At Lodestar, the academic year is underway, and with the innovative structures that we are implementing, there is always iteration, all the way down to the level of the structure of our lessons. Across the school, and especially in the Making, Art, and Design classes, we want to jump right into making and tinkering, to pique student interest and provide tangible opportunities for students to wrestle with challenging concepts.
Thus, in a maker-centered environment, educators face the following design challenge: how can we structure classes to minimize direct instruction and maximize hands-on activities? In addition, can we accomplish this while providing adequate time for reflection on the activity?
I wanted to see this hands on learning in action, so on the first day of school I visited the Lodestar Lab space and two Making, Art, and Design classes. I first observed the Learning Lab, which is an open area of the school where students work in small groups. This space supports students’ math and literacy learning and also provides them with choice and the opportunity to lead their own learning. That day, the Lab team ran a provocation activity with identical shoe boxes (we received 1000’s as a donation), where students were given coloring utensils and freedom to create. After a few minutes, colorful designs and fortresses as tall as the children were popping up, with sounds of collaboration and laughter echoing in the space. Although activities like this appear very hectic, they give students an opportunity to showcase creativity, and set the tone for the style of learning at Lodestar.
Next, I moved on to the 1st grade Making, Art, and Design class, where Ms. Ortiz was facilitating an activity on still life portraits. To start, the class briefly discussed the life cycle of their subject, a sunflower. The students then went to their tables, which were topped with jars of sunflowers, and described everything they observed – through sight, touch, or smell. They were encouraged to move the flower around and look at it from every imaginable angle, all the while noting new discoveries. Next, the class transitioned into drawing terminology, focusing on lines and how we can use lines to make larger shapes. The students then positioned the sunflowers facing them, and drew lines of everything they saw – the leaves, seeds, petals, stem, etc. The emphasis here was to look closely and draw, not merely recreate a flower from memory. Once everyone completed the activity, Ms. Ortiz shared that this was just the first part of their still life – they would finish the portrait with watercolors next time.
This portrait activity was an introduction to general art concepts and materials for the young 1st graders, where they were able to learn about and experience two dimensional drawing. The class period started with discussion, while allowing adequate time for activities that were geared toward short attention spans. Even at the 1st grade level, instructors are able to design lessons to incorporate and maximize hands-on making activities.
Finally, I visited the 3rd grade Making, Art, and Design class, where the students were focused on collaboration. They were tasked with building the largest freestanding structure they could, using only paper and a limited amount of tape. The challenge here was in the form of Mr. C, who purposefully made mistakes to each group’s structure every five minutes, such as crumpling part of the structures or cutting off pieces. The design challenge was to work together to determine a solution to the problem of Mr. C’s “alterations”.
Once students had time to repair the last mistake, the class reflected on the positive and difficult parts of the activity. Some of the notable difficulties were determining how to fold or stack the paper, designing using a certain amount of tape, and most importantly, fixing all the mistakes.The positive results/reflections were learning how to work together, accepting and dealing with mistakes, and doing the best each group can do, since this was not a class-wide competition. After observing this class, I saw the growth between the 1st and 3rd grade making levels; the older students planned and executed strategies as a team, while developing and executing agency in fixing problems as they arise.
At the end of the day, I saw students really enjoy the structure and content of their classes, while familiarizing themselves with the style of learning at Lodestar. And in a sense, this day of observation was also a personal introduction to making – I saw classroom activities that I wish had been implemented when I was growing up.
Claire Tiffany-Appleton is currently an Americorps VISTA member serving through MakerEd at Lodestar, a Lighthouse Community Public School, assisting in the Making, Art, Design and Lighthouse Creativity Lab Programs.