Bringing “Maker Ideas” into Learning

obamaWhen I was growing up, my mother was known to sew clothes every weekend. She made most of our clothes when we were younger and all of her own for years. She even made our prom dresses when we were in school. I grew up around her “crazy” ideas during school dance planning time. Think…Cinderella carriages and horses covered in glitter…all formed from wood cut in our driveway. For black history month one year, she even made a wooden President Obama and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (I definitely questioned her on creating a wooden cutout of President Obama’s signature but clearly she ignored me)

My mother was and is a “maker” and more than likely, so are you.


Being a “Maker” Isn’t New or Necessarily Tech

In education, we have a way of taking a “thing” and reframing it to be something else…to fit our ideas or the latest trend of the moment but making isn’t new. Making has been the fabric of mankind since we existed. It’s not just technology and specifically coding. It’s not about devices. It really is about the synergy and application of ideas and passionately bringing them to life or even the need for a project to be real and the ability to create it.

The “new to us” part though, is not just making a horse and carriage of wood and glitter but maybe one that twinkles on command or moves through some animatronic lens. It’s making the wooden “President Obama” recite some of his famous quotes/speeches or even tweets from his twitter account because it was coded to do so. It’s my nephew, the puppet maker, creating puppets that respond to buttons that he has coded to its appendages or a prom dress drenched in LEDs programmed to dance to the music. To be clear, knowing my mother, her creations would have definitely done these things if she had the skills to do so. She has definitely created her share of pieces with integrated lighting. (Christmas lights were her “LED” of choice)

The “new to us” part is this idea of being a maker who takes advantage of accessible technology, embedding skills that could foster even greater potential and pathways in its creators. Technology in making has lead to some of the greatest innovations and in schools, providing pathways to create in this way can be a game-changer as our students craft the future of innovation.

With that said, it’s important to remember that tech and making aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. My nephew makes amazing puppets and while he would love to learn to do animatronics, which he is, he also loves making puppets for “person to puppet” analog performing. He naturally embeds physics in his designs and continued iteration. Without tech, his puppets are completely innovative.

In schools, the tricky part is that the “maker movement” is still so new as a phrase that access varies as to what or if kids will be able to create. I’ve seen everything in school makerspaces from purchased board games and puzzles to blocks, legos, art supplies, devices and app-coded robots. Yes, a makerspace can have plenty of supplies but perhaps a great question to ponder when creating these spaces is…

What are kids making? Who do kids want to make? What do kids need to learn in order to make? 

It’s also not a bad idea to ask…”What problems do kids want to solve? We should also recognize that “making” for creative pleasure and problem solving are equally as necessary and should both be accessible.


If my nephew’s school had a makerspace and it was only filled with coding programs and app-coded robots, this would not serve him. A tech only program serves the purpose of exposing kids to tech but it misses the mark on taking advantage of skills that build from analog creativity.

At the same token, a makerspace that doesn’t include tech, misses the mark on providing access to tinkering with tools that could inspire tech-infused innovative pathways, new passions or even future/career aspirations.

The Makers of CTE (Career and Technical Programs)

I believe that it was John Spencer who once spoke of the “maker spaces” of CTE programs.  CTE programs have been teaching kids “maker skills” forever from woodshop to metal shop, electrical engineering, Information technology, culinary arts, robotics and so on.

The problem was that until now we have looked at CTE as the courses that kids do in addition to their core learning and not as skills and creative venues integrated into all learning. Many also often view the CTE courses themselves in isolation. We also haven’t necessarily taken advantage of the creative commerce associated with such creativity or empowered our kids to do so. Some schools and programs run “fabrication labs” where kids actually sell their pieces much like FFA kids profit from…well, you know.

Yes making is about creative fun, but what if we taught our kids how they could turn their ideas into entrepreneurial ventures or took their creative ideas to new levels by simply thinking…”yes and”, then entrepreneurial ventures from making would be accessible by more than just those with the information needed or the tools to do so.

Early Learner Making in Lufkin (my school district)

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 7.51.46 PMEarlier this year, I challenged our ambassador teachers to explore maker spaces. I didn’t define it for them and only provided a tiny bit of information. I asked them to research and find ways to bring this creativity into their classrooms. A few teachers jumped in right away and started “makerspace Fridays” where kids worked in stations creating everything from stop motion videos to minecraft, class pet habitats, circuits and so on. They were so excited and in awe that they took their classes on a field trip to a maker event at a museum out of town. They dug even deeper by incorporating coding and lego robotics with the help of a few engineers from Lockheed Martin. This same class coded Dash & Dot to deliver valentines (filmed with a parent’s gopro camera) and created circuit driven cards for their moms on mother’s day.

operationAnother class integrated makey makeys into math class by having the kids code operation games with scratch and the addition of cardboard, paint, copper tape and foil. She found this lesson on the makey makey site.

Both of these super creative ventures happened in gifted classrooms and if we are only doing this in gifted classrooms, then we are inherently creating an inequity around something that is as human as breathing.

For me, providing creative pathways for all kids is a priority and as our instructional technology director, it is equally as important that we can do so while building much needed technology skills within our kids…all kids.

Building A Maker Mindset


As with most ventures, doing this takes time and training for kids and teachers…unless you decide to not wait on teachers while front loading the students with skills of interest. (Read to learn how we are doing this)

Our high school CTE program is so amazing and fluid that we often see partnerships between CTE and fine arts where kids are collaboratively cross-creating because their teachers understand the power of doing so. We do not have a single maker space for all students …yet. However, our CTE director is committed to finding a way to do it which is promising.

With that said, empowering our community of “makers” from the time that we get them, regardless of space, is honestly critical to inspiring passion-driven learning that leads to unlimited opportunities.

…which should be the purpose of school to begin with…

Comments 1

  1. I really love this piece. It got me thinking more about patterns I witness in our schools about how has access to this type of instruction and who doesn’t. Your piece got me wondering:

    “How the new makerspaces are in many cases be a new way to do an old thing?” That is, how is the “maker movement” in schools just another way to allocate extra resources to programs which benefit some people’s kids while denying “other people’s kids (read: low-income, Black/Brown, etc.) access to stimulating opportunities to connect with what they are learning. For some reason, as a society, we still believe some kids have to “earn” the right to an education that serves their interests and needs.

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