This past Thursday, Maker VISTA partner site Grass Valley Elementary School in Oakland, CA held a Black History Month Family Maker Night & Heritage Potluck. This event featured a little bit of everything—making, breaking bread, discussion—and a whole lot of one thing: intention.
From the night’s theme of honoring and exploring historic and modern contributions of African American innovators; to its effect of including students, parents and teachers in a convergence of both traditional and new forms of making; down to the signage that invited youth and adults alike to snap selfies among acclaimed scholars and creators so as to envision themselves as #IAmNext, this event was thoughtfully designed to both engage and reflect the members of Grass Valley’s community.
Maker VISTA members Crystal Le and Maria Renteria organized and fueled this event from start to finish, led by their phenomenal, powerhouse supervisor Paula Mitchell, a Teacher on Special Assignment for Maker Ed/PBL & Blended Learning. Together, this team solicited and comprised a panel of professionals, parents, and local makers to kick off the evening by sharing their diverse STEAM career paths, stories, struggles and successes with gathered guests. Then, Crystal, Maria and Paula choreographed a making and sharing progression down the school’s main hallway, utilizing color-coded tabs and music cues to weave students and parents in and out of pop-up classroom makerspaces. In each space, participants could take turns building their own interpretation of an African American innovator’s invention—entirely guided by a student maker. Stations in the spaces included opportunities to create lanterns, guitars, 3-D glasses, pens, three-wheeled vehicles, and even an x-ray.
A particular moment of impact emerged when one of those student makers, a giddy and expert first-grader, explained to a handful of friends and peers (and this novice, yours truly) how to construct a lantern. The experience of having us in rapt attention, grouped around her, asking her for advice—in front of her mother and grandmother—made her bounce confidently on tip-toes, eager to answer all of us. She struck exactly the braggy balance between identifying what worked for her, and encouraging us to figure out what worked best for ourselves, all while showcasing to her family what she has been troubleshooting for several weeks. Like the tea-light lantern she proudly held up, she glowed.
After the hands-on activities, students and parents convened in the cafeteria for presentations by the first-ever cohort of Grass Valley Maker Ambassadors. These four students, from 3rd through 5th grade, had devoted the entire month to researching an African American innovator and developing a project inspired by that original work. They visited the school’s makerspace, the Wonder Workshop, during recess, library time, and after-school in order to devote time and effort to their self-driven explorations. Their completed projects were met with admiration and applause from their peers and parents as they received recognition from Paula on stage—but what’s more, each shared plans for continued making.
Paula and the Maker VISTAs mindfully coordinated this evening so that they could offer varied and numerous entry points for parents, staff, and visitors to engage in the environment and with the approaches that students are diving into everyday. From the materials, to the spaces, to the voices providing real-world context—voices ranging from a PG&E apprentice, to a designer and fashion professor, to a grandmother who started her own crafting business; from a principal, to an after-school specialist, to a first-grader explaining how a lantern functions—the event was structured to include, to invite, to inspire. Whether in small steps, along the periphery of a making station, or in emphatic cheers or laughs of delighted discovery, parents and families joined young makers in homage and in aspiration. Intention, with invention, made for an amazing event.
Maker Ed & AmeriCorps VISTA are the sponsors of the two Maker Ed VISTAs at Grass Valley Elementary School. For more information about applying for the Maker Ed VISTAs program, visit makered.org.
All of a sudden, so it seems, the terms “Maker” and “PBL” are everywhere in the educational landscape. You may be wondering what each of these terms means, how they are related and how they differ. You are not alone. I myself wondered the same thing as I made my journey into the field of Maker Education and Project-Based Learning
Project-Based Learning and Maker Education are terms which are growing in use these days. Here are two definitions:
“Project-Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.” —The Buck Institute of Education
Maker Education brings the Maker movement into the school setting to provide students with hands-on learning that promotes creativity, thoughtfulness, a community of learning and sharing ideas, as well as, the idea that each person can create what they want to see or use as opposed to just buying it. Making combines new technologies with old-school arts and crafts and vocational education.
Maker Education focuses on bringing together Science, Math, Technology, Engineering, and Art in a student-centered, creative way. Often times Maker Education happens in a Maker Space:
“… [A] space where kids have the opportunity to make – a place where some tools, materials, and enough expertise can get them started. These places, called makerspaces, share some aspects of the shop class, home economics class, the art studio and science labs. In effect, a makerspace is a physical mash-up of different places that allows makers and projects to integrate these different kinds of skills.” –Dale Dougherty, The Maker Mindset, in Design, Make, Play
After having immersed myself in the field of Maker Education and Project-Based Learning for the past two years, my main takeaway is that they are quite similar. They both focus on the creation of projects, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, creativity and have the potential to foster empathy in students. The main difference is that Maker Education has a big emphasis on “hacking” or “tinkering” where you take something that already exists and makes it better or you make something entirely new for the fun of creating it. Maker Education also has a strong tech bent with the inclusion of coding, computer science, and engineering while Project-Based Learning can encompass any and all subject areas.
At Grass Valley, we are combining these two related approaches so that we use the best of both approaches. Our focus is hands-on, project-based learning where students create a product that they showcase at an expo. The Maker Project-Based Learning units can focus on any subject area and integrate a low or high tech component into the end product.
We invite you to check back here often to see where our journey in PBL/Maker Ed takes us.
4th grader creates her ideal school.
Ms. Vetterlein assists a student with a design challenge
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paula Mitchell, Teacher on Special Assignment (TSA)
Paula is a 20+ year veteran Oakland teacher who has been crafting, designing and making since she was a little girl. She is delighted that her job as a TSA for Project-Based Learning/ Maker Ed allows her to bring more hands-on, minds-on learning to the community she loves.