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A can-do mindset and a sense of adventure helps develop skills for successful innovation.

We see “IT” everywhere in schools. Kindergarteners designed spaces in their  past unit “How we organize ourselves”  as they all practice empathy, while learning to use different materials and basic tools along the way. Second graders deepened their understanding of the learner profile attributes and attitudes while designing a business plan, and creating and designing products to represent entrepreneurs. In middle school science, students make wind turbines in order to internalize an understanding of how magnetism can create electricity.

The “IT” I’m referring to is “Making.” So, what is Making ?

The maker movement is an approach or culture that emphasizes the value of inventing, creating, tinkering and prototyping. It is a loose movement that includes diverse disciplines such as electronics, robotics, coding, woodwork, metalwork and craft. Sharing and community are important to makers as peer learning is a key part of maker culture.

Importantly for schools including Magellan, Making is a constructivist approach that emphasizes learning by doing and student centered learning. It is an approach that allows for development of student curiosity, creativity and contemporary skills. That we are already helping our students develop through our programs.

Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Arts (STEAM) has been an emerging trend of importance in education innovation. Education departments and governments across the world have emphasized the importance of STEAM in the economy as a driver of invention and innovation.

The International Baccalaureate as part of their commitment to reach beyond discipline-specific learning, invited experts from a variety of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields to speak at the IB’s first Science Symposium last October 2016. If you want to gain an insight into the event you may watch the highlights in this VIDEO.The science experts were joined by IB science educators from around the world, along with Diploma Programme students from United World College (UWC) Maastricht. There were animated discussions on major themes in the future of science education. Key topics included circular economy, systems thinking in a cross disciplinary world, and the use of technology in STEM education. IB student reporter, YiWynn Chan, shared her insightful experience on the IB blog, “The fact that the IB is trying to improve its curriculum—and new technologies are being developed and explored—is probably one of the biggest takeaways of the symposium. Most importantly, the students’ voices were heard and valued.”

So what makes “Making” different from traditional classes? When students Make, they mix things together in new ways.

We have arrived at a time when many of the high-tech aspects of Making–such as physical computing or 3D design and manufacturing–are more readily accessible. Take e-textiles: an e-textile is a combination of physical-computing and textiles, where people create items like a turn-signal biking jacket or an LED-tutu.

So why use Making in schools?

Making gives students (or anyone, really) an opportunity to find a passion. Additionally, Making provides a context to place academic learning in the “heart, mind, and hands” (a concept championed by 18th century educator Pestalozzi) in pursuit of deepening students’ conceptual understanding of content. A loose translation for today would be that we use Making to focus on learning character traits, content, process, and skills.

For example, when students make fraction books or write programs to show a fraction, they apply new models of fractions to their current understanding and broaden their ability to apply this understanding in new situations. Famed scholar Seymour Papert calls this constructionism.

At MIS we help our students construct their own meaning of the world around them; Making just gives us the space, tools and environment to construct our understanding. It engages students’ hands in the work of their minds in order to help them construct deep conceptual understandings.

So why establish a Maker Space?

The makerspace is an important part of establishing a maker culture in schools. It provides a location where students can embrace their own interests and projects. It is a place for storage of equipment and teaching of skills. It also provides a way to showcase a truly personalized approach in a maker club.

A Makerspace and Maker Club provides many bonuses to schools:

  • A focal point and model for driving change
  • A place for students to pursue projects of their own interest
  • A center for innovation

What does Making in schools look like?

At The Nanjing International School in China John Rinker, Primary Years Programme Teacher, started the making journey four years ago with an empty classroom. John built a space with teachers and students that included tools, supplies, and resources, and he is focused on Making Things Better: Design Thinking in the Classroom. All educators must consider different sets of strategies and tools to help students develop truly innovative experiences.

The results of design thinking aren’t just physical products; they can be solutions, systems, services or even experiences. A design mindset is not problem-focused—its solution-focused and action-oriented. It involves both analysis and imagination. At MIS we will continue to strive and demonstrate that the tools and skills we use to create profitable enterprises can also create social change and positively benefit our lives and world.

Contrary to the above experience, Patrick Benfield, STEM and Maker Space Director at St. Gabriel’s Catholic School in Austin started the making journey for his school two years ago with a fully furnished space. He had a different approach for the use of space, time and investment for both teachers and students to gradually connect and integrate “making” to the curriculum. Students do most of the heavy lifting. They do open-ended projects that have a strong focus initially on the heart, and a student’s interests. ”What are you passionate about? What gets you excited? What would just be cool?” But to create a final project, the mind and hands must get involved as well.

How are we integrating making into the curriculum at Magellan?

Integrating Making into curriculum happens when Making is tied to core academic curriculum, in order to enhance student understanding. For example, when students build circuits using open-ended materials to introduce concepts about electricity, design bridges to withstand an earthquake as part of a geology study, and deepen their understanding of geometry by programming shapes in LOGO (a computer language developed as a tool for learning), they engage their hands to solidify and deepen the concepts that they are already learning in the classroom.

When integrating making into the curriculum, the goal is to focus on the Making process and skills, shifting from a focus on academic content to a focus on the Making itself. A kindergarten study of sewing, a robotics elective, or a few class sessions on programming with Scratch are examples of how this making integration happens.

An important consideration is to gradually build a culture on process (such as ideation and prototyping), skills (such as soldering, programming, and sewing), or both, and then tailor instruction to fit those goals. When we design Making classes that focus on process, we have our students write reflections and engage in whole-class discussions to help students think about how they worked through obstacles throughout the project process.

What are some of MIS’ innovation ideas and partnerships?

Magellan has partnered with several international schools including The Nanjing International School, The Munich International School, The Vienna International School and St Gabriel’s Catholic School in Austin, Texas to collaborate and create a strong international innovation network to encourage discussions about “making  and STEAM”. This open collaboration will help MIS and other schools continue refining and enhancing our school’s educational programs.  

Other than schools, we also partnered with several educational institutions and organizations to work collaboratively around making, design thinking and STEAM as a way of investing and building capacity in our teachers. At the same time, we continue promoting best practices and enhancing our curriculum in areas related to innovation – science, technology, math, entrepreneurship, engineering and the arts. Some of these institutions and organizations are; The University of Texas, The Henry Ford Learning Institute who is a Stanford University Partner to the Design School and The Contemporary Museum in Austin (Downtown and Laguna Gloria).

Most of all, it is building a culture around making and a design mindset that is solution focused and action oriented!