When designing effective maker activities, you have to consider the best pedagogy and creative instructional strategy for the task. Making and makerspaces are inherently rooted in Constructionism, which is a learning theory that promotes the idea that learners can construct knowledge when they actively participate in the making and public sharing of a physical object (Papert & Harel, 1991). These types of activities lend themselves to Project-Based Learning (PBL) and Design-Based Learning (DBL). There are so many amazing resources you can explore to learn more about this and more to support your quest to design the best maker activities for your learners. Some of our favorite research-supported maker education resources include: Agency by Design and the Tinkering Studio.
Maker Ed: Grown out of Make Magazine and the influx of educational makerspaces, Maker Ed is a national non-profit organization that provides educators and institutions with the training, resources, and community of support they need to create engaging, inclusive, and motivating learning experiences through maker education. They have links to great resources and provide an excellent starting point for educators who are just beginning their maker journey. We appreciate their dedicated look at the state-of-the-art of makerspaces in education and use them as a resource to examine trends and current initiatives.
Agency by Design: Harvard Project Zero’s maker-focused research project that is investigating the promises, practices, and pedagogies of maker-centered learning. Visit their website to check out their educator resources and brand new book, Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape their Worlds. Because The MAKE Lab has an arts focus, we really like how AbD focuses on student agency and community building. We especially like to use their Thinking Routine activities to encourage open-mindedness and creative thinking mindsets prior to beginning making projects.
Tinkering Studio: Exploratorium’s studio workshop for playful invention, investigation, and collaboration. Visit their website to explore awesome projects that you can use with your learners and learn about unique tinkerers who are blurring the lines between art and STEM. Also check out their awesome book, The Art of Tinkering, which is both a beautiful collection of artistic tinkering and a guide for exploratory making activities with common materials. Because The MAKE Lab enjoys taking a multidisciplinary approach, we really like how the Tinkering Studio blurs the lines between art and STEM. We love gaining inspiration from their open-ended activities and multidisciplinary artist spotlights. Their research also inspires some of our facilitation strategies (see more in our next post, “Tips for Facilitating Maker Activities”).
In addition to the above mentioned resources, here are some of our favorite resources for designing our maker activities.
Books About the Research Behind the Learning in the Making:
- Meaningful Making, Projects and Inspirations for FabLabs and Makerspaces by Blikstein, Martinez, & Pang (and Stanford’s FabLearn Fellows)
- Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom
by Libow Martinez & Stager
- Making Makers by Anne Marie Thomas
Books About Maker Activities:
- Meaningful Making, Projects and Inspirations for FabLabs and Makerspaces by Blikstein, Martinez, & Pang (and Stanford’s FabLearn Fellows) (This is a great resource written by teachers and for teachers. It offers a practical guide including instructional strategies and classroom activities for a variety of content area contexts.)
- Trouble Makers by Howtoons (This super awesome comic book style book follows two kids who are told to make anything except trouble. It is a perfect book for tweens and teens, including safety guides for various maker tools and step by step instructions for making a variety of non-digital artifacts. We love comics and graphic novels so we absolutely love this book.)
- Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors by Doorley (This book is perfect for early childhood makers. It includes an introduction to a variety of media and ways of using common materials in new and different ways.)
- STEAM Kids: 50+ Science/Technology/Engineering/Art/Math Hands-On Projects for Kids by Carey (Great for learners of all ages, this book curated maker activities from top blogs and reformatted them as easy to follow one-page guides.)
- Invent to Learn Guide to Fun by Josh Burker (Accompanying book to the Invent to Learn text listed in section above, this book has fun activities that use a variety of technologies.)
- The Big Book of Makerspace Projects: Inspiring Makers to Experiment, Create, and Learn (Electronics) by Graves & Graves (Wide-ranging activities with tips on tools and techniques.)
Great Websites to Find Awesome Maker Activities & Inspiration:
- PBS Design Squad: Great website with activity resources, videos about the engineering design process, contests, and ways to share artifacts via safe social media.
- Tinker Crate: Their primary function is to sell curated boxes of monthly hands-on experiments and making projects. However, they also host an amazing variety of activity ideas for all skills and abilities that you can easily do with common materials.
- Adafruit: This is an online store for electronics components and they have the most fun educational videos (Circuit Playground, Collin’s Lab, etc.) that teach both concepts and how-tos. They have great activity ideas with step-by-step instructions that include lists of materials that you can buy directly on their site. Everything has an artsy and eclectic flair, making this a very inspiring website for makers. They offer educator discounts and price cuts for buying in bulk.
- Makezine: Home of Make Magazine, this site has articles, project instructions, and reviews of the latest maker technologies and tools. They also promote Maker Faires and the diverse forms of making ranging from woodworking to DIY drones.
- Sparkfun: This is an online store for electronics, similar to Adafruit. They specialize in microcontrollers and have great educational guides to support novice and experts in taking their electronics making to the next level. They offer educator discounts and price cuts for buying in bulk.
Some of Our Favorite Activities:
- Design Challenge Task Cards and Facilitating Purposeful Design Experiences
- Novel Engineering with Recyclables
Papert, S., & Harel, I., (1991). Constructionism. Westport, CT: Ablex Publishing. URL