The maker education movement is great for getting students back to hands-on experiences, and for giving them a break from test- and standards-driven cultures — but that doesn't mean that maker education is exempt from meeting curricular standards.
We spoke with our maker education experts to work through four ways to make sure your makerspace is in sync with your curriculum.
Paul Singh, a fifth-grade teacher at the Kensico School in Valhalla, New York, recommends taking a look at your curriculum and seeing where a maker project might fit. "When I was looking at geometry," Singh said, "[I thought], what's a project that kids would really get into that's hands on that would give them all the different aspects of STEAM that would fit into what we have to teach them? Look for those opportunities."
"Take it slow," said Simon Mangiaracina, a sixth-grade STEM teacher at the Ann Richards School in Austin, Texas. "Pick a unit of study that lends itself well. From there think about the kinds of products that kids could make that might have a more useful application."
Every maker educator we spoke to mentioned the necessity of working together with other teachers both for support and for inspiration.
"Collaborate with other teachers on your grade level or in your department who can help you find connections between your curriculum," Mangiaracina said. "That collaboration really lends itself to innovation. You start coming up with new ideas that are quite a bit different than worksheet-driven isolated projects that they find in their classroom."
As an example, Mangiaracina mentioned an animal enrichment project he worked on with a science teacher who had a connection at the Austin Zoo. The idea was for students to build puzzle devices for the animals at the zoo.
"We researched what was possible, what materials to work with. We contacted the zoo, asked what they wanted and what was most appropriate. We had a guest speaker come from the zoo. We delivered the devices to the zoo," he said. "It was a nice example of the engineering design process, which we updated to call the maker cycle: researching, prototyping, refining."
Sometimes, you'll have more success tying maker education into your curriculum on the fly rather than trying to plan it all out ahead of time.
Kristi Merchant, library media specialist at George Washington Carver Middle School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, held up a recent example of a project with science and language arts teachers related to the movie "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them." The science teacher mentioned that she was getting ready to do a unit on animals and habitats. Together the teachers decided that the students could use the library to research real-life unusual beasts, and then have that beast interact with a character from the "Harry Potter" series. In their makerspace, students then made a scene by creating through a video, writing a chapter of a book, or crafting a model of it.
Through this collaboration and flexible thinking, the teachers were able to incorporate science and language arts curriculum, while developing necessary skills in both areas.
Just like with any kind of creative thinking, you will find the most success when you are familiar with the tools that are available to you. That, really, is what powers both collaboration and flexible thinking. That's what enables you to look at any given piece of curriculum and think, "There's something neat I could do with X tool or Y design process."
In that way, the best thing you can do to tie your maker projects to the curriculum is to do more maker projects. The more you familiarize yourself with the design process and with the tools and processes available to you, the more ideas you'll get as you look at your curriculum.