tinker with text
Literacy-Based Maker Education
The Full Meal Deal
When we were young, it was a big deal for our family to go out for dinner at a hotel that had a buffet, which we used to call a smorgasbord. Of course, kids notoriously have eyes larger than their stomachs and we were no different. We piled our plates high with anything and everything; and my three brothers would make the all-you-can-eat price worth it.
Nowadays, I weigh my food choices more carefully. Will it agree with my stomach … my heart … my thighs? And unless you're on a cruise, this gastronomic and sensory overload is thankfully out of style. It's much cooler to go to a restaurant with brick walls, live edge tables, and an assortment of quality morsels served on a plank.
When we start anything new, we think we need all the latest and greatest gear. It’s common to see new school makerspaces chock full of Ozobots, Makey-Makey, and shiny carts with bins. But does it all get used?
The same applies to loose parts. We collect all kinds of interesting things and display them in tinker trays, tins, or trolleys. The kids’ eyes pop out at all these objects and they want to touch them all. It’s akin to the smorgasbord - sensory overload and a bit overwhelming. When the students are invited to participate in loose parts play, a guided imagery exercise, or a design challenge, it can take forever for the students to choose their materials due to too many choices.
This is where we as educators may wish to place constraints on their choices. Lately, I’ve been exploring the “5x5 strategy.” (Search Twitter with the hashtag #5x5strategy to find examples.) This is where the teacher selects a set amount of loose parts (say, 6-10) and arranges them on a table or in trays. They may choose 5 loose parts from 5 categories for a total of 25 items. You can add another five or 10 (i.e. 5x5x5 or 5x5x10) to let the students know how many minutes they have to select their parts.
We’ve also done “5+5 strategy” and “5+(4+1)+5 strategy” hacks. Our “5+5” hack was using 5 loose parts to dip in paint using the 5 Olympic flag colours and stamp them on paper to make a design or pattern. Next steps are to write about what their picture represents or what it looks like to them (think, Rorschach images). Some of the prints didn’t work out too well; so those students will be cutting their paper into shapes or letters to create images or words and then writing about that. They may move back and forth between the making, writing, editing, and reading.
We All Work with Constraints
The “5+(4+1)+5” hack was for older students who are learning to sketchnote. Their task was to research an Olympic sport and find 5 facts (new to them) about that sport. They write the fact on a sticky note and move them around on their paper to plan the layout before beginning their sketchnote. Their challenge is to include 5 facts surrounded by 5 frames, 4 connectors in between and 1 banner (4+1) above, and 5 relevant drawings. This project is still in process. (Note: Search the internet for some “how-to’s’ on sketchnoting and let the students play with the process and familiarize themselves with the components before doing an actual project.)
Some may say that no constraints should be put in place for the child … to let them explore. I agree, but not in all circumstances. Constraints are a normal part of life. When making dinner, we look in the fridge and cupboards to see what we have and then be creative with those ingredients. Many teachers do not have a “fully stocked” classroom; but we make the best of what we have and need to be innovative thinkers to create learning environments and experiences based on our situation.
Something to Consider
In regards to constraints, Angela Stockman (author of Make Writing) wrote this on Twitter: “I'm not sure there is one ‘right’ way to use constraints when designing challenges like these. I tend to play and test in order to see how changing variables changes learning.” She added: “For me, it's always about elevating the writing or adding complexity. So, I will use 2x2 or 3x3 or different variances. ‘Given these three materials and three mins, build me your counterclaim…’”
From time to time, try implementing constraints in the loose parts play, makerspace creations, or design challenges in your classroom and notice how your students respond. You may agree that a few well-selected morsels are more “delicious” than the grand buffet.