Maker Faire

Maker High: Why Every School Should Be a Maker Faire

May 15, 2012 – by Tom Vander Ark

Maker High: Why Every School Should Be a Maker Faire

The prevailing problem with American high schools is boredom. Actually, that’s just a symptom of alienation, irrelevance, and infantilization. A disconnected string of classes—some too hard, some too easy—appears to most teens to have little to do with life. And, they are right.

But there is a solution, or at least some inspiration at “Maker Faire” running this weekend in San Mateo. It’s a “festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement.”

What if, instead of going to class, students planted a garden, started a business, conducted an experiment, produced a video, or wrote a book?

“What about stuff they need to learn to produce high quality products?” you might ask? That’s where playlists come in. School of One introduced us to the idea of a customized playlist for every student. Advances in predictive algorithms and adaptive curriculum (some cool adaptive math products were featured yesterday) makes it possible to imagine a learning day that is a mixture of playlists and production.

That’s how blended learning should work—a combination of personal digital learning and community connected, team-based, production-focused, authentic, engaging, and relevant activities. At Maker High, students would publish rather than ‘turn it in’. They would demonstrate mastery rather than finishing a class.

Big Picture and Edvisions are school networks closest to maker philosophy. They are early flex models (according to Innosight’s Classifying Blended Learning). NAF and Expeditionary Learning get partial credit for maker aspirations. As new Common Core-aligned capabilities develop, these networks could use better tools to diagnosis specific needs and help students produce high quality products. (see How Will Personalized Learning Really Work?)

Maker Faire is May 19 & 20 but the excitement for teachers starts Thursday (May 17) in San Mateo. If you’re a local teacher, join our friends at Edsurge for a free, very hands-on profession development meetup on Thursday, from 4:00 to 7:00pm. You can also score a free ticket to the weekend celebration by signing up here. Check out “DIY Learning: The New School” pavilion. It will be packed the house with activities; take a look here for more details.

Maybe you can’t quit your day job and start a new Maker High, but you can create a maker culture with a focus on producing and sharing high quality products in your home, classroom, or school. Edmodo is the perfect place to start and—since San Mateo is home—the Edmodo team will be out in force. If you can’t make it, you can join me in tracking #MakerEducation. I bet we’ll see more maker classrooms, schools and networks launched after this weekend.

Thanks to Alex Hernandez, Charter Growth Fund, for c0-sponsoring the education strand at Maker Faire and for his leadership on developing thoughtful blends.

For more see ‘s post on DIY Learning: Schoolers, Edupunks, and Makers challenge education as we know it.

Original article

Disclosure: Edmodo is a Learn Capital portfolio company

Related Posts

“Getting Lessons on Water by Designing a Playground”


Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

Maddalena Polletta, of the Trust for Public Land, using a model to show students how water effects the city and the environment.

Published: May 7, 2012

The sixth graders at Stephen A. Halsey Junior High School 157 in Queens have a tough assignment before them: design a new playground that will transform a sea of black asphalt at their school into a recreational oasis — and, while they are at it, help clean up New York City’s waterways.

So, in addition to benches, play equipment, ball courts and drinking fountains, their wish list includes a butterfly garden and a gravel-lined turf field. Those features will capture precipitation and prevent it from overloading the city’s sewer system, which, in the case of their Rego Park neighborhood, spews raw sewage into Flushing Bay when it rains.

In the process, the children are learning about arcane urban infrastructure and bureaucratese, like “combined storm-sewer runoff.” And they are gaining appreciation for the absorbent powers of trees and grass, as well as roof gardens, rain barrels and permeable pavers — bricks that soak up water.

“I always thought the rain ended up in the Atlantic Ocean and that it was cleaned first,” Aryan Bhatt, 11, said.

Theirs is one of five new eco-playgrounds that the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit group, is shepherding through the design and construction process at schools in Queens and Brooklyn. The schools, with asphalt schoolyards, were chosen, in part, for their proximity to overtaxed wastewater-treatment plants. Sites for five more playgrounds are now being scouted.

“Each child has a design notebook, and we encourage them to be landscape architects,” said Mary Alice Lee, the trust’s director of the city playgrounds program. “It’s our goal to capture one inch of rainwater.”

The program has unfolded as the city and state formalized an agreement under which the city would pay for novel techniques to address its biggest water-quality challenge. In March, the city committed $2.4 billion in public and private money over 18 years to environmentally sound solutions. The approach is a departure from more traditional methods to control sewage overflow, like storage tanks and tunnels.

To help the students visualize the problem, the Trust for Public Land on Thursday brought its aptly named “Sewer in a Suitcase” to Stephanie Lamere’s sixth-grade classroom. Inside the case, which was created by the nonprofit Center for Urban Pedagogy, was a model of a city street, with an apartment building, stores and pipes leading to a river.

Maddalena Polletta, who works for the trust, poured copper-colored glitter into the buildings to represent waste water, and sprinkled some on the streets for good measure to take the place of dog feces, litter and oil from cars. She then poured a trickle of water into the building and over the streets, and the students watched as it flowed cleanly through one of two clear-plastic tubes into a mock waterway.

But when Ms. Polletta poured a larger amount of water, all the glitter gushed out of the second tube. That tube represented a treatment plant’s outfall pipe, which discharges raw sewage along with storm water into rivers when it rains, not just in New York but in many aging cities with combined sewer systems.

“Sometimes just a quarter-inch of rain will overflow the system,” Ms. Polletta explained. “Sewage is released into the bay about 50 times a year. Last year, we had more rain than we’ve ever had before.”

Then she placed a green sponge on a roof and poured water over it. She squeezed out the sponge to show all the rain that was captured. She did the same with an ecologically friendly paving stone.

The students revisited their playground wish list, highlighting items with green stickers that had the potential to absorb some of the estimated 600,000 gallons of rainwater a year that drains from the current schoolyard. The turf field, meditation garden, vegetable garden and grass suddenly had new meaning.

Melissa Potter Ix, a principal of SiteWorks, a landscape architecture firm that is working with the trust, used a mathematical formula to show the children how to maximize the field’s absorbency. “If we put one foot of gravel under your turf field,” she said, “we can capture one inch of rain.”

Gravel is just the beginning. In a pilot playground at a school in Brooklyn, the Trust for Public Land put a green roof on the storage shed. It outfitted a gazebo with a rain barrel to collect water for a vegetable garden. It sloped a stretch of asphalt toward a second garden. And it expanded the tree beds.

The trust has ample experience with conventional playgrounds. In recent years, it has designed and built 54 playgrounds at schools across the city and designed an additional 123 for schools on behalf of the city’s parks department. Those were created as part of a city program to increase access to green space by converting schoolyards into community playgrounds.

But the trust’s latest initiative has a more ambitious goal, as the city prepares for climate change and the increased rainfall scientists say it will bring.

“We all have to be stewards of our natural resources,” said Christopher K. Kay, the trust’s chief operating officer, referring to the children in Ms. Lamere’s class. “It’s essential that this be communicated in a way that’s engaging and creative. When they’re excited, they’ll remember it.”


A version of this article appeared in print on May 8, 2012, on page A24 of the New York edition with the headline: Getting Lessons on Water By Designing a Playground.

Results Only Learning Environment

Writer Mark Barnes was kind enough to send us an excerpt from his upcoming book! Enjoy!

Not too long ago, after nearly two decades as a classroom teacher, I was ready to walk away from education. A particularly tough group of students made me feel like a failure. I knew most of them learned little or nothing in an entire school year, so I wondered why I should continue. That summer everything changed. I decided to return to my classroom the following year, but things were going to be different. I threw out literally every method I’d used in my career. Rules and consequences disappeared, along with homework, worksheets and number and letter grades. I created what I call a Results Only Learning Environment, or ROLE. The transformation was remarkably successful. Following is a brief excerpt from the book I’ve written on results-only learning, ROLE Reversal.

“The girl I’ll call Sasha was off to a rough start in her seventh grade year. The first grading period saw very little from Sasha. She completed roughly one-third of one major language arts project and did nothing on a second. Asked to review material covered on a web-based diagnostic tool, so she could retake it and improve her poor score, once again Sasha did not produce. In-class activities were done haphazardly, with little attention to detail. Feedback from the teacher, for the most part, was ignored.

“At the end of the marking period, it was time for reflection, self-evaluation and a final grade. I met with Sasha, as I did with every student, and we discussed her production. When I asked Sasha for her thoughts, she admitted that the results were not what she had hoped for. She gave no excuses. Because the administration at the middle school where I teach mandates that teachers assign quarterly grades, I told Sasha that a formal grade had to go on the report card. This was a new concept, because there were no points, percentages or grades on any activity for the entire first nine weeks of school in our class.

“ ‘So put a grade on your production for Quarter One,” I said. Tears rolled down Sasha’s face, a heart wrenching sight, as I hated to see her punished by a grade. In between sobs, her chin resting weakly on her chest, Sasha whispered, “I guess it has to be an F.” When I asked if she was certain, Sasha nodded affirmatively. At this moment I realized that a Results Only Learning Environment would forever change how I taught and how my students learned. The roles were reversing. Students were assessing their own learning, and their self-evaluations were providing me with the information I needed to create better learning opportunities in my classroom. Education was changing into something truly revolutionary.

“One grading period later, Sasha was up to a C, and she continued to progress throughout the year. She is one of dozens of examples of students who have thrived in a unique classroom that ignores the fundamental methods that teachers across America use daily – worksheets, homework, multiple-choice tests, rewards and punishments and a standard grading system. This book will share many examples of students like Sasha, who have taken charge of their own learning and assessment in what I call a Results Only Learning Environment. This transformative approach to teaching is based on research, theory and practice of people like, Daniel Pink, Alfie Kohn, Steven Krashen and Donalyn Miller. Although these authors and educators are referenced in several places throughout the book, most evidence of the effectiveness of results-only learning is based on my own practical experience and the almost uncanny success of my students.”

Later chapters of ROLE Reversal explain the student-centered, project-based learning approach of the ROLE. The complete elimination of rules and consequences is explored, and detailed examples of year-long projects and narrative feedback that accompanies them are supplied. Like Sasha, students grade themselves, and they do so with frightening accuracy.

Original article

“Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement”

Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement

By Heather Wolpert-Gawron

A twelve-year teaching veteran and a California regional Teacher of the Year, Heather Wolpert-Gawron’s musings on educational policy, curriculum design, and daily school life can also be read at

A while back, I was asked, “What engages students?” Sure, I could respond, sharing anecdotes about what I believed to be engaging, but I thought it would be so much better to lob that question to my own eighth graders. The responses I received from all 220 of them seemed to fall under 10 categories, representing reoccurring themes that appeared again and again. So, from the mouths of babes, here are my students’ answers to the question: “What engages students?”

1. Working with their peers

“Middle-school students are growing learners who require and want interaction with other people to fully attain their potential.”

“Teens find it most interesting and exciting when there is a little bit of talking involved. Discussions help clear the tense atmosphere in a classroom and allow students to participate in their own learning.”

2. Working with technology

“I believe that when students participate in “learning by doing” it helps them focus more. Technology helps them to do that. Students will always be extremely excited when using technology.”

“We have entered a digital age of video, Facebook, Twitter, etc., and they [have] become more of a daily thing for teens and students. When we use tech, it engages me more and lets me understand the concept more clearly.”

3. Connecting the real world to the work we do/project-based learning
“I believe that it all boils down to relationships. Not relationships from teacher to student or relationships from student to student, but rather relations between the text and the outside world. For example, I was in a history class last year and my teacher would always explain what happens in the Medieval World and the Renaissance. And after every lesson, every essay, every assignment, he asked us, “How does this event relate to current times?” It brought me to a greater thinking, a kind of thinking where I can relate the past to the present and how closely they are bonded together.”

“If you relate the topic to the students’ lives, then it makes the concept easier to grasp.”

“Students are most interested when the curriculum applies to more than just the textbook. The book is there — we can read a book. If we’re given projects that expand into other subjects and make us think, it’ll help us understand the information.”

“What I think engages a student most is interactions with real-life dilemmas and an opportunity to learn how to solve them. Also, projects that are unique and one of a kind that other schools would never think of. Also something challenging and not easy, something to test your strengths as a student and stimulate your brain, so it becomes easier to deal with similar problems when you are grown up and have a job. Something so interesting that you could never ever forget.”

“I like to explore beyond the range of what normal textbooks allow us to do through hands-on techniques such as project-based learning. Whenever I do a project, I always seem to remember the material better than if I just read the information straight out of a textbook.”

“I, myself, find a deeper connection when I’m able to see what I’m learning about eye-to-eye. It’s more memorable and interesting to see all the contours and details of it all. To be able to understand and connect with the moment is what will make students three times more enthusiastic about learning beyond the black and white of the Times New Roman text.”

4. Clearly love what you do

“Engaging students can be a challenge, and if you’re stuck in a monotone, rambling on and on, that doesn’t help…instead of talking like a robot, teachers should speak to us like they’re really passionate about teaching. Make sure to give yourself an attitude check. If a teacher acts like this is the last thing they want to be doing, the kids will respond with the same negative energy. If you act like you want to be there, then we will too.”

“I also believe that enthusiasm in the classroom really makes a student engaged in classroom discussions. Because even if you have wonderful information, if you don’t sound interested, you are not going to get your students’ attention. I also believe that excitement and enthusiasm is contagious.”

“It isn’t necessarily the subject or grades that really engage students but the teacher. When teachers are truly willing to teach students, not only because it is their job, but because they want to educate them, students benefit. It’s about passion. That extra effort to show how it will apply to our own future.”

5. Get me out of my seat!

“When a student is active they learn in a deeper way than sitting. For example, in my history class, we had a debate on whether SOPA and PIPA were good ideas. My teacher had us stand on either ends of the room to state whether we agree or disagree with the proposition. By doing this, I was able to listen to what all my classmates had to say.”

6. Bring in visuals

“I like to see pictures because it makes my understanding on a topic clearer. It gives me an image in my head to visualize.”

“I am interested when there are lots of visuals to go with the lesson. Power Points are often nice, but they get boring if there are too many bullet points. Pictures and cartoons usually are the best way to get attention.”

7. Student choice

“I think having freedom in assignments, project directions, and more choices would engage students…More variety = more space for creativity.”

“Giving students choices helps us use our strengths and gives us freedom to make a project the way we want it to. When we do something we like, we’re more focused and enjoy school more.”

“Another way is to make the curriculum flexible for students who are more/less advanced. There could be a list of project choices and student can pick from that according to their level.”

8. Understand your clients — the kids

“Encourage students to voice their opinions as you may never know what you can learn from your students.”

“If the teacher shows us that they are confident in our abilities and has a welcoming and well-spirited personality towards us, we feel more capable of doing the things we couldn’t do…What I’m trying to say is students are more engaged when they feel they are in a “partnership” with their teacher.”

“Personally, I think that students don’t really like to be treated as ‘students.’ Teachers can learn from us students. They need to ask for our input on how the students feel about a project, a test, etc. Most importantly, teachers need to ask themselves, “How would I feel if I were this student?” See from our point of view and embrace it.”

“Students are engaged in learning when they are taught by teachers who really connect with their students and make the whole class feel like one big family. Teachers should understand how the mind of a child or teenager works and should be able to connect with their students because everyone should feel comfortable so that they are encouraged to raise their hands to ask questions or ask for help.”

“Teachers should know that within every class they teach, the students are all different.”

9. Mix it up!

“I don’t like doing only one constant activity…a variety will keep me engaged in the topic. It’s not just for work, but also for other things such as food. Eating the same foods constantly makes you not want to eat!”

“Fun experiments in science class…acting out little skits in history…if students are going to remember something, they need visuals, some auditory lessons, and some emotions.”

“Also, you can’t go wrong with some comedy. Everyone loves a laugh…another thing that engages me would be class or group games. In Language Arts I’ve played a game of “dodge ball. We throw words at each other, one at a time. If they could get the definition, the person who threw the word would be out…Students remember the ones they got wrong, and of course, the ones they already knew.”

10. Be human

“Don’t forget to have a little fun yourself.”

I’d like to end this post with one more quote, this one from my student, Sharon: “The thing is, every student is engaged differently…but, that is okay. There is always a way to keep a student interested and lively, ready to embark on the journey of education. ‘What is that way?’ some teachers may ask eagerly. Now, read closely… Are you ready? That way is to ask them. Ask. Them. Get their input on how they learn. It’s just as simple as that.”

Go on. Try it. Ask.


Original article