10 Tips to Get Your Makerspace Started

By | Classroom, Maker Movement, Problem Solving, Sem categoria, teacher training | No Comments

Makerspaces are ideal places to grasp what happens when learners work directly with manipulative media- clay, scratch, circuitry, legos, movie editing apps, etc. to interact, create and share.


About the Maker Movement

The maker movement is hardly something new.  It’s been around in the U.S.  for over a decade now with big resemblances to shop classes, traditional art education, and progressive education. With an important focus on soft skills, such as collaboration, problem-solving, sharing, learning together, experimentation, and iterative processes, the making at the heart of this resurgence in educational settings is unique in many ways.

First, we need to distinguish making from Maker-Centered Learning.  In the book Maker-Centered Learning – Empowering Young People to Shape their Worlds, the writers state that Maker-Centered Learning (MCL) goes beyond acquiring maker abilities (coding, digital illustrating, video making, drilling, fast prototyping, etc.) or discipline-specific knowledge and skills. It’s about building character, gaining creative confidence, knowing how to collaborate with others and being resourceful when confronted with challenges. The resurgence of making in educational settings is about opening a space in school where kids gather to create, invent, tinker, explore & discover. It’s also about having students learn from one another and create visible representations of their learning – be it a stop motion video, an animation or a game with scratch, a 3D print project, a circuit, a rocket, or a sand castle.  MCL provides people with tools and ideas to rethink educational settings. But how to start? How to harness the power of making in my classes? What tools to get? What do teaching and learning look like in these so-called MCL environments?


Tips to get your makerspace started

1. Any space can become a makerspace

Do not wait, you have lots to learn and you’d better get started. The easiest way to start making connections to the classroom is to get as many people involved as soon as possible. At Casa Thomas Jefferson, the initial approach was to bring the movement to libraries. Before the dedicated space for making –  CTJ Makerspace was inaugurated, teachers, librarians, students, and the community started experiencing with tinkering and  the idea that a school library is a place for collaboration, active learning, engagement, discovery, and surprise.

  When you start a makerspace in a library you send your community the message that the way people learn has changed, and that the school is learning together. Just find some room for a table and encourage tinkering, play, design and engineering challenges and open-ended exploration. Start with low cost and low tech challenges in a space where people feel welcome, challenged, and eager to learn how to make something of value to themselves or their community.

2. Realize early that it’s about building communities and having a maker mindset

Network, visit other makerspaces, read, share, challenge yourself to learn new abilities and be resilient. Participate in maker workshops and observe closely how the sessions are delivered and learn what teaching and learning feel like in action. Bring makers, enthusiasts, hobbyists, engineers, partners, teachers into a creative space with easy access to manipulative media. Look for partners and together find ways to offer the community a space to connect with ideas, tools, and people to fix, create, hack, and make new things. Most importantly, do it together with people who believe that the educational system needs a radical change and that we can help improve it.

3.  Remember it is about the learning experiences, not just the technology, the tools or the physical space

A makerspace can be anything from a table full of craft supplies to a space with 3D printers, laser cutters, and power tools. However, in time you will become more adventurous and willing to experiment with the possibilities of fast prototyping within educational settings. Put yourself in a position in which you will need to learn from tools, the internet, students,  experts, and community members. Again, visit educational makerspaces to learn about how educational narratives are designed, what people are making, sharing and learning. Worry about which tools and machines to get once you have become more familiar with the concept.

4.  Understand maker-centered educational roots and connections

John Dewey‘s work emphasizes learning by doing.  The philosopher understood knowledge-making as a dynamic process that unfolds as learners are engaged through reflective, iterative interaction with the practical demands and challenges of doing things in the real world. Two educational theories that connect directly to MCL are constructivism and constructionism. Jean Piaget argued that knowledge is constructed via the interaction between the learner’s conceptual schema and their experiences in the world to which these schemata are applied.  At the core of MCL activities there is a strong focus on tinkering and figuring out solutions to challenges, and both processes start with one’s own ideas and the inclination and sensitivity to opportunities to shape these ideas through direct, experiential action.

Seymour Papert, considered by many the father of the resurgence of making in educational settings, holds in his view (Constructionism) that learning happens at it’s best when learners work directly with manipulative media. Lego bricks, clay, coding apps, fast prototyping machines, or even recyclables.  Papert made clear the relationship between constructivism and constructionism, the important emphasis on making tangible projects, and the inclination to sharing what one makes with a wide audience throughout his work.

In a maker-centered classroom, facilitators encourage students to work together to solve challenges and derive inspiration from one another’s work.  Peer learning and the work of Lev Vygotsky, relates heavily to MCL, for he promoted the idea that all learning is social. His concept of proximal development is highly applicable to the variety of peer learning that happens in a maker-centered class. Although peer learning is not a new concept, it is important to note that for MCL, peer learning is crucial either because learners genuinely know a lot, or because the efficient distribution of skill-instruction requires it, especially in case you have a large group who needs to learn a maker ability in order to perform the task and the fastest way to disseminate knowledge is by having students teach one another.

MCL has strong connections with Project-Based Learning (PBL). Both MCL and PBL are interest driven, may use expert knowledge and skills, are frequently collaborative, use learning technologies from paper-and-pencil mind maps to a variety of digital and analog tools, and students are expected to create tangible products that make the learning processes visible.

But the differences are worth noting

  1. MCL might not be as well structured as PBL is. That is, for MCL, the learning experience might start with simply tinkering, opening a toy, or observing a system or product so that the inquiry questions emerge from student’s interactions with materials. MCL brings opportunities to build a maker mindset and build a tinkering attitude towards learning – a playful, failure positive way to approach challenges through direct experience, hands-on engagement, and discovery.
  2. MCL is not a well structured instructional approach as PBL is. PBL has a set of criteria which are often used to frame an entire curriculum. It might be the case with MCL, but for the most part, it weaves in and out of varied learning contexts.

5.  Create a  shared view of what MCL should look like in your school and build a bridge to your curriculum

Perhaps the best way to start implementing ideas into the classrooms informed both by progressive learning theories like John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Seymour Papert, and Lev Vygotsky and educational approaches like peer learning and PBL is to start thinking about the new words and jargon that we are using when we talk about MCL. Project Zero suggests a  symptoms-based approach to point out characteristics that suggest what qualifies as a maker-centered experience but do not strictly define what the essence is or is not. In other words, a MCL experience need not include the full set of characteristics associated with such experience to qualify as one; rather, exhibiting a majority of these characteristics in any configuration suffices. Makerspaces are ideal for asking questions, prototyping ideas and learning by doing. We take inspiration from the book Maker-Centered Learning to attempt at drafting our own definition of  MCL to guide us into designing MCL activities for our institution so that we have a single tool to validate practices, build confidence and competence, and strengthen our internal expertise.


6. Experience inspirational learning communities

7. Explore Apps and Tools for creators

8. Research, implement, reflect, tinker, and improve your practice

9. Belong, make sense, be brave, proactive, and build in yourself creative competence and confidence to make things happen

Read about CTJ Makerspace maker workshops specially designed to connect people,  foster the maker capacities of looking closely at products and systems, exploring complexities and finding opportunities to improve things around us.

10. Be generous and share your learning path.

Makerspace & EFL | Unique Learning Experiences

By | 21st Century Skills, Classroom, English, Maker Movement, Makerspaces, Problem Solving, STEAM Activity, Testimony | No Comments

To solve the many problems we humans are bound to face, we will need to have people who know how to collaborate and efficiently put thoughts and skills to work together to solve challenges. So, it is phenomenal when teachers see their English Teaching practice as malleable and experiment with Maker-Centered Learning [MCL] within their curriculum so as to provide youth with exciting and dynamic learning experiences. Last week, a CTJ teacher, who loves seeing teens thrive and engage in the learning process, brought her group to the school’s makerspace. Her journey underlines some of the real benefits of adopting a framework for Maker Empowerment. What you will read below is Elizabeth Silver‘s testimonial of her class. Enjoy and become part of a growing number of educators willing to experiment and identify the  benefits of MCL.


“Want to do something fun and easy with your class? This activity is adaptable to any level and can be done in both the Makerspace and/or the classroom. The challenge is to see how much weight dry spaghetti noodles can support. This idea was inspired on 5B’s Unit 9 – Engineering Wonders.  To take better advantage of the content offered here, I went looking around in the internet for something to construct with my class. I came upon these two sources:

What you need in terms of materials

  • A couple of bags of spaghetti (the cheapies will do)
  • Styrofoam boards – about 3cm thick and 1 meter long (I used one for each group, but you could cut it in half)
  • Box cutters/craft knives/utility knives (whatever you want to call them)
  • Objects to put on top of the dry spaghetti to test strength
  • Baggage hand scale to weigh objects (I happen to have this, so I made use of it. You could just estimate the weight or even use vocabulary of comparatives and superlatives to talk about the objects).
  • Optional additions are LED lights and batteries, which give the students another level of making/designing. I also had on hand markers, paper, string, toothpicks and scissors – but NO glue, which would defeat the purpose of the activity.
  • Design Thinking form – the outline for this is on the PPT. I have the students copy it down, do some pre-design thinking on the objectives, materials available, how they plan to execute their idea and their expected outcome. Here is a perfect moment to include target language. After they do the activity, they revise their forms according to their experiences. Then I have them hand it in for basic corrections and as a way to wrap up their findings, thus leading to a class discussion. I also do this to stimulate critical thinking, reflection and analysis.
  • Slides


Figuring it out

They were so engaged! They took it upon themselves to divide into groups, got the material (even asking if other Makerspace material was available for use), and spoke only in English (this time I did not have to insist on that); they cooperated, collaborated and shared ideas. The final structures were so different, showing the diversity of thought among the students. The Makerspace staff, who provided support and ideas, readily assisted them.

Developing a sensitivity to design

The result of this experience was beyond expectations. We used the Makerspace, which in itself takes your class to another level – what I like to call a ‘shift’. The idea above is not in and of itself so innovative or technological, but the dynamic that took place with my students was phenomenal.

Learning from tools and from others

At one very cool moment, two  Makerspace staff members brought out a specialised tool for cutting styrofoam and demonstrated how to use it (less mess than a box cutter). The class stood around them watching how it works, and they were in such awe that they literally let out a collective “AAAHHHH!” The word we heard the most from them during it all was “satisfying”. Summing it up, we had fun – smiling, chatting, joking, laughing. It was akin to a social event. They are begging to go back… to be continued.”

Elizabeth Silver is a teacher at CTJ since 2012 
and is always looking for different ways to 
ignite the learning spark in her students.



Access Students at CTJ Makerspace

By | Classroom, Digital Literacy, English, Evento, Maker Movement, Makerspaces, Sem categoria, Smithsonian | No Comments

The English Access Micro scholarship Program (Access) provides a foundation of English language skills to youth ranging from  13 to 20 year-olds from economically disadvantaged sectors. The program makes available  after-school classes and intensive sessions in well known language institutions.  Access gives participants English skills that may lead to better jobs and educational prospects and Casa Thomas Jefferson is always careful with the design of the lessons and material choice so that access students are offered the best teaching practices.

On November 11th, 60 access students came to our makerspace and our staff  provided them with learning opportunities  specially designed  to “fulfill the human desire to make things”. Our team used years of teaching experience aligned with the knowledge we have gained making our space to design activities for our access students. During the sessions, students worked in groups and had to perform three tasks. The underlining assumption in each of the tasks was that success in a knowledge society is not about knowledge alone. Learning environments  must focus on building a culture of innovation, beginning by creating a foundation for lifelong learning. All the activities motivated collaboration and  provided students with digital and analog tools to support learning practices that inspire such culture.





By | American Spaces, Classroom, Digital Literacy, Makerspaces | No Comments

CTJ Makerspace  fosters a community of committed teachers, who are eager to learn new technologies to implement in their classrooms. During the first EdTech Hub in the makerspace, teachers were exposed to  Stop Motion Studio App  that makes  creating stop motion videos really easy. The Edtech facilitator, Mariana Sucena, guided teachers into the task of  preparing short videos based on  pieces of reading from varied  levels: Junior, Teens, Flex Flex, or  Top Flex.  In sync with the maker spirit, teachers learned by doing and were really excited about the power of integrated activities: reading, making, and  using technology with a clear pedagogical goal in mind. Educators left the session with some feasible and exciting ideas to engage their students. It was a creative and exciting day at CTJ Makerspace. Please, see what some very creative teachers created below.

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Google Forms

By | American Spaces, Classroom, Digital Literacy | No Comments

There are many ways to promote engagement and making in the classroom. Using gadgets to give students the opportunity of being producers of content is a not only effective, but also very relevant nowadays. I am teaching a group of 12 very active teens, who are constantly talking about their idols and favorite songs. On the very first day, I asked them to make a list of singers they enjoy listening to. When I realised that the book I am teaching (TimeZones 2 by National Geographic) had comprehension questions about a teen fashion idol, I guessed it would be a good opportunity to engage students in a sentence level grammar practice.

The first thing to do was to make a Google form myself, for I needed to understand how it works. I resorted to the list of students` favorites, and made an example form a quiz about Ariana Grande. I loved the possibility of adding videos and images straight from the web, but as with any other digital project with kids, I faced some challenges. I made a list here so that you can learn from my experience and have a wonderful digital maker learning experience with your students too.

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Internet was slow

I could not get my students to open the form in class because the connection was slow and many iPads were not logged into the right account. Fortunately, I had saved the link, and I projected the form using the classroom`s  projector. The result was an engaged group of students performing the task I.

I decided what would engage students myself

Some of my students were really excited, but others were not so enthusiastic since they do not like Ariana that much. The result of my making a form about a person I assumed students would like could have been catastrophic, but, as it turned out, I was very lucky. Students asked me if they could make their own questions about their own idol, so the activity moved from students answering questions on a form to having them actually make their forms, practice language, and  learn a digital skill.

I did not know how to facilitate students` making their own forms

Having set the model, I wanted my students to make their own forms because I was aiming at having them produce digital content and language, but I had no idea how I would do that. I learned from Thais Priscila, an IT team member at Casa Thomas Jefferson, that students would have to access GoogleForms using the web, not the app. We had emails and logins ready for each group, and all they had to do was login one Ipad per group and start typing the questions and answers we had been working on.

I had no time to spare

To make sure everything would work smoothly, I made sure I delivered clear instructions and monitored the group closely.


Even after proofreading, students kept making new mistakes on the forms.

When students are ready to share, make sure you tell them to add you as a collaborator so that you can also edit the forms after they have finished. I took notes of their mistakes, and provided corrective feedback. We opened the forms and edited the language mistakes as a group.

Students made the forms. Now what?

language teachers know how to take advantage of learning possibilities. I will share with students all the forms so that they will be exposed to correct language and have meaningful exchanges of information in the target language.

IMG_20160404_144108774_TOP  IMG_20160404_144606177  IMG_20160404_144050279


I hope this posts makes you feel like using Google Forms with your learners. Check some of the forms students made below.

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Teaching Code through Digital Media: Hour of Code and Beyond

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This year’s Hour of Code during Computer Science Education Week (Dec 7-13) is about to start, and institutions willing to kick off simple and engaging makerspaces should learn how to design  learning how to code environment.  One of the main concern of parents and educators is the amount of time kids spend in front of their devices, and learning how to code can turn some of this comsuption into production time. The point of having coding events is that every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science. It helps nurture problem-solving skills, logic and creativity. By starting early, students will have a foundation for success in any 21st-century career path.

Last week, I watched a  webinar called Teaching Code through Digital Media: Hour of Code and Beyond. The ideas presented are appropriate for students age 10 and up and we learn methods to integrate coding into any subject area. To increase girls’ participation in computer science, Melissa provided an overview of Vidcode, a platform designed to teach programming by making video projects with code. Through a hybrid interface of block-based and syntactical code, Vidcode functions as a bridge between visual programming languages like Scratch and more complex text-based coding while tapping  into a hobby teens are already immersed in: video and photo sharing.

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Topics covered include:

  • How to incorporate code into other disciplines through creative projects
  • How to participate in this year’s Computer Science Education Week
  • Projects ideas for semester and year-long classes
  • Introduction to the Vidcode interface and curriculum and ways to get started right away
  • Explanation of continued training and support for both computer science and non-CS teachers

















Por que fazemos maker showcases?

By | 21st Century Skills, Classroom, Português | No Comments

Para fazer um maker showcase funcionar, trocamos muitos e-mails, fazemos toda a logística, nos certificamos de que todos os maker kits estão funcionando bem, colocamos tudo em caixas, saímos duas horas mais cedo para nos certificar de que teremos tempo para treinar um novo membro da equipe, colocamos tudo no carro e… Mais um showcase ACONTECE.

Temos uma rotina agitada, mas altamente reconfortante. Nós fizemos pelo menos dez maker showcases em escolas parceiras nos últimos três meses e podemos afirmar que o engajamento e entusiasmo dos alunos começa no minuto em que chegamos. Para todos os lugares que olhamos vemos pessoas:

  • Experimentando programação em uma plataforma muito amigável com Kano
  • Fazendo lindos projetos com Littlebits
  • Aprendendo conceitos de circuitos com Big Bits
  • Fazendo arte com Spinning art
  • Aprendendo sobre “physical computing” MakeyMakeys
  • Jogando para aprender com Osmos
  • Construindo circuitos impressos com Snap Circuits

Durante as nossas açōes do Mobile Makerspace, onde quer que olhemos, vemos pessoas que se deslocam alegremente de estação em estação aprendendo um conceito novo ao criar algo na vida real. Ouvimos perguntas como: Tem mais amanhã? Quando vocês voltam? Onde posso ir para fazer mais dessas atividades?

Um pai na semana passada me fez uma pergunta muito interessante enquanto eu ajudava seu filho a adicionar um dimmer no circuito que ele tinha acabado de fazer. “Você trabalha em uma escola de inglês, certo? Então, o que tem a ver o ensino da língua inglesa com coisas como programação, impressão 3D, circuitos e eletrônica?”.

Eu posso pensar em pelo menos três razões muito boas para um American Space fazer showcases. Makers representam conceitos da cultura americana, como: a busca pelo conhecimento, comprometimento, empreendedorismo; conceitos muito interessantes para se estimular em qualquer ambiente educacional. Ao participar de uma ampla gama de atividades em grupos, participantes apropriam-se (internalizam ou tomam para si) os resultados produzidos ao trabalhar em conjunto. Estes resultados podem incluir tanto novas estratégias ou conhecimento.

Mais uma vantagem de ter showcases é o fato de que temos pelo menos um mentor em cada estação para questionar os participantes e facilitar o aprendizado.  O conceito de Vygotsky’s de Zona de Desenvolvimento Proximal - área onde uma pessoa pode resolver um problema com a ajuda de um colega mais capacitado – pode ser facilmente observado nas interaçōes dos grupos enquanto trabalham juntos para superar desafios. Quando fazemos maker showcases, despertamos a imaginação das pessoas entorpecidas pelo genérico e o produzido em massa e convidamos os participantes a se envolverem com atividades que aguçam a genuína curiosidade. Todo American Space procura envolver participantes em atividades criativas e enriquecedoras para promover aprendizado e fazer a diferença na vida dos alunos e prepará-los para os desafios do século XXI. Agora, os American Spaces têm como aliado a força do Movimento do Fazer e todo o entusiasmo que o cerca.

Veja abaixo alguns momentos “maker” das ultimas semanas.

GRAFFITart + Maker Showcase @ CTJ-FAN  -

Mobile Maker Showcase @ Galois Infantil Águas Claras -

Mobile Maker Showcase @ CIMAN -

Mobile Maker Showcase @ Festival Literário do Colégio Santo Antônio –

Mobile Maker Showcase @ Feira de Tecnologia do Colégio Cor Jesu -

Mobile Maker Showcase @  Leonardo Da Vinci Asa Norte –

Mobile Maker Showcase @ Sigma Águas Claras –

Mobile Maker Showcase @ Sigma Águas Claras –


Families that make together…

By | 21st Century Skills, American Spaces, Classroom | No Comments

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 1.15.03 AM

The semester has come to an end and we must prepare our Top Kids students for the end-of-term party, when they show their loved ones what they have learned throughout the semester. We prepare songs, play games and shows the pictures taken during classes. The kids are dying to show off, the teacher is apprehensive and eager to please and the parents are passively waiting to see their money’s worth. What the parents might not expect though, is to have the opportunity to learn themselves something new with their kids. Yet, that was my idea when preparing the following activity.

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 1.15.12 AM

Me and the kids had been working on parts of the house, and tired of gluing and coloring, I decided to challenge my students to make a cardboard house with different rooms. Of course, they stepped up to the challenge and it was awesome. So awesome we decided to paint our houses the following class. They loved making a toy of their own, with their own touches and details. Every class they would me if they could they could take it home and I said they had to wait for the glue or the paint to dry, but that was not entirely true.

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Finally, it was the last day of class, they knew they were going to take their houses home, but little did they know I still had plans for them. After the circle time and the presentation of the songs, I asked them to come closer and pick one item from each box: a LED light and a button battery. Surprisingly, most of them knew what they were and their parents knew how to turn on the light just touching the battery. I told them we needed to finish our house with something that was missing and they got it: a lamp! I showed them the materials at hand (paper, masking tape, play doh, popsicle sticks, tin foil and paper clips) and the two prototypes I had previously prepares and I told them they had to make one of their own.

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To my surprise and amusement, not only did the parents help the kids, but they also enjoyed it a lot! They sat on the floor, explored the materials and tinkered until they reached a satisfying result. And the results were many, not one of the lamps was remotely similar to the models. It was just amazing to realize that no matter how old we get, we all have a kid and a maker inside of us, and they like a challenge!

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Helena Galvão

The Maker Movement and English Language Teaching

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The Maker movement has inspired teachers to explore interesting new tools and materials like robots, 3D printing, e-textiles, etc.  However, its focus on digital fabrication, hands-on craftsmanship, and programming seem perfect for STEAM, and not feasible for English Language Teaching.  ELT teachers wonder how they can integrate STEAM principles into their teaching reality and why they should do that.

Making something of value is thrilling and exciting, and maker activities in English schools can build problem solving skills, promote opportunities for meaningful exchange of information, and genuinely motivate students to use the target language to convey meaning. English language teachers have always used hands-on activities, but now we might do it interdisciplinary and focus on tasks that motivate learners to take the role of producers of shareable content and learning artifacts.

Last week, I co-presented a mini-course called Make it in the Classroom, and I asked Paola Hanna, a teacher at Casa Thomas Jefferson, to share some of her insights with the audience. She had a verb tense spinning wheel, and she used it as a model for students to make a learning artifact to learn collocations. Watch the following video for an overview of what happened and hear what Paola’s take on this task is.

How to Make your First Electric Car

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When I asked a student what he thought about making his own car, he told me that what he enjoyed the most was showig  everyone “the process he went through [and] the work he put into it.…”

This kid for sure has many nice toys at home, but it is simply fun when you make something you’re really proud of and other people are interested in it and give you compliments. 

Ideally, you provide the materials and let students tinker and design their own prototypes so that they experience what exploring and making is all about.

If you are a language teacher, you could use this activity to teach superlative and comparative forms of adjectives. Students could create their cars and have a race to practice language. Alternatively, you could start making the car and having a race; Students will probably need to use comparative and superlative forms, and they might start using it (with teachers help) before being formally exposed to it.

What you’ll need


How to make it

How to Make Your First Wearable Circuit

By | American Spaces, Classroom, English, Sem categoria | No Comments

1235950_10155029437205107_6780974537386070107_n     Making simple wearable circuits is usually a big hit in makerspaces. This simple project might entice young makers and empower them to set creativity free and experiment with different materials. You could ask  children to make masks, monsters, hats, stuffed animals, or let them play freely. 241125_764018243669849_5141205968619777668_o If you are a language teacher, you could carry out one of the following tasks:

  • Ask students to create characters for  storytelling.
  • Have students make their own monsters to practice describing features.
  • Have students create a product and advertize it using modal verbs.

Here is what you will  need for this project. 10264036_774295072642166_1059743152918155543_o

How to Make an Electric Insect

By | American Spaces, Classroom, English, Sem categoria | No Comments

photo 2

The idea of making your own circuit is very empowering. There is something magical about being able to make something for the first time, and people who engage in these kind of activites learn much more than circuitry; They learn that they can actually sit down and try to understand how things around us work.

This is a simple maker project that you can offer in your makerspace to reach different learning goals. In a language class, a teacher might propose this task as aprompt for a writing activity, teach narratives, or build a sense of community, for people will need to interact to succeed.

What you will  need:


Tools; hot glue,soldering iron and solder



Display all the materials on the table and ask participants to tinker. Do not show them how to do it, but ask questions to trigger thinging.

How to Make a Doodler

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When Glauco Paiva told us to build a doodler, I had no idea where to start. I could see all the materials on the table and some people seemed to know what they were doing. Feeling a little lost at first, I decided to get my hands dirty and started my project. So, every time someone celebrated an accomplishment, I went there and tried to learn from it. Slowly, my own doodler got ready and I could also celebrate and see first-hand how rewarding it is to learn collaboratively. I felt the thrill and excitement of making something functional, and students who experience this feeling might be more involved and attentive. My take on this activity is that there is something very exciting about making something from scratch, and hands-on learning followed by reflective practice might boost and deepen learning. If you are a language teacher just like me, you might be wondering how to use such an activity in your language school or lesson. Here are some suggestions:

What you need

10714132_774338982637775_6348503000731894662_o (1)


  • Ask students to write a narrative using past tenses or a sequence paragraph.
  • Teach conditionals.
  • Practice reported speech by reporting the interaction among people during the activity.



From Plastic Straws to Spider to a Bandstand with a Swing: Making and Letting Imagination Go Wild

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10801951_762669793804694_3629100874132611237_nRead what our guest blogger Jose Antonio da Silva has to say about his experience with the Maker Movement.In a recent plenary for a Braz-TESOL local chapter event, Gisele Santos told us that we teachers were all makers. She was right: we really are. We are always planning lessons and creating materials for our classes. Our students, however, are in many occasions very passive participants in the learning process. We do try to get them involved, but we approach content with abstractions that require them to think without necessarily involving one of the most powerful tools they have: their hands. Having that in perspective, maybe we should rethink what we do in class and try to design activities that make use of brain/hand coordination more often and use the required language as a tool to accomplish making tasks.

One specific event was what made me ponder about the role of making in a language class and what it entails as a pedagogical practice. Just last week, I had the privilege of being a member of a group of educators   invited to a makers’ workshop with Glauco Paiva. This event was sponsored by the American Embassy and had teachers from several institutions. My invitation was a maker kit: a brown bag with a package of white plastic straws and connecting pieces. The task was to create an object and send a picture to the organizers when I was done. In the beginning, I was a bit paralyzed but it did not take long for the child/maker in me to awake. A little clumsily, I started fiddling with the pieces and in my mind there were lots of possibilities: a Gaudi style cathedral, our national congress building, and so on.


Once the enthusiasm and the deluge of ideas receded, I had to deal with the constraints presented by the task, my limited designing skills, and the material I had in front of me. One may say constraints are a drawback, but on the contrary, they are the springboard of ingenuity. Limitations help bring to life the engineer in each one of us. Therefore, asking our students to make something with limited resources challenges their creativity and inspires them to strive for innovative solutions. So, as I played around with my maker kit, I first came up with spider. As my imagination ran wild, I saw how that spider was a metaphor for how this tinkering with my hands had taken over my digital life. I decided to capture that insight (see picture below). Some of my limitations did not allow me to snatch the full scope of this spider crawling over my laptop. I felt like a child and imagining myself telling this story about a spider. That is what making does, it starts with our hands and brain working together, but then it triggers other creative processes that are so important for learners young or old.


After examining my crawler for a while, I decided it was not good enough and said to myself that I could make something else: a bandstand. I dismantled the spider, got some scissors and cut every straw in two halves, put pieces together and got my bandstand with a swing in the center and little boy swinging. I was a bit disappointed because my boy would not stand upright, but it was clear to me what it was. At that moment I realized I could tell a whole story about that place, that character in the swing and the whole city around it. So, it was making with storytelling.


I know my designing skills are poor and the final product is crude. However, I also know that when it comes to making is the reflection that takes place afterwards that matters. Therefore, after playing I thought about what such an activity  could to my students. Giving them an opportunity for using their hands to create something might prove to be a golden opportunity to exercise their minds, hands, and hearts. I could visualize the kind of language they could use while putting pieces together (conditionals, imperatives) and I could also see the stories they would tell about their final product. It would probably be an endless story because they would keep improving design, process, and the final product in their minds.


Christmas in the Making

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Building a maker mindset in schools motivates people to become makers, give it a try and take things apart to try to do things that even the manufacturer did not think of doing. While technology has been the spark of the Maker Movement, it has also become a social movement that includes all kinds of making and all kinds of makers, connecting to the past as well as changing how we look at the future. Teachers who embrace the movement witness how students learn from others, what zone of development is in practice, and how important it is to foster collaboration and creativity.

Read below about making in class from a teacher`s perspective.

SONY DSCHelena Galvão -It´s the end of the semester, and we begin to say good-bye to our groups. At Casa Thomas Jefferson, we have the opportunity of having our Kids groups for a whole year; we get to watch our students’ development closely, which makes us (teachers and students) eager to show their families how far we have come. For that reason, at CTJ, we throw an end-of-term party on the last day of class. We prepare for weeks, we practice songs, we make a portfolio, and we tidy our classroom to get ready to showcase our English skills. After singing songs and showing pictures, there is usually a lot of time left and, as a teacher, we like to enjoy that precious time to involve family members and students in a meaningful activity to wrap-up the semester.

Having that objective in mind, we came up with an idea for an arts and crafts activity: making a snow globe, but we didn’t want to simply give instructions to be followed. Having a maker mindset to guide us, we thought of giving family members and students a set of different materials (paper, popsicle sticks, sequins, glue, glitter-glue, cotton, ribbons, etc.) for them to decide how to make their own original Christmas tree. Of course we didn’t leave them in the dark, we gave them a whole sort of visual references to spice up their creativity. There was a catch though; they had to construct a tree that would fit inside a glass globe. At this point, we didn’t explain why the tree had to fit the globe, but they soon started to realize what they were about to make.

The kids approached the tables with the materials shyly, whereas their family members didn´t approach them at all. We had to invite family members to join the kids who were, at this point, sorting through the big amount of options they had. Some had an idea and followed through with it; some had to tweak their ideas in order to make them work; some had to start again, for their first idea hadn’t worked out; some had to make the tree smaller; but all of the teams were able to accomplish the task.

It came as no surprise that the teams managed to give up their reluctance and shyness and finish their trees; the biggest surprise was that the teams started blending and helping each other. It started because of two little kids who didn’t have any family members around, and it went on because a mother had a baby on her lap and someone needed to help her kid. Fact is, I turned around to close the first snow globe and when I turned back I saw about twenty people working together and sharing.

In order to accomplish what I had hoped for in this end-of-term party, I had to plan in advance carefully, but the best part of the party was definitely the unexpected outcome of challenging people: the community feeling that makes them share. Well, if that is not Christmas spirit, I don’t know what is.


Brown Bag Challenge – Windmill

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As libraries around the world become more dynamic learning spaces, our classrooms and resource centers must offer participants opportunities to engage in collaborative, hands-on, interdisciplinary activities. To create new learning spaces you could make the bags and display them on a shelf for people to tinker with, use them for classroom activities, or create events in your institution to build a maker mindset.



In this challenge students get the materials on the label and race against time to finish the task in twenty minutes or less. To promote more practice and engagement, you could ask them to record tutorials or do a show and tell.


It works!!!!!


STEM Engineering Challenges for English Schools

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We have been adapting STEM Engineering Challenges for our English school, for nothing feels quite so exciting in any learning space as the productive buzz when students are passionately tackling a challenge. This sort of hands-on, mind-on learning promotes critical thinking, real world problem solving, and addresses a host of STEM content, which makes language production authentic and collaborative.

Planning a lesson with the Maker Movement in mind demands a combination of practicality and creativity, and the best way to help educators and institutions to start the maker movement is to network and collaborate.  In this spirit, here we share a list of some brown bag challenges we have already tried out in English language classrooms. See list of materials here. For more info and directions open the links below on the post



Floating ball

Rocket cars

iPhone Speaker

Marshmallow Towers

Pom Pom Cannons

Paper Helicopters

Roller Coasters

Paperclip Sailboats

Building Windmills


Zip Lines

Solar Ovens

Lunar Landers



How to Make Your Robot_ Maker Movement Makes It into Language Teaching Classrooms

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It’s easy to understand the enthusiasm of many teachers when they hear about The Maker Movement, for its experiential aspect and how it engages people with a kind of learning that triggers emotions and connection.  Some months ago, I came across a great tutorial that called my attention because the activities proposed have students explore and then brings in the theory behind them, which make learning significant and authentic. However, any teacher committed to learning might consider any change carefully. Do we have class time? Is this activity going to help students learn? How are students going to react? How can I facilitate learning? The maker movement is relatively new in Brazil, and early adopters are the ones responsible for reflecting, opening the way, and helping change teaching in private and public schools. Last week, Ellen Cintra proposed a maker activity to her teen students and shares her insights below.

UntitledI have been an English teacher for the past 9 years, 4 of them at Casa Thomas Jefferson, and the the contact with different technologies, from paper to Ipads, have always made me think about how I could improve my classes. When I am preparing my classes for Casa and for Fundação, where I teach Portuguese to sophomore high schoolers, I keep on thinking “How can I make use of different technologies and tools to prepare relevant activities that  basically present the “gain-gain” side of the equation (challenging and engaging, efficient and not too long) and fit my schedule? How can education really make a difference in these students’ lives?” These questions are always on my mind and after different conversations with Dani Lyra, who led me into this maker world (where I’m still crawling…), I was able to realize that we can make our teaching more meaningful when we give students different opportunities to manipulate and produce knowledge, try, fail and succeed.

I have recently had a first hand experience with the maker movement when together with Dani Lyra and Carla Arena at the former´s house I witnessed kids building a robot from scratch.

I then thought we could try it at Casa after working with Unit 11, from the Teens 2 course. The connection was clear: we had just talked about a robot (Asimo) and students had worked on readings and had watched videos about him… and they loved it! Next step was to produce a paragraph in which they would give life to their imagination and create their own robot. I tried to make the writing about the robot a fun moment and we speculated and played around with ideas about what our robots could do. Next, after talking to Dani, I teased them about how nice it would be if they could really produce a robot and when I told them we would really go for it, they were enthusiastic and looked forward for the big day!

The preparation included selecting materials at home, doing some more specific shopping for the missing parts and making a robot on our own, so that we really understood the steps for building the robot. In class, a little before taking the students to the Resource Center, where the librarians and school staff also helped by monitoring and guiding students, we brainstormed what the robots would be able to “really” do with the materials we were going to use additionally students started to think about closed circuits and equilibrium. Next, we started by eliciting vocabulary (the names of the pieces we would put together) and then we checked pronunciation a little bit. The students spoke in English most of the time, especially when they needed to use the target vocabulary. First students checked if they had all the necessary parts and then they connected the batteries while Dani and I prepared the containers by making holes  which would later receive different pieces. After that, students used plastic clamps to tie the batteries and the motor into the container and that was followed by attaching the switch. In the following class we continued by having students try to close the circuits and then we could see some more critical thinking going on: they tried, failed, asked a more knowledgeable mate, tried again, got angry, tried something new until they understood what they were doing wrong and how to fix things, so that they worked. It was great to watch students persistence and progress, as well as using creative alternatives to make their robots work. They used the target language, and relied on their peers and teacher to assist them with the “little bit” they needed to move on. In the end, students used different materials to personalize their robots and used some parts of the writing they had produced before to talk about their robots abilities. Teacher Dani recorded the students´ robots description and later combined the recording and the pictures of the robots using the app ChatterPix. Students then played around joyfully and left the class in excitement. They had learned lots of things and I can assure you that their brains were releasing lots of dopamine!

This fun and challenging activity could also be used in different scenarios, as for example in my Portuguese classes to sophomore high schoolers. I could tease students to think about technology and how we human beings can manipulate materials to suit our needs until we got into talking about robots. Then, I would challenge students to try to build robots in groups of 4 (I would give them the kits with everything they needed) and would assist them as necessary. After that, they could play around a little and engage into “competitions” before we started exploring written fiction related to robots and their use. An interesting link would be having students relax a little in the dark and listen to me reading an interesting piece of the book “Frankenstein”, by Mary Shelley. Next, they could work in groups or individually and elaborate a new end to the narrative.  Later, we would work on having their robots “tell” their stories by using the website “Blabberize”, which connects voice recordings and pictures the same way the app does. This could be extended to a more interdisciplinary approach by having other areas work cooperatively to enrich students’ critical thinking and scientific background. History, Philosophy, Sociology or Physics teachers could engage by bringing in discussions about Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics” and how circuits and energy distribution work; Geography and History teachers could talk about technological innovations and how they have changed history and the way humans socialize, produce and consume (food, equipments, etc); Biology teachers could have students think about alternative ways to reduce pollution by having robots perform certain roles and help in research.

It seems too much to be done… it really does. Nevertheless, once we give students the power to go after things, we reduce our workload and they actually produce and engage much more than if we just stood at the front of the class lecturing… I truly believe it is worth a try.

Brown Bag Challenges

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The Brown Bag STEAM Challenge-  Project Ideas for Engaging students 

This activity combines art, science, The English language and play. I’m not overselling it when I say it’s mesmerizing. Helena Galvão has been a maker since she was a little kid, and now that she has graduated in psychology, and has been a teacher at casa Thomas jefferson for a while, she advocates for the maker Movement in schools. We strongly believe that students need to be challenged and use the language they learn in authentic and meaningful situations to promote deep learning. Helena  was teaching her teens four group a unit in their coursebook that talks about invisible ink and had a great idea. Why not making the ink with them? She was set to organize this maker activity in her classroom for nineteen teenagers, but she did not stop there. We organized a science fair in the resource center, and the idea was to bring eight different challenges for students in brown bags; each bag had the name of the materials and what they were supposed to build with them, but no instructions on how to do it. Then, students had to write a how to manual using the language in the unit (going to) for a digital show and tell. They took photos of their inventions and recorded the tutorial using the app ChatterPix. It was just amazing to see how much language production and  interaction took place. For a better idea of this maker activity watch the video below.

My Robot Can Talk!

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The Maker Movement is relatively new here in Brazil, and I believe it has come to stay. Maker activities arouse curiosity and connect the mind and the body to highten the experience of learning. Curious students seem to have more energy, and they are more willing to participate and take risks. However, eighteen years as a full time English teacher has taught me a few things, and I do understand people when they say that our schedules are too tight, and that we do not have any class time to waste. Planning an activity with the maker movement in mind might take more time because it requires a combination of creativity and practicality, but the pay off is the time it saves as students are much more responsive, exercise creativity, and create a bond with the subject matter, classmates, teacher and institution.

In our school, we are modernizing our resource centers by making them more dynamic and enticing to students. Our idea is to have programs that teach about entrepreneurship and innovation, which are important aspects of the American culture and English language. And, also help teachers redesign their practices by offering them a learning space they can take students to and  that inspires creativity.

Last week, Ellen Cintra, a teacher at Casa Thomas Jefferson, was talking about robots as context to teach students the modal verb can. The Maker Movement is also about learning together, and that’s where all bi-national centers and English schools find opportunity to collaborate and make English teaching more meaningful, innovative, and relevant. Teachers can not settle for teaching only language because we have now the chance to work together and help students believe they can be makers who can create things to improve the world around them. Watch the video below to understand what happened in the resource center and see how engaged students were.


Making Personalized Games

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Amazing new tools, apps, materials, and skills turn us all into makers. Making in the classroom promotes learning that originates from direct experience. Educators worldwide agree that cognitively engaged students learn faster and many times free of behavioral issues so common in the traditional school environment. To get people in the educational system to agree with educators like Piaget, Dewey, and Montesorri is easy, but the question that lingers is how to bring back experiential learning when we need to deal with standardized tests, teaching for the tests, and the decrease of play and time to do projects. The answers are out there, and the shift towards experiential leaning come back is easy to spot in social media and the news. Small steps, and effort to change what needs to be changed is our way out of brick and mortar dull classrooms. Mobile learning is an easy way to start, since there are great apps out there nowadays for teachers to take advantage and bring to their classrooms the kind of learning that involves engagement, design , and building.

From my experience, Tinytap, an app created by an Israeli startup, provides the path for educators to create engaging learning opportunities to help students not only develop content related knowledge but also get empowered to use their creativity to learn how to learn and share what they make online with a rich and growing community.

This platform is a pearl because learners can easily create and play fun, interactive games from their own pictures and videos for their peers. Students can also make quizzes and games for younger kids, and we all learn that there is no better way to learn something than by teaching it. There are hundreds of ways to play with TinyTap, here are a few ideas to get you started. If you are:

A librarian –  Convey your message, advertize your reading events, promote books in a fun and unique way through a game, a digital challenge, train staff, and more.

A Brand – Create a game to engage with your target audience, specially kids! Send trivia quizzes about interesting topics. Turn fun institutional videos intogames, etc.

An educator – Explore the app in class so that students use se their personal images and videos to learn content is a VERY meaningful way. Content producers (students) who make  personalized puzzles,  record a soundboard, tell interactive story.


  •  Create your content oriented learning object for yourself or share it with your learning community or a much wider  audience!
  • Teach a concept, for nothing helps us learn a content more than teaching it .


See some examples of what you can do for and with your students in an EFL language classroom below:

Body parts


Teens - Superlative trivia quizz

Zoo animals

Family members











Magnetism Mystery Bag Challenge

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Kbrown bag 2Kids love challenges. They NEED to have space to tinker, play around and fail to become resilient and motivated to learn.  I was reading a blog post about how to unleash children’s creativity and the brown bag challenge, and I decided to adapt it to teach my English language learners.  In many course books, we have topics like the wilderness, hot and cold, or surviving as a springboard to teach second conditional sentences. What if we had a different lead in to arouse curiosity and gear our class into a dynamic environment using some principles of magnetism?


Tell students that they are lost, and challenge them to invent something using some of the items in the bag to help them out. But, tell them that they will have to do it in groups, it’s NOT a competition, and that they will have only six minutes to play around. Monitor students, and give them some tips when they get stuck.

e.g. What would you really need if you got lost?

What would happen if you hanged the magnet?

What would you need if you wanted to make a compass?

brown bag 2

What is in the bag?


Craft sticks and/or tongue depressors

compass rose

Small ring (donut) magnet


Masking or electrical tape



Paper clips