4 Steps to Becoming a Maker Teacher

By: Gayle Allen and Lisa Yokana
The Maker Movement has become a global phenomenon. In 2013, nearly 100 Mini and Featured Maker Faires took place in cities like, Oslo, Rome, Santiago and Tokyo, with Maker Faires held in New York City and the San Francisco Bay setting attendance records. The work of educational researchers supports educators’ belief in the power of making for student learning, such as embodied cognition, deep learning, spatial-reasoning skills, creative confidence and 21st Century skills. The result? Schools around the country are converting classrooms and even buildings into makerspaces and innovation labs.
So imagine how surprised many educators are when students resist making in the classroom. There’s a missing link between real-world maker movement popularity and classroom making. But the mystery is solved if you consider that most educators have never learned how to teach making. The missing link is teacher understanding.
4 Stages of Making
Making and creating can be challenging. To support creativity and innovation, we have to help students view these challenges as a normal part of the process and one they can learn to navigate successfully with practice. To teach making, it helps to understand key stages of the process, students’ reactions at each stage, helpful teacher responses, and skills taught.
Stage 1: Getting Started
Kick off the process by sharing an open-ended assignment and the resources available to complete it. Expect different student reactions – some will be nervous, others excited and others terrified. Here are some typical student reactions and helpful teacher responses:
Student: “I have no idea where to start.”
Teacher: “Begin by making lists, sketches, notes of all the things that come into your head.”
Student: “I know what I’m going to do.”
Teacher: “Push yourself to find more than one idea – even just variations of your ideas.”
Student: “All my ideas are stupid.”
Teacher: “No idea is too silly at this stage. Turn off all judgment.”
Key skills: problem solving, staying open to possibilities, refraining from judgment, engaging with ambiguity, brainstorming
Stage 2: Experimenting
Students will move from stuck to unstuck, often more than once during this process. Some may need to work quietly while others will need to discuss ideas as they experiment. They may express discomfort to excitement as they work, and most will want to check in with you along the way. Typical student reactions and helpful teacher responses include:
Student: “I don’t know which idea to pursue. I like more than one.”
Teacher: “What do you like about each of your ideas? Are there places where your ideas intersect?”
Student: “This is what I want to do. This idea is perfect.”
Teacher: “Let’s check this idea against the problem we’re trying to solve or the question we’re trying to answer. Does it speak to what we’re working on?”
Student: “I don’t like any of my ideas.”
Teacher: “Walk around the room. Talk to your peers. See what they’re working on and ask them how it’s going. See if this sparks ideas for you.”
Key skills: agile thinking, critical thinking, reflection, researching, making connections, communicating
Stage 3: Prototyping
Students are making and creating. Resource constraints arise, so they have to manage materials and time. During this phase, you’ll help students make choices and find possibilities in the constraints. Typical student reactions and helpful teacher responses include:
Student: “It’s not turning out the way I want. I don’t have the resources I need.”
Teacher: “Let’s talk that through. Where are you feeling constrained? There may be some possibilities here.”
Student: “It’s exactly what I wanted to make. Done!”
Teacher: “Share your prototype with others. Can they tell what you were trying to convey?”
Student: “This is hard. Going from ideas and sketches to something concrete is overwhelming.”
Teacher: “You’re right. This is hard. It’s normal to feel this way while you’re creating and making. Let’s break things down.”
Key skills: grit, perseverance, managing resources, gaining creative confidence, getting feedback, seeing this as a process, working through ambiguity
Stage 4: Integrating Feedback
You’ll want to convey that making is a process and that feedback is an important part of that process. Students will need opportunities to reflect on and share what they’ve done. Typical student responses and helpful teacher feedback include:
Student: “Why should I care what other people think about what I’ve made? I like it.”
Teacher: “Getting feedback can help you see what you’ve created through someone else’s eyes. You may learn something new.”
Student: “Why do I have to talk about what I’ve made? Can’t I just show it?”
Teacher: “When Steve Jobs talked about the iPhone, he translated his understanding of the object into something others could understand. In helpins others understand, you’ll also reflect on your work and how you created it.”
Key skills: communication, deep understanding, openness to feedback, reflection, critical thinking, listening
Your students will revisit these stages and skills again and again in making and creating. Each time, they’ll return with increased creative confidence, as they become more comfortable with the uncomfortable aspects of making and with the uncertainty that accompanies it.
Gayle Allen is Chief Learning Officer at BrightBytes, an educational software company in San Francisco. Gayle spent nearly two decades as a teacher, school leader, and founder of two professional development institutes. She holds an Ed.D. from Teachers College, Columbia University, where she focused her research on teachers’ transformative learning with web 2.0 technologies. Gayle blogs here and tweets here
Lisa Yokana is an art and architecture teacher at Scarsdale High School, where she does extensive interdisciplinary teaching with educators from across disciplines. Lisa blogs here and tweets here

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Catherine Wooller

Your blog post resonates with me on a number of different levels. I don't know much about the Maker movement, however I am increasing the use of technology in the classroom and have noticed the same level of negativity. My take on this for my situation is that they are not used to choice in learning and that they have so far had a culture of just being given the answers to learn rather than learning through doing. I am slowly making progress with them, but it can be challenging to stay positive as a teacher.
The other area that it resonates with me is for staff PD which I am running this year. I see the 'fear' factor in a lot of teachers that perhaps are not comfortable with challenging their thoughts around what they do in their classroom in order to try something different or new. And in particular creating activities utilising technology. I think I will have to keep in mind their possible reactions in order to provide safe environments for both groups to move forward and be creative.


Great suggestions, nice post. I've a new booklet that may interest you--The Guided Brainstorming™ Handbook for IDEAS. Find it here: www.halliburtonassociates.com

Marcia Garries

I ran a Maker Day with 40 teachers K- grade 9. They loved it - especially sharing the prototypes they created. The theme was creating a prototype to help the homeless. Improving shelter, hygiene, emotional/social safety, and security . The small groups had to come to consensus with what they wanted to create. The whole exercise was genuine, engaging, and truly heartfelt.

Carrie Snow EdD

Gayle, I love this article! I think in this era of dwindling resources for the arts in schools, it's so important to think about how we can integrate creative process skills into curricula. I also think it's great that you've highlighted the disconnect between pop culture and school culture. It's encouraging to think that the divide will lessen as we learn to teach about things that kids are inherently responsive to...thanks.


Wonderful suggestions !! Very nicely represented as student teacher conversations, which is easy to understand and connect. Students are enthralled when it comes to creating/making as a group than doing it all on their own.


It is nice

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