Today was a big day in my grade 4-5 STEM class: It was our first time to start the “Maker Studio” rotation. Maker Studio is a concept I developed this past summer attending Maker Faire Kansas City and the awesome “Create, Make and Learn” week-long #MakerEd #STEM summer institute in Vermont coordinated by Lucie deLaBruere (@techsavvygirl). Last year was my 17th as an educator but my first as an elementary STEM teacher. I enjoyed developing and sharing lessons about a wide variety of topics, but as a “STEM teacher” was uncomfortable with my predominant focus on direct instruction lessons. Some of my favorite units from last year focused on the science and technology of music and sound, kitchen chemistry, and collaborative projects in MinecraftEDU involving permiter/area building challenges, coordinate grid scavenger hunts, and more. Our projects and activities together in these units were engaging, fun, and standards-based, but still relied predominantly on direct instruction. The after-school “Makers Club” I facilitated provided many opportunities for student-directed learning, but didn’t change my predominant teacher-directed instruction during STEM class. My summer PD experiences at #MakerFaireKC and #CML14 were transformative. Enter “Maker Studio.”

Here’s the basic idea of my classroom Maker Studio: For each STEM unit cycle, students are either in the “Maker Studio” or the “Lesson Lab.” My 9 classroom tables are numbered, so either students at ODD or EVEN tables are in the Maker Studio at one time. Students self-select a different “maker project” while they are in the Maker Studio and spend 2, 3, or 4 consecutive class meeting times (depending on our unit) building a project. I described the Maker Studio to my students as “like recess where you MAKE something.” Maker Studio involves free choice and unstructured exploration time, but also involves my “teacher expectation” that students will not only MAKE things but also document their learning with media so their creations and learning can be shared with others. These are the five different projects we’re initially using in Maker’s Studio:

  1. Green Screen Movie
  2. Sphero Maze Program
  3. Rube Goldberg Project
  4. MinecraftEDU Cooperative Build
  5. Musical Creation

I told my students at the start of each lesson today that I was both nervous and a little scared, but also very excited, to be FINALLY starting “Maker Studio.” This is a major instructional experiment in our STEM class, and while I think it’s going to work, I hadn’t done it before and so I wasn’t sure how things would turn out. One of the key pieces I’ve been mulling over the past couple of weeks is the method I’d use for students to self-select their Maker Studio center choices. This is what I came up with: Individual class sheets that I used to record each student’s choice today, after I gave students (at ODD classroom tables to start) a chance to draw numbers from a tub so they could select their preferred centers. Not everyone got their first choice, since I limited each center to a maximum of four people, but I think everyone got their first or second choice.

Don’t misunderstand me: There was plenty of messiness to our lessons today and quite a few surprises. Our Sphero 2.0 robotic ball’s battery ended up lasting for just my first 4 classes, so the last 2 classes had to skip that center altogether. I’m planning to purchase a second Sphero and use 1 for the first 3 classes, and another for the second 3. Several students struggled to cooperate and work in their groups (this always happens, of course) and a few were quickly bored at their centers. These were girls who selected the “create music” center, highlighting (I hypothesize) the inexperience many of our students have with unstructured exploration and creation time.

Messiness just comes with the territory here, however, and overall I was VERY pleased with how things turned out on day 1 of Maker’s Studio. Students in the “Lesson Lab” (I have two side-by-side classrooms) started a 3 day unit on building and launching catapults, which I learned about from Amy Loeffelholz last June when we co-led a 2 day STEM Seeds PD Camp for other teachers. My day was capped off by a VERY creative and fun initial green screen video, created by a team of fourth graders.

This is not the most polished or profound student video you’ll ever see, and it’s mostly silly, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE how these kids were able to start getting an idea of what they could do and create with a green screen and the Do Ink Green Screen iPad app. Our initial day in the Maker Studio was mainly about learning PROCEDURES, choosing to work cooperatively in our groups, and learning the basics of each center’s activities. These students succeeded with creativity and fun. That’s a recipe that’s hard to beat in school.

I love to teach STEM in Yukon Public Schools!

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