Bring Powerful Maker Learning Experiences to Learners - Digital Promise

Bring Powerful Maker Learning Experiences to Learners

April 20, 2022 | By and

In 2021, six educators representing community-based organizations, libraries, public schools, and the Digital Promise Maker Learning team embarked on a journey to increase opportunities for virtual and remote maker learning. The insights from this experience are valuable to all who wish to engage in powerful maker learning. This blog post is the beginning of a series sharing our Maker Learning team’s experience designing this professional learning opportunity. Explore the Maker Learning @ Home toolkit which features project guides from the cohort members and a guide for educators to design their own maker learning experiences.

Over the last two years, educators across the country wanted to leverage maker learning as a way to continue offering powerful learning experiences while their students were learning from home. Digital Promise’s Maker Learning team reallocated funding originally planned for in-person programing and instead designed a new project to support educators engaging in making.

We moved to design material kits for learners to do activities at home, approaching this opportunity with two key questions in mind:

  • What is the most efficient way to get funds into the hands of educators so that learners can continue making?
  • What new resources could we create to inspire other educators to continue making during the pandemic?

From that point, we developed a concept of an open, grant-styled competition where educators would submit project ideas and receive $5,000 in funding. After completing their projects, the educators would create a project guide so that others could remix and recreate what they did. We began to create the application materials, but something felt off. We realized that through this competition, we may be perpetuating the inequities exacerbated by the pandemic. To dig deeper and reflect, we asked ourselves:

  • Who represents the populations historically underserved and denied access to making experiences?
  • In what ways are we including and excluding important stakeholders in the framing of our program opportunities?
  • In what ways can we be more intentional about addressing equity of access to our programs?

Our reflections helped us realize we were moving too quickly. The urgency of getting funds to educators while learners were remote was the driving force of this project; our plan did not match our intentions of wanting to support learners to continue having opportunities to engage in making at home while distance learning.

This process helped us to identify areas where designing for urgency, instead of intentionality, prevented us from designing meaningful opportunity:

  • We didn’t clearly name an audience we wanted to support and receive these funds.
  • There was a level of assumption we made for all applications which were that they knew about our organization, Digital Promise, our values, and the principles we identify as Powerful Learning.
  • We asked for a project idea that was designed and ready to be facilitated at a time when we knew educators were overwhelmed with competing priorities and some were receiving minimal support.
  • We required applicants to design a project guide without implementing a process to provide guidance on how to do this.
  • The initial version of the project we developed privileged applicants who had the capacity to design a full project idea, were familiar with Digital Promise, and had additional resources to support their implementation. We asked ourselves, are these the applicants who need this funding the most? Do these applicants represent learners who can benefit from this funding the most?

This pause to redesign the opportunity allowed us the flexibility and time to put these reflections into action. The actions we took shaped the goals and outcomes of the project significantly. Our focus became centered on the communities being served and the educators joining us in this work, rather than the funding we could provide and what that funding could generate in terms of outputs. In the end, the project became a professional learning opportunity in the form of a cohort experience.

After grappling with questions that focused on our diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility lenses, we made the decision to focus our outreach efforts to reach learners and educators within these communities:

  • Community nonprofit organizations and schools with Title I school designation
  • Educators beginning their “maker learning journey”
  • Educators serving youth disproportionately affected by COVID-19
  • Organizations looking to deepen their understanding and application of the Powerful Learning principles
  • Out of school time educators

With a clear audience in mind, we began to create an application process to connect with educators. In our next blog post, we’ll discuss our application design and our approach to equity-centered professional learning. We will also introduce a new resource for facilitators of professional learning who are interested in designing an experience like this for educators.

Use the Maker Learning @ Home toolkit to bring making to your students in virtual and hybrid learning contexts.

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