Magnet Inventions Move Makers into the Science Classroom

boyducttapeThe Maker Movement

The Maker Movement is the latest buzz word in education. Headlines echo promises of how this movement will “reinvent” and “transform” education as we know it. Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager even refer to it as a “learning revolution” in a recent article published on ISTE. There is clear evidence that the movement is spreading through the multitude of makerspaces popping up in libraries and schools all over the world and they are stocked with the latest technological tools and gadgets from arduino to makey makey to 3D printers. But how do we ensure that our students are consistently offered these hands-on, constructivist experiences which invites innovation and is firmly grounded in STEM subjects? (Or as some argue, STEAM subjects, as the  “A” for art and design cannot be ignored if we expect students to truly innovate.) Perhaps we can start by connecting the culture of making with our science units.

The Final Challenge

This invention is going to help my nanny clean the house. (Luisa, grade 1 student)

dollInvent a toy or tool that uses the force of magnets to make something in it move. That was the design challenge given to our grade 1 students. And they embraced it! It was the final assessment of their science unit on magnetism. As shown in the rubric, the assessment not only clearly aligns to the power standards of the unit as well as the learning targets, but challenges these young learners be create something innovative. The energy in the room that we turned into an inventor’s workshop was overwhelming. Children were applying what they learned about magnetism. They were building and running into problems and rebuilding. And when they finally got it right, just the way THEY wanted it, there was no mistaking the ownership and pride in their final products. Watch some of our first graders presenting their toys and inventions: magnet blaster, abracadabra, and dancing doll.

Scaffolding the Experience

15447035196_1d889758b9_bWe knew that time to tinker with magnets would be critical to the success of the making experience. We also wanted to be sure we didn’t lose sight of our essential question “Why are magnets important?” This lead us to the idea of a magnet fair that would take place the week before the final challenge was given. The magnet fair was made up of 6 hands-on, constructivist learning centers at which students made a jumping frog, sailed a little boat, and marvelled over a paper kite, a spinning doll and a buzzing bee.  A fair booklet kept students focused on using “scientific words” to explain what they created and observed and required them to document their observiations. The importance of magnets was explored as students looked inside motors and played with motors using little bits kits.  Another center intrigued our young learners with a look inside a hard drive, speakers and other household items. This center also gave students the opportunity to watch videos about the role magnets play in high speed trains and power plants. One last station offered students the opportunity to tinker with magnets and create something of their own using a magnet and primarly recycled materials. The excitement was building…their knowledge and concepts were getting stronger. And by the end of the week, we felt they were indeed ready for their final challenge.

The Next Maker Move

IMG_0145There was no question that students had fun at the magnet fair and in the inventor’s workshop. They didn’t realize how much learning was taking place. The power of the experience was clear through their discussions, observations and documentation. Their final products demonstrated their content knowledge and creativity. Are there things we will do differently next time? Yes! Was this a unique opportunity? No! We are ready to transform our units on energy, sound and force and motion. We will continue to challenge our students engage in creative and imaginative thinking that enables them to extend their learning in original and insightful ways.

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