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Interview #10: Kim Sutton
As a teacher at the Catholic Education Office, Kimberley Sutton is passionate about inspiring and educating primary school children. Nowhere is this more evident than in her active and influential advocacy of the Maker Movement.
By incorporating Making into her classroom schedule, she’s changing the lives and mindsets of her students, helping them tap into their creativity, and showing them that learning and success can come in many different forms.
As an active Twitter user, Kim indulges her two interests - making and education - by participating in #aussieED and #makered.
Tell us a bit about yourself. As a teacher, where are you based and what subjects do you teach?
My name is Kimberley Sutton, and I’m a primary school teacher currently teaching year 6. I’ve taught classes in all levels of primary, as well as children ranging from early childhood to university, but my heart lies in primary education.
My favourite subjects are English and Science, and all the hands-on types of subjects.
How would you describe the Maker Movement to some of our readers who might not be familiar with it?
Usually, making in schools is similar to upcycling, where you take older objects, create new things and make them on your own.
In schools it’s a lot of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) based making, which incorporates things like science, technology and engineering, and has a specific purpose. The Maker Movement in schools is also centred around what happens in the outside world.
Making can be as simple as making games from recycled cardboard, or more elaborate, using resources like Arduinos and ThinkBots.
How did you get involved in the Maker Movement? Did someone introduce you to it or did you stumble upon it on your own?
It’s really funny when I hear people talk about the Maker Movement, as it sounds like it’s something that’s popped up recently. But when I think about it, I was a maker from right back when I was a kid.
My dad was a jack of all trades and loved making everything. He made aquariums and even made me a dressing table. I’d watch him, and then go grab the scraps, a hammer and paint, and make things too.
It wasn’t until a year or two ago when I heard about a maker space and the Maker Movement that I thought ‘this has always been happening.’ That’s really when I got back into it.
Meridith Ebbs (@imerinet on Twitter) is one of the people who got me into it more recently. She’s a teacher up at Port Macquarie who’s particularly passionate about STEM in education and getting girls involved in making.
Can you provide some examples of how you have incorporated the Maker Movement into your classroom?
I began on a small scale - my first maker space was in a little cupboard in my classroom, and the kids just pulled everything out. It had simple materials like LEGO, cardboard, boxes, scissors, glue and staplers.
At the start I said to my students ‘just make. That’s all I want you to do, just make.’ They started making things after they’d finished their school work. Sometimes I’d give them a specific project, or sometimes they’d make whatever they wanted.
Since then I’ve been gradually picking up things here and there. My classroom maker space still isn’t the biggest or most high tech, but it’s getting there.
I’ve now introduced things like Squishy Circuits, Arduinos, Makey Makeys and more LEGO. They can mix up the resources, so if they want to incorporate the LEGO with the Arduinos or with some cardboard they can go for it, which is the whole purpose of the maker space.
Recently I had some kids try and make a spacecraft when we were learning about space. They made it out of cardboard with little LED bits to replicate the dashboard; it was a bit of everything.
Right now I’m looking at a Rube Goldberg contraption in my room, so we’ve used a lot of paper and our recycled materials. One of our students wants to incorporate the Arduinos and the Makey Makeys too. I don’t know exactly how he’ll do it, but I know he will figure it out.
I think that’s what I love most. It’s not just that they’ve made something and are done, it’s about them questioning what they can do, how they are going to get there and how to build upon it.
How did your students react when you introduced elements of the Maker Movement into the classroom?
They had mixed reactions. Some were really excited and some didn’t understand what I wanted them to do. After a period of experimentation, some kids really showed their creativity.
One of them made a robot, and even though it didn’t move, other kids saw that and started to think about what else they could do and build.
Don’t get me wrong, some of them still didn’t go for it, but many of them jumped on board.
If one of them built something with LEGO they’d all start thinking about how to make it move, and the other kids would jump in with their ideas.
I’ve still got some kids that want to be told what to make, so I sit back and suggest they ask their peers for ideas about what to make. Then they’ve got a hundred ideas to choose from.
Can you tell us about any interesting local examples of teachers or schools getting behind the Maker Movement?
I think a lot of schools are making, but they don’t know it as the Maker Movement yet.
Quite recently Meridith Ebbs (@imerinet on Twitter) was at a school with Matt Richards (@sirmattrichards on Twitter), and they decided to create a big makerspace.
I follow both of them on Twitter and I think many things they do are completely inspiring.
I’ve also been talking to the principal of Scarborough Public School as they’ve just launched a makerspace, and even though it’s just starting it’s getting bigger.
More importantly, it’s about where they’ve started and how they’re building it up, much like myself.
Why do you think it’s important for schools, teachers and the education system to embrace the Maker Movement?
I find that making is almost like playing, and kids learn through play.
That’s a big part of my pedagogy. The manipulation and trial and error that’s involved gets them thinking. I believe it’s important that the kids don’t lose that sense of trial and error because then they won’t want to take risks.
Depending on what you are making, if you take a risk and it doesn’t work it’s not the end of the world. In saying that though, if my kids are playing with circuits or electronics I make sure they are careful!
I think it’s important for them to be creative too.
What benefits have you seen in children when they get involved in things like robotics and programming?
They become more creative, and things just come out of them.
My kids who made the spacecraft were scribbling ideas in their notebooks and using calculations they’d learned in maths even before they began to build it.
They’re also very determined when they’re working on a project – they keep working at it until they get there.
Making teaches them to problem solve, think outside of the box and not give up. They also learn to work together and get to have a bit of fun at the same time.
You’re pretty active on Twitter – how have you used it to connect with other teachers who are passionate about making and creating?
By following the hashtag chats I started to notice more people, and by following those people I started to find even more people to follow with similar interests.
There are certain hashtags and accounts dedicated to the Maker Movement - #makered #makerfair and #stemchat are my go-to hashtags. Once in awhile there are also great conversations on #edchats.
What I love is that you could start something yourself, and then you get retweets and people contacting you and asking advice, or you ask them advice. I love using Twitter for that reason – I think it’s the best form of PD (professional development).
Who would you recommend following for those interested in learning more about the Maker Movement? Any good hashtags you would recommend?
Along with the hashtags I’ve mentioned, I’d definitely suggest following @sirmattrichards from The Mind Lab (NZ.) He’s passionate and has done so many amazing things in the maker space. Also @imerinet and @makeredorg are fantastic.
When I was just beginning I did a lot of Google searches to research projects and ideas. With a few ideas behind me I bought in paddle pop sticks and cardboard, but after that I let the kids take charge.
There’s a lot of scaffolding that comes with introducing making to your students, like knowing how to explain what you want them to do, but that’s nothing that a Google search can’t fix.
My advice is to just start small. It’s taken about a year to get into the Arduinos and coding as I’m also fairly new to this, so I wouldn’t advise that anybody go straight out and buy a 3D printer. As your children become more familiar with the maker space these things will grow naturally.
There’s so many easy things to include, like the Makey Makeys or Little Bits that are magnetic snap together circuits. I’m almost certain that both of them have their own online resource centres, so you can join their forums and get inspired that way.
When you are creating things yourself, do you have a relationship with local maker spaces to borrow their equipment or meet others?
I don’t normally borrow things for my students but I know that there is that option. I mostly go hang out in Dad’s shed and op shops to find bits and pieces. There’s a place in Sydney called Reverse Garbage that I love too.
I know I should fully utilise borrowing but for now I just buy everything.
For adult makers, there are Meetup groups where people can start a profile and meet up with groups or individuals who share their interests. I am part of a maker Meetup and I’ve seen them create some amazing projects, like alarm boxes with Arduinos.
What is your favourite project that you’ve worked on or seen?
I love doing things with Makey Makeys. I get the little kits and figure out what I want to create, like a banana keyboard.
I like making the most ridiculous things, but I guess my favourite projects are the ones that the kids work on. It’s rewarding to be able to share my passion with them, and see them get excited and thinking about making.
Where would you like to see the Maker Movement go in the next five years?
I would love to see a makerspace in all schools, and even have variations that are friendly for kids from preschool to high school. They don’t have to be the biggest or the most expensive, it can simply be a space to give each kid a chance to make.
Most of all I’d like to see it help kids think about how they can make things that positively impact the world that we live in. That’s the most powerful thing a maker space can be a part of, and is where I want to see it go.
What can teachers, schools, and educational companies like Pearson do to foster and encourage more students to get involved in the movement?
I think teachers should embrace the movement themselves, and then encourage students to do the same.
I’d love more maker fairs to show the wide range of things that can be done, and educational companies to host fairs and conferences to further highlight the Maker Movement.
This year I went to SXSWedu and they had an area called The Playground. It was a lot of hands on making with companies promoting that this is what they do, and that blew me away.
Are you familiar with the work of ‘Super Awesome Sylvia’? What impact do you think she has had on the spread of the Maker Movement?
I was writing a unit on how light travels, and wanted to use a video that showed the kids how to make a periscope. A friend of mine told me that there was a girl on Youtube who makes things and that she had a video, which the class watched.
Some of my girls have continued to watch Sylvia’s clips and are inspired by her because she’s a girl. Even some of the boys are inspired because she’s a kid. It’s great!
I think the Youtube generation want to make videos and often idolise the people that make them, but they are nearly always adults. It’s not until they see another kid doing it that they realise they can too. Kids can also identify easier with other kids.
She’s become a role model for them, especially girls in my class who can see that another girl is making cool things, not a boy. They’re always requesting to watch more of her clips, and I encourage this by telling them to pick a project that we’ll then work on.
What do you think will be the biggest topics and trends the education world will have to deal with in the next 2 to 3 years?
I think definitely the Maker Movement will have a presence. I also think that coding and computational thinking will be especially relevant in Australia, along with their introduction into the national syllabus.
I even think things like the STEM and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) will be big topics and trends in the next few years.
Part 1. Super Awesome Sylvia - Making and creating: The Maker Movement and education
Kimberley Sutton is a passionate primary school teacher at the Catholic Education Office, who actively incorprates elements of the Maker Movement into her classroom activites.
An active Twitter user and an influential advocate of the Maker Movment, Kim has changed the mindsets and lives of many of her students, teaching them that learning comes in many different forms.
Follow her @TeachMissSutton
Since launching the 'In Conversation' series in 2015, we now have a collection of interviews to present, with more arriving each month!
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