Wednesday, January 9, 2019

3 Maker Tools to Try This Year

Maker learning is happening in schools and libraries.  It is an exciting time in education as we have so many tools and materials as our disposal.  Our classrooms and makerspaces are filled with so many options, how do we know what to choose?

When you spend time with students, it is always interesting to see what materials they gravitate towards.  Sometimes its the unexpected item that gets a lot of attention.  Other times, the things that you think are going to be a huge hit are actually a big flop.  Before I introduce materials to my teachers or students, I usually try it out at home with my own little makers.

It's exciting when I bring home a new product to try.  My sons and I love to tinker so we figure out how things work and play around with them.  That's really the heart of making, if you ask me.  It's that informal messing with materials that provide a creative spark or a new idea that pushes kids to think differently about whatever it is they are working with.

Right now my older son is loving Plus Plus.  These interlocking mini blocks can be used to build just about anything.  2-D and 3-D structures, people, or vehicles.  In a short time, my son used the images from the packaging to replicate a robot, flowers, and an airplane.  Pieces fit snugly together and are perfect for small hands. They offer flexible play on the part of the learner but can also be used to follow a set of directions to accomplish a specific end product.  We love the colors and the creative opportunity that Plus Plus offers to create and design whatever you want.

If you haven't heard about Buddha Board yet, you will want to give this a try.  Think relaxation meets maker education.  We all need the opportunity to step away from technology and do something to "de-stress".

Buddha Board is essentially a painting canvas that only requires water and a little imagination.  The brushstrokes are quite calming as students use the water to create sentences, images, or anything they come up with.  The challenge is that it doesn't stay for long. Within a minute or two, the water dries and the image is gone.  It's a great tool for brainstorming or sketching but is especially powerful when it comes to the mental impact.  Now I know that might sound a little far-fetched, but painting on the Buddha Board can really calm you down. It provides this zen-like opportunity for individualized creation that works for every student.
I recently stumbled upon Solarbotics, based on my youngest son's obsession with creating marble runs.  We have a plastic set which he builds and tears down a dozen times coming up with new and improved iterations.  When I found the Gravitrack from Solarbotics this took the idea of the marble run to a whole new level.  Adding battery and solar powered panels, allows the mechanisms to move the marbles at different points in the track.  Other models from the company include carousels and other machines that makers will love building, hacking, and remaking.

There are tons of great maker tools out there.  This post represents just a few fun options for the little makers in your life. They support both structured and unstructured play for students.  While you can't beat free materials like cardboard and some duct tape, these are all fairly inexpensive ranging from $15-$40.  Don't have the funds? You can always create a Donor's Choose post to add these maker tools to your space this year.  

Do you have a favorite maker tool that we should try in 2019?  Please post a comment below.  

Keep on Making!

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