I was first “introduced” to Fawn Qiu through a video of her Flappy Bird in a Box project, which she shows and talks about in her TED Talk. If interested in building your own – she created an Instructable which you can access for free (the parts won’t cost too much either). Her website is worth a quick look, too.

In this TED Talk, Qiu outlines how she stumbled into the world of creating projects which can teach engineering to children. She drew inspiration from problems in her daily life like making a costume for a comic convention or wanting to play Flappy Bird after Apple announced it would take the game out of the App store. Inspiration is so important for learning – students need to see and hear stories of people who did amazing things with a basic mindset – just make it yourself.

In my classroom – we share passions. When I had my friend Dave come in to teach a lesson on game-design, he talked about his shifting and changing interests. When adults and older students in the school walk into my room, I put them on the spot and have them talk about that which they are most passionate. Stories like Fawn’s show the steps to take those passions and turn them into action.

And personalizing the creative and innovative processes is so important. Again – in her TED Talk, Qiu talks about why robotic kits miss the mark when it comes to personalization – these kits have highly detailed steps, non-customizable plastic and metal parts, and inaccessibly high prices. I’ve played with a lot of these kits – they are super cool… but they’re just an introduction. Kids get bored with LEGO Mindstorms turning, spinning, stopping and starting – and few take the next step to do the really cool stuff with Mindstorms – setting up the sensors and going outside of the tutorials to create unique robots to accomplish interesting tasks. The fact that a student needs to spend oodles of time and money in a creativity-free learning space just to get to a place where they can customize their designs is the wrong model. This is boring, inaccessible, and lacks regular rewards for learning.

Qiu asks: “How do we start to change the perception of technology?”

Her answer is to design technology creation and innovation projects with the following three principles in mind:

  1. Low floor. These are easy to start projects which anyone can complete due to minimal difficulty and low financial costs. You don’t need expensive and fancy toys to teach making.
  2. High ceiling. The project must be open ended and able to evolve and grow with student interests. When there is this room to develop a project, the students are constantly being challenged – and rewarded for accomplishing their goals. I swear that if I hear “the problem with kids these days is that they don’t have any grit or resiliency” one more time – I’m going to jump out of a window… but these constantly challenging and rewarding processes are awesome for building that resilience. The rewards are given by the work itself, not from an outside source.
  3. Customization – in order to engage everyone, the projects need to be customizable to suit different interests. Paper and cardboard are awesome – can be cut, taped, or glued into an endless array of shapes and sizes. Fabric is nifty too, though I haven’t explored these options as much as paper and cardboard. If a project is customizable, there is more engagement from the students… Ashley can make an ugly alpaca and Connor can build a pink, squishy turtle… all the while both are learning the same basic coding and electronics lessons.

With so many inexpensive makesploration and project ideas out there, I don’t know why we can’t bring more Maker Education into the classroom. The creativity and innovation in personal and collaborative learning activities is pretty cool to see and be a part of.