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New Beginnings in the Maker Exploratorium

DSC_0065 (2)The first days of a new homeschool program at Talking Stick Learning Center are always filled with excitement and wonder. This year the Tuesday Maker Exploratorium is adding some new elements.

“What maker projects will we be doing?” someone asks.

"The answer to that," I explained, "will be up to each of you."

I spent this past summer researching project-based learning, completing the Tinkering Fundamentals STEM course from my program's namesake, the Exploratorium, and delving into the philosophies of several alternative programs including one called The Walkabout. Now, I am happy to get started putting some of the things I learned into practice. Pilot programs are exciting. They can be flexible living entities waiting for participants to mold them into a workable model that fits their individual needs and desires.

There are two additions I am making to my program this year based on my summer studies. The first will be participation in an organization called IEARN (International Education and Resource Network). IEARN is a non-profit organization that spans 140 countries, 30 languages and has 50,000 educators and 2 million youth. Through the use of the internet and other technologies students are able to collaborate on projects with other young people around the globe. Projects include service to others, art, science experiments, and various writing projects, to name a few. The young people in Tuesday's program will be able to choose the projects that interest them the most out of hundreds that are offered.

The second new part of Maker Exploratorium (ME) is the ME Challenge. It comprises challenges in eight different categories. The categories include:

1. Global Citizenship (IEARN can be included here or local projects of their choice)
2. Invention: imagine, design, create, improve something
3. Skill builder: three new skills and one long term skill project
4. Logical inquiry: Ask a question/ research the answer. This can be on any topic of interest.
5. Creative Expression: create something that doesn't presently exist- a painting, a song, a film, a game, dance, etc.
6. Adventure: do something outside your comfort zone or experience. (run a race, give a speech, plan and execute a weekend canoe trip)
7. Passion Project (At the Last Day Café, held on the last Talking Stick program day where parents and friends are invited to join us) Present and explain one of your projects that inspired you.
8. Group Collaboration: everyone in the program will collaborate in choosing and accomplishing a group project.

I consider the challenges to be the backbone of the program. Within this structure the young people can create their own project-based learning plans. We will brainstorm and work on how to choose a project, how to create project steps, and how to overcome obstacles to success. As homeschoolers we have different educational paths.

The ME Challenge is one way to incorporate what you do at home or online with shared experiences in a group environment. For example if a young person is taking French classes, they may want to incorporate language study into their long term skill building project and share the French they have learned with the rest of the group. Some of the ME Challenges will be worked on within the Maker class time and others will be worked on at other times during the week. They are encouraged to find a mentor to help them with at least one project and they will have group sharing and peer support for everything they do. As I unfolded the plan for the year in the first two program days, it didn't take long before the young people began to develop their possible projects.

“I want to create my own world and design all the living creatures that will live on it and determine what kind of habitat they will need to survive.”

“I want to invent something with magnets and electricity.”

“I am going to writing a novel in November with Nanowrimo.”

“I can't wait to work on a big collaboration with everyone. Maybe we could have a dance or make a playground in the Secret Garden.”

“Can I decide to go to France for my adventure challenge?”

“I want to design and make lots of clothes!”

“For one of my skills, I am going to learn to needle felt.”

“I am going to learn to recognize ten birds and ten trees.”

“I want to photograph horses and I have already found a mentor who will work with me.”

The ideas kept coming. For the rest of this semester each of the young people will work on completing at least two of their ME Challenges. They all agreed that it was easier to think of starting with two challenges instead of thinking of all the challenges at once. (I am reminded of the saying, How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.)

On the first day, we played some games and worked on a collaborative art project.

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On the second day we started out with collaborative games and then began working on our projects.


Several young people decided to create sit-upons that they will be able to use in their morning nature program when they do their nature observations in the Secret Garden. Others worked on drawing and sewing. It was an exciting, creative beginning to our program.


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