Going Places by Peter & Paul Reynolds is just about the perfect book for making. The story of a Go-Kart building competition in which one friend encourages another to work together and create something totally new from their Go-Kart kits hits the big themes of making: collaboration, innovation, creativity, and thinking ahead. When our Learning Works program leader, Victoria Morrill, told me she had extra kits from Home Depot, I had an idea. But, in the spirit of making, when I went and saw what Jennifer Stanbro, the head of the South Portland School Libraries, was doing with the book, I revised and improved my idea.
My first thought was that I would give each kid a kit with instructions to pair up and make something other than what the kit dictated. But, when I was at Jen’s school, I saw her doing a project in which each student was given materials to make a car and then offered the choice to follow the directions, innovate, or collaborate. When I gave my fourth grade students their kits, I offered them the same choice: build, innovate, or collaborate.
About a third of the kids followed the directions, a third innovated, and a third collaborated. The choice element is a key one. A foundation of maker education is that it is student driven. Students get to decide what they want to make. Moreover, kids are at different skill levels with whatever tool or materials they are using, or with the very idea of making. I really like the uTEC Maker Model developed by Bill Derry, David V. Loertscher, and Leslie Preddy.
Makers move through the different levels, starting with using. Kids who chose to simply make the project are at the using level, gaining experience with the materials and tools. Using is essential and foundational for moving to the next levels. Kids who chose to innovate and/or collaborate were moving into Tinkering. Some were even Experimenting, trying out one design to see how it works before redesigning.
This was a simple, fun, and largely successful project that got kids thinking.