Monday, December 12, 2016

Makerspaces in a Content Area Classroom

In my last post, Let's Make a Mess, I shared how we began the process of turning our 6th grade ELA classroom into a  makerspace that we dubbed the Makery. As an ELA teacher, my administrators expect to see ELA instruction and learning taking place every minute of every day. The question that I get most frequently from other content area teachers is how one can blend best teaching practices, subject area content and a makerspace into finite teaching time. To be completely transparent, that was why it took me two years to take this step. I researched, went to formal and informal presentations, participated in digital conversations, and spoke with many educators. What I typically got was a list of tools and gadgets to stock without any connection to the learning. Yes, it promotes creativity, design, perseverance, communication, problem solving and critical thinking. However, I still needed to be able to justify my instructional choices as an ELA teacher...and I needed to be able to produce sound evidence as to why this was a worthwhile use of our ELA class time.

Here are some of the best practices that simultaneously occurred while students were using our Makery. I hope this answers some of the questions that you may be having as you look at bringing a makerspace into your classroom.

Content Standards: When Caylyn Harden and I stopped and looked at our state's College and Career Ready Standards, we identified twelve standards that directly correlated to our makerspace-informational writing project. There were six additional standards that could also be tied into this project. Looking at where our students were on the learning continuum and what they had mastered previously, we narrowed our focus down to four standards.

As is our usual practice, Caylyn guided the students into breaking down the standards into measurable components that allowed students the freedom to be creative and pursue their passions. These rubrics gave students a destination for showing mastery in each of these four content area standards.

Reading Literature:  Knowing our students, we knew that there needed to be a (slightly) different mindset. Although our classroom was already designed to promote a growth mindset where we try new things, fail, learn from those failures, and move forward with new ideas and experience, many learners were still struggling with perseverance. Many were afraid to try new things for fear of failure. We knew that we wanted to change that. Before beginning our foray into our makerspace, we read Mistakes that Worked by Charlotte Foltz Jones so students could see how many of the things we use, eat, wear or play with were mistakes that the inventor turned into something other than its original intention. Then each day, we would start our class with a read loud of a picture book that demonstrated through characters' actions important life lessons on perseverance, problem solving, failure, courage, individuality, collaboration and creativity. These opened the door to many insightful conversations about the work in which students were involved with our Makery. Furthermore, it provided students the opportunity to look inward, make evaluations and set goals in order to find success.

Reading Informational Text: Because students were going to be writing in a new genre, informational how-to, they needed mentor texts. The students were guided through a Blendspace of a wide variety of mentor texts to analyze in order to identify the nuances in this type of writing. Through this lesson, students who needed support in reading informational text, received small group instruction as many student would be reading information text in their process of making, documenting, writing and publishing.

Writing Workshop: Although each learner would be making something different, they were all documenting their progress in order to publish a how-to guide for a group of 3rd grade students. Having an authentic audience for their writing, encouraged the students to stay focused throughout the designing and making as well as the writing and publishing. All the writing, editing and revising took place in Google Drive. Caylyn and I (as well as their peers) left students feedback every 2-3 days. Students met with one of us for one-on-one writing conferencesAdditionally, students were included in small group lessons when a weakness was identified in their writing. 

During the 2.5 week project, their 3rd grade buddies came for a visit to see what we were creating. Their questions gave our students an authentic reason to look at the impact that audience has upon what and how one writes. We observed a sharp increase in the quality of students' writing.

So while all the wonderful mess was happening in our classroom, there was an enormous amount of authentically applied content area learning taking place as well. Students were being given the tools necessary to propel their learning forward while being engaged in learning that each individual designed. They became (more) brave, creative, courageous and confident when speaking about their learning...and isn't that something that our world really needs?

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