This article is a sneak peek into TYC's upcoming Back to School issue.
This is the first in a series of articles on making we'll be publishing in TYC. Do you have a makerspace in your classroom? Tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is making?
Making is a term for interest-driven engagement in creative production that connects with science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM). Making has developed into a recognized social, technological, and economic movement. It integrates current trends in DIY (do-it-yourself) culture, traditional crafts, and emerging technologies—for example, joining physical computing and fabrication. Although much attention has been paid to the ways in which making can influence youth and adults, there is great excitement about the promise of making as an educational approach for young children.
Today's maker movement has its roots in the garages of recreational mechanics, in the basement workshops of hobbyist technologists, and on the dining room tables of resourceful crafters. Makers often combine digital and physical media, integrating new technologies into traditional creative processes. For example, a maker may hand-sew an LED light and battery into a garment with conductive thread, creating apparel that lights up—a creative process resulting in a product now referred to as an electronic textile or an e-textile. Or makers may take apart an old electronic toy, harvest the components—motor, switches, and buzzers—and integrate them into a device or gizmo of their own invention. Preschool children are not too young to join the maker movement, because the things that motivate the explorative possibilities and projects of every maker are the same fundamental characteristics that drive young children--a vivid imagination and a willingness to try.
Educators and policy makers have taken note of the phenomenon of creativity and innovation and are now investing heavily in initiatives for young children and older students that connect this grassroots movement to STEAM education, workforce preparedness, and the development of innovative and entrepreneurial skills—knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary for success in school and life in the 21st century.
Making is quickly becoming an established feature of many educational environments, with educators incorporating making into classrooms from pre-K to higher education. Program heads, curators, scientists, and librarians are introducing it in cultural institutions such as museums, science centers, and libraries, moving quickly to integrate making into exhibitions and educational programs. Preschool teachers find that by using a maker-based approach in the classroom, they are able to differentiate their instruction, leverage students' individual interests, and more deeply engage all children in learning. While the maker movement as educational reform and a defined learning practice is a relatively recent phenomenon, similar educational theories and approaches—such as constructivism, constructionism, Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and project-based learning-have long been used in early childhood settings.
MAKESHOP at the Children's Museum
MAKESHOP at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh is a makerspace designed to support young children's and families' engagement in making as a learning process.
The museum's guiding design philosophy is "play with real stuff," which promotes the use of authentic materials, tools, and processes in all exhibits and programming. This approach includes a deep respect for the museum's visitors and the belief that a well-designed and beautiful environment that provides sustainable, quality materials for visitors to explore will afford children and adults alike a comfortable and empowering museum experience. The same philosophy is evident in the design of excellent early childhood environments and authentic experiences that support and enhance children's early learning.
MAKESHOP provides all museum visitors with facilitated access to a variety of physical materials and digital media resources to promote curiosity, exploration, creativity, and innovation. This includes equipping visitors with real tools, like hammers, sewing machines, and laptops, and real materials, like nails, cloth, thread, and circuit boards. Teaching artists, or facilitators, support and guide participants in the use of these authentic tools and materials and in creative processes like sewing, embroidery, woodworking, connecting circuits, and soldering.
Most preschools offer hands-on opportunities for children to create, although not necessarily in a designated makerspace. The maker movement can inspire preschool teachers to explore new ways to incorporate the use of real materials, tools, and process, as well as a maker-based approach to learning, into their classrooms. For example, back in the classroom one preschool teacher learned about the potential of taking apart old electronic toys—in her case, a remote control car and a singing stuffed animal. She worked with her students to investigate the properties of the motors and switches that were inside these toys, harvesting the component parts and using them to create circuit blocks like those her students had engaged with at the museum.
While working with many early childhood teachers to help safely and creatively integrate these sorts of materials, tools, and processes into their classrooms, we at the Children's Museum have learned that the most important parts of this work are the approach to learning and the facilitation strategies used when providing these resources. This includes teachers intentionally using open-ended questions, celebrating diverse outcomes, introducing opportunities for productive failure and iteration, and engaging in the making process alongside their students.
At the museum, the facilitation team of teaching artists are skilled makers, artists, and educators with specialties in digital media, textiles, electronics, woodworking, and informal learning. A significant part of the teaching artists' work is connecting with visitors, learning about their interests and ideas, and creating conditions for children and families to take personal risks and develop trust in themselves. Teaching artists scaffold making experiences to enable visitors to engage with materials, tools, and processes in ways that are appropriately challenging while building comfort and confidence. For example, using pieces of pegboard with large holes, teaching artists at the children's museum have designed a tool that gives young learners practice in the up-and-down motion of hand stitching before they sew with fabric, needle and thread, or a sewing machine.
Tools and techniques like these have been a part of preschool classrooms for some time (e.g., lacing boards), and many preschool teachers understand the importance of the interest driven approach. The way facilitators use process-oriented tools and techniques to engage children in increasingly more sophisticated and individualized ways is a hallmark of making as a learning process as well as a sign of a high quality early childhood setting. In a making activity, after practicing the up-and-down motion of sewing with pegboards, a child may then apply that skill directly to thecreation of a sewn bag, armband, or doll's garment at home. Or a child may practice connecting a circuit using circuit blocks and then apply this understanding to integrate a working LED light, battery, and switch into the creation of a light saber made of materials such as cardboard tubes, fabric, and wood scraps. Ultimately, an approach to learning through making is about scaffolding children's engagement with real materials, real tools, and authentic processes in ways that are open-ended, exploratory, iterative, and self-directed. In preschool classrooms, as in our museum based makerspace, this begins with making familiar materials accessible to children and encouraging them to engage with the materials in new ways.
Learning and making—Research and practice
As a learning process, making encompasses a cycle of introducing new skills and knowledge, testing and exploring with tools and materials to grow or refine those skills and knowledge areas, receiving feedback about what is tested, and making changes based on that feedback and on personal reflective experience.
For example, when a child uses a screwdriver for the first time, she figures out where to grip the tool and how the tip fits into the slot in the screw's head. If she tries to tighten the screw by turning the screwdriver to the left, she receives the feedback that the screw comes out rather thanscrews in. The child reflects and realizes that she has to turn the screwdriver to the right. In this way, making activities embody the learning process. Our research at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh currently focuses on improving facilitation of maker-based learning experiences; creating conditions in museums, libraries, and schools to support making as a learning process; and—fundamental to all our work—identifying and describing what maker-based learning looks like and sounds like.
SUPPORTING DUAL LANGUAGE LEARNERS
To ensure that DLLs have safe and productive maker experiences, prepare materials and plan demonstrations in advance. Remember that some children won't understand what you mean when you explain how to use the materials, so practice using distinct actions to show children how to use them, and prepare photos or videos to remind all participants about using the materials safely.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT MAKING, VISIT THE FOLLOWING WEB PAGES: