We're expanding our repertoire of maker skills while developing as resourceful learners.
For the last two blocks of the year, we’re tackling four machine-enabled units: 3D printing, Arduino, machine sewing, and digital cutting. Students are rotating through these units in small groups, spending six full classes on each. These units are possible thanks to five families, who collectively donated our 3D printer, four Silhouette cutting machines, and ten sewing machines. Thank you so much for your generosity!
One main goal, as always, is to develop as makers. We’re honing our 2D and 3D digital design skills in ways that lead to tangible products, transforming fresh sheets of fabric into creations that range from whimsical to useful, and using electronics to make our creations responsive and interactive. We’re making things that we wouldn’t be able to make with just our bare hands, and we’re expanding our repertoire of skills that enable us to turn our ideas into reality.
Equally important are our disposition goals. With six classes devoted to each unit, students are able to dive more deeply into each unit than they have been in past blocks. To use that time meaningfully, they need stamina, focus, and creativity.
As part of our school’s broader goal of helping students build independence, we’re explicitly focused on developing as resourceful makers these two blocks--makers who draw upon a range of resources and strategies to tackle challenges. We’re learning by tinkering, experimenting, seeking help from classmates, and looking for answers online and in books.
We aim for students to benefit from teachers without relying on them--to be eager and able to learn new things regardless of whether an “expert” is guiding the way. I purposely reply to student questions by asking them, “What have you tried?” This prompts students to develop the habit of first thinking through possible solutions on their own. We explicitly encourage experimentation; failed experiments are now a routine part of our learning process, and “the next one will be better” is a common refrain. We half-jokingly use a “Struggle with it” motivational poster that we made in class last block--a reminder that struggle is a valuable part of the learning process.
Of course, Sachi and I don’t just leave kids to their own devices. We have deliberately chosen units that are simultaneously enticing and accessible. We have carefully pored through tutorials to provide a curated set of materials and resources. We also set up a structure within which students are able to learn, succeed, and be creative. We check in with students throughout class, and we’re available to help when students need a nudge in the right direction. We look at their creations with a constructive eye, simultaneously celebrating their successes and brainstorming with them about next steps.
There are undoubtedly moments of frustration. Sometimes software doesn’t download correctly; 3D prints topple halfway through printing; our edge-stitching feels far inferior to what’s pictured; or the tiniest error on circuitry or coding keeps our Arduino creations from working. But for every frustrating moment, there’s eventually a small moment of triumph when that 3D print does work out, when our second edge-stitched project looks far better than our first, or as sometimes is necessary, we cut our losses and tackle a new project with fresh energy.
Over the past four weeks, students have designed a line of 3D-printed Proof gear, including the keychains that we gave out at the admissions event on March 12. One student is on the cusp of finishing a 3D-printed mechanical hand. Placemats, tote bags, pencil cases, and even a stuffed duck have materialized among the machine sewing group. Several students took it upon themselves to design their own sewing patterns! In the Arduino group, students have produced an Etch-a-Sketch, a drawing arm, a walking contraption, and more. These days, students in the digital cutting group are making stickers, designing T-shirts, and preparing to make intricate pop-up cards.
It has been such a pleasure working with our middle schoolers this year: making together, helping them grow, and admiring their creativity.
-- Kathy Lin