Maker Day aims to encourage more hands-on activities in elementary classrooms

Schools & Students

Elementary school teachers from across the Vancouver school district spent their most recent professional development day hammering, filing and gluing for a hands-on experience exploring ways to bring more making into their classrooms. These 50 grade four to seven teachers gathered in Vancouver Technical Secondary’s wood shop for a Maker Day. Maker Day is a facilitated, immersive professional development session that asks participants to engage in design thinking and creative problem solving.

“Today they are making a bento box lunch kit,” says Nigel Reedman, Van Tech applied skills teacher and one of the organizers of the event. “The challenge is to think about eating healthy and come up with a lunch box that entices you to fill it with the appropriate things. They’re also looking at how to keep part of the lunch hot and part of it cold.”  

The teachers work in groups of four; each group has been given a bag of supplies and they have to use a little of everything. “Some of the materials are recycled like cardboard and styrofoam,” explains Reedman. “Some items are very crafty like little pompoms, straws or popsicle sticks, but we’re trying to encourage them to go beyond crafts so we also have things like strips and sheets of plastic, and pieces of wood. He adds that the elementary teachers also have access to the many tools and resources found in Van Tech’s huge wood shop. “How they put all this together is up to them,” he says. “It’s interesting to see what the different groups come up with.”

Reedman says this Maker Day is an important VSB initiative that could have big impacts for elementary school students. “We’re helping each other get our minds around hands-on design thinking and getting started on promoting manual dexterity at a younger age, because we feel like we are losing that,” he says. “When we get them at high school, in our urban environment, not only have they never used a drill, but some of them have never even used a screw driver. We hope we’re giving them some basic handy skills. It’s a good step in the right direction.” 

Van Tech metalwork teacher Jay Lo agrees, “We all see the inherent value of having kids who are better prepared when they show up here,” he says. 

Grade seven teachers talked about their takeaways from the day. “It’s great being able to do hands-on projects,” says a teacher from L’Ecole Bilingue. “It’s the act of striving for a solution that’s important,” adds another teacher from McBride. “It’s about the process of building, even with materials that might not be ideal. There’s a lot fun and there’s a lot of learning just from what can be found,” suggests a teacher from Maple Grove. 

Maker Day facilitator Deb Carter, the research project coordinator at UBC Okanagan’s Innovative Learning Centre, highlighted the far-reaching impacts initiatives like this one can have on the futures of many young students. “Studies indicate that by the time kids are 8 or 9, both boys and girls are starting to self-identify that maybe they aren’t good enough for sciences, maybe they’re not smart enough to be an engineer or mathematician,” she says. Carter believes applied skills and technology can turn that around. 

“We’ve looked at a lot of curriculum across Canada, and British Columbia is actually one of the few that has addressed applied design skills and technologies,” says Carter. “Lots of people are talking about it, but BC is actually putting it in the curriculum for K to 9. How terrific would it be to have kids go through eight years of this kind of learning, discovering the kinds of things they can physically do? They would then be able to get into all kinds of tactile jobs. I think that’s quite exciting!” 

Maker Day was funded by the Industrial Training Authority, which leads and coordinates British Columbia’s skilled trades system.

Maker Day at Van Tech Secondary