On Friday, my high school juniors and seniors had a chance to show off what they have accomplished on their independent projects in the last four months. All day long, students of grades K-12 circled around them to hear about what they had created. They tried on a tutu, rode on the back of a bike cart, watched robots face off, and listened to music from an Arduino MP3 player. Most of all, they were amazed by what their older schoolmates had created and are now eagerly looking forward to making their own inventions.
During the first two years that our students created independent projects, the last few weeks before Maker Faire were a scramble. The deadline that had felt so far off suddenly loomed, and as challenges arose, students rushed to have something ready for the Faire. I wanted a way to motivate them to have a prototype done earlier in the year. I tried to set an earlier deadline, but it was artificial and few groups had something ready. Since students tended to be extremely motivated to work hard for the Maker Faire itself, I decided to hold a Mini Maker Faire at school in March to show off their prototypes.
And it worked.
Over the past two weeks, we checked in with each project group individually to set clear attainable goals for them to achieve by the Mini Maker Faire. During these conversations, I saw a shift in student attitudes. They started to feel like their projects were really coming together, and began to see their teachers and mentors as their collaborators in this journey. Many students groups and their mentors stayed until 8pm on our Tuesday work nights. And in the end, they all arrived on Friday with their projects successfully to the points that we had discussed.
Students spent all day Friday exhibiting their projects, while classes from kindergarten through 9th grade walked through in half hour slots. The younger students gathered round with their teachers in excited circles, asking questions and talking eagerly, while older students walked through more independently, more reserved in their reactions.
During a mid-day reflection, my students told me that it was motivating to see the excitement other people had for their projects. The chance to practice explaining their work helped them figure out what they could say. Most importantly, they expressed that it was a lot of fun showing others what they had accomplished.
The students have been thinking about and working on their projects for four months now, which is longer than most of them have ever worked on anything. Recently, a group wanted to completely change projects because they had lost interest in creating an electronic pop-up book, but I pushed them to keep going with their original idea. On Friday, as they were showing off their work, they smiled as they explained how LEDs work, and when they weren’t talking to other students, they actively worked on creating new prototype pages for their book.
By the end of the day, students informed me that the day was fun, but it was simply too long. I smiled and told them that exhibiting at the Maker Faire is even more exhausting — and even more exhilarating.