Maker method of teaching considered in metro schools

By Saba Long

The K-12 education system is overwhelmingly rote in nature. Students memorize formulas and facts year after year, moving from one standardized test to the next.

Yet we know real life application and tangible problem solving skills gives students a sense of place in the world around them.

Across the country, school boards are hearing proposals to bring the Maker mentality into classrooms. Four years ago at the request of the school superintendent, Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller of Studio H developed a yearlong lesson plan for juniors at a high school in Bertie, a sprawling, rural county in North Carolina.

The students, they proposed, would design and build projects meaningful to the town’s agricultural economy, including a chicken coop. Students would learn welding, and the basics of architecture would be acquired. Soft skills such as team building and critical thinking would be developed during each project.

Ultimately, while the school board refused to pay their salaries, a combined $80,000, organizations including the Arthur Blank Foundation contributed grant dollars to purchase supplies and equipment. The work of Studio H in Bertie was filmed in If You Build It, an uplifting documentary making waves in education circles.

Recently, Atlanta Board of Education members including Leslie Grant, Cynthia Briscoe Brown and Matt Westmoreland hosted a screening and panel discussion. The latter focused on the importance of arts in design-build curriculums. Panelists Courtney Bryant, an engineering teacher at Drew Charter, and Chris Appleton, executive director of WonderRoot, both noted the creative process allows for failure. Appleton remarked, “failure as experimentation” should be encouraged for students and administrators.

Atlanta Public Schools is experimenting with the Maker curriculum. Grant commented, “This film hit on things we need to consider at APS about innovation, including how kids learn and what really sticks with them.”  Additionally, this level of hands-on learning will improve the district’s drop out rates, she hopes.

Community Guilds, the group behind the STE(A)M Truck – Atlanta’s first mobile Maker space – is working to get students excited about science, technology, engineering, arts and math. The truck travels from school to school, lending students equipment to assist with their design-build projects.

While slow to arrive, the maker movement is spreading across metro through organizations such as Decatur Maker and through Maker-faires – public mini or large-scale design-build showcases.

The documentary, If You Build It, is currently playing at Landmark Theatre Midtown Art Cinema.

About Saba Long

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.
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