Making in Schools

A few months ago, I was asked to answer a few questions focused on making in as an instructional practice.  Scrolling through some of my old documents, I came across them again today and thought that they they would be of value to share with my readers.  The questions and answers are as follows:  Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 5.55.13 PM.png

  1. How do you define making and why do you think it’s an important instructional strategy?  

Making in its most basic form is the act of creating something— to solve a problem or just for the enjoyment of it.  For me, making has always been a way to allow me to flex my curiosity and creativity muscles.  I love to explore how things work and mindfully observe and think about complexity.  Tackling problems while using out-of-the-box thinking and makeshift materials brings about great joy and a sense of pride and accomplishment in the final outcome.  The final product might not look like a masterpiece, but the final product is yours.  It was done with your skill and thinking.  There is a sense of self and a person’s heart intertwined within the things that they make.  That’s the very reason that making is something that is not only a joyful practice, but a timeless art.

2. How will the campaign provide you with the support you need to integrate making at your school?

For a little over a year, my middle school math classroom has been incorporating making as the driver for learning while using math as the language to operate and understand the world around us. With support, we can provide our students with the tools that they need in order to tackle the injustices that they are facing in our larger world— starting with the issue of food insecurity in Pittsburgh.  Everything that we have done up to this point has been mainly constrained to the walls of our school.  We have provided design ideas for a gym space, created safety focused model cars, and created educational games.  However, we are in search of the next level of making— impacting social justice.

We want our math classroom to be a place where we can drive change and work to create positive impact to rectify injustices in the larger world.  We will use making and the conceptual understandings of mathematics in order to drive the needed change within the Pittsburgh community.  The funds that we receive will go to providing our students with experiences beyond the walls of their classroom, to create solutions and the funds to help turn their ideas into reality.

3. How will integrating making benefit you?  

Implementing making has caused me to be truly excited about the work that I do as an educator.  But as I have often said, it’s not about me.  I am excited because the students are more driven to think deeply to understand not only math, but the world around them.  Making has helped me develop students who are excited to come to math and excited about the subjects that are being taught.  It has allowed me to reach more students by giving students of all different abilities the chance to show their true brilliance and let it shine.

4. How will integrating making benefit your students?

Before I started using making as a driver for learning,  I could explain where the information applies to their lives a hundred times and never get my point across.  I could come up with the most brilliant word problems that incorporated real data and still have the students ask: “Why do we need to know this?”  By incorporating making into the classroom, that question is a thing of the past.  Students don’t need to ask why they need to a particular math concept because everything that we are doing is directly tied back to what we are creating in class.

Students who have never been engaged in their own learning and have historically struggled with math are now stepping up to the plate because they are being given the opportunities to truly shine.  No matter where your skills lie, there is something personal about making that allows students the chance use their strengths in creative ways.  When we introduce the topic of a new unit, students are literally yelling about the ideas that they have.   They are talking to their parents, their friends, and me about the different possibilities.  They even spend some of their free time looking up information and making sketches.  In other words, their enthusiasm for the learning that is taking place in the classroom reaches beyond the walls of my classroom without my ever saying the word homework.  The students have the ability to engage themselves in learning in the very way that they would experience it outside of school.  As people, we tend to want to learn more about the things that we are interested.  Making has made that a reality in my math classroom.

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