Teaching in a STEAM or Maker class is exciting. Preparing design challenges for students not only has them empathizing with their heart, critically thinking with their brains, and making with their hands, but it also fosters collaboration, creativity, and communication skills--essential human intelligences they will need in life. In the #dbcbook Teachingland we discuss the topic of authentic assessment, offer rubrics to assess hands on projects, and provide 10 survival-themed maker challenges spanning multiple grade levels to get you started with maker projects for the school year! Our challenge this year as teachers is how do we implement these during Covid?
STEM and Maker classes have suffered tremendously due to new barriers we are facing as we are embarking on teaching virtually amidst a pandemic. Previous challenges around providing design thinking and maker challenges often come down to the number of consumables and the price tag they carry, with the bill falling on the teachers. But now, Covid-19 has forced some schools to cut what they are calling “nonessential” or “related arts” classes all together, focusing virtual learning on math and English Language Arts. This isn’t the case everywhere, but I find it more common than not.
There are a few questions I have pondered in prepping for the new school year…
How can we work together with parents, faculty, and community members to get the materials needed to keep making alive, and students engaged in learning?
How can we keep students making and designing even if it means making from a far and how can I facilitate maker challenges virtually?
What if a family can’t afford the materials?
While the Covid-19 may be putting a strain on everyone, it could be an opportunity for us to truly work with parents and the community to create a village mentality.
Below I’m going to offer multiple solutions to the questions above that might be applicable in your current scenario. If you have a unique circumstance or solution not mentioned, please contribute to the conversation! We also like to crowdsource ideas and treat the blogs as conversation starters, or box breakers, for those who may be stuck! We don’t have all the answers and would love your voice to weigh in!
Question 1: How can we work together with parents, faculty, and community members to get the materials needed to keep making alive, and students engaged in learning?
Parents are the first advocates for their students, so it's natural to start there! While some schools may have policies about not asking for donations, sometimes it takes stakeholders outside of the classroom to make EduMagic happen! We suggest creating a comprehensive supply list with project names or learning objectives so they can see your vision for why you need the materials you are asking for. Sending this home with students via paper (which might currently not be an option), or online signup is a great way to alleviate some of the financial burden of consumables and it allows parents to contribute. We have sample letters included with a comprehensive supply list with items listed for each Teachingland design challenge. Pre-Covid parents typically sponsored an entire design challenge for the whole class, or sent in one or two items they choose.
While this option was great when we met in person, one of the challenges of Covid is how do you get the supplies? Schools could do a no contact grade level/content area donation train. The donation train would have scheduled times for parents to drop off supplies on the supply list for their child’s grade level. This also means teachers will still be assembling the supplies and they will need to get the design challenges back out to students. This may not be a viable option for everyone.
Another option is to send the design challenge supply list home to parents and have them buy the items needed for specific design challenges. One of the things we tried to do in Teachingland was including items that are often already found around the house, or using items that are not cost inhibitive. It’s easy to ask parents to add a few items to a grocery list! I know what you are thinking...but happens when all of the students don’t have the materials needed? You can venture away from specific items and let it be more of a guide. Parents and students can work together to make substitutions based on what they do have.
Prior to sending a list out, you could even do a zoom scavenger hunt to get a feel for how many of the items students actually have! When they have successfully collected each item in a Ziploc bag, you can share that they now have all the items they needed for design challenge, and present it to them. Facilitate a conversation on substitution items for students that were not able to find anything. In the scavenger hunt you could instruct them to find each item or an item similar to it.
Large companies like Sam’s Club, Costco, Home Depot and Kroger often donate supplies to schools and individual classrooms if you take the time to go in and ask about it. I have personally gotten scrap wood from Home Depot and office supplies and paper from Sam’s Club just by going in and explaining what my students were working on. It doesn’t hurt to try! Also consider going to small local business leaders! They have a vested interest in local talent and will often sponsor activities, donate money, and even send in an expert that may be able to connect what students are designing or making with future careers.
Donor’s choose is one of the best ways to fundraise for consumables and beyond. This is a great way to acquire larger ticketed items like technology, but also anything Amazon has to offer! In Louisville, Kentucky the local business Louisville Family Fun promotes certain classroom projects to help see them funded by doing a $5 Friday. Starting a community support system or even posting the projects started by teachers to the school social media can help rally all stakeholders around a common goal: to eliminate all barriers to quality education. By donating they are coming together to build a better future for the local community.
4. Social Media
Speaking of social media, the hashtag #clearthelist has gotten a lot of traction. If you have a twitter account and want to create an Amazon classroom list, you can tweet it out with the hopes of getting funding. Better yet, create that classroom list and share it with parents first. Donor’s choose takes a cut of the money raised. When an item is purchased on the Amazon classroom wish list it is shipped directly to you! While this eliminates having to collect them directly from parents, you still have to assemble the maker bag challenges and distribute them to students.
Question 2: How can we keep students making and designing even if it means making from a far?
Zoom, Google Meet, Flipgrid, Padlet
In Teachingland: A Teacher’s Survival Guide to the Classroom apocalypse we list so many ways to communicate, facilitate, engage, assess, and get students making! While our book has a zombie theme, I think zoombies are more appropriate in today’s teaching environment. Make your next zoom meeting or google meet, one where students get to build at the same time, or have them create before the video call and spend the time showcasing prototypes. Use Flipgrid to create a video giving students instructions and then have them show off their prototypes in the grid and talk about the process. Making and designing is about the journey. Have them reflect on that learning journey through a padlet that showcases their creations, pictures, and whatever else they want to include. You can even create a collaborative Student Prototype Portfolio with Book Creator or google slides. There are a million ways to facilitate from afar and have them share! Check out this teaser slide deck of the Teachingland REMEDY--where we give over 80 tech tools in the book on how to Reach, Engage, Make, Evaluate, Demystify, and leave them yearning for more!
Question 3: What if a family can’t afford the materials?
When we think about consumables and distance education we have to think about equity and equal access opportunities. If you are able to get businesses, or your school to fund the materials needed then there is the option of delivering or having the materials picked up. Instead of offering a supply list, you can leave it open ended using the opening prompt:
“Using the materials you find in your house design a…..”
You can even forgo a prototype with the materials and have students draw a prototype. The whole point is to get the design wheels turning!
Thank you for reading! We hope you gained some useful tips to prevent zoombies with hands on making. Be sure to pick up a copy of Teachingland and Zom-Be A Design Thinker! Use the hashtags #teachingland and #zombeDT to join in on the conversation on twitter!