As the education landscape changes more rapidly than perhaps ever before, and within a society embracing a fervent demand for design, innovation and entrepreneurship, the maker-movement has exploded into the mainstream and highly regulated world of primary and secondary schools.
The St. Thomas Sixth Annual Middle School Administrators Conference, co-hosted with Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart and St. Agnes Academy, explored the makerspace dynamic with the intent of empowering faculties to develop universally applicable and transferable skills in concert with an established curriculum.
Ana Josephson and J.E. Johnson served as co-presenters to 35 middle school representatives meeting on the St. Thomas campus.
The co-founders of Maker Ready, a consulting and product company that has worked with hundreds of teachers nationally to bring hands-on, project-based learning into elementary classrooms, are ardent believers in the transformative effects of creative problem solving, and the ability to apply that mindset to real-world challenges.
“We have are in the midst of a culture that is emphasizing this makerspace style of learning,” Johnson said. “Students are developing skills for any career. Design-thinkers, inventors and entrepreneurs … the resilient who dare to take risks … maker education is the quickest way to get to that point.”
Johnson is a master craftsman and faculty member at the University of Texas, where he has overseen construction of more than 100 theatrical productions and currently manages one of the nation’s largest university scenic studios. He has adapted his apprentice-based approach to teach children at the DeBusk Enrichment Center for Academically Talented Scholars and the Austin Tinkering School.
Johnson sees the maker-movement “as an antidote to standardized testing, a release from that. Open-ended and creative curriculums have the potential to unlock student’s brains. I struggled all through elementary school. Finally, I was given a specific project that I could feel confident about. It opened an entirely new world for me.”
Josephson has taught science, technology, engineering, art and math for more than fifteen years. She earned a Masters in Science Education from the University of Texas at Austin and specializes in incorporating Project Based Learning across the curriculum to provide real-world experiences.
“Students today are so technologically driven. They sit for hours with phones, devices or tablets,” Josephson said. “But it’s human nature to create with our hands. It’s in our genetic make-up. I think middle school students can be the most kinesthetic learners. They all have that wonder, plus the energy and drive. There’s no question that every teacher attending this conference will leave with something they can immediately implement.”