Summer is winding down and many educators are beginning to prepare for the start of a new school year! As you begin to think about how you will bring maker learning opportunities to your students, one approach to consider is Project Based Learning (PBL). PBL and making have similar core values which focus on creating authentic learning experiences for students by engaging them in projects with real-world contexts. PBL also incorporates agency through student choice as they discover and create their approach to complex challenges. Offering project-based learning experiences that lead to creation of a physical or digital product is a powerful way to bring maker learning to your students.
The Buck Institute for Education (BIE) is a great place to start for educators interested in implementing PBL. From their resource page, you can find ideas for projects, sample rubrics, and learn more about PBL through blogs, articles, and research. If you’re unsure where to start, BIE has curated lists of resources recommended for teachers, coaches, principals, and district leaders. In addition to these resources, BIE offers professional development services designed to provide educators with the skills and knowledge needed to implement Gold Standard PBL.
Spotlight on Maker Champion LaKeyshua Washington
LaKeyshua Washington is the Principal of Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Middle School in Compton, California. As she embarks upon her third year at Davis, she continues to work with her team to transform her school into a student-centered learning playground, where all learners are supported and provided frequent opportunities to engage in fun and meaningful work.
As a school leader, I am currently faced with the challenge of creating a culture of learning that is driven by student need and interest. We want a community of learners whose foundation is built with the supporting anchors of maker and project-based learning. This environment should be more than just a makerspace or individual classes engaged in project-based units and lessons. We want to create a culture whereby everything we do is grounded in the values and actions that reflect these two ideologies. Last school year, we unveiled our school makerspace, however I found that it was only used by a few enrichment groups during the course of the year. This bothered me, I want this space to be accessible and meaningful to all students and staff.
While participating in a Digital Promise Maker Learning Leadership pilot program, I learned and realized that creating a maker culture is more than building a makerspace, it is creating an environment where all stakeholders can pursue their interests and create tools and solutions to real-life challenges. When we identify the actions and strategies that support this type of learning, we can develop opportunities for all. This year, we will begin building this type of culture through the development of maker learning activities for our advisory and enrichment time, as well as scheduling time for all students to visit and engage in maker activities in our makerspace. We will also use maker and PBL strategies to set the stage for staff to create solutions to school wide and individual professional challenges. It is my hope that this approach will spark teacher desire to use maker activities in their classrooms, while we continue to support teacher use of the PBL methodology in their instructional units.
Another transformative learning experience that I had this summer was attendance at the Buck Institute for Education PBL World conference. I took eleven of our teachers along to learn about this model. During this time, we had the opportunity to actually experience PBL while learning the theory behind it. We understand that in order to improve student learning and engagement, we must change many of our instructional practices. Project-based learning is one avenue that we have chosen to take. Students will be introduced to PBL through the introduction of challenges and questions that address school wide issues. An end-of-the-year survey shed some light on student interests and concerns. With this, we have designed some initial challenges for them to work on. We want students to be involved in modifying our enrichment time and spaces to even better suit their interests and needs. We also want our students to design our quad garden, by identifying plants that would both beautify, as well as survive in that particular environment. Additionally, we are forming a student tech squad, which will support technology integration. Their design of support processes and activities will allow us to address student and staff needs and interests. It is my intention that these activities will set the stage for students to become more involved in identifying problems/challenges that should be addressed in our school and community. When students become more invested in the improvement of their school and community, their interest in learning increases.
Resources and Opportunities