Making, or hands-on tinkering and learning with old and new technologies, has grown in popularity in schools. To engage students and develop creativity, critical thinking, and persistence, teachers are designing learning experiences with less direct instruction and more open discovery as a way to advance student knowledge of different tools, materials, and processes as they transform their ideas into reality.

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, where I work as the project manager for Kickstarting Making in Schools, has researched making and learning for the past five years and has developed a set of learning practices that evidence shows are important for effective hands-on learning through making. These practices include inquiry; tinkering; seeking and sharing resources; hacking and repurposing; expressing intention; developing fluency; and understanding different parts of objects or machinery and how the parts function together as a system.

image courtesy Children's Musem of Pittsburgh / Larry Rippel

Young learners tinker at the Children’s Museum MAKESHOP / image Larry Rippel

The Children’s Museum has partnered with local schools to support teachers as they integrate these practices and learn how educators realize making in the school environment. In May, the Museum selected ten schools to participate in the Kickstarting Making in Schools pilot program. The program, which seeks to develop a sustainable national model to integrate making into schools, is receiving support through a partnership with Kickstarter, the online crowdfunding platform.

The schools include Pittsburgh Public Schools Lincoln PK-5; Environmental Charter School; Falk Laboratory School; Kiski Area Upper Elementary; Ligonier Valley High School; Monessen Elementary Center; Cecil Intermediate School; Burgettstown School District; Woodland Hills Intermediate Center; and Yeshiva Schools.

“Each time we [at the Children’s Museum] work with a school, or library or community to integrate making into a new educational context, we learn so much!”

Teachers from each school began working with the Children’s Museum this summer to learn about making and explore curricular connections and project ideas. In addition, they attended a training session facilitated by Kickstarter to learn how to produce and launch a crowdfunding campaign. The campaign is necessary to fund professional development with the Children’s Museum, which will begin after the campaigns close, and design services that provide furniture plans and inventories for custom makerspaces in the participating schools. Makerspaces are spaces where students can explore different types of projects in areas such as design, sewing, woodworking, electronics, and robotics.

The campaigns launched this week. While Kickstarter and the Children’s Museum offered support throughout the process, each school produced its campaign independently. The passion and hard work that went into developing the campaigns is inspiring. What is most exciting is that the campaigns communicate the different ways schools are proposing to weave maker learning practices into their classrooms. Through their campaigns, you get a sense of each school’s personality.

My colleague, Lisa Brahms, the Children’s Museum’s Director of Learning and Research, has often noted this to be the case. “Each time we work with a school, or library or community to integrate making into a new educational context, we learn so much! Every context is different, and presents unique opportunities and challenges that, when looked at together, help us to build understanding about the affordances of making as a rich and expansive learning process,” she said.

Projects include having students design solutions for urban gardens that seek to address food justice issues, an exploration of the Hebrew language through making-oriented activities, and integrating making with the development of a new outdoor classroom. Schools are putting new structures in place to maximize the partnership with the Children’s Museum and allow time for teachers to explore making. For example, Kiski Area Upper Elementary principal Joshua Weaver created a Makerspace Committee intended to bring teachers together to collaboratively create cross-disciplinary units using making as an instructional strategy.

A sign at Kiski Area Upper Elementary marks the future site of their makerspace.

I’m excited to move into the implementation phase, which will begin after the fundraising campaigns close on November 2. It has been fascinating to reflect on the work that went into creating the campaigns. It provided an opportunity for the schools to consider their visions and articulate them. That’s not easy to do, but I think it’s an important step in developing a deeper understanding of the intersections between making and learning.

The schools and I have also had the opportunity to learn from Julio Terra, Outreach Lead at Kickstarter, who has been generous in providing the schools with feedback. “At Kickstarter we strongly embrace creativity and openness, which are core values shared by makers. We are excited to help schools create spaces that support learning through the creative practice of making,” Julio said.

We are hopeful that this model of crowdfunding will help schools throughout the country acquire the necessary funds for teachers to explore making with their students. Central to the model is providing the schools with an opportunity to develop a close relationship with an organization like the Children’s Museum in order to provide the in-person support teachers need as they design new learning experiences.

I am excited to see where this partnership leads. But for now I’m eager to pound the pavement to ensure these ten schools get the support they need to move forward in their journey.

You can view and make a contribution to support all campaigns here. Campaigns are open until Monday, November 2.