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Educator innovation: Re-Making teaching and learning

3 min read


Education Talk Radio recently helped SmartBrief Education shine a light on the Maker Movement and educator-bloggers Aaron Vanderwerff and Patrick Waters. Vanderwerff and Waters are the recipients of our  first annual  Educators’ Choice Content Awards. 

Vanderwerff is a K-12 makerspace and science coordinator at Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, Calif. Waters is a middle- and high-school educator at The Monarch School in Houston, Texas.

Making as a path to student-driven learning

Lighthouse Community Charter educates K-12 students from predominantly low-income backgrounds. Educators there strive to connect making concepts to all subjects.

“For us, we think constantly about how to integrate inquiry into the classroom in a way that is broader than scientific inquiry,” Vanderwerff said. “We try to give students the agency, the choice and the space to figure out [concepts] for themselves.”

He cited the example of using mousetrap cars to demonstrate Newton’s laws of motion.

“A student might put rubber bands on the mousetrap car to simulate the rubber in tires, prompting the teacher to ask about how forces relate,” he said. “Then they might actually do a quick-study about friction. So they’re actually applying concepts immediately to the car, and then they’re iterating their design on the car, which allows them to demonstrate their understanding of Newton’s laws and forces.”

Space for making

Waters tailors maker education to students with various diagnoses of learning differences, including ADHD and autism spectrum disorders. His classroom is a dedicated makerspace where students work with everything from catapaults to 3D printers. But he emphasized that classrooms don’t need expensive equipment to facilitate making.

“I describe my room as equal parts woodshop, machine shop, rapid 3D-printing lab, art room and science lab that you shook in a blender and took out in pureed form,” he said. “In a classroom, you may not have a perfect space to mix all of these disciplines in one place. A makerspace allows kids to build, make physical objects — with the help of adult facilitators and interesting materials.”

And what about the old-school diorama, fashioned out of paper and glue? “That could be making if a teacher gives [students] agency to make and create,” Waters said.

Maker Movement and broader trends in education

Making touches several topics in education, such as career readiness and science, technology, engineering and math.

“A lot of the things we’re talking about here speak to larger national conversations about tenacity and grit,” SmartBrief’s senior education editor Melissa Greenwood said.

Skills developed through making carry over to the real word, Waters emphasized.

“I think what the Maker Movement has done is lit a fire under administrations and people who are interested in education, saying: These are the skills we need in our workforce and this is how we can engage students in real life—and oh, by the way, here they are getting STEM and other education at the same time,” he said.

Listen to the full interview:

SmartBrief Education will honor Vanderwerff and Waters at the ASCD Annual Conference in March.

Learn more about the 2014 nominees.

Check out the January 2015 winners of the Editor’s Choice Content Award.  Education Talk Radio features winners on its podcast each month. Catch Waters’ first interview on the podcast here and Vanderwerff’s first podcast here. If you have an original content piece you’d like to be considered for the Editor’s Choice Content Awards, please contact us.