Reflecting as I respond to an email

(I got this email today from fellow maker educator today. The blog post for today is his question and my reply)

Hi Peter,

I was looking through your “1st year teacher’s” playlist. It was helpful!

I would love to know more about how you set up your classroom to have multiple stations where students work independently on different projects.

Do you teach them basic skills & fundamentals first? And then allow them “open project” time?

Or are these students “repeat” students from previous years, so they come in with prior skills and knowledge? 

I would love to set up our students to work independently and individually on their own passion projects, but it feels hard with a classroom of 24~30 students to allow them that “free reign”. Thanks for any thoughts you can share

My Reply:

Thanks for the note! I was thinking about unpublishing those, maybe I won’t now.

 I do see students year over year, but that wasn’t too much of an advantage towards my goal of helping them gain autonomy and become unique creators.

Open work time is so difficult. When I made that video, I had students watching tutorials on the different machines and going from there. There is still an element to this but I introduce the options differently, see below. 

One of the biggest problems is the lack of creativity that results from this approach. They might use the CNC, sure, but next year they’ll think they understand all it can do (just put words on boards) and find it boring. It was much too hard to teach creative project planning and allow open work time all at the same time.

So recently I have switched tactics – we are all doing a simple introduction project like popsicle stick engineering or cardboard mask design (videos still being made ASAP). The students who are choosing the engineer route are doing a “Chatty Jawface” project (that has them cut a cardboard profile of an animal head). They attach the jaw as a “Swing” popsicle stick engineering project and try to extend the project if they have time. The designers also make a similar “Chatty Jawface” but focus on the paint and design elements. 

(I explain the middle steps here, I don’t want to publish these steps just yet)

THEN they start their creative, custom projects. The CNC, for example, hasn’t gotten much use lately simply because kids are too busy with the basics. Most of the tutorials are unused. The creativity of the projects has been off the wall this quarter, it feels good to have finally figured some of this out.

I’ll be publishing all of this someday and the website resources are still under development. I’m making such big improvements each quarter that I’m going to keep that train going as long as I can. It’s exciting after struggling. 

Hope this was helpful!

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