MAET Makers Project
Journal Entry #1 , Why – I have a challenge. How do I approach it?
Today we began our MAET Makers project by exploring the “Maker Culture” and some of
the high-tech tools that can be used in the making process. I am beginning this maker project with very little classroom “making” experience, but with an appreciation for the movement and its contributions to education. We started by seeking out resources that defined and further explored what making is and how it is being incorporated in education. Next, we performed a “Demo Slam” of the resources we found. Each member of the class had one minute to present the making site and information they found to be most helpful. It was a great introduction and compilation of ideas and information. We then spent some time exploring some maker “toys” such as: Makey Makey, Bee-Bot, Ozobot, and Mip.
In my opinion, the making culture will only continue to grow and is becoming an essential component of teaching and curriculum. Making is about empowering people to design and create the products of their imaginations. As described in the article I demoed, “The Maker Movement: What it looks like, Mindsets and Motivation,” the Maker Movement is a “Global revolution in new ways of production and making products.” People are learning that they, themselves, can find ways to make the products they dream up and making is relevant to teaching because it is all about problem-solving, collaboration and real-life application. Making requires reflection and encourages the mindset of accepting failure and learning from it. What a great way to promote inquiry and perseverance!
Why am I not creating more lessons with a maker’s mindset? How can I start right away?
Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, I can begin the planning stage of my project. Warren Berger outlines a three-step process for questioning and problem-solving in his book, A More Beautiful Question. In the book, Warren explains that, “The Why/What If/How progression offers a simplified way to approach questioning; it’s an attempt to bring at least some semblance of order to a questioning process that is, by its nature, chaotic and unpredictable” (Berger, 2014, p. 33).
As I enter this first “Why” stage of planning a maker project, I begin my line of inquiry. As mentioned above, I ask myself why making is on the rise? What kind of impact it has had on our economy and education? What does authentic and meaningful making look like in a classroom? How does it affect student achievement? And, perhaps one of the most important questions I ask myself is, “How can I make making work for me? Now? Realistically?”
As my vision for a making lesson begins to take form, I also follow a procedure referred to as “Design Thinking” as outlined in “An Introduction to Design Thinking: Process Guide” by the Institute of Design at Stanford. The process suggests that I must first “Empathize” with my targeted audience or learners in order to plan a better, more meaningful experience for them (Dschool). In this case, my fourth grade students. I work through Bergers “why” stage and I as I ask myself questions like: What kind of making do I see as a good fit in my classroom as it is now? What am I already teaching that I can enhance with making? How can I make this meaningful to my students?
After exploring those questions, I then move into the Design Thinking stage of “Define” (Dschool). Through my line of questioning, I can better focus my ideas and planning. I have decided to use an energy lesson about simple circuits and remix it into something that better suits the making movement. During my energy unit, we always use homemade wires, batteries and bulbs to create simple circuits, but how can I add an element of creativity to the process? As the lesson exists now, the process is rigid; a strict “first this, then this, followed by this” sort of arrangement. Now, this is obviously necessary, as there is a certain order to the flow of electricity, but as I searched for maker-centered lessons, I came across the “Squishy Circuits” idea (Thomas).
Journal Entry #2, What If – I see an opportunity. What do I create?
Through the next leg of this process, I continue to explore several lesson plans and informational pages about Squishy Circuit lessons and how they generally work. I have not used them before and really don’t understand, yet, how they work. I am now in the Design Thinking stage of “Ideation.” I am gathering vast amounts of information and resources about Squishy Circuits and compiling lists of the affordances and constraints in relation to my curriculum, available materials, and grade level. This will help me move into the next stage of this process. I find that most of the Squishy Circuit plans include exploration of open and closed circuits, series circuits and parallel through the use of both conductive and insulative dough. The plans I have found include recipes for both kinds of dough, which include the use of stove top cooking. I find it very exciting to discover all of the possibilities for working with Squishy Circuits and can imagine the engagement that it would render in my students.
What if I make this work for me?
At some point, I start to feel discouraged about the direction of my project. Several questions or thoughts arise: Do I try to cook the play dough in the classroom? We don’t usually get as “deep” into circuits as discussing series and parallels. Is the insulating dough necessary? How can I make this meaningful to fourth graders and how can I promote creativity and freedom to explore? What if I make this extend to other content areas?
With a few constraints in mind, this is where I find myself in what Berger describes as the “What If” stage of questioning. In his book, Berger puts great emphasis on this part of the process, describing “What If moments” as “bright possibilities that are untested and open to question” (Berger, 2014, p. 34). With this thought, I am renewed in my attempt to make this concept work for me. I begin to think about this project in a different mindset; a place where I can remix and re-imagine my existing lessons and the concept of the Squishy Circuits. Next question: What does the remix look like?
I start by reviewing my standards and searching for the components of the Squishy Circuit lessons that I believe will work for me. Through this process, I practice questioning, in hopes of landing somewhere closer to my, yet-to-be-determined, destination. What if I start small? What if I find a way to acquire the dough that doesn’t require cooking it in the classroom when I don’t have the resources to do so? What if I prepared it before hand? What if I brought in a hot plate and tried making it in school? What if adding insulating dough to create more complex circuits were an extension of the lesson, rather than part of the main plan? What if the students used the dough to create a representation of something we have learned about in another area of our curriculum?
Journal Entry #3, How – I have an idea. How do I build it?
How will this work?
Berger describes the “How” stage of questioning as the “time to awake from your daydreams and go to work” (Berger, 2014, p. 115). This is the time to bring the ideas together and move forward. I used elements of my existing circuits unit and remixed them with elements from the Lord, Thomas and SciGirls lessons listed on their sites.
Here is my basic plan so far:
- Gather materials and make dough.
- Review the flow of energy and the components of a simple circuit.
- Construct a simple circuit with battery, wires and bulb.
- Discuss conductivity; add dough components.
- Bring wires back and use dough as a platform for bulb.
- Students complete closed, simple circuits using the dough in whatever way they choose in an attempt to relate it to another area of study.
Prototype & Test
At this point in the Design Thinking process, it is time for me to gather my materials and begin building a prototype and test its capabilities. The Design Thinking framework suggests that this is the time to construct a simple, cheap version of my project and explore the ways that the plan can fail (Dschool).
Immediately, I ran into trouble when the LED bulbs I had available all blew out when connected to a 9-volt battery. I soon learned that the energy coming from a 9-volt is too strong for the LED’s when used without a resistor. I also discovered the importance of incorporating an insulating dough, as large amounts of conductive dough can create too much resistance and leave the current too weak to light the bulb.
As I explored my prototype, I worked with a few of my peers to troubleshoot and improve my plan. They suggested bringing the dough ingredients to school to create the dough together. We also determined that a two-pronged LED is necessary when working with conductive dough. After many attempts and investigating on the internet, we determined that the regular bulb does not create a path of least resistance, therefore, does not summon the energy to light.
Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York City, NY: Bloomsbury USA.
Bjerede, M. (2015, October 11). The Maker Movement: What it Looks Like, Mindsets and Motivation. Retrieved July 17, 2016, from http://gettingsmart.com/2015/10/the-maker-movement-what-it-looks-like-mindsets-and-motivation/
Dschool: Stanford University Institute of Design. An Introduction to Design Thinking: Process Guide. Retrieved July 17, 2016, from https://dschool.stanford.edu/sandbox/groups/designresources/wiki/36873/attachments/74b3d/ModeGuideBOOTCAMP2010L.pdf?sessionID=68deabe9f22d5b79bde83798d28a09327886ea4b
Dschool: Stanford University Institute of Design. (2016). Our Point of View. Retrieved July 17, 2016, from https://dschool.stanford.edu/our-point-of-view/
Lord, M. (2014, December 11). Squishy Circuits. Retrieved July 17, 2016, from http://teachers.egfi-k12.org/squishy-circuits/
SciGirls. (n.d.). Dough Creatures. Retrieved July 17, 2016, from http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/590bb20b-0f87-4946-bf5e-3705a0298131/dough-creatures/
Thomas, A. (n.d.). Welcome to the Squishy Circuits Project Page. Retrieved July 17, 2016, from http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/apthomas/SquishyCircuits/index.htm