“Let’s do something fuuuuuuuuunnn this year,” my colleague Jana whined.

We’re in my classroom, trying to do the beginning-of-year planning that is required by all departments. Both Jana and I feel we’re in some sort of weird holding pattern with our classes. Last year, we saw our freshmen and sophomore students’ faces blurred with boredom and apathy. Neither of us wanted that again, especially in light of the political upheavals and teacher bashing that has become commonplace.

The more we talked and brainstormed, the more I thought about this past Teacher Research Week at UNCC. During the week, we made with words, technology, and science. It felt that Jana and I had happened upon a STEM/maker train of thought that refreshed our outlook on teaching literature and writing.

Our first speed-bump was logistical:  “Is this appropriate instruction? What will other teachers and administrators say when our classes are loud and messy? How much money will it cost to ‘make’?” Thankfully, though, my administrators allow teachers to be independent thinkers and aren’t married to a pacing guide — we are extremely lucky in that regard.

Next, we began brainstorming all the different ways we could create “experiences” with our literature (This term comes from Dave Burgess’ book, Teach Like a Pirate). Our plans for sophomores include: experiencing the story “How Much Land Does a Man Need” by walking the cross country track and burying dead “bodies” (cutouts) at the end; having students dress up for book talks; writing marathons around the school campus and on field trips, and creating digital personas through the Voki website. My class today will make 6-word memoirs of Holocaust survivor stories, and then represent them with pictures.

Our first foray into making, though, came two weeks ago with freshmen and the story, “The Most Dangerous Game.” We wanted the classes to get the feel for the main character’s (Rainsford) stress as he hides in the woods, trying to trap and outwit his antagonist. They had one hour to use recyclable materials they had brought from home, and whatever outside material they could find, to create a trap that would stop an aggressor. Jana and I developed a rubric, not for a grade, but as a guide for their thinking. Each group had to reflect on the STEAM elements, as well as respond individually as to how their group worked together, design flaws and challenges, and whether they thought their trap worked as planned.

The day was nothing short of amazing! In the individual and whole group reflections in my class, I heard things like, “It showed us the stress Rainsford was in”;  “I don’t know if I would be able to think on my feet like he had to”; “Our trap didn’t work because our string was too thin. We should have added a small tree or bush limb”; “We had to listen to everybody’s idea and use pieces of each one”; “We should do this again because we can live the story.”

I am excited about this school year! Just like my students, I needed another person to bounce ideas off of to get a maker movement started, at least in my department. Jana is very good at imagining these kinds of ideas, and I’m very good at getting the curriculum targeted. It takes both levels of thinking to Make Space for Making, and I look forward to continuing these experiences.

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