not only was it difficult to plan maker activities, it was hard to find the supplies and tools required. When McCoy first saw the TeacherGeek Maker Cart, a fully loaded mobile makerspace, she saw a lot of potential not just for her own instruction, but for project-based learning throughout the middle and high schools. “I loved the simplicity of set up, the project ideas and lesson plans available from TeacherGeek, and the easy product identification for reordering,” said McCoy. After talking with classroom teachers to see if they also thought it would be helpful and valuable, she made the purchase.
Why This Particular Cart?
There are other mobile and durable carts with storage bins out there, so what made this one so special? The research-backed, effective, efficient, and affordable TeacherGeek system. Designed by a teacher, the system includes real hand tools and dozens of different building components, including gears, pulleys, multimeters, and motors.
These building components aren’t intended to stand alone — you can add anything to creations, including recycling bin finds, office supplies, craft supplies, wood, metal, 3D printed materials, and more!
Individual activity kits are available for smaller-scale making, but the all-inclusive TeacherGeek Maker Cart includes over 17,000 of these building components, setting the stage for Mineral Point students to build just about anything. One cart includes enough materials to support the entire middle and high school, about 370 students. In the two years that they’ve had the cart, they’ve only had to restock a couple of supplies here and there.
Dozens of standards-aligned TeacherGeek activities are available to help educators get started. Sixth grade teacher McKenzy Brown said, “As a teacher, this gave me peace of mind that I would actually be able to use the cart because it had lessons that correlated to standards that I needed to meet, and I wouldn’t have to do the extra planning to figure out how to use the resources. All of the resources are user-friendly and the students really enjoy using all of the materials with the cart and the step-by-step directions that go with many of the lessons.”
McCoy and Brown have also gotten project ideas from a variety of other sources, all of which are compatible with the open-ended TeacherGeek system, which was specifically designed to provide learners with a basic set of tools to solve real-world design challenges that have no one-size-fits-all solution.
Connecting to the Curriculum
The cart is versatile enough to be used across multiple subjects. “The cart is a good fit for our school because it is portable and easy to get to various classrooms in the building. It has been used to facilitate traditional STEM projects but has also been used in reading and language arts classes during nonfiction reading units and skill building,” said McCoy.
While the cart’s home is the library, it isn’t often found there. Teachers and students alike seek out the cart and take it wherever it’s needed. In fact, on the day I was in Mineral Point, we started my visit by trying to find which classroom the cart had wandered off to. We found it being used by a Response to Intervention (RTI) class, which was working on perfecting their egg-crash cars that they had already tested once. Before we wheeled the cart away, they showed me the last project they had completed with TeacherGeek components: a stoplight made with colored LEDs mounted on a piece of wood.
“I wish you could hear the cheers that students made when they would see the cart coming into the classroom. They love seeing the cart because they know they are going to get to experiment and explore on their own, and that’s so motivating to many students!” said Brown.
High school teacher Matt Austin has brought the cart in for all of his science classes. “It has a wide variety of resources that can be used across all the different content areas. I use the different parts in physics and physical science to communicate how electricity flows throughout circuits and how to build the different types of circuits. In chemistry, we use the multimeters to test electrical conductivity in solutions and metals. We’ve used it to help make various things, such as air-propelled cars and electric houses.”
A nonfiction reading class has used it for a few applied reading challenges, including making an aquaponics container, building a wind turbine, and even creating robots and having a class-wide bot fight. “Students love being able to do hands-on projects that make meaningful connections to concepts,” said Austin.
Because the cart has been utilized across the school and across subject areas, use of the cart has become increasingly student-driven. “Students have begun to recognize it as a resource to go to for various needs. They are coming to look for it when they are working on projects in different classes,” said McCoy.
Students have even taken their making outside of the school walls. “This school year I had one unforgettable moment with the maker cart. One student asked me if he could take home his hydroponic set and a few other materials from the cart. His mom contacted me a couple weeks later and told me that he continued to run his hydroponic set at home. It made me so happy that he continued his exploring at home, without me having to say a word!” shared Brown.
Making Meaningful Connections
Back in the library, as the hour for Maker Club winds down, more and more students are moving out into the hallway to test their balloon cars. Calls to start packing up are largely ignored — they’re too busy seeing whose car can go the farthest, tweaking their own designs, and offering suggestions to others.
In my short time at Mineral Point, I’m struck by all the ways that the TeacherGeek Maker Cart has elevated hands-on learning throughout the school. What’s really inspiring aren’t the bits and pieces, it’s the maker mindset that I see in both the educators and students.
By collaborating with each other, being willing to try new things, and learning from both successes and failures, Kris McCoy and the other educators embody all of the characteristics we want to see in our children, and the students at Mineral Point are benefiting from having these role models.
The students are truly engaged in learning, and the skills they’re developing in academic fields, as well as critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and communication, will give them a solid foundation for future success.