The Maker Monday Challenge: Begin Each Week on a Creative Note

One of the key take-aways from Moore’s Law is that technological developments tend to double every six months. Products that sounded like science fiction a generation ago are now so commonplace we take them for granted. We are in an era of rapid changes in social, technological, and economic systems. We live in an era where robotics and artificial intelligence will replace many of our current jobs. Global connectivity will continue to allow companies to outsource labor to other countries.

At one time, we could depend on a formula: do well in school, go to college, and climb the corporate ladder.

But things have changed. The ladder is gone and in its place is a maze. Our students will need to know how to problem-solve and navigate this maze. As automation and artificial intelligence continue, they will need to know how to work within the Creative Economy. They will need to think like engineers and entrepreneurs. Our current students will enter a workforce where instability is the new normal and where they will have to be self-directed, original, and creative in order to navigate this maze.

This might sound terrifying but there’s also a hidden opportunity. Our students will have the opportunity to build the future. Our students will rewrite the rules.

We often hear that our current students will work in jobs that don’t exist right now. But here’s another reality: our current students will be the ones who create those jobs. Not every student will create the next Google or Minecraft or Lyft. Some students will be engineers or artists or accountants. Some will work in technology, others in traditional corporate spaces and still others in social or civic spaces. But every single one of them will need to think like an entrepreneur in order to thrive in a changing world.

But it goes beyond future jobs and economics. Creativity is an end in itself. It more than just a commodity that you trade or a skillset that you use. It’s part of what makes life epic. There’s something almost magical that happens when you get lost in your creative work and get lost in a state of creative flow only to step back at the end with the sense of accomplishment at what you created. Creativity is valuable, not just for a future job, but for the deeply human drive to make and build and tinker. It’s part of what makes us human.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen way too many kids who say things like, “I’m just not that creative.” There’s this myth out there of the “creative type.” But I don’t buy it. We’re all creative. Every one of us. And when we get the opportunity to design things on our own, we develop a maker mindset.

What Is a Maker Monday?

What if students began each week by making and designing and creating? What if kids stepped into the classroom each with a sense of wonder and excitement?

This is the idea behind Maker Mondays. It begins with a simple premise: start the week off with hands-on creativity. It might involve Scratch Video Game coding projects, a maker challenge, a Minecraft challenge, or a divergent thinking activity with random items. Students might blog or create videos and podcasts. They might do sketch animation videos. Or they might do circuitry, robotics, or fabrication.

There are so many options and opportunities. You don’t need the fanciest gadgets or high-tech machinery. It might be as simple as cardboard or duct tape or the smartphones we already have in our hands.

I realize that an hour each Monday morning isn’t enough. Creativity should be integrated into each subject each day. But this Maker Monday can be the creative spark that leads to something bigger.

The following are three options for how you might organize a Maker Monday.

#1: Maker Stations

Maker stations are essentially rotating centers where students can engage in a maker-related activity and then rotate to a new one when finished. You might assign students to specific stations or you might give students the freedom to move back and forth between stations throughout a class period.

One key advantage of the maker station model is you don’t have to buy as many supplies. For example, if you want to use Snap Circuits for circuitry, you could buy one or two sets and have two pairs working on them together rather than trying to buy a class set or a half-class set. If you only have four classroom computers, you can assign another group to work on Scratch Video Game projects. Meanwhile, other groups might be creating sketch videos, doing cardboard prototyping, or coding on Raspberry Pi.

I’ve seen teachers use this model with quick challenges (make a Pong Video Game on Scratch, complete one challenge on Snap Circuits, or build one thing with cardboard and duct tape) and then open up the stations for enrichment time or as an option when they need to do indoor recess or when their elective classes are cancelled.

But other times, you might want the entire class doing a maker activity together. In these moments, it helps to try out maker challenges.

#2: Maker Challenges

Maker challenges begin with a specific problem that each student in class needs to solve. I have a set of maker challenges on this YouTube playlist. When students walk in, you can play the video and provide the materials. Most of these are low-tech and simple. Remember, making isn’t about the technology. It’s about the mindset.

Students move quickly into brainstorming and ideating (10-15 minutes) and jump into the hands-on prototyping afterward. Unlike design thinking, a maker challenge is short-term and focuses on the hands-on creativity. There is no research, no project management, and no final launch. Instead, they simply move through the hands-on prototyping and learn how to revise their work quickly through tons of small iterations.

It can help if they have a way to test their designs. This is easier with something like the standard building a bridge concept. However, if they are designing something more open-ended (like the creature that lives in a volcano), it might not require testing so much as revising and improving.

Here’s an example of a maker challenge that can also be extended into a longer design thinking project.

Maker challenges are a great way to build a classroom community, as each group works through a similar challenge. But sometimes you want each group to build something radically different. In these moments, a more open-ended divergent thinking challenge works better.

#3: Divergent Thinking Challenge

Divergent thinking challenges are different from maker challenges because they are more open-ended and have a more extended brainstorming time. In a divergent thinking challenge, students get a box of supplies and have to answer the simple question, “What can we make with this?” Initially, they will be tempted to come up with obvious ideas. However, as they begin to brainstorm, they start coming up with more divergent ideas. Here, students should feel encouraged to “hack” the items and use them in unusual ways. Eventually, they share their ideas with a small group and explore ways to combine ideas, narrow down ideas, and eventually create a final product.

Note that it can help to have the items at their tables as they brainstorm. Play is often a catalyst for divergent thinking. You might need to let them know that it’s okay to “think with your hands.” When I used divergent thinking challenges with students, we varied it between doing timed challenges (sort of like the t.v. show Chopped) and ones where they had longer, open, looser deadlines.

The idea here is that you are providing creative constraint by limiting the supplies your students are using. However, they have more freedom and agency in what they are creating and this encourages them to think divergently and convert that divergent thinking into a tangible product.

Although divergent thinking challenges work really well, there’s also value in going through a longer creative process so that students can truly research and design something they send to an authentic audience. In these moments, it helps to use design thinking.

#4: Design Thinking Project

Design thinking projects work well if you’re thinking about going long-term with the Maker Monday Challenge. With design thinking, students own the entire creative process from awareness through research, ideation, prototyping, revision and eventually a launch to the audience. Design thinking is a process used the arts, in engineering, in the corporate world, at universities, and in social and civic spaces. You can use it in every subject with every age group. This model provides more structure than the maker challenges or divergent thinking challenges and it focuses on the long-term aspects of creativity. This means students will spend longer doing research, engaging in project management, and revising their prototypes.

In the following video, I share the LAUNCH Cycle, a student-friendly design thinking framework:

A design thinking project might start with awareness of an issue, empathy with an audience, a problem that needs to be solved, or a general product you have in mind. But regardless of where it starts, it should end with a unique product that your students launch to an authentic audience. If you’re interested in design thinking, you might want to check out the free design thinking toolkit.

 

Take the Maker Monday Challenge

Maker Mondays might seem small, but it’s a first step in a journey that slowly leads to a maker mindset, where students learn to think like designers, engineers, architects, artists, and problem-solvers.

So, are curious about the Maker Monday Challenge? Here’s how it works. Sign up below and I’ll email you a sample maker challenge, divergent thinking challenge, and a design thinking project.. I’ll also send you information about our Maker Monday Challenge private Facebook group and you can use the #makermonday hashtag on Twitter to share your journey. You’ll also be subscribed to my weekly newsletter where I share my latest posts, podcasts, and resources to boost creativity and spark innovation in your classroom.


John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

More about John

2 responses

  1. While I appreciate your gusto and often enjoy some of your blog posts, reading the first line of this one causes me physical pain with its glaring inaccuracy. First, Moore’s Law was specific to transistors on substrates and the evolution of semiconductors. Moore’s Law isn’t really a law, but comes from a famous quote by co-founder and former chair of Intel Gordon Moore who claimed that chip capacity would double every 2 years (not 6 months). His original quote became a misquote when Intel exec David House shortened that time frame to 18 months. In reality, House was also an engineer and was pretty much putting his spin on the time frame, but Moore had already been writing papers and talking about it publicly. They were both Intel at that stage, so it sort of became tomato, tomahto. How do know? I was working for a company in the industry. Everybody knew the story. In addition, there are plenty of accessible published interviews that back it all up. Moore foresaw that the rapid capacity gains would slow drastically over time and they have. One of the greatest challenges to being a teacher is the higher standard to which we are held, especially when we end up as a public role model for other teachers. It is particularly important to check facts and quotes for accuracy so that you are not a source of misinformation for your readers.

    1. Excellent point. You’re right that I oversimplified Moore’s Law. One of the challenges in writing a blog post (especially one that is nearly 2,000 words long) is in deciding how in-depth and nuanced I want to go. That’s why I included a link to the idea of Moore’s Law, which, though it is about processing power of computers has now gained a larger cultural meaning around technology and innovation. However, I disagree with the labelling of it as “misinformation” or the idea of misattributing facts or quotes.

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