Genius of Making: 5 Ways to Mash-Up Genius Hour and Your Makerspace

By AJ Juliani, One comment

Creativity isn’t limited to STEM or STEAM or even the arts. Every time a student is designing, building, tinkering, and problem-solving, it becomes a chance to develop a maker mindset. And any time a teacher creates a space that cultivates this maker mindset, he or she is designing a maker space. – John Spencer, The Makerspace Master Course

In 9th grade I cut my thumb on a saw in wood shop and had to get stitches. It wasn’t too bad…

However, that was the last year I took “shop” class in high school. I had enjoyed making our C02 cars in middle school, and liked the process of learning in “shop” class…but the food in Home Economics, and the potential game-making in Computer Programming took me away from wood shop. Nonetheless, I continued to create and make long after high school.

As a high school teacher I began to see a divide between the kids who took shop class and often went to the local technical school, and those students who took all “academic” classes. This is not to say that they weren’t academic. We had fantastic discussions in English class where high level connections were consistently made, yet many did not see themselves as “academic” and wanted to do other things after high school. In fact, many thought high school was a waste of their time because it had “nothing to do” with where they were headed.

I loved the “real world” perspective many of these students brought to my class, but I hated the fact that I categorized them as “those students”…meaning tech school students. The other piece was how the percentages were swayed heavily to boys in both our “shop” classes and technical school. I mean 90%-10% heavy!

The flip-side of this equation was a set of students who took every AP and Honors level class they could take during their high school journey. Their goals for high school were different. They wanted to get into a great college, and knew they had to have a HS resume that would reflect how intelligent and hard working they had been for the past four years.

They rarely did anything with their hands. Rarely made anything in school that was not tied to a set of standards or written out in paper. This was not to say that they weren’t creative. Far from it. However, their opportunities were limited in “making” because of the academic path they took in high school.

If only it were that simple…

Like most things in life, school for me as a teenager, and as a teacher…was not that cut and dry. Most students did not fall into either of the above paths, including myself. I fell somewhere in between, shying away from AP classes and also not seeing the value in tech school.

Yet, I always was tinkering around. Making videos (before everyone made videos) and making my own songs, recording things, and always interested in music as I was part of a band. At the time I didn’t know I was a “Maker” or have any idea about that term. I did know that when something interested me I usually jumped at the chance to mess around and play with it to learn.

When I gave my students the choice to work on whatever project they wanted to for our Genius Hour projects, I joined in the fun. I decided to build my own app from scratch (something I always wanted to do) and the Maker in me came out again. I saw how my students struggled with their projects…yet continued to push through. Even though our projects were not tied to grades, they still cared and had a higher level of commitment than I could have ever drawn out with a quiz or test.

This was English class, and we were making things with our hands.

We were also writing, reading, speaking, and listening about our own projects and the other students that were in the class.

Although my students and I embodied the “maker” mindset during those 45 minutes each week, the problem was simple: That was not enough time.

They needed more experiences in school like Genius Hour where they could fail safely, learn by tinkering, collaborate freely, and see an idea go from seed to creation over a period of time.

Maker Movement Matters

Why this needs to change in the 21st century…

Yes, we are 15 years into the “21st Century” and keep talking about it like we’re still not living in this world. We all know how the world has changed, and how our students have changed. Not to mention how the workforce has and will continue to shift towards jobs that require critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.

But I still see many schools as silos. If you want to go to college take this path…and if you want to get “career ready” take this other path over here. That’s not going to cut it anymore.

The “career ready” path has to have strong academic merit to it, just as the “college ready” path has to have creative merit if we actually want to prepare students for life after school.

Shouldn’t a student who is heading to college to take engineering courses have hands on experience designing, making, and building in school?

Shouldn’t a student who is starting their own landscaping or design business after graduation have experience writing business plans, speaking to an audience, and connecting their math class to their business interests?

And shouldn’t an elementary student interested in everything have the opportunity to explore with their mind and their hands as they make their way through our K-12 system?

As a teacher, parent, and student myself I believe we need to expect more out of all of our students and give them the opportunities in school to do “real” work instead of consistently “preparing” them for what is next. 

5 Ways to Mash-Up Genius Hour and Makerspaces

My good friend and c0-author John Spencer recently launched the Makerspace Master Course, which takes you from idea to fully functional Makerspace in a week. In his course, John goes into detail about the Maker mindset, and why Genius Hour can be a great place to start using the Makerspace with purpose.

John points out that every makerspace has the following components:

  • Hands-on activities. Even if there are digital processes going on, students should be engaged in some kind of hands-on fabrication.
  • Student ownership over the creative process
  • Differentiated space, so that students can sit, stand, and move around

And, when students have Genius Hour, we know it needs to include the following:

  • Time. Students need time in school (whether 45 minutes or an hour a week) to spend learning what they are interested in, and creating something that matters to them intrinsically.
  • Passion. Kids need to be fired up to learn and fuel their curiosity. It’s up to them to choose what topic and areas they navigate.
  • Purpose. Learning needs to be connected to making. There has to be a purpose to the learning that extends beyond being curious and moves into a creative pursuit of designing a solution, experience, or something for people to engage with.

Here’s how to combine the two for an ultimate mash-up.

#1. Start Your Makerspace in Your Room

We often have these grandiose ideas of makerspaces and fab labs in our mind. Forget that. Start a makerspace in your classroom so your students can use it whenever they want, and you can allow students to make during Genius Hour instead of having that be an activity that only happens outside the classroom.

#2. Start Cheap

In the checklist John created (you can get it at the end of this article), he breaks down how to start a classroom Makerspace on a $100 budget (as well as some higher level budgets). This can be done through the school, through a donors choose grant, or as a good ‘ol tax deductible teacher purchase. Better yet, most of the stuff is brought in by the students! Don’t let fancy 3d Printer pricing make you feel like students can have a space to make and create in your room, start cheap and give students time during Genius Hour.

#3. Structure it for students to have ongoing ownership

It may seem like you have to do all the work to get this up and running, but that is definitely not the case. Invite students to bring ideas to the table. Have them tweak the material list and add their perspective on what needs to be in stock in your makerspace. Then make it a point to continue these conversations at check-points throughout the school year for ongoing ownership.

#4. Give it Personality

One of the best parts of Genius Hour is kids showing off who they truly are by what the choose to learn and make. The same should happen in your makerspace. It needs a classroom personality and has to feel personal. I love walking into a space and knowing that only that classroom, or that person could have created it, otherwise it won’t be used and will feel seperate from the community you’ve built in the classroom.

#5. Use old school materials

That’s right. Duct tape. Cardboard. Glue guns. Straws. Sticks. Legos. Anything that you can piece together to maker something can be used. But, don’t fall prey to the trap of shiny. Your makerspace can be rocking without the shiny. Sure it is nice to have these things eventually, but start with the old school and see how excited students are to explore and create.

Get Started Now

Two ways to get started. You can download the FREE Checklist that John Spencer created by entering in your email below. It has a breakdown of what you need to get started with makerspace materials and a price list.

Or you can jump right into John’s Makerspace Master Course (click here to access it).  If you join before the end of July you can use my coupon code (just type in “AJ” to redeem the coupon on checkout) and save 20%.

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