To solve the many problems we humans are bound to face, we will need to have people who know how to collaborate and efficiently put thoughts and skills to work together to solve challenges. So, it is phenomenal when teachers see their English Teaching practice as malleable and experiment with Maker-Centered Learning [MCL] within their curriculum so as to provide youth with exciting and dynamic learning experiences. Last week, a CTJ teacher, who loves seeing teens thrive and engage in the learning process, brought her group to the school’s makerspace. Her journey underlines some of the real benefits of adopting a framework for Maker Empowerment. What you will read below is Elizabeth Silver‘s testimonial of her class. Enjoy and become part of a growing number of educators willing to experiment and identify the benefits of MCL.
“Want to do something fun and easy with your class? This activity is adaptable to any level and can be done in both the Makerspace and/or the classroom. The challenge is to see how much weight dry spaghetti noodles can support. This idea was inspired by 5B’s Unit 9 – Engineering Wonders. To take better advantage of the content offered here, I went looking around on the internet for something to construct with my class. I came upon these two sources:
What you need in terms of materials
- A couple of bags of spaghetti (the cheapies will do)
- Styrofoam boards – about 3cm thick and 1 meter long (I used one for each group, but you could cut it in half)
- Box cutters/craft knives/utility knives (whatever you want to call them)
- Objects to put on top of the dry spaghetti to test the strength
- Baggage hand scale to weigh objects (I happen to have this, so I made use of it. You could just estimate the weight or even use vocabulary of comparatives and superlatives to talk about the objects).
- Optional additions are LED lights and batteries, which give the students another level of making/designing. I also had on hand markers, paper, string, toothpicks, and scissors – but NO glue, which would defeat the purpose of the activity.
- Design Thinking form – the outline for this is on the PPT. I have the students copy it down, do some pre-design thinking on the objectives, materials available, how they plan to execute their idea and their expected outcome. Here is a perfect moment to include the target language. After they do the activity, they revise their forms according to their experiences. Then I have them hand it in for basic corrections and as a way to wrap up their findings, thus leading to a class discussion. I also do this to stimulate critical thinking, reflection, and analysis.
Figuring it out
They were so engaged! They took it upon themselves to divide into groups, got the material (even asking if another Makerspace material was available for use), and spoke only in English (this time I did not have to insist on that); they cooperated, collaborated and shared ideas. The final structures were so different, showing the diversity of thought among the students. The Makerspace staff, who provided support and ideas, readily assisted them.
Developing a sensitivity to design
The result of this experience was beyond expectations. We used the Makerspace, which in itself takes your class to another level – what I like to call a ‘shift’. The idea above is not in and of itself so innovative or technological, but the dynamic that took place with my students was phenomenal.
Learning from tools and from others
At one very cool moment, two Makerspace staff members brought out a specialized tool for cutting styrofoam and demonstrated how to use it (less mess than a box cutter). The class stood around them watching how it works, and they were in such awe that they literally let out a collective “AAAHHHH!” The word we heard the most from them during it all was “satisfying”. Summing it up, we had fun – smiling, chatting, joking, laughing. It was akin to a social event. They are begging to go back… to be continued.”
Elizabeth Silver is a CTJ teacher since 2012 and is always looking for different ways to ignite the learning spark in her students. She uses our makerspace as her sandbox to ideate, prototype and even run maker activities with her groups.