The Maker Mindset and Innovation: A Way of Life at Severn Lower School
The Maker Mindset is a way of life at Severn Lower School. It means that we are a community of learners, creators, tinkerers and explorers who are dedicated to using the design process and hands-on problem solving to navigate the world around us. It means collaboration, creativity, innovation and most of all perseverance. For us, the definition of fail is “first attempt in learning.” We try. We persevere. We make.
Our Maker Lab, Heart of the Maker Mindset
The heart of our maker program beats to the sound of whirring 3D printers, a wind tunnel machine, Blue-bots, littleBits, Lego Robotics, Arduinos and MaKey MaKeys, iPads, laptops, Rigamajig building sets and more. It’s hard to walk past the lab without sneaking a peek. It’s a vibrant space where you can hear our students cheer with excitement each time they make a new discovery. It is a space that grows and changes as technology does the same.
Starting in Kindergarten, every class has weekly Maker Lab time to work on projects ranging from creating “satellites” for the wind tunnel to working with design software like AutoCAD and coding apps like Scratch. For each and every project in the Maker Lab, technology teachers Ms. Vicki Dabrowka and Mr. Sam Mendez guide our students through the design process from planning and designing to iterating and reflecting on the outcome.
The Maker Mindset in our Classrooms
The Maker Mindset touches every classroom, every grade and is built into our curriculum. In addition to weekly projects in the Maker Lab, our teachers embrace the design process and strategic problem solving in our classrooms. For example, during their unit on the Boston Tea Party, our third grade teaching team Ms. Jennie Kantowski and Ms. Cecily Duda included a design challenge into the lesson, giving our students an authentic space to problem solve while making connections to the historical event. All of our teachers strive to incorporate this cross-curricular blend of design thinking with subject material as much as possible throughout the year.
Every grade level incorporates design thinking into their classrooms in different ways. Our prekindergarten teaching team Ms. Chrisie Saunders and Ms. Crystal Erskine recently presented at the National Association for the Education of Young Children on exactly how we embrace this open-ended, child-centered approach to problem solving for our littlest learners. While we focus on design thinking explicitly during dedicated maker time in the Early School, we also incorporate this approach throughout the day whenever possible, asking questions and modeling extension of ideas.
As Ms. Saunders said,
“It happens for different students at different times. Some really need scaffolding on how to think through the process of thinking. We ask questions like ‘What worked? What didn’t work? What can we do to make this better?’ As they develop, they start to ask these questions on their own.”
As part of our Renaissance curriculum for fourth and fifth graders, we offer an open-ended, problem solving class. This past semester in Creative Challenges, taught by Lower School librarian Ms. Pilar Okeson, our fourth and fifth graders tackled a number of design challenges including building a room-sized cardboard city.
The Maker Mindset is More than a Program
The Maker Mindset is who we are. It’s how we learn in the Maker Lab and in our classrooms. Our students learn to come up with creative ideas to solve problems throughout the day and then they take these ideas home. They are comfortable talking about their process while giving and receiving feedback from their teachers and peers. They surprise us with their ingenuity, viewing problems as opportunities to think outside of the box and create unique solutions. The Maker Mindset prepares our students to take on any challenge and become innovators of tomorrow.
“One cannot innovate without knowledge. One cannot innovate without the risk of failing and failing well, using the failures to build successes. For children, promoting a mindset of asking questions and giving them time to tinker with and explore their questions makes a difference.”