The coolest way to add project-based learning to your classroom or club.
GUEST COLUMN| by Sandeep Hiremath
Fire-breathing robots, LED light shows, and drone battles. This was the scene at the 2015 Bay Area Maker Faire. The faire is the signature event of the maker movement, a worldwide cultural trend of individual designers, engineers, and students, combining technical and problem solving skills to “make” things. People from diverse backgrounds and different age groups converge to share their latest inventions. What is the maker movement? It is a DIY, hands-on approach for making cool technology and is perfect for today’s students and tomorrow’s engineers. In fact, the maker movement has dedicated youth faires and even has its own set of youth celebrities.
A maker project, club, or competition is a great way to bring project-based learning to life for your students. The hands-on approach teaches more than just technology.
It is easy to bring the energy of the maker movement to your classroom. While fire-breathing robots may not be classroom acceptable due to fire hazards, there are many maker projects that are, ranging from wearable computers to lie detectors. Launching a maker club is a great way to energize interest in STEM, since middle school and high school students are naturally drawn to technology. The maker movement combines the allure of computers, electronics, and video games with students’ natural propensity to learn through doing. You can foster logical thinking and engineering skills through active learning.
To add a maker project to your class or club, you will need to learn a bit about the maker movement. Here are some options to investigate:
- One of the best ways to see the energy behind the maker movement is to attend a local faire or competition.
- Makerspaces are physical locations where people gather to share their projects – and their expertise. They are commonly hosted at a community-friendly location such as a library, community center, or campus.
- Attend a maker workshop. Workshops are often “how-to classes” sponsored by makerspaces.
- Never underestimate the power of the web. There is a good chance that someone else has designed and shared a maker project that would be just right for your class. Youth makers have YouTube channels with how-to videos. Plus, there are multiple websites dedicated to maker projects, such as MakerZone.
Once you have seen a few ideas for maker projects, you need to decide what type of project is best for your students. There are many resources to help in the process:
- Student competitions can provide an instant framework for a maker project. Check out BEST Robotics or VEX Robotics for good examples.
- Industry partners, such as MathWorks® and Texas Instruments™, offer programs, tools and sample courseware for K-12 programs.
- STEM organizations, such as i2Camp, help foster STEM interest in students. i2Camp provides summer camps that range from “BugBots: Programming Mini-Robots” to “Crime Scene Investigation.” In the course, “Bytes and Beats: An Introduction to Programming with MATLAB®,” kids build and program their own electronic musical instrument with arduinos.
So, what is it going to cost? The answer to that is simple: It depends on your project. There are many low-cost options available.
If you decide on a hardware-based project, consider low-cost hardware platforms such as an Arduino®, Raspberry Pi™, LEGO® MINDSTORMS kits, or a Beaglebone. Teachers use these electronic platforms ($25-$200) for many maker applications. Students learn things as simple as writing code for a ‘blinking LED’ to designing a ‘smart hovercraft’. Such projects not only enable teaching key concepts, but also help students better relate these concepts to real problems involving similar, but more expensive, hardware.
You will not need one kit per student. Since the maker movement is intended to foster collaborative learning, these kits are often shared resources. And the platforms are modular and re-useable, so the hardware purchased can be used for multiple projects, much like LEGOs.
There are many free, pre-designed K-12 maker projects using these low-cost hardware platforms:
There are also many maker projects that do not require hardware. These projects focus on programming and simulation:
A maker project, club, or competition is a great way to bring project-based learning to life for your students. The hands-on approach teaches more than just technology. As students share their projects, they learn to collaborate with peers, work collaboratively, and present their accomplishments. Students use technology to solve real-world problems, and will turn to technology for future challenges.