Confessions of a maker – Maker Studio class year 1

2016-2017 Reflections:

April Reflection:

With one month left of school, we have begun recruiting for next year. We created a recruitment video to show all 8th grade students and upper school science students. Since we didn’t get a chance to recruit last year, we hope this effort drums up more excitement!

More information later as we continue our re-design of our maker course. Making in action!

February Reflection:

Though our numbers are down, we’ve continued one. Today, we used our reflections on the course as well as notes from fellow instructors on how to improve:

  • Structure the class as an ongoing project – students will submit a project proposal, budget proposal, and design proposal. Students will present projects at the end to incoming students. Students will also document their projects through an online portfolio.
  • Begin the year with approximately 6 weeks of mini-units to build students’ “toolboxes.” For instance, spend three-four classes on 3D design, two weeks on coding with Arduinos and Raspberry Pis, three classes on circuits and motors, etc. The goal is to front load all information for students to begin working. Before front-loading information, show students example projects to dream big.
  • After front-loading information, students will move through the design thinking process to propose, design, build, and re-build their projects. Students will work with a $100 budget (per student). Students will submit design proposals that will list out their budgets.
  • We intend for students to dream big and to continue working on these projects outside of class.
  • To recruit students, we will make a 2 minute promotional video to showcase to incoming 8th grade students, all science classes, and to send via email to all current students. We will also link the video on course selection forms.

More information later as we continue our re-design of our maker course. Making in action!

October Reflection:

We have finished another month of our inaugural maker studio course. And, I just wrapped up teaching the first of five sections for the course.

Two months after we began this roller coaster of a journey, I’ve come to the following revelations:

  • Be sure your course description gives a clear outline of what you will do in the course. Even though you should leave room for change, you need to make sure you outline any large requirements. For instance, journaling is a large portion of our maker studio course. Though it was mentioned in our course description, it was not given a large focus. In retrospect, we would have made clear that the course centered around an ongoing portfolio.
  • Our course is pass/fail and meets for half credit. It is also a multi-grade level course. The social dynamics and the pass/fail hit us early on. In hindsight, we would have spent a week making a small project. And, then, we would have introduced the course. Since we gave out the syllabus day 1, several students became intimidated by the workload for a pass/fail course. This also played into the social dynamics: “If my friend drops, I’m dropping because I don’t want to be alone.” We will continue to offer it multi-grade level and as a pass/fail course. However, we will adjust how we introduce the course.
  • Note that this year was only a small sample. If we had another sample of students, the content recommendations may have been entirely different. Wait at least two years before making significant changes to content in order to get a larger data sample.
  • If you read below, you will learn that we had to adjust to order of our sections right before class started. As a result, we lost our hook. In the future, we will begin with a week of exploratory making before we introduce the course. And then, we will begin with our “hook.” We will see what order the other sections will follow as we get to them.
  • Take deep breaths. Losing so many students early was a blow to our creative juices and egos. I had to remind myself that criticism is good. It’s what makes making. Remember you are like the students in your making of the course. Be patient. Be open.
  • That said, don’t take too much stock in any small group of ideas. Remember that they are a small sample. If you make changes based upon the small sample, you may alienate the rest. There is not always a winning scenario. Sometimes, you have to let a few go in order to define the course for the rest. This has been the hardest to learn – especially the first year. Our version of maker and some students’ versions are different. And, as a result, it led to frustration on both of our parts. It took letting a few drop for the class to regain a momentum and define itself. With the course moving now, I’ll be able to make the necessary revisions to avoid alienating others next year.

See below for more resources included an updated Maker Journey presentation.

September Reflection:

We are in our fourth week of school and it already feels like it should be the last week. September is hard. It’s especially difficult when you are starting something new.

After starting the beginnings of a maker program last year with a maker faire night and monthly maker parties, five teachers (including myself) took on the task of teaching a course on maker.

Last spring, we got the approval of our curriculum committee to offer a Maker Studio course, aimed at students in 9-12 grades. In proposing this class, we gathered ideas from universities like MIT, UT, and Indiana to develop a sound proposal. For our course, we wanted the students to use the design process so, we have taken our course design through the design thinking process as well.

Our design proposal: Maker Studio offers the opportunity to develop skills in ideation, design, creativity, prototyping, and collaboration.  These skills allow students to fully participate in shaping the world around them through deeper understanding of the possibilities and problems of new physical and information technologies.  This course focuses on key design elements of the Maker movement, along with how Making supports science learning by providing opportunities to deepen engagement, intentionality, innovation, collaboration, and understanding.

Maker skills provide a powerful way to inspire students’ interest, engagement, and   understanding in science.  The course is taught through cross-disciplinary hands-on projects where students will use a variety of maker tools including, but not limited to, 3D printing, Raspberry Pis, Arduinos, and Makey Makeys.  There will be a different instructor for each rotation, allowing the class to be taught by a panel of experts, where each instructor teaches a discrete unit.  Students will reflect on each project, writing a concise summary of what they did, including their design process, issues encountered, and future applications of the skill.  A digital portfolio will be kept throughout the class, and there will be periodic presentations of their projects.  The course will culminate with an individual project that incorporates several of the skills learned throughout the course.

Currently, I am the section teacher of this course so my thoughts will change as a I become a spectator teacher of the course.

Empathize: “To create meaningful innovations, you need to know your users and care about their lives.” After we took the course for approval to the curriculum committee, we spent time deciding our desired audience. At the time, we knew data suggested more middle school students attended the maker events than upper school students. However, due to scheduling restraints at the middle school, we decided to bring the course to the high school. With that, we attempted to narrow down grade levels – 9, 10, 11, 12 or all. We decided to open it to all as to not exclude anyone in year one. However, after four weeks, we have observed the social dynamics play a critical part in students staying in the course. Due to the wide spectrum of grade levels and “friend groups” in the course, some withdrew after the first day due to more of a social reason.

Defining the course: After getting approval for the course and selecting our target audience, we worked on a course design. We decided upon several main factors that would be consistent in the course. This is an area we have had to come back to many times. We got approval for the course in February. However, that left us the spring and summer and figure out the course. In a standard course, this time would not be as essential. However, in this course, it proved most important. We tried to work remotely over the summer, but in the end, we found schedules conflicted and time ran out. As a result, our definition of the course was rather weak. That affected us dramatically in the first week. We set out offer five distinct sections in the course – each taught by a different teacher. And, we decided that journals, portfolios, and projects would be our three grading elements. However, the specifics of those elements were not defined as well. As a result, we have had to spend a lot of time redefining journals, portfolios, and project design.

Ideate: “It’s not about coming up with the ‘right’ idea, it’s about generating the broadest range of possibilities.” For the purpose of course design, we are generating a broad range of possibilities as we go through the course. During the early summer, I found an alumnus who worked in renewable energy – our first topic – and after several discussions, she agreed to come talk to our students. This fueled further ideas of section field trips or speakers. The course is divided into five sections so each has its own set of ideas. Since I am teaching first, I am generating more ideas for future section teachers.

Prototype: “Build to think and test to learn.” Our prototype and testing are more or less the same. Since, we never had an audience to test on. This year will serve as our prototyping year. Next year, will be further testing. For now, I’ve included our thoughts in the testing section.

Testing: “Testing is an opportunity to learn about your solution and your user.” 

We are currently in this stage. This has been the most arduous and grueling in many ways. The design was nothing compared to the revisions that we have made along the way.

Our school has a very unique schedule so this course is running as a 1/2 credit, Pass/Fail course currently. With that, we meet 3 days of every rotation (rotation is 8 days). 2 days are 45 minutes each and 1 day  is 60 minutes.

Day 1 – all five section teachers met to introduce ourselves and the course. With a 45 minute class period, this did not leave much time for anything else. At the end of day 1, 5 of our 12 total students dropped the course. They were all freshmen and I attribute it to social reasons.

Day 2 – I began my section. Originally, we decided my section would go second. However, due to summer scheduling changes, the teacher set to go first, was no longer able to, so I went. Unfortunately, my section was not designed to be the hook. Day 2 began with an introduction into sustainability as my section is about creating a sustainable solution with recyclable and renewable resources. It was evident the class was not wanting to discuss.

Day 3 – We continued discussion of the recycling process in order to empathize. It was evident the class did not read and did not want to discuss. Students were threatening to leave.

Back to the drawing board.

Day 4 – We spent the class allowing students to give voice about the class – what do they want. After this class, we deferred to the students.

Days 5 & 6 – We allowed the students to create without giving background on sustainability (due to students saying they preferred to read on their own). Instead, students went right into building. I do not support this model, but found it was necessary to get back momentum.

Day 7 – We regained the course. As teachers, we met again to reiterate our common goals for the course – journaling, design thinking, and portfolios. After this, we got our footing back and students were thrust into prototyping.

Since beginning the course, we have set up weekly meetings among the section teachers in order to adapt the course as we go. This is crucial. I have also found that a balance between teacher voice and student voice is necessary. No voice should outweigh the other.

After day 9, we will begin the last project in my section – creating renewable resources. With the course now moving in a forward motion, I hope to reiterate the design thinking process.


Curious about our Maker Studio journey? Don’t worry! I’ll be continuing this series with updates on the process.

Below, you can find resources to get you started on your way. The most important thing about maker education is learning from and adapting from your mistakes. In this case, it is also, learning from others’ mistakes.

Course Website
Rubrics, Resources & more for sustainability
Journaling requirement
Journaling template
Sample portfolio – Bulb
Portfolio guidelines and grading
Grading guidelines

Check out the Maker Journey presentation for my maker process from start to now. Also, check out for all things STEAM.



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