Purposeful Making by Erin Head

(written by Erin for Designing Purposeful Making Experiences, Jun 2017)

I believe that all making is purposeful. Individuals will rarely take up a making project without there being a need for them to create something or to experience the process of making it. The notion of purposefulness, for me, becomes more muddled as the maker experience moves into a formal school setting. The question then becomes, “Whose purpose?” A project may fulfill the needs of a teacher or the school system, but not the student. Conversely, it may provide a great experience for the student and be purposeful to them, but not be seen as having purpose from the school’s perspective, depending on its values and mission.

One of the purposes I see for making is to experience the engineering and design process. Much the way students study the scientific method to appreciate how scientists formulate and test hypotheses and interpret results, the design process helps students begin with empathy and start to recognize and appreciate the engineering process that goes into designing and making so much in their environment. In the time given in this training, I created a Google Doc template for a Design Process Journal for students to record their process. This first template is wordier and has some notes in italics for students and teachers about how to possibly use it. I then created a cleaner Dschool version as a second option to use.

As a teacher librarian, I also looked for literature that could help me introduce the process. I love the idea of reading a book like Those Darn Squirrels! at the beginning of the year. Then, after a few months and several short introductory activities that introduce students to the design process, we would it again. Students always cry out and let me know if they’ve already heard a book I’m about to read. My response is always to remind them that they are not the same reader and that each time we return to a book we bring new understanding. On this second read, we would approach the character’s problem of squirrels in his bird feeder from an engineering and design perspective and work together to identify the steps he took and cite evidence in the story.

Erin Head is Teacher Librarian and advocate for Play at Paden Elementary School in Alameda, CA.