Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers have long been working with students to help them master hands-on skills–from woodworking to welding to culinary arts. And maker educators are finding hundreds of creative ways to get students to use their hands and other tools as part of the learning process. So why are so few maker educators and CTE teachers collaborating? How can librarians and core content teachers collaborate successfully with their colleagues in CTE departments? What can maker educators learn from CTE teachers?

The first step, of course, is to identify a potential partner on your campus and reach out to them to develop some ideas and plans. When doing so, we know that a great starting point for traditionally compartmentalized educators to begin to work together is to identify common measures which they are both trying to achieve. These efforts can be led by a maker champion who may be a teacher or administrator, and who might reach out to CTE teachers at their school for an exploratory conversation which hopefully will lead to concrete ideas about what to collaborate on and how to go about doing so.

Additionally, we’re seeing support for this kind of collaboration from many sources, such as the US Department of Education’s CTE Makeover Challenge and panel hosted with the Maker Promise at the recent ACTE conference on “How to Leverage the Maker Movement for Expansion of CTE”.  The Congressional Maker Caucus also introduced two bills last year that would specifically support making in CTE: the 21st Century SHOP CLASS Act, and the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act.

Spotlight on Maker Champion Eric Bredder 

Eric Bredder is a CTE Educator in Virginia currently developing electronics courses and building a project-based learning experience that exemplifies student choice, personal learning, application and creativity. He has taught classes in engineering, woodworking, electronics, design and computer science and is always looking to adapt an environment that meets the needs of all students.

Finding the best way to introduce a topic and skill seems daunting as a teacher, especially if the topic and activity should provide the foundational knowledge for the remainder of the term. As a CTE teacher, I use practical tool design as a method of teaching concepts and skills in a format that provides students with a hands-on experience, grounding learning with overarching themes that I wish to convey throughout the class. I believe that framing projects with collaborative making provides student success with tools and content, the ability to test their ideas and convey thoughts in a place that accepts them, and build something meaningful with room for iteration and creativity.

This past semester, I began an electronics fundamentals course with an open-ended design project that filled a simple need for the classroom. I realized there were not enough soldering exhaust fans and I had an excess of computer fans, this made a perfect combination for developing a problem that could be solved by the students. We spent a week designing, sketching, comparing and building a circuit while learning the fundamentals of prototyping.

In the end, I could not have imagined all of the design considerations that would be taken into account. Students added power lights so users knew it was powered on, used banana plugs to match our lab power supplies, and researched fan datasheets to see how speed control worked, amongst many others. After designing and comparing different schematics, we built a “base model” for everyone to start successfully. Students laid out wire to match the physical characteristics of the schematic and soldered components together to later realize that it would never fit inside the container of the exhaust fan. Allowing for this exploration gave students an experience of the importance and function of the schematic in a real sense. After creating their final enclosure design, students were proud of their results and showed others outside of class the success they had.

I look at this simple fan as an experiment that built the foundation of the content, skills and buy-in to the learning environment that was about to occur over the next few months. As a CTE teacher it is necessary and required to embed collaborative, skill-based experiences that foster creativity and application of content. This simple activity could have combined the needs of an art class for design, a physics class for circuit design, a math class for calculations, physical education for health and safety regulations, and more with the understanding that collaborative making provides students with a context for learning. I feel confident that the students in this class have a story to tell about their learning that is relatable and meaningful.

Instructions and files for this project can be found on Github.

Additional Resources and Opportunities