What Is Making?

Making in SchoolsThis is the first in a six-part series titled Making in Schools.

If you visit Lighthouse Community Charter classrooms this fall, you’ll see kindergartners using power tools, 2nd graders doing logo programming, 3rd graders building circuit blocks, 6th graders programming microcontrollers to respond to sensor inputs, 8th graders using hot-glue guns, and high school students building chairs, building and programming robots, and using a laser to cut out pieces of wood for prototypes.

circuit blocks

As we look across our school, we’re pretty excited by two things. First, we’re pleased to see making (broadly defined as using your hands, heart, and mind to create or improve things) happening as part of our students’ core classroom experiences. And second, we’re thrilled that our students — poor, urban students of color — have access to making, especially because our educational system so often provides them with experiences filled with seat time and back-to-basics instruction.

Lighthouse operates two high-performing, K-12 public schools in Oakland: our flagship campus, Lighthouse, and our brand new campus, Lodestar (to open in East Oakland in the fall of 2016). Our mission is to prepare a diverse, K-12 student population for college and the career of their choice by equipping each student with the skills, knowledge, and tools to become a self-motivated, competent, lifelong learner.

Why Make?

We need making in education to prepare our students for a world that is increasingly global, increasingly technological, and increasingly complex. We can’t be confident that the jobs of today will be the jobs of tomorrow. We don’t know that the technologies of today will be the technologies of tomorrow. What we can do is prepare thinkers and lifelong learners that can be successful in any situation the future puts them in. prototyping

Good making experiences — sewing, fermenting, or 3D printing, as examples — can happen across a lot of content areas, but we think good making experiences develop students’ agency by helping them become sensitive to design.

Let’s unpack those features a little bit. We live in a world that is shaped by humans. Human craftsmanship and design shape all kinds of things you use on a daily basis, from your desk, to the transit system, to this very blog post. This is what we mean by sensitivity to design: an ability to perceive the made dimensions of the world. Agency plugs into this by giving students both the ability and inclination to design and affect design, which requires particular skills, mindsets, and dispositions.

We’ll talk more broadly about this framework, which is built off of research done by our friends at Agency by Design (an initiative of Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education), later on in this Making in Schools series.

Developing students’ agency, though, is the reason we are crazy about making in schools. We love the cool products and the more expansive definition of circuit blockswhat learning and achievement are, but making is about more than hands-on learning. It’s about thinking. It’s about students creating things they can share with other people. It’s about craftsmanship. And, along the way, it’s about kids learning more traditional content as well.

How Do I Do This With My Students?

We recognize that this post is mostly about how we define making and why we think it’s important. The rest of the posts in this series will be about how to do making in your classrooms. Here’s what you can look for in the coming months:

  • Thinking Routines: How to use thinking routines to develop sensitivity to design.
  • Subtle Shifts: How to make teacher centered activities more learner centered, using subtle shifts.
  • Lodestar: How to use agency as a principle of design, as we are doing to create and launch a new school.
  • The Making Community: How to connect with resources that are out there, and the maker movement in general.
  • Make it happen! How to launch making in your classroom and school.

Get Started Today!

While you may be inclined to wait for additional posts in the series before getting started, part of the maker mindset is diving in, giving things a try, and then reflecting. Your first classroom making experience will not be perfect — and that’s ok. What you learn in your prototype will make your next making experience even better. For some ideas about how you might get started, take a look at our project guides, the Exploratorium Tinkering Studio’s projects, and MakerEd’s resource library. If you do give making a try in your classroom, tell us about it in the comments below!

Robbie Torney has been a kindergarten teacher at Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, California, since 2011. This year, he is part of a team working to open Lodestar, a sibling school to Lighthouse, with an exciting new model designed around making and agency. Robbie is an Oakland resident, a Stanford fanatic, and supporter of students, teachers, and higher standards. Connect with him on Twitter: @rtorney.

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