One of the hottest trends in education right now is a movement in which students or groups of students develop and market products they have created, recreated, or assembled using various raw materials – both digital and non-digital. This trend is called the ‘maker movement.’
The maker movement aims at encouraging more play, more creativity, and more student-centered learning in the classroom, while giving students the opportunity to manipulate materials available to them. Many schools and libraries have developed what they call ‘maker spaces’ an area in which this design and building process becomes possible. Maker spaces need not be high-tech, they can vary depending on the resources and material the designer is able to acquire.
My challenge – bring the maker movement to my classroom.
While the maker movement sounds like an awesome idea, I have a very hard time seeing the application for a high school English classroom. Maker spaces are more overtly aimed at STEM subjects and programs as students can build and work with robots, circuits, and electronics of all kinds. The question is, however, what does this have to do with English?
To research my question, I first went to Twitter – a gold mine of resources for teachers, by teachers, from teachers. I simply typed into the search bar “maker movement” and “ELA” to see what I would get. I had a few hits comeback on my search, with mixed results.
What I quickly noticed was that many of the posts about the maker movement in ELA were geared more toward elementary aged students – not helpful for my classroom of honors 9th and AP level 11th graders.
The next thing I noticed was that many of the maker implementations within ELA classrooms were in arts and crafts. For instance, one resource I found asked students to make a spider web of popsicle sticks while reading “Charlotte’s Web.” A great craft, but I was left wondering what the English application of that craft was – what ELA concept or skill did they learn by doing that?
Another resource I found had students take poems and create a visual around it. Again, another great craft project, but how does that further their study or understanding of ELA?
These results got me thinking about a fundamental issue (or difference) in the development of the maker movement in the English classroom. I do not want to implement the maker movement to simply ask students to do arts and crafts – that does not help them at all in their ELA development. My goal: to find a way to implement the maker movement so that it furthers the content I am teaching, not just creates a craft related to it.
One source I found that really spoke to me as I began to think about this issue was the idea of Novel Engineering. Novel Engineering asks students to use existing classroom literature to identify problems and design solutions while reinforcing their literacy skills. With Novel Engineering, characters become clients to the students and students pull from the text problems the characters need solved – the students then seek to solve it.
This approach of Novel Engineering really peaked my interest and hope in the maker movement as it seems to allow students to directly interact with the text in a deep and meaningful way in the development of their creations. They are not just making a circuit using a green lightbulb while reading “The Great Gatsby” that doesn’t help them understand the meaning of the light; they are interviewing Jay Gatsby to figure out what problems he has as he tries to get his Daisy back and helping him develop a solution to that problem.
I am interested to see where Novel Engineering will take me on my maker journey, but I am excited about the possibilities. I am hopeful that I can use this as a springboard to bring the maker movement not just to young children or the STEM wing of the high school building, but to all students across all content areas, at all grades and ability levels.