Latest Posts

  • “Why do I need to learn this?”

    Math teachers hear this the most. I will admit that this thought went through my mind several times as a kid. I struggled for years as a teacher to answer it. Here is an honest answer: we are learning how to learn. If you struggle to learn the first concept, you’ll develop a trick to finally understand it. That trick might help you to learn the second thing or the 20th thing. As you learn more tricks, learning gets easier. You can use those tricks everyday.

     We are in school to learn how to learn. The first time you tackle a complex problem will be different than the 100th time. When you get out of school, you want learning to be easy. You can get used to figuring out difficult problems after some practice.

    Creating brings these problems from the abstract into the concrete. Kids encounter all sorts of physical problems as they try to create.

    Sometimes the lessons teach themselves, if you are watching for them. Poor planning or careless cutting will teach these lessons for you.  Every little custom project has countless possible problems that can arise. Once you start to see them, every class period has a new combination of these problems to solve. Solving physical problems can bring up materials properties, physics, and testing strategies

    Solving these problems and learning is a chaotic process. Learning that can’t be 100% lesson-planned or broken down into benchmarks. It comes in bursts and with ideas that can cut down to the core of a student.

    Learning how to create is learning how to learn.

  • It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be

    I read this book today, it is short and written by the advertiser Paul Arden. It’s a book full of mini lessons and ideas that I’ll be unpacking for a while

    The title is a great idea by itself.

    Eventually 7th or 8th grade students could be hearing a version of this thought. Someday. This year has taught me just how long it takes to develop just the 5th or 6th grade level of Innovative Arts class. Every day is a heavy lift. Thankfully I only have to figure out how this works once. Then it’ll be the next step, then the next. The groundwork (the past 5 years?!) has been laid and I am so glad that the pegs are finally falling into place.

    I might not be super good… but I want to be!

  • Creativity isn’t a garnish

    Maker education is more than just making things or gaining skills for making. This is especially true as you get past the superficial, easy project level. Kids can also be learning about themselves and their strengths.

    Most classrooms are set up so that all students are on the same project at the same time. This was a necessary evil in an analog world. We now live in an amazing, digital world, with 1-1 classrooms and endless resources online. It is possible for kids to be working on many different projects at the same time in the same classroom. They can have a choice about what and how they create.

    Unfortunately, personal autonomy and independent learning is an underdeveloped muscle for most students.

    This is our fault.  I remember trying to build creativity into my science project guidelines. At the time I wondered why so few students jumped at the chance to be creative or to customize their projects. Now I know – I was the one choosing the project, the content, and everything else about that project. The creativity was a minor aspect, sprinkled on top, like a sweet garnish to a dish that kids do not want it in the first place. They still didn’t like it.

    Not every student has to have the exact same projects or experiences as a part of their education. Maybe someday that’ll be the hallmark of a poor education.

  • Comfort to the uncomfortable

    Maker classes have the ability to engage students who have checked out elsewhere. It is for students to have a place where they are comfortable at school. Anyone who has worked in a middle school will realize how important this is.

    Most kids are comfortable in most classrooms. Some students are uncomfortable in every classroom. These are our most challenging and memorable students.  My impact on these students changed as I moved from science pusher to maker teacher.

    This is a powerful effect for the students who need a place.

    Examples of this power can be big and small.

    Years ago, there was a student transformation that would be unbelievable if I didn’t see it myself. I had just made a foam cutter to use during class and it was very popular. It was much too popular, in fact, the popularity was a problem I’ll explain later. It was made from an old computer power supply, a guitar string, and scrap lumber. At the same time I had a student who had been hiding in bathrooms or running away from the school daily. He started to make a second foam cutter with me. Instantly this student started doing work in other classes and behaving all day. He had a place that he wanted to be.

    During that projects, he learned so many skills – how to solder wires, add a switch to control the computer power supply, and assemble the lumber. This is the go-to story that my principal tells to illustrate the power of maker education.

    Most examples are less dramatic. I am constantly excusing students from their study hall or lunch to my classroom. We work on larger side projects, the classroom, their projects, or just cleaning. They might be difficult students to manage in study hall. They’re always engaged and productive class.

    This transformation in students comes out in a way that surprises me every time it happens. Many times I’ve been explaining a kid’s extra work on a project, only to hear less positive stories from other classrooms.

    Some students have had constant reminders of their failings and weaknesses for years. These kids don’t want to struggle in school. They should at least have one place they be comfortable within. 

  • Slow Moments

    A year ago I started posting a question over my doorway and talking to every student as they entered my classroom. Then I would hand out nametags, one at a time, and greet everyone.

    It’s a routine that would be much easier to skip. It’s worth it though, just by the warm interactions I can have with students every hour, maybe because it is at least the third time we spoke that day.

    At any rate, I’ve been able to really notice the cumulative effect of my lessons and the curriculum that I am developing. I’ve been able to pick up on some odd observations and key principles that need attention next.

    On top of that, I am noticing more ‘slow moments’ where an idea or message will hit home. I see it ruminating in some students. Others need extra supports and second moments. The challenge of leading a large group with this level of nuance is complex, to say the least.

    No doubt that some ideas will be forgotten. Other ideas might not make sense until much later. But for a growing portion of the class, it makes sense here and now.

  • Prioritizing the smallest possible action

    The very first focus of our 5th grade class (I call them ‘Mindset Topics’) is ‘How you do anything is how you do everything.’ We make little artifacts of this topic and post them to the students project boxes. These boxes will be theirs until they leave in 8th grade, covered in dozens of little reminders.

    The number one thing that kids choose to write on these was to ‘slow down’. It makes sense – slow down, be careful in your work, and get good at being careful in your work.

    The problem is that too many students rushed it. Their “Slow Down” was hastily put in pencil when we had enough time to make it neat and colorful.

    This is so simple but cuts to the core of the problem. –I’m struggling to define it in neutral terms.–

    Getting that first square right, noticing how this little, meaningless ‘anything’ was completed, this needs to be better handled on my end. It’s how we will do ‘everything’.

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If you read this far, thank you. I’d honestly love to hear your thoughts – directly or through social media.

Have a great day!

~Peter, Innovative Arts teacher & Puzzle Shift Create creator


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