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Should Making Be Part of the Curriculum?

In early childhood education, a play-based approach to making can integrate well into the standard curriculum offer, but this becomes more challenging in primary and secondary schools, when teachers are expected to follow curriculum guidance for specific subjects, which are often formulated in ways that do not make links to other subjects.
How Can Making Be Embedded Into The Curriculum
© The University of Sheffield

In early childhood education, a play-based approach to making can integrate well into the standard curriculum offer, but this becomes more challenging in primary and secondary schools, when teachers are expected to follow curriculum guidance for specific subjects, which are often formulated in ways that do not make links to other subjects.

How Can Making be Part of the Curriculum?

It is important to note that we are not advocating the insertion of making into lessons if there is no clear rationale for doing so – it should relate to the learning outcomes of the lessons in some way.

However, the value of this approach is that for some children, making can lead to an enhanced understanding of a topic or concept.

Making Helps With many Processes:

 

  • Identifying the problem/ issue – what is the key problem/ issue that needs to be addressed.
  • Research – what can the pupils find out about the problem/ issue that can inform their plans?
  • Conceptualise – what ideas do the pupils have about how to address the topic?
  • Design – the pupils can consider how to design the artefacts/ solutions that would address the issue.
  • Make – at this stage, pupils can engage in the making process, working on their designs.
  • Review – the review stage is important, as pupils can gather feedback on their artefacts from others (even intended users outside of the classroom, if relevant).
  • Refine – the artefact can then be revised and improved, following feedback.
  • Share – once finalised, the artefact/ solution can be disseminated to others.

Case study: Professor Anne Burke, Newfoundland, Canada.

Professor Anne Burke worked with pre-service teachers to implement a project in which young children aged 4-7 developed their understanding about environmental sustainability and stewardship.

They began by identifying the problem. The student teachers used picture books such as Why Should I Recycle? (Green & Gordon, 2002), Polar Bear, Why is Your World Melting? (Wells, 2008) and Over the Ocean (Gomi, 2016) as a prompt for discussion.

Teachers led the discussions with children about the issues raised by the books. The children consulted a range of resources as they researched the topics, before conceptualising and designing their solutions.

For example, one student – Kierin – suggested, when thinking about how to save polar bears, a “Propeller that the bear could wear and a remote to control it” like “floating shorts”.

A child's hand drawn picture of a polar bear wearing floating shorts

Kierin’s design: floating shorts to help stranded polar bears

Some children addressed a local environmental challenge – how to clean St John’s Harbour, which was a place they knew well.

Make, Review, Refine

After going through the previous stages of identifying, research conceptualising and designing a sea sweeper that would rid the harbour of its sea rubbish, the children then made a 3D printed prototype of their model.

In this case, the children did not review and then refine the 3D printed model, as it had been produced in liaison with external designers who themselves reviewed and refined the children’s design to ensure it could be 3D printed.

Once it had been printed, the children then shared the model sea sweeper with the city’s Mayor. As his subsequent tweet indicates, the Mayor was most impressed by the children’s efforts:

A tweet from the local mayour Danny Breen. The tweet reads "Thanks for inviting me to meet these children at MUN After School Centre. They explained very carefully and in detail how their design for a sweeper to clean the ocean floor works. It was a great discussion with some amazing children"

An appreciative tweet from Local Mayor Danny Breen

Making Helped Meet Curriculum Targets

In this case, the series of activities had enabled children to meet curriculum targets in Science and Discovery and Citizenship Education. The project, therefore, was not additional to normal curriculum requirements, but enabled children to meet the expected learning outcomes through an engaging project, which also developed their design and making skills.

Through this project, the children were also able to develop important skills and knowledge relating to STEM. This definition of STEM, taken from a US report, identifies real world application as key element:

STEM Education is an interdisciplinary approach in which science, technology, engineering and mathematics concepts are applied to real world contexts ‘that make connections between school, community, work, and global enterprise enabling the development of STEM literacy and with it the ability to compete in the new economy’
(Southwest Regional STEM Network, 2009:3)

Making Can Be Incorporated Into the Curriculum

Not only were the children able to apply their learning to their real-world environment and develop important skills and knowledge relating to STEM, but they did this through an approach that incorporated the arts, namely literature, writing and drawing / painting – that is, they focused on a STEAM approach to learning.

This case study provides a rich illustration of how making can be incorporated into the primary curriculum – in Week 3 of this course, we will share an interview with a secondary teacher who has implemented makerspaces into the secondary curriculum.

References

Professor Anne Burke has written further about the project outlined above in the following chapter:

Burke, A. and Crocker, A. (2019).Teaching for social imagination: Creativity in an early learning makerspace, In A. Blum-Ross, K. Kumpulainen and J. Marsh (eds) Enhancing Digital Literacy and Creativity: Makerspaces in the Early Years. London: Routledge.

Southwest Regional STEM Network (2009). Southwest Pennsylvania STEM network long-range plan (2009–2018): Plan summary

© The University of Sheffield
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