As a founding member of a makerspace and an educator, reading specialist, and instructional coach, the question I most often field is this, “So how do you fit curriculum into a makerspace?” This is a tricky question. As educators know, time is the biggest constraint on what we can do with kids and the amount of “teaching” that can occur. Just with any question related to teaching, one must first prioritize what is really worth students’ time. This is a deeply personal question for many teachers and is based on philosophy, tradition, and most importantly, confidence in subject matter.

How can we afford to waste educational time to let students simply tinker and explore instead of receive quality direct instruction?

This is the embedded question in the one above that teachers are too polite to ask. And my reply, if I were braver, would go something like this.

When is the last time you really learned something well? Mastered it totally and without question, whether it was a skill or knowledge of a system? The knowledge and skills I value most are the ones that I explored, created, and tried out on my own. For instance, reading aloud to a student doesn’t get them reading. The best readers practice reading and explore literature independently. When I was learning to build a fire as a fifth grader, I sat in a girl scout office where I was taught framing techniques and that ‘Fire burns up’. I remember thinking, “I already know all of this!” However, the first time I built a fire independently was not the result of sitting in the office. It was after observing my peers and leaders, some coaching, and of course the one or two burns it took to realize that fire does indeed burn up. The point is, learning for all, no matter what age, occurs with trial and error within authentic hands-on experiences. This learning is powerful, increases students’ confidence and helps create a growth mindset builds students’ agency, and shifts the expectation of how true learning occurs.

Why can’t we take where students are at into consideration, and teach curriculum from there? How do you take a tinkering project and authentically tie in literacy, writing, technology, and science?

This is tricky though, because it requires teachers to have a deep understanding of not only the standards, but also depth of knowledge within the content area. Asking a teacher to focus on skills and strategies that exist in art, science, math, technology and use this knowledge to conference independently or in small groups with students is a BIG ask. (Besides of course balance grading, parent communication, and maintaining quality instruction in all other subject areas).

Teacher Education becomes one of the most important aspects of linking curriculum to a makerspace, because it is the teacher who will sit with the student and say,
“I notice how you are bringing comparison of these two ideas into work using light and dark. Artists call this chiriascuro.”

“What patterns have you noticed so far? If you did this again, what do you think would happen? This is just how scientists use patterns to refine their work. Consider how these patterns could help you plan and refine your work.”

“What structures worked best to maintain stability as you constructed this? I see you recorded your notes and drew pictures. Keep trying to jot ideas down so you have records to share later.”

It takes an educated teacher to notice and name within students work, so students realize the relation of the authentic task they engage in to the worlds of literacy, math, science, technology, and art.