Start the School Year with Maker Education

Young girl painting a small rock during a maker education activity.The first few weeks of school are a critical time as we connect with our students and engage them in new learning situations. We have a tremendous opportunity at the beginning of each new year to hook students in and find the ways they learn best. For some students, visual presentations and auditory directions will be needed, but for others hands-on learning might be what makes the learning stick. Take advantage of the fresh start of the year and create some maker education opportunities — you’ll not only build connections to core content but also promote collaboration in the classroom.

Hands-on learning can set the tone for a positive school year as students can engage in creative, collaborative work with different tools and materials. Making in the classroom provides students with the chance to apply skills like communication and critical thinking while activating their imaginations. Maker education is also a strategy that includes all learners and invites them into a brand new year of learning.

Get Back into the Groove

Back to school time means establishing classroom routines and getting back into the groove. It is also the perfect time to engage students at all levels in some hands-on making. As you are getting to know your students and they are getting to know one another, infuse some maker materials into the mix.

Many teachers and librarians will design activities as icebreakers to get students talking with one another and sharing some things about themselves. Try this twist on a getting-to-know-you activity:

  1. Provide students with some maker materials to choose from.
  2. Have each student choose materials to create something.
  3. Give students a set time to create something that represents them.
  4. Then, have students use their items to introduce themselves to the class.

What kinds of materials can you use?

  • Colored paper for folding or drawing
  • Markers for writing or highlighting
  • Play dough or cardboard for sculpting
  • Pipe cleaners or Strawbees® for constructing

An alternative task for students might be to create something with maker materials that demonstrates a topic that they are excited to learn about this year. Enthusiastic about learning robotics? Design a cardboard robot. Interested in reading? Create a mini book. Love sports? Use play dough to craft a baseball, lacrosse stick, or hockey puck.

Students can display their creations in the hall for others to view or share them with their families for open house night. Students can also talk about their creations on video and you can post the videos on a class or district website. Sharing what your students create with the larger community is a great way to spread the word about maker education, as well as let others know about the positive things happening in your school.

Enjoy the Outdoors

Transitioning from carefree summertime activities to the classroom routine can be challenging for students (and teachers, too!). But maker education doesn’t have to be contained inside the classroom or school library. Take advantage of late summer and early fall weather by exploring outdoor maker learning using natural materials.

  • Explore the school grounds and look for found materials. What can be found in your region that could be the start of a maker project?
    • Leaves
    • Flowers
    • Pebbles or stones
    • Pine cones
    • Shells
    • Sand
    • Sticks
    • Soil
  • Take your maker notebooks outside and use the environment as a springboard into student sketching or writing. Narrative writing or poetry can be inspired by nature right outside of your school walls.
  • Look for ways to improve your outdoor space through making experiences. What can your students design and create to enhance the outdoor space? Ask students to generate a list of ideas and see what they come up with. From wind chimes to rock gardens, students can create interactive maker experiences or design colorful components for the space.

Using nature as a way to inspire maker learning gives students ownership over the learning that takes place there. Let your students lead the way — every outdoor environment is unique, providing one-of-a-kind opportunities for your students to engage.

Collaborative Challenges

Kick-start the school year with schoolwide maker challenges. With a focus on student collaboration and team building, design challenges can be one way to engage the entire school in developing creative problem-solving and communication skills.

Looking for some challenge ideas?

You can organize design challenges by grade level or subject area, and they can be done in classrooms, hallways, or the gymnasium. Want to engage more people in maker education? Offer a design challenge at your fall open house or Meet the Teacher night to welcome families into your school community and bring learners of all ages together around hands-on learning. Whether constructing towers or building bridges, simple challenges can be a great way to spark imagination and build maker skills.

Create Opportunities for Making Throughout the Year

The start of the school year is a busy time full of new connections and ideas, which makes it a great time to introduce maker learning to your students (and their families, too). Whether through icebreaker activities, outdoor exploration, or back-to-school parent events, making can be integrated into your back-to-school routine in simple ways.

Once you’ve tapped into their interest and gotten students engaged in making, look for ways to integrate making into your curriculum throughout the year. Get started with this post: “How to Connect Making to the Curriculum,” and check out these additional resources:

Looking for More STEM Activities?

Visit Demco MakerHub, your source for 100s of lessons, searchable by product, subject, and grade level.


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.