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Teaching Math With Maker Culture

At the end of the day, many parents ask, “What did you do today in class?” However, the parents of students in maker culture schools ask, “What did you make today?” In these classrooms, you will not see children staring at a teacher behind the podium. The desks are not in rows, and the students are not working at the same pace or on the same problem. In maker classrooms, hands-on math projects are the norm. No one is idle, and very few students are unengaged.

What Is Maker Culture?

Today’s schools are recognizing the power of discovery and creativity. Teachers who are serious about student engagement consider how students can be more involved in their learning. These teachers look for opportunities to step back from the podium and let students learn by discovering, creating and making.

In “maker culture” classrooms, the best source of information is not always the teacher. Students look to other students for advice and search reference materials on their own. Trial-and-error no longer frustrates them. They see mistakes and failures as opportunities to learn something new or unexpected. These students are more likely to persevere because they see accomplishments as their success and not simply a passing grade.

This philosophy does not apply only to science or art classes. Math teachers who make hands-on math projects a daily part of instruction find that students embrace and retain math concepts once relegated to lifeless skill-and-drill settings. Students use real math calculations and processes to solve real problems that lead to creating something they care about.

What Is a Math Maker Workshop?

Schools that embrace the maker culture find space and materials for maker workshops or makerspaces. These schools provide resources, equipment and technology that is not ordinarily in traditional classrooms. They invest in building and art supplies. They give students access to technology that exceeds timed practice or self-paced math lessons.

For example, according to AnnMarie Thomas, executive director of the Maker Education Initiative, Casey Shea’s math class at Analy High School in Sebastopol, California looks more like a wood shop than a classroom: “With his students’ help, much of the furniture was built from scratch, and the space will soon be filled with students working on projects that might range from solar-powered battery chargers to geodesic domes and a pedal-powered blender.” His students, as well as other maker students around the country, use algebra and geometry to address hands-on math projects like designing and building classroom equipment and furnishings. Students design, build, sew or create the room layout, depending on their interests.

Teachers even extend the learning into supply replenishment. Elizabeth Little’s maker math class at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California, was running out of consumable materials. Instead of asking for additional funding from parents or the school, Little turned the dilemma into a hands-on math project. The students studied marketing and sales concepts to raise money by selling pencils. They determined the price they would charge based on what they believed the market would bear and what they needed to meet their budget. They controlled the entire process and earned enough money to replace the necessary supplies.

Hands-on learning is not new, but many educators are only just now realizing its value. They see and hear the success other teachers and schools have experienced. Online resources and tutorials for teachers as well as clubs and gatherings for students are cropping up on a regular basis. As teachers, students and parents realize the power of creativity and discovery, maker workshops will continue to create spaces where students can learn. As Thomas says, “Making is about empowering students to see that they can bring their ideas to life, and create new things.”

A substantial majority (90 percent) said that hands-on projects help students understand basic ideas, and 82 percent said that handcrafted projects help their students apply information in new situations. 85 percent of the teachers also agreed that long-term hands-on projects give students a greater depth of understanding than more conventional instructional methods. Source: The Academic Value of Hands-on Craft Projects in Elementary Schools

Learn about the UT Arlington M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction — Math Education online program.


KQED News: How Turning Math Into a Maker Workshop Can Bring Calculations to Life

Edutopia: Engaging Students in the STEM Classroom Through “Making”

NAESP: Manipulatives: A Hands-on Approach to Math

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