What to look for in a DIY/maker/hacker/tinkering group for kids

(See What’s wrong with DIY/Maker Faire/hacking/tinkering for kids — and how we can make it better)

Checklist

Here’s what to look for:

- Are the kids’ ideas driving the making/hacking/tinkering? Make sure kids’ ideas are not only welcomed but needed.

- Are the adults following a curriculum or the children’s ideas?

- Are kids learning whatever the adults are teaching (generic) or are they acquiring knowledge and skills they need to do their own meaningful work (specific)?

- Are the adults doing all the teaching? Look for peer-to-peer teaching: kids teaching other kids.

- Is there an adult-imposed schedule or adult-imposed deadline? Kids should be free to learn at their own pace and explore connected ideas at will. Any deadlines should be authentically required within the work the kids want to do, not arbitrarily imposed.

- Are adults jumping in to solve kids’ problems or tell them what to do to avoid problems? Authentic learning is problem-producing and problem-solving.

- Do all of the projects look the same? You should see a wide variety of authentic kid-driven projects.

- Are kids following directions to complete a project? Kids should be building their own ideas from the ground up.

- Are children offered limited choice? They shouldn’t just be choosing which stickers to decorate their rocket with.

- Are follow-directions projects jumping-off points or ending points? Authentic, organic learning grows outward in all directions.

- Is there a revision stage (or, preferably, many revision stages)? Authentic learning requires iterations and revising/improving ideas.

- Are kids getting peer feedback during the making progress? Look for collaboration, suggestions, and kids extending one another’s ideas. Adults should be facilitating this and making it part of the process.

- Are the children working on real real-world problems or fake real-world problems? Kids should be producing work that is really going to be used.

- Are extrinsic rewards are being offered? Kids’ work should be motivated by their own desire to learn, make, and do — not collecting badges. Abundant research shows that extrinsic rewards kill self-motivation.

- Is your child the driver or the passenger? Look for kids who are making decisions, setting goals, and being supported to make their own ideas happen. Adults should be standing back and lending support when it’s asked for. Look to see who’s leading the learning in the room — the adults or the kids.

- Is your child choosing the skills he needs or someone is teaching him random skills? The gold standard is learner-centered education: personal, relevant, meaningful, purposeful. Don’t settle for less.