Engaging the Unengaged

No matter how many strategies we employ to raise student performance, none will work until we get children interested in learning. Chronically unmotivated or “disengaged” students account for up to 40 percent of all high school students across the nation. The beauty of maker-based education is that it engages all children by providing them with hands-on learning experiences that are self-directed.

Engaging the UnengagedThe Anti-Lecture

Not surprisingly, disinterested students find listening to lectures boring. One study shows that 30 percent of students find all of their lectures uninteresting. Gone are the days when cramming PowerPoint presentations into the curriculum was the height of creativity. Providing hands-on lab or computer work does not always solve the problem. If the project does not feel relevant to students or allow for exploration, students also become bored with these activities. A true maker-based education provides students the opportunity to plan and execute their own learning experiences, with minimal guidance from the instructor.

Maker-Based Activities

If we are having our students complete projects that we design with a particular result in mind, we are not practicing maker-based education. Our role is to act as a guide and to stay somewhat in the background. Experts suggest that students should be doing most of the talking and doing, while executing a project involving 3D printing, robotics, or other meaningful building exercises. For schools that do not have the resources to buy new equipment, students can even use cardboard or other scrap materials to construct projects. Something as simple as making sock puppets can be effective if students use them to perform plays or skits that they have written themselves. These design-based activities can capture the imagination of students who struggle.

Maker Spaces

Another way to reach those at the back of the classroom is to create a maker space, an area where students can gather at lunchtime or after school to pursue their own projects. Previously uninvolved students continually surprise us with their dedication to these educational rooms. Maker spaces can be set up almost anywhere. We can look for underused areas in our schools, such as a nearly forgotten storage room. Then, we’ll stock the area with a variety of basic and more sophisticated items. Consider adding supplies like:
  • Clay
  • Magnets
  • Posterboard
  • Legos
  • Hand tools
  • Simple Electronics
We can easily add a level of sophistication to the area by purchasing a 3D printer and design software. If funding is a problem, we can make raising the money part of the maker-space experience. Students who are invested in the process may eventually learn CAD and code writing as they move up in grade. In a true maker space, kids educate themselves by planning and completing their own projects. They learn for a reason, which converts them from uninvolved students to enthusiastic, self-driven learners.
Maker-based education is not another hot-button fad that will be touted for a season or two and then thrown into the dumpster of abandoned educational theory. This movement incorporates both cutting-edge theory and common sense. Students do better when they have more control over their learning. We all are more engaged when our hands and our minds are involved in a project. With the right tools and approach, we can stop keeping our students busy and keep them learning instead.