Weekly Design Challenge

Yesterday we met with folks from The Magic House, who have been implementing kid-centered experiences since 1979.  In fact, Jack Dorsey, the creator of Twitter & a St. Louis native has tweeted about his “awesome” experiences at The Magic House.

The STEAM-in-museum experience v.s. STEAM-in-school experience varies.  Whereas in the GCAA Makerspace students are stakeholders in the improvements of the space with long-term projects & their own storage; in a museum the participants have to engage with bite-sized making experiences because guests might only attend one time per year.

Museums have the challenge of condensing design thinking to mini structured experiences.  The MAKESHOP at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh exemplifies this role.  They provide “appetizers” for participants to delve further into the culture of making upon returning home.

I like this idea.  Sure, it’s important that students research problems and prototype solutions, but as an educator I understand the need for differentiation.  Some students might find the Makerspace more accessible if the problem is proposed to them.  As such, I plan to implement a “Weekly Design Challenge.”

One corner of the Makerspace will be designated for the weekly challenge with creation and documentation tools available.  As an example, a student might enter the Makerspace and see that the weekly challenge is to design a paper airplane that flies the longest distance.  If that particular challenge sparks interest for the student, he or she might spend hours/days on the task, all the while learning prototyping and design iteration.  If that week’s challenge doesn’t excite a student, he or she might propose another idea to the Makers Council, explore skill building on DIY.org, or collaborate with other students on an invention idea.

Though the entry level to design thinking may vary, our vision still stands.  The Makerspace is a STEAM room, fostering creative skills for our next generation of STEAM professionals.


A Student Makers Council?

As I’m writing this list of supplies, I’m thinking that though it would be great to buy and have access to tools like a rivet gun, orbital sander, and hot wire cutter, students may never actually use them.  In addition, an abundance of tools may encourage absent-minded tinkering versus the Design Thinking for which we’re striving.  
Perhaps a “Makers Council” is in order.  Upon completing an orientation students would become members of the council.  The council would meet once a week to discuss Makerspace happenings including how the budget is allocated.  Students could propose both group and individual projects, discuss the funding necessary, and then call it to a vote.  I like that this method emphasizes the process & design thinking over the tools.  It would build soft skills among students as they plan, present, and implement their ideas.