Choosing Materials That Matter

Educator chooses materials for maker lessons and activities based on student interests.
Made by Maker Ed
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Graduate-level credit is available for this micro-credential. You can apply for credit through one of our university partners after successfully completing the micro-credential.
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About this Micro-credential

Key Method

Educator engages learners to determine materials that matter to them. The educator works to find ways to stock these materials, build them into maker activities, and use them to help meet set learning outcomes.

Method Components

Planning and preparing a makerspace and the materials within it requires careful consideration and an ability to draw on the passions and interests of learners. As Charles Schwall, pedagogical curator at the St. Michael School of Clayton in St. Louis describes in “In the Spirit of the Studio: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia,” “materials have powerful capacities to represent, depict, and tell stories. Educators can discover this potential by designing contexts for learning that encourage students to use materials to search for their own strategies and invent their own solutions” (49).

In a makerspace, materials take on many forms. Marbles, cardboard, felt, recycled materials, Arduino boards, wooden blocks, straws – these are just a few of the materials one might find in a makerspace. From high-tech to low-tech to no-tech, the possibilities are vast and exciting. The list of High School Makerspace Tools & Materials in the Resources section describes many common tools and materials, where to find them, and important things to know about them, including information about safety.

Materials and tools are a means not only of creating things but also of making visible the thoughts, feelings, and ideas of young makers. It is very important to make available materials that learners will be excited about and comfortable using to create and learn (Chang et al. 27-28). Conversations surrounding materials and tools often act as a doorway to other important conversations about things like sustainability. Discussions around reused and reusable materials, for example, can help establish habits and mindsets of environmental stewardship.

To understand the materials that your group of learners value, an intake survey should be performed early on to determine what kinds of materials to have and restock in your makerspace.

Developing and Administering an Intake Survey

  • Although the questions will not always look the same on every intake survey, the goal is to develop an understanding of the materials that are meaningful to students, how they use these meaningful materials, and why they value them.
  • Sample intake survey questions:
    • “What do you like to do at home? What are some activities you really love?”
    • “What do you use?”
    • Avoid the phrase “what do you like to make things with,” as some students may not think about the things they enjoy doing at home, out of school, in school, as “making.”
    • “How do you use it?”
    • Have you created anything recently? Invented anything? Anything you’d love to create, invent.
    • “Why do you love using it?”
    • Encourage students to document. Write, draw, take a picture – somehow show what is meaningful to them.
    • Encourage students to share a story of how they use materials.
    • Once you have a sense of materials students value, think about integrations as well as extensions.
  • Integrations: How will you integrate these meaningful materials into your classroom activities, lessons, assessments, etc.?
  • Extensions: What additional materials can you provide that will complement, augment, and lead students to use their favorite new materials in new ways? How can you recruit from your school-based community, other local/regional relationships, and online entities (Donors Choose, Adopt a Classroom, etc.) to help acquire new materials and resources?

Be sure to continue the conversation around materials with your group of learners.

  • Look for patterns in what learners use and how they use it. Are there ways that these patterns might influence the choices of integrations or extensions you make?
  • Give learners opportunities to continue sharing their ideas and input.
    • Consider conducting smaller surveys throughout the year, or implementing some kind of system through which learners can continue to provide input on the materials they value.

Research & Resources

Supporting Research

  • Chang, Stephanie, Steve Davee, Maker Ed, Goli Mohammadi, Lisa Regalla. Youth Makerspace Playbook. Maker Education Initiative, 2015.
  • Gonzalez, Norma, Luis C. Moll, and Cathy Amanti. Funds of Knowledge: Theorizing Practice in Households, Communities, and Classrooms. L. Erlbaum Associates, 2005.
  • Makerspace Team & MENTOR Makerspace Pilot Educators. Makerspace Playbook, School Edition. Maker Media, 2013.
  • Regalla, Lisa. “Developing a Maker Mindset.” Makeology: Makerspaces as Learning Environments, edited by Erica Rosenfeld Halverson, Yasmin B. Kafai, and Kylie Peppler, Routledge, 16, 257-272.
  • Schwall, Charles. “The Grammar of Materials.” In the Spirit of the Studio: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia,edited by Louise Cadwell, Lella Gandini, Lynn Hill, Charles Schwall, Teachers College Press, 2015, 49-62.


Submission Requirements

Submission Guidelines & Evaluation Criteria

Following are the items you must submit to earn this micro-credential and the criteria by which they will be evaluated. To earn the micro-credential, you must receive a passing evaluation for Parts 1 and 3 as well as a “Yes” for each component in Part 2.

Part 1. Overview Questions

(200-word limit total per response):

  • In what type of learning environment do you work? (school, after-school, library, museum, etc.)
  • Ages of learners?
  • What subject(s) do you teach?
  • Do you currently have a dedicated space for making?
  • How do you currently choose materials for your space?
  • What safety considerations were made while determining what materials to stock?

Part 2. Work Examples/Artifacts

  1. Information collected from students, as well as the survey questions or other collection method through which you gathered that information
  2. A lesson plan that incorporates the meaningful materials
  3. Description (300-word max) of how educator envisions meaningful materials helping meet set learning outcomes

Part 3. Educator Reflection

(300-word limit per response):

  • After completing your initial intake survey, how do you plan to continue collecting and using the input of your group of learners?
  • What are some routines and procedures for acquiring new materials you might implement moving forward?
  • How can you invite others within your community to join in the collection of materials?
  • Did the materials your learners were excited by surprise you? Why or why not?
  • What materials might you supply to expand the potential uses of meaningful materials?

Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under:
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


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