Mainstreaming Maker Learning at the District Level

By Ryan Imbriale, Executive Director of Innovative Learning, Baltimore County Public Schools And Nick Schiner, Team Leader of Innovative Teaching & Learning, Baltimore County Public Schools

Ryan Imbriale, Executive Director of Innovative Learning, Baltimore County Public Schools

With the decrease in cost and increase in availability of computing technologies, as well as robust, powerful manufacturing and robotics solutions, school systems around the world have embraced the maker culture: the movement rooted in people tinkering and creating new physical and digital objects. To ensure the success of the maker movement in a school system, district level staff must ensure a number of pieces are in place to set the purpose and conditions for effective maker learning programs.

Set a Vision for the System

The “computer lab” model where students either learn technology concepts in isolation or work on technology-infused core content is outdated and does not serve the best interests or needs of today’s students. District-level staff must set a clear vision for what maker learning in the system is to be so past technology integration mistakes are not repeated. Rooting maker learning experiences in relevant, real world problems, higher level thinking processes, and mastering current hardware and software trends is what separates these technology-infused projects from technology integration models of the past.

"Projects that show promise should be grown into sustainable, far-reaching programs and supports whilst those that flounder can be retooled or cast aside"

Create a Culture of Iteration

To effectively scale maker learning programs, much like the maker movement itself, it is critical that school systems embrace Design Thinking as administrators work to create impactful, sustainable maker learning programs for all students. By rooting all work in solutions-oriented approaches to real educational issues, district and school-based administrators and teachers can create strong maker learning programs that empower students.

Like Google’s Moonshot projects, school systems are best served by creating small, nimble teams to rapidly test and incubate learning experiences and structures that support positive outcomes for the whole child. Projects that show promise should be grown into sustainable, far-reaching programs and supports whilst those that flounder can be retooled or cast aside.

Circulate and Rotate

Nick Schiner, Team Leader of Innovative Teaching & Learning, Baltimore County Public Schools

The creation of a centralized maker learning lending library allows for school districts to bulk purchase hardware solutions—oftentimes at a greater discount than provided at the school level—for use throughout the system. School-based administrators and faculty members can constantly bring new technologies into their buildings at no cost to the school-level budget and evaluate the efficacy and impact of different solutions prior to any potential investment from their dedicated budgets. This eliminates the age-old problem of no-longer-used technology piling up in the book room; if a borrowed solution isn’t the right fit for a school’s teacher and student populations, another can be acquired while that solution is used in another location.

Demand Platform Agnosticism

Most school districts operate as a single platform ecosystem, investing in Microsoft, Google, or Apple with little crossover. Unfortunately, many hardware and software developers in the maker realm originally developed their products for the consumer sector, with little or no focus on the education sector. This typically resulted in products that run only on smartphones and tablets and, occasionally, Chromebooks. As many robotics and manufacturing developers shift to create teacher and student-facing technologies, it is imperative that educators advocate for broad solutions that are easily implemented across any ecosystem. This obviously benefits school systems, but also helps vendors to ensure that their products won’t be abandoned when a school system migrates to a different platform. By adopting these practices, system-level administrators can create the conditions for successful maker learning programs that provide every student with access to technology-rich, design-oriented experiences.

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