Back to school – and back to boredom?

Maker's Red Box 2020. 06. 29. 08:04

Learning can be a lot of fun. Going to school – not so much. In fact, as kids grow into teenagers, it seems to become less and less fun: in a 2017 survey, Gallup found that while 74% of fifth-graders are engaged with school, just 32% of 11th-graders feel the same way. Overall, 40% of high school students are chronically disengaged in classes, according to a US National Research Council report on motivation.

So how can we help kids get – and keep – out of the motivational rut?

Give them a reason

“It’s nice to know things. I like to know things. You like to know things. But there are issues of balance, particularly in the digital age. The information in textbooks is not necessarily what you need or would like to have at your fingertips,” Harvard professor David Perkins says. Education is supposed to prepare kids for life, yet it doesn’t offer much of what he calls lifeworthy, or “likely to matter, in any meaningful way, in the lives learners are expected to live.”

Student designing a superhero for laser cutting in a makerspace

But if students feel that what they’re being taught is something they can actually make use of at some point in their lives, you’re halfway there. Project-based coursework on modelling real-life problems and prototyping potential solutions gives them an opportunity to understand how the ’adult world’ works, how they fit into it and how they can actively make it better.

I don’t always use memes in class, but when I do…

In the age of viral cat videos, YouTube influencers and TikTok tutorials, getting through to children using traditional textbooks is not usually a winning strategy. Even if you move them to mobile or tablet screens. Bringing the digital world into the classroom can help create a learning environment that teens find more familiar, comforting and exciting.

Let’s take video games as an example.”They are mainstream media, an everyday method of storytelling and representation. Games have become a common form of rhetoric for the 21st century,” says game-based learning expert Jordan Shapiro. Materials that make use of the plot twists familiar from video games and binge-worthy TV series tend to captivate students’ attention. As such, they can be great teaching tools to improve students’ metacognitive functions and, later, academic skills.

Say hi to Generation Green

Let’s build a robot! Sounds familiar? In most schools, this is how teachers try to get kids excited about technology and innovation. And with science-minded pupils, that’s probably all they need to say. But what about the others?

This is where storytelling comes into the picture. Building a robot sounds like a task (and to some, a tedious one at that). But if it’s up to said robot to save an entire Mars expedition, that’s more like an adventure. And students with all kinds of strengths and interests are likely to find a way to contribute to the mission’s success.

“This was also the main idea when designing our Superheroes Maker’s Red Box. Students are tasked with creating their own superheroes using a variety of tools and methods, from 3D design and printing to creative writing,” explains Maker’s Red Box CEO Gábor Major.

Learning to code with the Maker's Red Box Digital Storytelling: Superheroes curriculum

The Superheroes Maker’s Red Box is the first of a series of comprehensive, STEAM-focused curriculums that all include a teacher’s guide with lesson plans, step-by-step video tutorials, technical drawings and code, plus a starter kit of sample objects and consumable materials. “Our main goal was to create an educational programme that encourages self-expression and creativity. Kids have a chance to convey complex emotions, while learning essential 21st-century skills like problem-solving, emotional intelligence and teamwork, as well as 3D printing, laser cutting, programming and soldering.”

Building projects around topics today’s youth is invested in is also key. Renewable energy sources, sustainability, environmental protection – these are only a few areas new generations are more passionate about than those that came before them. No wonder: 73% feel the impacts of climate change and 89% believe young people can make a difference.

Making a maker

As any parent will tell you, kids today spend a lot of time glued to the screen. But that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy creating things with their own two hands.

It can greatly improve students’ motivation, empowerment and perseverance to see something they’ve envisaged come to life and function. Makerspaces are ideal for these types of hands-on, minds-on activities.

Kids building Mars rovers with the Maker's Red Box Green Engineers curriculum

“It offers plenty of opportunities for everyone to find their strengths and learn all sorts of new skills. At the same time, it helps teachers to engage students and build better relationships with them,” a teacher at Sammonlahti School in Finland sums up his experiences with Maker’s Red Box’s Superheroes curriculum. “Students are encouraged to create their own colourful stories and become a part of them.”



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