The Value of Guided Projects in Makerspaces

The Value of Guided Projects in Makerspaces | Guided projects are excellent for providing students opportunities to learn and develop their skills.  As they improve by working through these projects, they are empowered to pursue open-ended projects. |

Learning How to Knit

I’ve been a knitter since my best friend in college first gave me a set of needles and taught me the basic stitches. This was back in 2002. When I first started out, I needed a lot of help and guidance. I would check out books on knitting from the public library. I’d read tips in online forums. I’d watch tutorial videos online. And I followed lots of patterns. At first I would follow the patterns exactly, using the size needles and yarn recommended, the stitches, finishing techniques, etc. Gradually, following these patterns helped me to build my skillset. Then I started swapped out different types of stitches, experimented with knitting without seams, tried out different yarn textures. Eventually, the patterns became more like recipes that I could use to inspire interesting, creative projects.

If my friend had sat me down with the needles and yarn and just said “go figure it out”, I probably wouldn’t be a knitter today.  If I had absolutely no guidance, no advice, no instruction on how to knit and purl, I likely would have quickly given up from frustration.  Following patterns to the letter when I first got started helped me to learn the skills that I needed to be creative in my knitting.  I learned how to create different color patterns, how to cable, how to knit lace, how to knit in the round, how to seam correctly.  There were patterns that helped me see knitting in a new light, like when when dropped stitches (normally a mistake) created beautiful lace-like patterns.  And each of those experiences gave me more freedom to be creative in my future projects as I could apply what I’d learned.

How Guided Projects can Help Makers Learn

Guidelines and instructions are not the enemy of makerspaces.  Working through guided projects can help students to develop the skills that they need to further explore creatively.  It’s true that some students can just figure it out, but most need that gentle push to get them started.  While things like LEGOs and K’nex are intuitive, many other activities are not.  If you just sat me down in front of an Arduino with no guidance, I wouldn’t have a clue what to do.  But after following some example projects, I can start to feel more comfortable with branching out on my own.

Guidelines & instructions are not the enemy of makerspaces. There must be balance. Click To Tweet

The problem comes when all we ever do are guided projects.  Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager warn against the “20 identical birdhouses” style class projects, where there is zero creativity involved.  It’s very easy to fall into the trap of focusing too much on standards, rubrics and guided projects and zapping all the fun and creativity out, turning a makerspace into nothing more than another classroom.  It’s tempting for many educators to just print out a list of instructions, sit students down in front of a “maker kit” and check their e-mail while students work through the steps one by one.  This is obviously not what we want in our makerspaces.

But at the same time, Austin Kleon reminds us that “when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom.”  Providing some limitations, guidelines, restrictions can actually make us more creative, as we have to figure out how to make things work with what we’re given.  I’ve seen my students come up with amazing projects through design challenges: awesome phone stands with our K’nex club, catapults, crossbows and trebuchets for our Catapult Challenge, robots, reading caves and rockets for our Cardboard Challenge.  Giving them a little bit of guidance and limitation still providing plenty of room for creativity and imagination.  In fact, I think it probably enhanced it.

Limitation, guidelines & restrictions can actually make us more creative. Click To Tweet

We have to find a balance between open-ended, free range exploration and guided learning in our makerspaces.  It can be tricky to figure out sometimes, but it’s worth putting the effort in.  A well-crafted design challenge can inspire amazing creativity.  Free-range learning gives students opportunities for imaginative play.  Both are crucial for creating an environment where students can discover, learn and grow.

What design challenges or guided projects have you used with your students?  What kinds of creative ideas did they come up with through them?

9 thoughts on “The Value of Guided Projects in Makerspaces”

  1. Love this post Diana, and I couldn’t agree with you more. I really like how you pointed out that there are other ways to seek out information and to learn besides just the teacher teaching. It is so important that we encourage our students to do that. Making and creativity do not necessarily occur as a result of teaching. It is important that we architect our makerspaces and facilitate them in a way that inspire our learners to take risks and innovate.

  2. I also couldn’t agree more Diana. I don’t have a maker space in my classroom but my students are working on PBL projects. I gave them free reign of what they wanted to do for their project. It was awesome and they all stepped out of their comfort zone and went big but even though they went big with their idea we still had to go backwards to learn the basics, the how to, learn specific skills so they could go forward (and beyond) to create their projects. Your post has great wisdom and sound reminders that we are still all learners, knowledge seekers and often need to learn basic skills before we can move forward as creators.

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