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Big maker ideas don't require big-ticket items

By Team ISTE
July 1, 2015
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As is often the case with innovations in learning and teaching, getting started with that first lesson or project is the biggest hurdle. So it is with making, a learning approach that allows students to learn by doing and solve problems with tinkering and trial and error.

Despite what you may have heard, maker projects and makerspaces don’t require expensive equipment like 3D printers or laser cutters.  

Check out the small-scale maker projects that attendees were doing in the Maker Playground at ISTE 2015:

“The big thing with getting started with maker projects is that everybody assumes you have to jump to the big-ticket items. That’s not at all what’s important,” notes Vinnie Vrotny, director of technology at The Kinkaid School in Houston, Texas, and chair of the ISTE Independent School Educator Network. “You can start small in your classroom with materials you may already have. Maker is really a do-it-yourself and be willing to take chances mindset.”

Start by picking a project that aligns with your curricular goals and allow students to create artifacts that demonstrate their knowledge. The learning, and the off-the-charts engagement, comes from building or creating something to show what they’ve learned.

In fact, everything a student needs to make can be contained in a single brown paper bag – no makerspace required. Items in the bag might include scrap cardboard, googly eyes, markers, glue and duct tape. Or place a recycle bin in your classroom to collect items your staff or families don’t want anymore. Students select items from the bin to create.

“A makerspace can be more extravagant, of course. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing a 3D-printed item emerge out of nothing,” Vrotny says. “But you can start simply and inexpensively.”

Here are a few of the maker options presented at the ISTE 2015 Maker Playground. Select one or two, and get on board with the maker movement:

  • Sphero, an app-enabled ball, helps students learn basic coding and incorporates design thinking. Playground attendees were able to “drive” a paint-dipped Sphero across a giant poster canvas to create a piece of art.

  • Mad-learn enables students in grade 3 and up to create mobile apps, rather than a physical maker artifact. One example is a Florida fifth grader who created an app that teaches users how to make Rainbow Loom jewelry. The app has been downloaded 120,000 times. 
  • Cubetto is a programming interface and robot that helps students ages 4-7 learn to code. The product includes a wooden robot that students program, an interface board that sends programs to the robot and blocks that can be used to write programs to guide the robot.  
  • Makey Makey invention kits lets students make a host of learning artifacts, including musical instruments (on display at ISTE 2015) like a piano glove, a woodwind instrument or a musical wind chime, to name a few.