Tag: maker

Matador Makerspaces Supplies

I wanted to share the shopping list for the new elementary makerspace carts, going into all of our elementary campuses in the next few weeks. After soliciting feedback from campus librarians (who will manage the carts as a part of the library inventory) and campus technology teachers, the list evolved from its original form to include more low- or no-tech tools, such as pipe cleaners and craft sticks, and less of the techie stuff I admittedly favor. I did manage to include a few, like MakeyMakeys, 3D pens, etc. You can view the entire list here.

Grade Your Makers, Kill Your Makerspace

I read an article this  morning in Edutopia titled Creating an Authentic Maker Education Rubric by Lisa Yokana. The article has some very good suggestions for the types of things we might look for in students’ makerspace projects, specifically three very sound categories: process; understanding; and product. It is worth a read and has given me some useful ideas about posters or rubrics or group discussion guides I might want to include in the makerspaces I am planning for my own schools.

parkerOne sentence right up front in the article made me cringe, however. Ms. Yokana asks “How will we justify a grade to students and parents alike, especially to the student who ‘just isn’t good at art’?” This sentence really sidetracked me, and I almost stopped reading the rest of the piece, which does have some good, useful stuff. Ms. Yokana, in her Edutopia bio, mentions the need for a “change of paradigm” and states that the “present model is no longer valid.” Yet, bam! Right from the start, we are talking about…grades. Grades in a makerspace. Grades in a place that is about innovation, creativity, and imagination. Grades where kids engage in playful, curious experimentation and (if I can use the phrase without risking our district’s state rating) the joy of learning.

It probably should not surprise me, given the fact that I have seen teachers assign grades to anything and everything a kid does in the school. I have seen a kid’s average go up because she brought the box of tissues on the school supply list. Permission slip returned? A+!  Walking in a straight line? Extra credit!

I hate grades–okay, I’ve said it. Grades are mostly for the kids who have hacked the system, who know how to play the game. Grades are overblown, overused, and usually give very little or no insight into learning. Grades do not engage or motivate most students. A favorite quote, which I keep pinned to the top of my Twitter page, is from Alfie Kohn:

“Helping students forget about grades is the single best piece of advice for creating a learning-oriented classroom.”

Taken even further, getting rid of grades entirely would be an even better step. There are alternatives. My kids’ kindergarten and first grade teachers sent home detailed, qualitative reports that listed the performance standards my kids were meeting, on their way to meeting, or needing to learn. There was no number, no arbitrary and meaningless percentage. It was informative and helpful, and I doubt it caused an ounce of stress or apprehension for my kids, their classmates, or any parents. Kohn (1999) cites a series of studies by Bulter that demonstrated that the mere presence of number grades reduced students’ creative problem-solving, even if qualitative feedback was included.  Put simply, grades kill creativity and motivation.

Our illustrious 17th VP.

Our illustrious 17th VP.

I think assessment of student maker projects is a great idea that should be implemented. However, assessment should be for growth and generating new, better ideas, not for grades. It should be self- and peer-driven, to promote reflection and critical analysis. Makerspaces are intended to promote creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and a host of almost impossible to quantify character traits and skills. I can quickly tell if a kid knows the 17th vice president of the United States (Shuyler Colfax, of course). I find it a lot harder to assign a number to the ideas of a child or the worth of his/her creations.

I don’t want to sound like I am picking on Ms. Yokana. She shares some great ideas. Rubrics would be great tools for project assessment, certainly. Her 3 categories of assessment would be great areas to focus class discussions. How about using her basic ideas to create posters for the school makerspace something like these?


Is my product well-contructed-What design elements need improvement-Does it work as intended-Is my design easy to use-My point is that assessment is great and appropriate, but grades do more harm than good. Keep the grades out of your makerspaces, your genius hours, your coding clubs, etc. Let’s give the kids these precious few times to think and invent and tinker without fear or consequence.


Infographic: School Makerspace 1-2-3

Infographic I created to illustrate a sampling of the basic tools for starting a school makerspace from scratch without breaking the bank (at least not at first). Were I to expand on the idea, I’d include the need for ample space and volunteers or staff to mentor students and ensure safe activity in the makerspace.


Innovativeness and Creativity Inspired by Cardboard?

cardboard challenge 1I’ve often stolen a page from Sir Ken Robinson by asking a group of educators whether or not they considered themselves to be creative people. The responses have always been overwhelmingly negative. I’ve then asked them to answer the same question, but to do so while imagining that they were there kindergarten selves. This always elicits a laugh and an vast majority who responds in the positive. Somewhere along the line, we stop seeing ourselves as creative beings. There are probably numerous reasons for this, but the way we school our students is without a doubt a key contributor. Somewhere in the sea of the school routine, the drills, the worksheets, the test-focused, inane curriculum, we forget how to imagine, to create, and to invent.

cardboard challenge 2Yesterday, I had the pleasure of leading a group of teachers in a “maker” workshop at TCEA’s annual convention. The workshop only had time for a couple of activities, unfortunately. Participating educators used cardboard to create chairs and MakeyMakeys to create video game controllers. This was the first time I’ve done a cardboard challenge with a group of teachers. They worked in groups with the instruction to build a chair, which would be judged based upon aesthetics (art/design), strength (physics/engineering), and comfort (engineering/design).

cardboard challenge 5As I circulated among groups, observing their interactions and work, I felt a sense of pride and excitement that no other presentation or professional development I had previously designed had ever given me. It was truly as if that creative, innovative kindergartener was reborn. Groups created chair designs completely unique to one another. They planned, built, tested, analyzed, and revised. They engaged in genuine critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving. All of this through the use of cardboard, tape, and a few other, low-tech tools (such as MakeDo, a set of really cool tools for building with cardboard).

cardboard challenge 3In the educational technology world, it is very easy to become enamored with flash and style. As a certified gadget junky, I know this all too well. It is commonplace to become infatuated with the newest tools and to want our classrooms to be outfitted with a magnificent array of interactive whiteboards, tablets, laptops, student response systems, digital projectors, document cameras, and on and on. However, these are all nothing more than tools, and like any tools, they are only as useful as the skills brought to their application. If we have only learned how to use a hammer and apply that to a screwdriver, the screwdriver is useless.

imageIn education, if we are going to continue to use our tools in the same ways we used the tools that came before, they become a colossal waste of time, resources, and money. We have to learn new ways of teaching, not just the latest, shiny things. When we create opportunities for students to build, create, innovate, and invent, we open up incredible possibilities for our technology resources to foster the 21st century skills we give so much lip service to. In fact, as the cardboard chairs demonstrate, we can even do this without the latest gadgets. Technologies simply up the possibilities of our students imagining and creating the truly revolutionary.

So, how do we do this in the classroom? Here are a few steps I would suggest:

  1. Begin with a great (open-ended) question. Even better, begin with a great question that comes from our students. Great questions as things like: How? What if? Is it possible? It is perfectly appropriate and okay to use the curriculum to inspire your questions–objective statements can be great question starters. 
  2. Since our system expects grades, assess students based upon clear, simple criteria. Whenever possible, let students establish the criteria and participate in the assessment.
  3. Turn off the traditional teacher mode and try to get into the role of advisor and mentor. Focus on the process students are going through and ensuring that they have what they need to answer the question or design the solution. This is one place technologies can play a big role.
  4. Teach students how to respond to failure and mistakes. Students need to know how to analyze their efforts, regroup, change plans, and try again. Don’t accept failure, but expect and embrace productive failure.
  5. Don’t look for standardized responses. Imagination, creativity, and innovation lead to endless possible solutions. Be prepared and embrace this, and expect the unexpected.

Finally, we need to be patient (but not too patient) with ourselves. Chances are that you, as did I, grew up in a school world that focused upon the passing of knowledge from the teacher or textbook to students’ minds. As a result, this is what we know, and this is what we do. Changing our habits will take practice, skill, and time. It’s a change that must be made, however, even in the face of an incessant, seemingly overwhelming call for standardization of everything. Our kids are not “standardized”. We as educators have spent too much time and effort on completely impotent “reforms” and initiatives that are, at their core, just doing the same, ineffective things more frequently, more loudly, with new buzzwords, and with more conviction. This isn’t change or reform or anything worthwhile. Anyone who honestly and critically looks at the results of the past decade and a half of school reform mandates and efforts can come to no other conclusion. Quite the opposite, the results have demonstrated that a complete re-imagining of what we are doing is going to be the only way to truly revolutionize education. Look for opportunities for students to ask questions, solve problems, create, invent, collaborate. Create learning spaces that are filled with tools and resources that encourage inquiry, experimentation, and exploration. Start small, if needed, but dream big. Just like I experienced yesterday, I believe it will leave you and your students feeling amazed and inspired at what can transpire.


ISTE13: Fostering Creativity and Innovation Through Technology

The Prezi and links below are from my presentation at the 2013 ISTE conference in San Antonio on June 26th.





Makey Makey



Lego Robotics for Education

Sylvia’s Super Awesome Mini Maker Show


Squishy Circuits


Hopscotch App





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