September is in full swing and for many, the school year has started! As you think about the year ahead and what your students will make, we hope to inspire you with stories of making from all over. In May, we asked you to tell us about your Maker Champions – educators and community members who are doing great work towards bringing quality making experiences to students.
Our first in a series of Maker Champion interviews features Reading Interventionist and Maker Coach Twila Busby, who was nominated by Deborah Summers, a former principal and teacher. Deborah describes Twila as a Maker Champion “who is constantly seeking ways for teachers to involve making in their classrooms and for students to be involved in designing and doing in their learning”. Read the feature to learn about Twila’s work to implement Project Based Learning in schools and how she became involved with the maker movement while teaching in Shenzhen, China.
Deborah Summers spent 35 years in public education as a teacher, coach and building administrator. She is a strong believer in hands on, student engaged learning and worked to transform schools into PBL Learning environments in both the US and China. While teaching at Shenzhen American International (SAIS), Deborah became involved with making and helped create opportunities for students to participate in local Maker Faires and to start the first student Maker Faire in Shenzhen. Now retired, Deborah spends her time volunteering at local schools, traveling, gardening, and tinkering in her own makerspace.
Twila’s journey as a Maker Champion began in Tuscon, AZ as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Utterback Magnet Middle School where she introduced and implemented Project Based Learning (PBL). From there, she took her experience and PBL expertise to Shenzhen, China and began exploring the maker movement. Twila returned to Tucson in 2016 to develop a maker program at Hollinger K-8. During her free time, she attends Maker Faires, has joined the Tucson Makerspace, and attends camps/trainings to increase her knowledge of how to make/do so as to help facilitate her training of teachers and working with students.
DS: Why did you strive to make Utterback, a Project Based Learning school?
TB: Utterback was a Performing and Fine Arts Magnet school and there seemed to be a divide between the arts and academic sides of the building. Students who wrote scripts, memorized lines and performed in plays were failing in Language Arts classes. Visual artists and musicians saw no connection to math in those disciplines. Concerts and performances were standing room only and yet attendance at Parent-Teacher conferences was sparse. After visiting High Tech High in San Diego, we saw a way to bridge the gap and erase the lines that had been drawn around subject areas. We found out that when students make something in their academic classes and can explain and demonstrate their learning for an audience, their parents, family and friends will come to see and listen. Students felt good, they stepped up their game and they learned!
DS: You had an opportunity to teach in China at Shenzhen American International School (SAIS) where you introduced PBL to students, parents and staff. How difficult was it to change to a hands on, minds on learning environment in a foreign country?
TB: It was not really that different from changing minds in the US. To get teachers and parents to let go of textbooks as the authority; to doing math from 8:30 to 9:30 and science from 9:30-10:30 and never crossing the line is difficult no matter where you are. In both countries, we are products of a traditional school system that seemed to work for most people, so why change? We have to prove that providing an environment for students to create, innovate, construct and actually apply those academic concepts within a project, will benefit them cognitively, socially and emotionally, and physically. We have to build trust that the change is for the better.
DS: How did you become involved with the Maker Movement?
TB: Because I already believed in Project Based Learning, the literature I was reading started mentioning making and the maker movement and it seemed like an obvious continuation and deepening of learning. In PBL creating artifacts and applying academic knowledge to physical demonstrations of that knowledge are part of the learning process. So, celebrating the possibilities that combining high tech and low tech; traditional and modern; with hands on, minds on, hearts on opportunities, then sharing that out with a community was a natural fit.
DS: What are you most excited for in the school year just beginning?
TB: I am very excited this year as we are working with another school to have the first MakeFashion Edu STEAM Runway Event in the U.S. (In May, the first ever was held in China.) Students are designing and making wearables that express themselves and their stories. We will also host our 2nd School Maker Faire in the spring. Last year teachers didn’t know what a Maker Faire was, but now that they have a taste, they are already thinking about what they can do in their classrooms.To build our making community and to bring the expertise of our parents into it. We will also have Family Maker Nights at the school so students and parents can come and work on projects and learn and share.
DS: What would you like to tell someone thinking about including making in their classroom?
TB: I would tell them to do it already! Don’t wait until you feel like an expert, do some research, practice a bit, reach out to those who are experts and then get the kids involved. You can continue learning together. Maybe start with something that you are comfortable with and then kick it up. My first foray into wearable tech was a bag that lit up when you opened it… I learned to sew when I was younger so I was on familiar territory there, and then YouTube, Instructables, Google and my local electronics supply store did the rest.
I am still not an accomplished artist, coder, woodworker, designer, but I don’t think my students should be held back because I don’t have a skill they want to learn. I am an educator and my job is to open as many doors as possible for my students and to encourage (and sometimes push) them to step through and reach their potential.
Do you know an educator or community member doing great work towards bringing quality maker learning opportunities to students? Recognize them in a future newsletter! Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us why your nominee is a great example of a Maker Champion.