Goldilocks Guidance

There has to be a balance between too much and too little guidance. Maker education shines when you hit the perfect balance between the two. A well crafted course will help kids learn the most, have the most fun, and produce very creative work. To get to that point, we need to discuss what happens with too much or too little guidance.

Too much guidance

As a science teacher, I needed to tell my students what they were learning and how they were going to learn it. We did menu projects and as much choice as possible, but those standards get covered. When I started as a maker teacher, I had the same expectations of my students. They needed to learn the skills that I was teaching and working towards the goals that I decided.

Experienced teachers know that classes with too little to do are difficult to manage. Keep the kids busy and classrooms become more manageable. Our maker class was like every other class. We had project and skills back-to-back-to-back. Students would follow directions, complete the work, and get their grade.

There are clear benefits to giving this much guidance.

It is easy to keep the class together and help kids make progress step-by-step. Students can help each other since they’re all on the same step. This will help your whole class complete a project all together. It is also easy to organize materials when your class is only using about a few of them at a time. 

The downside of giving too much guidance is considerable. When all students are doing the same thing, the project can lose its novelty. Most mass projects like this end with many hastily assembled or abandoned projects. Few students customized their projects.

Too little guidance

It seems obvious to avoid ‘too little guidance’ as a teacher except for when it comes to makerspaces. The default instruction style for makerspaces is “Explore with no limits!” Well, I’ve tried it myself for better or worse.

Too little guidance as “open-ended creation”

This was the very first strategy that seemed like a great idea. Our classroom was full of donated materials, craft staples, makerspace supplies, and trash. Kids were trying to create with open-ended instructions. Our class encouraged creativity and no limits! With persistence, anything was possible!

Some students were able to come up with some very interesting projects this way. These projects are impressive to administration and still get talked about.

“Drill Car”

Our best example of this was called the Drill Car. An old handheld drill powered it. We used a worm gear from a rototiller and an old bike for the steering and wheels. The kids made a cart that they could drive around the room. 

These classes had simultaneous interesting projects that kept me busy as the teacher. Unfortunately, not all students had projects that held their attention.

This is when students started wandering the room, “looking for a project”.

I began to dislike “looking for a project” very much.

At the time, we had some pretty cool materials to use in my classroom. A lot of people were happy to donate materials because they didn’t want to throw them away. At first, it made sense for students to wander and browse the disorganized stuff. Over time, it became clear that this was a waste. The most common project was two random items hot glued together. One ‘project’ was a puck of beads that had been hot glued into a huge mass.

‘Looking for a project’ became synonymous with ‘wander, chat, and look interested sometimes.’

Many kids with special needs struggled in this setting. They wanted to be creative or have an interesting project. The pressure only increased every time a classmate did something cool. Less awesome projects wouldn’t be enough anymore. The class came to rely on my creativity and needed help on every step after that. These kids needed a template to follow.

These classes did not get better with time.

Entering a classroom with an open ended mindset is difficult with inexperienced creators. Too little guidance did not work for most students. 

Instructables projects

I have also had my students start with projects that are too difficult.  A favorite website of mine is This site has instructions for thousands of different projects in dozens of categories. Authors post step-by-step instructions for impressive projects.

I was eager for my students to make impressive projects.This was early in the process with an exceptionally small class. I had hoped to be available for my students with my extra time and attention. We scoured Instructables for suitable projects as inspiration. This class was doomed from the beginning.

As I look at project tutorials for myself, rarely do I exactly follow them exactly. I have different materials than the author. It is often easier to make a different size. In the end, the tutorial gives you an idea and you translate the project into existence.

My students did not have enough experience to do this. They cannot look at the materials list and know if they have suitable alternatives. They don’t have enough experience to customize a tutorial to their materials. Even the simple steps didn’t turn out well.

I felt confident that I could translate any tutorial for my students. My students felt confident that they could learn from their mistakes. The tutorials that students selected required too much input from me. I was willing, my students were willing, but this was too big of a reach.

Summary so far

Too much guidance is the easiest to manage. It will also keep your kids from being creative. Too little guidance will result in creative projects for some students. Other students will get nothing from the class.

For most beginning creators, online tutorials are out of their reach. Kids need many experiences before they can visualize and customize a project. Some students are able to do amazing things if you let them race ahead.

With this information, I felt that it would be possible to hit a balance and help all kids succeed in a maker class.

The above was written about two years ago and wow have I come a long way! Here is what true goldilocks amount of guidance looks like:

I am creating this site to advance student creativity and help students to take ownership of their learning. The resources on this site are intentionally open-ended and a part of my Innovative Arts curriculum.

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