First, the students decided to organize a flash mob in the school cafeteria. Our 55 grade 4 students are all very opinionated! The biggest difficulty was that everyone wanted to lead, they all thought their own ideas were best. They easily spent the first two planning sessions talking themselves around in circles, while we, their teachers, bit our lips and sat on our hands. After school meetings as a team centered around questions of parameters. Should we set any? How long were we willing to wait for action? Is there a time in which we will need to step in and at which point might we need to pull the plug? After the first agonizing week, where they went nowhere, we finally delivered an ultimatum. By the end of the next lesson, they had to agree on how they would organize themselves, who would be responsible for what, and they had to deliver a schedule of rehearsal times so that they could being making bookings for facilities and equipment. Suddenly they were off and away. Rehearsals went well and corporate decisions were made, although not always the ones we teachers would have chosen. The final flash mob was a success - in our small world at least.
We were ready to step up the ante. We floated the idea of a Maker Faire with the students. A Maker Faire would give them the opportunity to participate in the organization of another whole grade event, but also each student would need to be responsible for the organization of their own exhibit. The scariest part was that none of us teachers had ever even been to a Maker Faire before. The projects were all their own choices and in many cases they needed to source their own materials. We worked closely with our Design teacher who supported the students through the design cycle and the development of various prototypes. Some students chose to work alone while others grouped together. Again, it was excruciating at times to see kids spinning in circles achieving nothing but then at other times there were huge gains in product development taking place. The same questions of intervention and timing arose. I was hesitant to step in too quickly, wanting to give them the chance to find their own way back to the task. One group decided to design a product display box to market the headphones they had made. I watched them muck around with this ugly naked box for about a week, basically achieving nothing. Finally, I stepped in to demonstrate action and to get them moving forward. Within 10 minutes, 1/2 the box was painted and their mylar window had been installed. Suddenly they caught the vision and I stepped back again. Over the next two lessons that box was fully kit out with a persuasive paragraph, instructions for use, a photograph showing it in use and the product logo. In class, we had moved onto our new unit about persuasion and influencing others, so the students were also asked to develop an advertising campaign both for the Maker Faire itself and for their own stall.
The final Faire was a huge success. There was a range of items on show from stomp rockets, to recycled can cars, a fishing game, a model airboat and even a cool hovercraft. One of my favorite was a very addictive squishy ball. Some products definitely had the WoW factor, while others were frankly weak and didn't reflect a productive engagement over 6 weeks. It was very evident in the final event who had shown good organizational skills. I hope the school repeats the Maker Faire, opening it up to the wider community in future years. I think this is an event where the quality of the exhibits can only get better each year, as they learn from each other and the experience of being a maker. The biggest indication of success for me was the very high level of engagement from our visitors. Many students had sourced sufficient materials to encourage visitors to get involved and make too. As I moved through the throngs calling for pack up time, there was a chorus of disappointment from the visitors and grateful relief from the presenters. They were exhausted, having spent 90 minutes teaching, demonstrating and helping others become makers too.