Since 2010, I’ve run a dedicated in-school Makers program for 7th and 8th grade students at Flint Hill School in Northern Virginia. The program started when my spouse exiled my personal electronics hobby from our daughter’s playroom, and that work landed on the large open counter in the middle school library. Students flocked to the spectacle of those projects, mainly Arduinos and modded Xbox controllers, which opened up a door from the familiar to the mysterious inner workings of the manufactured world. They weren’t always sure what I was doing, but since it didn’t look like school they suspected I was getting away with something good. By the next fall, that interest grew into a trial class of 10 7th graders in a disused dance studio, building electronics kits and learning Processing.
Since then, the 7th and 8th graders in our MakerEd program have produced innumerable small electronics projects (lots of MintyBoosts!), worked on Arduino controlled costumes and props for the school play, gutted and partially restored one pinball machine, built a MendelMax 3D printer, built (and flew and crashed) a RC plane, and invented hilarious MakeyMakey powered interfaces for Scratch games.
Every term I present several distinct challenges for the entire class, focusing on essential skills or core parts of a design process, but the bulk of the class experience is driven by student interest. I recognize that some may view this as wasted potential. There certainly are days where certain students make no visible strides towards any larger goal. But in 3 years I’ve seen many seemingly useless days, ones where “testing the carrying capacity of the helicopter” clearly just means “playing with the helicopter,” provide powerful motivation in the days that follow. (“Ahh! The propeller is smashed! Can we print a new one?”)
In that same time, I’ve also run small programs for students in grades K-4, and taught LOGO, Scratch and 3D printing into the 5th grade Information class I team-teach with our middle school librarian.
The Middle School Makers program is built to provide curious and engaged students the broadest possible canvas on which to explore and invent. Through hands-on challenges and constructive play, students venture into new worlds and discover fascinating new ideas. Throughout the term, student projects emerge from surprising intersections of electronics, aerodynamics, textiles, programming, 3D printing, woodworking, or any other field of human creativity and craft.
Makers is an open workshop, ungraded and minimally structured, designed as a creative oasis for adolescents looking for new outlets for their intellect and creativity.