Friday, October 3, 2014

Making, Tinkering, and Innovating at Full #STEAM Ahead!

It's an astounding thing how our minds can change based on our personal experiences.  Our experiences change our perceptions of the world around us.  When it comes to emotions, we learn them by watching others and how they react to certain situations; we trust those whom we look up to and respect.  All of the above applies to teaching our students.  If we are excited about what we are teaching and present the content in a creative and engaging way - if we exhibit excitement ourselves, then most likely our students will be excited to learn.  As I write this blog post, I am reflecting on my positive experiences leading a Maker Space, incorporating a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) Program.

During recent years, the United States Federal Government has been strongly encouraging schools to offer STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) related courses.

One of the things that I’ve been focused on as President is how we create an all-hands-on-deck approach to science, technology, engineering, and math… We need to make this a priority to train an army of new teachers in these subject areas, and to make sure that all of us as a country are lifting up these subjects for the respect that they deserve.
President Barack Obama
Third Annual White House Science Fair, April 2013

The Obama Administration stands committed to providing students at every level with the skills they need to excel in the high-paid, highly-rewarding fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).  

Personally, I had no interest whatsoever in teaching a course with a STEM/STEAM course, I will honestly admit.  When I hear the word "STEM," the word "boring" is the first word that pops into my mind.  Again, this is all based on my prior experiences with these subjects.  Science? Boring.  Technology?  I am an Educational Technology enthusiast - not a computer programmer.  I hated my computer programming course in college.  Engineering?  No thank you.  Math?  It's been years since I have reviewed algebra, so don't even bother trying to ask me.  And Calculus?  Well, let's not even go there.  Like I said, STEM is boring.  However, it does not have to be.  My thoughts on STEM/STEAM programs changed during the past year.  I will now explain why.
There is a technological and creative revolution underway - you don't want to miss it!  I am referring to none other than the Maker Movement.  If you are not familiar with the Maker Movement, you can learn more about it by reading a great blog post written by Daniel Winkler (@dan_winkler) which you can find here.
Running a Maker Space is a great way to teach the concepts of STEM/STEAM to your students. We all know that the way educators present content to their students can have a great impact on their interest in learning.  However, running a Maker Space works differently.  Through running a Maker Space, not only are we presenting content to our students in a meaningful and interactive way, but we are also giving students the opportunity to create their own engaging activities and the ability to be in control of their own learning.  Where their imagination will take them is up to them to decide; the more effort they put into their learning, they more they will learn.  We merely are creating the environment and offering the tools that they will need to foster these skills.

Last year, I read the book "Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, Engineering in the Classroom"  by Sylvia Libow Martinez (@smartinez) and Gary Stager (@garystager). ("This book helps educators bring the exciting opportunities of the maker movement to every classroom.  Amazing new tools, materials and skills turn us all into makers. Using technology to make, repair or customize the things we need brings engineering, design and computer science to the masses. Fortunately for educators, this maker movement overlaps with the natural inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing. The active learner is at the center of the learning process, amplifying the best traditions of progressive education."  I found this book to be very inspiring, as it presented the concepts of STEAM in a new light.  As I mentioned above, it's all about the presentation."  I was very excited and interested in running a Maker Space program on my own, yet I was not expecting the opportunity to be able to do so anytime in the near future.
This past April, my Head of School, Dr. Shira Leibowitz (@shiraleibowitz), thought of an incredible idea.  Dr. Leibowitz suggested that for the coming school year, we offer elective courses to our seventh and eighth grade students that would be career relevant.  One of the courses offered would be a Technology focused course.  Dr. Leibowitz approached me and asked me about my interest in teaching a Technology elective focused on programming skills.  Since I am not a computer programmer, I had no interest.  I then thought of the Maker Movement and I requested to run a Maker Space in our school.  Fortunately, my request was approved.  I began to contact others in the New York area who were well versed in the Maker Movement.  

The first resource I always turn to professional growth is Twitter.  Through Twitter, I connected with other Directors of Educational Technology who run Maker Spaces and/Fab Labs in their school.  These included but were not limited to: Jaymes Dec (@jaymesdec), James Tiffin, Jr. (@JimTiffinJr), and Jeremy Sambuca (@jsambuca).  I also contacted Sylvia Libow Martinez to get her support as well.  

I knew I would be able to run a Maker Space in my school, yet I also knew that it would take a considerable amount of time to develop a curriculum and research for many different supplies at reasonable costs.  Through Twitter, I was fortunate to discover the organization Maker State (@MakerState) ( under the leadership of Stephen Gilman (@StephenGilman).  Maker State is an organization which provides Maker Spaces to After School programs, Homeschoolers, and now, courses held as part of the school day.  In May, I contacted Stephen Gilman and met with him in Manhattan.  I explained to him what the goals were in my course and how I was inspired by the book "Invent to Learn."  He was very knowledgeable of the book, the vision and goals of a Maker Space, and how to properly run a Maker Space to ensure student success.  

I have been in contact with Stephen Gilman and his Maker State team since May on a regular basis.  As I mentioned above, our minds can change based on our personal experiences.  The way that Maker State has not only developed a curriculum but has given me support as well, has turned my fears of running a STEAM program to feelings of excitement.  In fact, I will be learning how to use Minecraft next week; not for playing games in virtual worlds, but for purposes of programming.  As the year progresses, I will continue to post on my experiences in running a Maker Space.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions you have regarding starting a Maker Space program.  This is your chance to offer your students - and yourselves - the chance to be Makers as well as letting their imagination and creativity run wild.  I guarantee that if you have an open mind, you will love it just as I do.  

So when will you start your Maker Space?