Last week, the SparkTruck team (Katie Krummeck & Eugene Korsunskiy), the K12 Lab Network and the d.school were buzzing with activity as the inaugural SparkTruck Teacher Corps came together. (To learn more about the Teacher Corps, check out this blog post.) Our goal was to inspire and catalyze teachers to bring maker education to their classrooms. To get there, we spent four days learning the tools of the truck while discussing the intersections of the maker movement and design thinking. Teachers invented ten new workshops, ready to teach students how to make something real, using their imaginations and their ability to problem-solve.

For this initial prototype of the Corps, we decided to keep the call for participants local to the Bay Area. Ten teachers from across the Bay Area made up our first Corps. Participants included: Jen and Ana, teachers from Urban Montessori Charter School in Oakland, Jess from Bullis Charter School in Los Altos, Ellen from Central Middle School in San Carlos, Jennifer from Town School for Boys in San Francisco, Julia, Cynthia and Amy from Rooftop Alternative School in San Francisco, Tatian from Mark Day School in San Rafael, and Jackie from Walter Hayes Elementary School in Palo Alto.

Each day a guest maker joined us: Kevin Brune, who brought his passion for higher tech tools, tinkering and creative problem-solving; Parker Thomas, whose inspiring story of building his own plane and his expertise with kids was incredibly helpful; and Lindsay Balfour, whose skill at paper engineering, infectious makerness and expertise with large groups of students was invaluable.

Our four days packed with fast-paced learning started with an introduction to design thinking and moved into maker skills with SparkTruck’s two signature workshops, Vibrobots and Stamps. Along the way we sprinkled in “build challenges” to keep the teachers on their toes and to build their confidence in working with their hands.

From there, we transitioned into working with the teachers to develop their own lesson plans, using resources from the SparkTruck website; teachers reported that the SparkTrucktool cards were especially useful.

At the d.school and the K12 Lab Network, we believe in learning by doing. When planning this workshop, we weren’t satisfied with the teachers just planning lessons that they would theoretically teach this coming year. We felt they needed the opportunity to try them out with real kids. We were able to partner with a Camp Galileo site in Sunnyvale to bring the truck and teachers to run their freshly designed lesson plans. Over the course of two days, the Teacher Corps facilitated 10 new workshops with 90 students each day. Though the news that we had volunteered them to teach at a summer camp came as a bit of a shock, ultimately the learning, camaraderie and confidence that came out of teaching at Camp Galileo was well worth the immense effort teachers put into their workshops.

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Both the SparkTruck team and the teachers learned a ton from our four days together, but here are a few key learnings:

  • Eugene and I really worked to model the maker mindset. We made the teachers name tags, stickers, t-shirts, really anything we could. This demonstrated that making is everywhere and accessible to all. One of the teachers wanted to experiment with stop-motion animation, but we didn’t have iPad stands. No problem! We made them out of legos. At the end of the workshop, teachers reported having a new understanding of “maker as a mindset, maker as a lifestyle, maker as an attitude.”
  • We created learning experiences that modeled how to tinker your way through problems. From an opening scavenger hunt to the Vibrobots workshop, teachers began to take on the “hacker/maker” mindset of tinkering. One teacher reported that he realized that he “personally needs tinker time to find balance and explore.”
  • We learned that the idea of facilitating lessons at a summer camp was unexpected and a bit scary. Teachers reported feeling unsure about how to work with students outside of their classroom. Teachers also reported feeling caught off guard that we would ask them to work in this way. While the initial reaction to this surprise might have been unsettling, teachers quickly realized how much harder they worked at making their lesson plans “real” when they were on the hook to teach real students.
  • We pushed teachers to try new things, go beyond their comfort zones and push through stuck points, and everyone rose to the occasion. Teachers emerged from this experience will a real sense of self-efficacy and a newfound empathy for their students, who they push every day to try new things and persevere.
  • Teachers also reported loving the opportunity to lesson plan together, to teach together and to have authentic ways to share and get feedback on their work. Bringing together a small community of teachers was a very powerful component of the program. We also realized that because making an object is inherent in these lesson plans, maker-based education fosters a culture of sharing and getting feedback on lesson plans.
  • Finally, we learned that teachers truly appreciate being cared for, as they spend most of their day caring for the 30 small people who are under their charge. By providing food, running to get their supplies and being there to coach and support, teachers felt supported and appreciated and able to get to work learning new things. This is a major goal for our work at the K12 Lab Network, and we are glad we accomplished it with the SparkTruck Teacher Corps!

Eugene and I had an absolute blast last week and were so honored to spend time with our Teacher Corps members. We learned a lot and we know the teachers did too. We hope that we provided inspiration to bring making and design into the Corps members’ classrooms. One teacher said, “I will seek every opportunity to bring design and making into my educational practice.” We can’t wait to see the results!

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