Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dissecting The Un-Makerspace: Recycled Learning

A 1980's cassette player, a broken computer mouse, an old monitor... all ready for the dumpster... drop it by my classroom! Why? For my "Un-Maker Space" inspired by my first journey to the Bay Area Maker Faire two years ago. This Steampunk Mad-Scientists event with its many innovation, creative geniuses and 100,000’s of onlookers descending on the San Mateo, California area with such a wide array of inventions, it would be hard not to be inspired!

IMG_2510.JPGLet's step back for a moment.  I love all the recent focus on Maker Spaces in schools. If you’re not familiar with what a Maker Space is check out this blog by Vicki Davis. Basically a Maker Space is a place for students to take raw materials and create “things” using their imagination. The creativity required and the "in-time" learning that a maker space provides is powerful. I saw an example of the power of "making" this last school year when I had students, who would normally struggle in a traditional class, create things such as a working catapult fashioned out of popsicle sticks, rubber-bands and cardboard.

My journey into exploring the power of making continues for a 3rd year with two added goals. First,I plan to expand the depth of learning that goes with "making" by creating Maker Connection Logs where students write, take photos, and record short videos to show their thinking while making connections between curriculum areas and their creations. The goal of the “Maker Logs” is for students to be able to give me insight into their creative process, thinking and provide a way for reflecting with the hopes of improving the future process of "making."

My second goal, which I recently accomplished, is to create an "Un-Maker Space." Simply put, a space where kids can take things apart.  So many of the creative geniuses I met at the Bay Area Maker Faire two years ago spoke of taking things apart when they were kids. Watching my 3 year old son recently take apart his toy vacuum really solidified this idea for me. We all have this inner drive to create an understanding of the world around us. This is founded in the desire to answer all the "why" and "how" questions in our thoughts. Why did that little wheel spin when I pushed the play button on that cassette player? How did the electricity get from the cord into the monitor and then create a picture? How can I take this apart?  So my students will have a space to dissect all the discarded and unwanted items and to ask those questions. In this un-maker space they’ll have the chance to explore the possible answers.

How will I do this? Garage sales! Tool donations, safety gear... And a means for them to log their dissections through writing, photos and video as we explore the scientific way to take things apart.  I see many opportunities for learning including opportunities in math, writing, critical thinking, fine motor skills, and a chance to help develop a greater level of executive functioning skills (to name just a few).  I work hard to foster an atmosphere where student questions drive their desire to learn and this fits right in with it.

Beyond all the learning taking place in the dissection process, it will provide opportunities for students to try and rebuild or use the parts to create something new.

IMG_3576.JPGSo join me and grab those broken cassette tape players before they get tossed into the dumpster. Smile when you see a keyboard that isn't working, and celebrate that old laptop with the broken screen that is out of warranty. It's all how we look at things, our mindset, that can lead us to finding "new" in the old, new questions to answer, new places to explore and new learning to gain. As for those broken "unusables," they get a second life by becoming another learning opportunity for our students! When will you have an UnMaker event in your classroom or at your site?  

I'd love to hear your thoughts. I would also be happy to share the guiding document I created to use with my "Un-Maker" teams.


  1. I love this! Why do we throw things away when they break? Why not let students take them apart, maybe even try to fix it? If it can't be fixed, at least they can understand how the mechanism is created. Going to share this with some of our teachers.

    1. Let me know if I can help let me know Laura. I'd be happy to GHO and share more details.

  2. Thank you for this wonderful post. I would love to read the document you used to write this.

    1. Hi Alice,
      I'd be happy to share the google doc with you. If you'd tweet @tasfair I can provide you the link.