Maker Studio is where tinkering and experimenting underscore real learning.

Maker Studio 1 got off to a delightfully messy start last Wednesday! We dove right into making with Scribble Bots, an activity developed by the Exploratorium. Students were challenged to use motors, markers, duct tape, batteries, recycled materials, and hot glue sticks to build machines that draw.

We got our first taste of tinkering: experimenting with materials, developing intuition about how to use them, and inventing, improving, and extending. The activity was framed by a goal and a set of materials, but no explicit instructions. This created opportunities for students to develop their own ways of using the materials.

For example, several students created robots that spun in the air rather than wobbling on the ground. I learned, along with the students, that markers can splatter--and splatter quite far! Some students dismantled markers and attached the marker tips and innards directly to their robots. A “blender” was built; popsicle sticks were turned into wheels; and fake mustaches were used to connect wires and batteries.

Devoting a substantial part of our middle school program to Maker Studio is a choice that is unconventional yet very much aligned with our broader approach to education. At the surface, Maker Studio will help students develop skills and understanding, enabling them to tackle a range of hands-on projects. Over time, they’ll become increasingly able to turn their ideas into physical reality. Beyond that, Maker Studio serves as a fun, attractive means through which students can develop critical dispositions as learners, problem solvers, designers, and communicators. We deliberately cultivate a culture where failure is not only allowed, but embraced as a productive part of experimentation.

Throughout our morning of scribble bot building, for example, we experienced ways of learning that we’ll work on throughout the year. We learned through experimentation and discovery rather than explicit instruction, developing our tolerance for ambiguity along the way. We suffered frustration when our ideas failed, then celebrated after successful troubleshooting. We drew inspiration from one another and turned to classmates for help. We relished the process and experience, rather than an end product, knowing that our work would be dismantled at the end of class. We built stamina and a taste for pushing our work beyond our first effort, by improving our projects and trying new ideas for a full 90 minutes.

Next time you’re at school, check out the scribble bot test paper on display in the front office!

-Kathy Lin