I am a big advocate for embedding a maker culture in my classroom to deepen students understanding of topics. With an interdisciplinary approach, making, tinkering, and STEAM activities enable our students to design and create a piece of work that is embodied by teamwork, problem solving, and critical thinking.
“Maker centred learning helps students see themselves as people that can effectively take action in the world”. (2017, Clapp, E. P., Ross, J., Ryan, J. O., & Tishman, S).
Designing lessons around making principles empowers students to embrace a continuous learning cycle, where a growth mindset and accepting failure is part of the journey to achieve success.
“The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge” (Seymour Papert).
When many teachers first think of incorporating making into their lesson design, they immediately think they require expensive resources. Yes, a successful maker program can take advantage of a large budget to purchase expensive equipment, but it doesn’t have to. Utilising resources that most schools have in the back of their cupboards, inexpensive and/or recycled materials, teachers can create hands on learning experiences for students that doesn’t cost a lot of money.
Prior to tackling any maker task, I use my love for picture story books to read, from a selection of my favourite books to my students to reinforce a growth mindset. This supports them during the making process to embrace failures and mistakes as an opportunity to learn and improve their creations.
Here are 10 of my favourite maker activities that do not break the budget.
Inspired by Caine’s Arcade, students create their own arcade game. Working collaboratively, students will develop their understanding of game design and engineering principles.
- Cardboard boxes
- Variety recycled materials
- Masking tape
- Introduction / Provocation – Watch Caine’s Arcade https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faIFNkdq96U
- Each student designs an arcade game of their own
- Based on similarities of game designs, group students in small groups (2-3 students)
- Each group re-designs one arcade game with the best features from each of their designs
- Using cardboard boxes, masking tape, and a variety of on-hand recycled materials, each group creates their arcade games
- Showcase – On completion, conduct a showcase, inviting other classes and/or the community to play their games.
Mystery Bag Challenge
Mystery Bag Challenges empower students to complete a design task within a time limit and with limited resources. Sparking students creativity and imagination, these challenges can be designed accordingly to reflect any unit of work.
Focus: Beginning of school year introductions
- Variety of Arts & Crafts
- Students create an object that represent themselves
Create a Moving Car
Students work in small groups to design and create a moving car. They develop their understanding of wheels and axles, and how weight of materials can affect the speed of a moving object.
- Cardboard boxes / packaging
- 2 x straws per group
- 2 x skewers per group
- In groups (2-3) students are given the design brief to create a moving car
- Each group to sketch their car design with a range of materials
- Build their car
- Students test, race, and record the distance each car travels.
- Modifications can be made to improve the cars performance
- Students graph the results of each car
Rube Goldberg Machine
A Rube Goldberg Machine is an over designed machine thats purpose is to perform a simple task. Students develop their understanding of actions and reactions, with lots of problem solving and critical thinking in order to be successful.
- Marbles, balls
- Variety of boxes
- Variety of objects
- Introduction / Provocation – There are many clips of Youtube, but a favourite is Audi’s Rube Goldberg Machine that highlights perseverance (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uDDEEHDf1Y&)
- In small groups (3-4), students select their objective ie. catch a marble in a cup, trap a marble, turn the lights on, pop a balloon etc.
- Students design and create their Rube Goldberg Machine with available resources
Students must work collaboratively to build the tallest tower of cups.
- Plastic or paper cups
- Rubber bands
- Students work together in pairs to build the tallest tower
- As a further challenge, students are not allowed to touch the cups with their hands, they must use the rubber band with string attached to lift and place the cups into the tower.
Students create a marble maze obstacle course on a paper plate.
- Paper Plates
- Marble or pom pom
- Scrap Paper
- Sticky Tape
- Students use paper plate as the base for their maze
- They cut paper to design tunnels and walls to create a maze
- They then use pom pom or marble to test and play their created maze
Students create a tower using limited materials. They develop their understanding of engineering principles to ensure their tower successfully stands upright.
- Icy pole sticks
- Bulldog clips
- Students work independently or in pairs create a tower using the materials provided
Students complete a range of challenges using newspaper to design and create an object. Challenges can be adapted accordingly to suit your unit of work.
Some design challenges include creating a:
- Masking Tape
- Students use the newspaper to complete the assigned challenge
Longest paper chain challenge
Students create the longest possible paper chain they can from one A4 piece of paper.
- 1 A4 piece of paper per student
- Glue or sticky tape
- Each student receives one A4 piece of paper
- They are to create the longest paper chain.
Students create a bridge that can hold the weight of a matchbox car. They develop their understanding of engineering principles to ensure their bridge successfully stands upright and withholds the cars weight.
- Icy pole sticks
- Paper or plastic straws
- Masking or sticky tape
- Matchbox car
- Students choose the materials they want to use.
- Students construct their bridge
- Test along the way to see if their bridge will hold the weight of a car
What are some of your favourite Maker activities that don’t break the budget? We would love to hear from you!
Clapp, E. P., Ross, J., Ryan, J. O., & Tishman, S. (2017). Maker-centered learning: Empowering young people to shape their worlds. Jossey-Bass.
About the Author
Eleni Kyritsis is an award winning Year 3 Teacher and Leader of Curriculum & Innovation from Melbourne, Australia. She is the Founder of TeachTechPlay, a monthly web show designed for teachers to share their creative lesson ideas. Eleni facilitates professional learning workshops around the world that focus on unleashing creativity and curiosity in classrooms. You can contact her at elenikyritis.com and @misskyritsis