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BTW was created by Patrick & Julie Johnson, two Canadian educators with an interest in eduction & technology. This site showcases our interactive IBOOKS for students, but we also explore educational issues in our INQUIRY segments and share lessons/teaching ideas in our TEACHING TOOLS sections. Use the Labels section in the sidebar to navigate by topic or simply browse.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

INQUIRY: How Can I Promote Student Creativity Using Maker Projects In The Classroom? A Proposal for Digital Collaboration.

I consider myself a creative person who, even in my ripe ol' 40s, routinely gets JAZZED by ideas that I want to transform into reality.

It's exciting to get excited by ideas.

As an educator, I've noted, as have many of my colleagues, that there can be a distinct lack of excitement in students towards learning.

School can be boring. Right up there with doing the dishes. For some students, the whole school day is a chore. Just doing the dishes. All day long.

Intrinsic Motivation
Like many of my colleagues, I've wanted to tap into that seemingly elusive 'intrinsic motivation', the motivation that doesn't require 'carrots or sticks' (rewards/punishments) and is generated from within. An innate, inner quality, individual to each. The impetus for 'lifelong learning'.

Appealing to student strengths and interests is one way to promote 'engagement', which led me, in my career, to game based learning, youtube in the classroom, incorporating pop culture, digital narratives, etc--trying to tap multi modalities and link it to learning experiences.

Twitter definitely accelerated this process (see previous post).

Maker/Innovation Movement
Now the maker movement is gaining prominence, and this is exciting new territory where student interest, student voice, intrinsic motivation, personal choice, technology, hands on materials, art, writing, all the communicative tools, can intersect.

I've started to explore this area (i.e.: recently enrolled in #clmooc, one of my sources of inspiration! Our school library also started maker spaces this year! Our school @ShantyBayPS also did a very cool school wide 'greenovation' project!) and have been having conversations about it with colleagues in person and on twitter and via #clmooc.

I anticipate a few blog post to follow this one on different aspects that intrigue me and questions that I have...

Ideas are starting to coalesce...

Deep Thoughts
One of the big questions I currently have is how to make the 'maker' idea work in a substantial way within a classroom. Moving, say, beyond Maker Spaces as extracurricular or 'in addition to' regular school life--which is how I've mostly seen them operate.

How could it work in a classroom on a regular basis? How could it promote writing & media skills/curriculum? Can it be tied to curriculum? Can it be assessed? If so, do you assess the project or the process? Both? How?

Can the joy of maker 'play' be joined with school driven structure? How do you promote individualized, open, curiosity driven tech/media/communication exploration while still adhering to curriculum, skill building demands and also perhaps the need to scaffold skills?

A Proposal

I've come up a plan for myself, and for anyone who might be interested in joining me. This is my own sort of maker inquiry, for September of next year.

Here's the plan, currently: a structured student maker cycle, similar in part to #clmooc

I'm envisioning:
  • 3-5 classes (mine included) are part of digital learning hub
  • the teachers together determine maker cycles, say 5-6 for the year
  • each maker cycle has a loose framework, pre-determined by the teachers, with deadlines predetermined by the teachers (see below for example ideas for the cycles)
  • each student in each class has their own peer hub to which they are both creator of content and audience, so, for example, Student from my class A is paired up with a student from class B, C and D. Their content is viewed by their peers, and they view the content created by there peers. (Of course, they can view others! But this is the area they are responsible for)
  • students provide feedback to their peer hub creations (constructively! this would likely need to be modelled and taught with clear expectations! maybe 2 stars and a wish format, something like that? TBD)
  • student interaction is contained in the hub (no off road interactions on personal Facebook, instagram, etc)
  • student content is accessed digitally, curated by students with teacher supervision (I'm thinking of each student having a digital portfolio via blogger (which permits comments) or something like that)
  • teachers could assess their students work as they chose...or not (this would be an interesting conversation at the end of the year in a debrief with each other...to explore some of those questions around how to assess creativity)
  • perhaps Skype at the start or end of the year to meet one another 'face to face'?


Digital Citizenship
At the end of the year, students would have a digital portfolio and also would have maintained a year long digital relationship based on mutual appreciation of content creation.

They would also have a built in audience for their writing/media, something that is currently lacking in traditional classroom settings, where much of the time students are producing content for teachers eyes only, in order to get a mark.

Of course, work is sometimes shared via class blogs, Twitter, or youtube, or between class mates or within the school, but this is not necessarily the same as having a structured, expected, intended audience...of peers.

My hope would be that this would give students a context, a purpose, a sense of agency and authorship that would take them 'beyond grades' in terms of their performance. (In fact, I'd hope this inquiry would shed light on whether or not that is the case)

Critical Analysis
Having students view content created by themselves and others that resides within a specified framework = a rich opportunity for critical analysis. How did the use of a particular tool by Student A convey this cycle's theme? What is your opinion? Is this a 'good' interpretation? Define 'good'. How does this speak to you? What sort of connections do you make? Etc. 

There would be a rich vein of material in which to go deep. The bonus is that it is material in which they would (hopefully) have a personal vested interest.

Structured Choice
Open play has its place, but I have found some students flounder. They are not used to it and don't know what to do. The framework of the maker cycles would centre them, focus them, but choice...and thus a sense of autonomy...can still be provided.

Maker Cycles Ideas: Examples
The first cycle might be something like 'introduce yourself using one of these digital tools [list]', another might be: 'use this digital tool [name] to create what ever you want', or: the topic is 'identity' or 'the environment' or or or or [fill in the blank], use any tool to demonstrate your reflection on this topic.... you could start off with a fairly tight focus and loosen and open it up as they become more comfortable with the process/concept. In fact, the last one could be completely open so they aren't just 'designing but also defining'.

I'm sure we could come up with 5-6 good ones for the year!

I am slated for Gr. 7/8 next year so if you are similarly teaching Gr. 7/8 (or perhaps Gr. 6 and Gr. 9...probably should keep it close to their peer group) and you like this idea, PLEASE CONTACT ME!

And also, if you have done something like this, and have any insight to share, or any feedback to give or suggestions on how to improve this plan of mine, PLEASE CONTACT ME!

Twitter: @julieejohnsonn
Email: jujohnson@scdsb.on.ca


  1. Wow! You are very thorough and organized. I love your ideas. Is your district using Common Core?

    1. Our curriculum is from the Ministry of Education in Ontario but I looked up the Common Core online (looked at the Gr. 8 writing, for example) and see overlaps. One of the questions I hope this inquiry would answer is the one about how writing/media tasks that are more 'open concept' can meet curriculum goals. Usually, the curriculum expects very specific writing products: persuasive paragraphs, etc. And that wouldn't really work in a make cycle, I think (or would it??)

      Anyway, that is definitely an area to explore!


      PS I will connect on Twitter and we can continue this conversation! :)

  2. This is such an interesting idea. I'd love to collaborate but I will most likely be teaching 11th & 12th grade next year. I'm going to reflect on your questions & ideas a bit more and come back to write more early next week (taking tomorrow "off" from digital spaces). Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you for commenting! I'm glad you found this interesting. I'm sorry to hear our teaching grades won't match up, but please consider it an invitation to start your own learning hub. I can see this working across the world, across country, within the same city, or even just down the hall (to a neighbouring gr 11 or 12, perhaps?).

      I would also love to hear your thoughts, or any feedback you may have, so come on back when you are ready to share :)


  3. Great idea and well written proposal. I will be teaching grade 5 this coming year, thus my students are a little young. I will however, be pondering your idea over the summer thinking about a younger learning hub. Thanks for getting me thinking! Best of luck with your learning hub.

    1. I'm also thinking of using this idea with younger students. I would like to get our green screen involved with one of the hubs or activities. I think teachers would be thankful to have a framework and some guidance as to how to use our iPad tech tubs effectively.

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  4. Wonderful! I'm so glad you liked the idea and are inspired!

    If you do end up implementing, please keep in touch. I'd love to hear how it goes!