Learning Innovations Conference Sparks Creativity Through Maker Learning

More than 175 K-12 educators, Kent State faculty and pre-service teaching education students gathered in the Design Innovation Hub on November 4 for the annual Learning Innovations Conference.

The conference began in 2019 and “is designed to engage current and future educators in collaboratively exploring strategies and resources for innovating teaching and learning,” said Julee Henry, co-creator of the conference and director of Technology and Instructional Resources for the College of Education, Health and Human Services at Kent State.

The focus of this year’s conference was how educators can use maker learning in their classrooms to spark creativity and interest in STEM. The topic of the conference, said Annette Kratcoski, the other co-creator of Learning Innovations and director of the Research Center for Educational Technology at Kent State, was born out of observations made by educators during the pandemic. 

 “Certainly, one thing we all learned from COVID is the importance of creativity and innovation,” Kratcoski said. “If our job as educators is to prepare students to successfully navigate an ever-changing, unpredictable world, we must do everything we can to develop abilities to be creative, to be innovative, to be able to design solutions to solve problems and do so in a way that is human-centered and grounded in empathy.”

From robotics to 3D printing, attendees had a wide range of topics to choose from out of more than twenty workshops held throughout the day. One workshop about how educators can make their own makerspaces in their school was popular with teachers eager to modernize and advance their students’ education. Laurie Green, who runs a website that provides STEM resources for educators, led the workshop with the goal of expanding knowledge on a topic many teachers are already interested in but do not know where to begin.

“They keep hearing a buzz about makerspaces, but they’re not quite sure what they are or what they do,” she said. “So, I think this particular session helps them to understand what the buzz is all about and how it can fit into their school.” 

Green, who also goes by Mrs. Geeky, provided examples for educators to base their future makerspaces on. From simple paper crafts to complex coding projects, there was a design for every grade level and budget ensuring an opportunity for all students to create.

 “Because really, the future of jobs, the future of our community, is being able to create, to invent something out of nothing and to use those problem solving skills,” said Green. “We want equity for all students, so all students should have the benefit and access to a makerspace and the things that it holds.”

Another workshop brought a surprising twist to makerspaces: the traditional art of sewing. Vicki Turner, director of Technology for Berea City Schools, shared how embroidery technology ignited her students’ creativity and improved their mental health. 

“Sewing is more than just something that you can do creatively, it also has function,” Turner said. “So you can upcycle or make your own clothing; it's very therapeutic, there's research that it's very calming, helps with anxiety, depression and just kind of steadies your nerves. It's also not gender specific, so anyone can do it. And it's just one of those necessary things that probably everyone should be able to know how to do.”

She provided examples of intricate designs made on the same machines used by her students in class, along with an already tested plan for educators who now want to do the same in their schools. At the end of the workshop attendees gathered around looking at samples and checking over notes, excited by the new opportunities. 

“Our goal is that the conference will provide a rich professional learning experience for those who are interested in learning how they can prepare students to be future-ready by empowering them to be creative, innovative, human-centered problem solvers. Maker learning provides a context for doing that,” said Kratcoski.

Learn more about the Learning Innovations Conference.

POSTED: Tuesday, November 22, 2022 10:56 AM
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2022 07:16 PM
Alton Northup