Over the past three years, we have been running Make-a-Thons across the state of Oregon. From the Willamette Valley to the High Desert and many places in-between, Make-a-Thons have been making a difference in terms of exposure to innovative and new ways of learning, teaching, creating with technology and collaborating. Innovative educational practice has always been at the core of the Make-a-Thon. Questions like “Can we teach adults and kids in the same room?” and “Can we do this with 300 people?” or “Can we do this in less time?” have been the fuel for us to find the edges of possibility when it comes to teaching and learning when we are no longer bound by grades, a bell schedule or even a centralized teacher. We have found that most of the time the answer is “yes,” it can be done and done well!
What is a Make-a-Thon?
Make-a-Thons have been single-day experiences, usually with 40 to 60 people. The group is lead by a single instructor for the day. The first half of the day is a time of learning and gaining experience around coding and circuit building. The participants usually work in pairs or groups of three during this time, with each group being a mix of adults and students. Everyone is given the same instruction in an interactive lecture.
In the afternoon, the groups are released to tackle a design challenge of their choice and build a prototype project that integrates inexpensive building materials such as cardboard, hot glue and popsicle sticks with their electronics kit. At the end of the day, each group presents their projects to the group. The final and important step to a Make-a-Thon is that all participants circle up and reflect on their experiences and are allowed to ask the question “What if…?” of their community and their schools.
Our concept for a Make-a-Thon first played out in Yamhill County, OR in collaboration with one of our partner organizations, Innovate Oregon. That first Make-a-Thon was a huge success, even with the overhead of using Arduino and it being most of the participants' first exposure to programming, let alone electronics and breadboarding. Once we recovered from that first Make-a-Thon, we know that it was something special and we dove into figuring out how to improve it. Since then, our documentation for the participants has become stronger and we transitioned the hardware to the micro:bit ecosystem, which has drastically improved the experience for participants and reduced the overhead on logistics for the events.
Make-a-Thons in the Wild
Since that first one, we have been running Make-a-Thons all over the state of Oregon as well as across the country.
Here are a few Make-a-Thons that we have run and/or been a part of that have been big hits and really pushed the limits for what professional development and learning could look like!
Early on, Central Oregon was a big believer in the Make-a-Thon and a true partner in the hard work of reimagining what innovating around STEM education looks like at the ground level. Through strong ties to the community, their technology sector and rock star educators, the idea of a Make-a-Thon just fit and has been a popular format for not only events that we have been a part of, but also as a format for district events that happen during the school day run by teachers in a student self guided way.
We have run a few Make-a-Thons in Central Oregon and will continue to support their efforts in bringing those types of experiences to their community, but also enabling those within the community to take hold of the concept and make it their own. You can read more about one of the Make-a-Thons we did with the Redmond School District from the Redmond Spokesman Article that was written about the event.
We are constantly finding communities that are interested in that spark of innovation in their community and there has been no greater partner to support that than Innovate Oregon. If you want to learn more about the Make-a-Thons we have run with them check out their blog post updates on Make-a-Thons and see if one has happened or will happen near you!
Innovate18! At Nike World Campus, Beaverton OR
Back in 2018, we had the honor to partner with Innovate Oregon and COSA to host and run the Innovate18 conference which took place at the Nike World Headquarters. We ran the largest Make-a-Thon to date with 300 participants which included students from the Beaverton School District, administrators and teachers from around the state of Oregon, as well as other partners, focused on using the micro:bit and our SparkFun Inventors Kit for the micro:bit.
It was a hit, and if you’ve ever wondered if using the radio function on the micro:bit with 300 people in the room could work… it does!
Deeper Learning Conference
One of our biggest supporters of the Make-a-Thon has come from the community of Dallas, OR, the home of La Creole Middle School were we have run a few Make-a-Thons and hope to do more in the future.
Jamie Richardson, the Principle of La Creole is all about innovating education through making and using the Make-a-Thon as a catalyst for that. He is also a huge believer in the concept of Deeper Learning, so much of a believer that he pitched the idea of running a Make-a-Thon at the annual Deeper Learning Conference!
The catch was shortening the usual length of time by almost half! We were game and ran with it. In the end, it was a wonderful success and Jamie wrote up the experience in an article you can find here.
Beaverton School District and Nike Hack for Health
Riding on the experience of the Innovate18 Make-a-Thon, we ran a Make-a-Thon for about 100 students at Beaverton School District. It was hosted at Beaverton High School in the fall and pulled students from across the district to come and spend the day learning how to program the micro:bit and then build some amazing projects. In the end, the only way to really share one another's projects was a Gallery walk Conga Line.
This spring, Beaverton School District partnered with Nike to host another Make-a-Thon at Nike World Headquarters. This time with a theme of “Hacking for Health” where all of the project prompts were themed around personal physical activity and health with a goal of building the “next greatest Nike health product.”
This Make-a-Thon was truly a brainchild of a small group of Nike employees in collaboration with the Beaverton school district who have been working to brainstorm ways that Nike employees can push into schools to help facilitate embedded STEM and computer science education in the classroom and build stronger bonds with teachers.
Recently, we were invited to participate in EurekaFest which is the annual showcase of projects by students and teachers participating in Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams. If you have never heard of InvenTeams, please look into it - we were dumbfounded by the projects that these students produced.
From a camera vision-enabled band saw safety device to a school safety system and even a robot to keep your house safe while in range of wildfire embers, our minds were blown.
Photo Credit: Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams
As part of their onsite design challenge on the final day, we had the opportunity to run a Make-a-Thon with all 200+ students and all of the Excite Award-winning teachers. That day was truly an honor to spend time with those students and teachers and, at the end of the day, we probably learned more than the students did.
For me personally, it was a bucket list moment to be able to teach those inspiring inventors on the MIT campus - the brainpower and enthusiasm were dripping from the walls.
Pop-Up Make-a-Thons with OCSTA
Most recently, we have partnered with Oregon Computer Science Teachers Association (OCSTA) to provide the Make-a-Thon as a pop-up experience to augment their SuperQuest professional development workshops across the state of Oregon this summer. We ran the first one with 30 teachers last week on Friday after their Wilsonville SuperQuest. That Make-a-Thon was a little different in that it was only teachers, but there were 2 brave students who hung out with us and, to be honest, showed all of the teachers up (Don’t tell the teachers that!).
If you are an Oregon educator and are curious about leveling up your knowledge around STEM learning and the technologies that go with that please check out the SuperQuest schedule. We are working with OCSTA to nail down which SuperQuests will have a Make-a-Thon, more to come through proper channels soon!
A Super Make-a-Thon???
This fall we are looking to iterate once again on what a Make-a-Thon could be. In partnership with Innovate Oregon and George Fox University in Newberg, OR, we are going to be attempting our first Super Make-a-Thon.
For the Super Make-a-Thon, the team format has been further defined as a delegation from participating schools and school districts that have been formed ahead of time. These delegations consist of 5 people: a K-12 student, teacher, community member, school district administrator and a college (George Fox) student. This delegation will be their working team for the length of the entire Make-a-Thon.
The place where the Super Make-a-Thon diverges from our standard Make-a-Thon is in its teaching and learning format. The Super Make-a-Thon doesn’t have a centralized instructor and we will instead opt for a master of ceremonies. The instruction time will be broken up into short 20-minute workshops and spread across the first day and morning of the second day. The schedule of these workshops will be posted and delivered in a just-in-time format where if groups feel they need to learn about a given topic, how to use that sensor, etc., they send someone to participate in that workshop session to glean knowledge and experience to take back to their group in hopes that it is an answer to a problem or a different way of doing something.
Here’s the real twist: the instructors of the just-in-time workshops will be the different teachers or students from each group. A month before the date of the Super Make-a-Thon, each group will sign up to present on a given topic and to teach one of the just-in-time workshops. This workshop can be presented by anyone from the delegation. Kits and example hardware will be sent out to each delegation to be able to get acquainted with the hardware they will be teaching on and using at the Make-a-Thon. At the allotted time during the Make-a-Thon, the instructor from their group will be required to deliver their 20-minute workshop to whoever shows up while the rest of their group is still working on their project.
Running Your Own Make-a-Thon?
If you are curious about running your own Make-a-Thon in your district, feel free to reach out! We are always game to put a spin on the idea and continue the process of innovating in the area of providing professional development and workshops in different forms.