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Discuss Activity Design


Discuss Activity Design

Makerscouts is about 21st century STEAM activities. What would a modern activity look like for a 'scout troop' of young makers? Let's use this blog to discuss and design an Activity Template that we can use to design specific activities around science, technology, engineering, art, and math for youth.

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Do you mean STEM activities or is there an awesome A I'm unaware of?

I imagine them as patterns, like architecture or software patterns, with a canonical set of aspects and properties that describe the activity's elements:

  • the goal - what thing is being made? what principle or technique is being learned?
  • safety requirements or training
  • opportunities and benefits - how practical are the lessons being taught? are scouts able to benefit immediately from them, and use those skills for a lifetime?
  • reward and recognition - badges and/or points awarded
  • required skills or skill-level, or "how to unlock this activity with x badge", etc.
  • required materials, tools, and skills needed (prerequisites), in addition to where to find or buy the materials or tools, and where to learn the necessary skills (point to other activities)
  • an outline and/or scripts for guiding scouts through the activity - many formats available: text description (acting as a common factor and activity index), videos (especially with a recording studio), and external media as aids or whole courses
  • activity communication plan - pre-activity discussion (including safety), topic explanation and discussion during the activity, any special during-activity communication protocol, and after-activity discussion (scout and instructor feedback, peer review, analysis, lateral thinking about alternative outcomes, possible future activities)
  • expanded version with detailed notes for adult scout guardians
  • STEM & technology perspective - how is this activity enabled, enhanced, or otherwise affected by technology? What math techniques or science principles are used to achieve positive results? How can the scientific process be applied with integrity to learn and grow from the experience?
  • scout principles and values, and how they're relevant to the activity
  • lessons in the combination and blending of social values with technology - social responsibility, responsible use of social media, mindfulness and presence, transparency, etc. (a holstic picture)


The A in STEAM is for Art. 

Art is important because it can enhance the rest of the "STEM" subjects. Quilt piecing is an amazing way to learn geometry. Music helps develop understanding of mathematical concepts. Art in all its forms helps a person learn to look at things with new eyes, and that helps us find novel solutions. 


As a general guide I found this It gives a good array od activities and metrix for evaluating impact.


I attended a local TEDTalk discussion about Sal Khan and Khan Academy, where staff from Alverno College and UWM-Waukesha talked about how they're experimenting with new, more effective ways of educating students based on ideas like those of Khan Academy.

MIT and Harvard are teaming up on edX, an open source platform of high-quality, online courses provided free to (so far) over 120,000 people around the world. They talk about their partnership and goals here, and are poised to disrupt education globally.

I just learned that a local grade school and middle school, the Waukesha STEM Academy, will be incorporating several "grades" of students into a single classroom. Montessori did this with great success in the early 1900s, and found that older students helped teach the younger students, and in teaching learned the material much better.

What I got out of these talks (and more like them) is a set of essential heuristics about what makes these methods effective.

  • self-paced
  • short video segments (now commonly called KSV - Khan Style Videos)
  • peer interaction: tutoring, mentoring
  • flipped classroom: watch videos and learn material at home, exercise that knowledge in the classroom with others - "humanize the classroom"
  • immediate and constant feedback produces self-correcting education
  • choice in exploration through and development of skills and knowledge, based on ones own goals (spontaneous activity, freedom)
  • autonomous learning - automated skill testing
  • random generation of exercises - focus on understanding concepts instead of memorizing specific problems or details

These share much in common with Montessori methods. A set of guidelines like this would be good to further develop and then use in developing all curriculum.

Speaking of Montessori, their principles (from here) are enlightening as well, serving as a set of axioms or assumptions about the learning individual, as well as some goals.

  • Children learn best through intrinsic motivation.
  • Children learn best when they have control over their learning.
  • Concentration must be encouraged and protected to allow optimal development.
  • Montessori is education for peace.
  • Competition hinders learning.
  • Montessori develops self-discipline and independence.
  • Montessori education paints with a broad brush before adding the details.
  • Montessori encourages real life experiences for young children.
  • Montessori is education for life.



On Monday night there was discussion of having the 3 sample activities potentially be large enough to span 3-4 meetings. After thinking about this I think we need to be smart about it. I think it might be great to have an activity module that takes 3-4 weeks but where each weekly meeting has its own point. Let's take my glider idea for example. perhaps the first meeting the kids could have 15 minutes learning about forces (lift, drag, gravity, and thrust). Then the kids get to build balsa wood airplanes following this. This activity emphasizes curiosity and creativity by use of the scientific menthod. Perhaps now that the kids have their feet wet they are asked to read  some material on how airplanes are designed between the weeks. Now at the second and third meetings the kids design and build model planes with a certain criteria in mind e.g. 2 foot wing span rubber band powered with accuracy as a goal. Then at the fourth meeting the kids have a competition to see whos design worked best. At each point the kids are asked to write a couple sentences about what they learned, how they plan to tackle their problem, or how it all worked out.

My idea in all this is the kids pick up multiple skills but the entire unit doesn't revolve around just one activity.


Yes, yes! This is very much how I envisioned the course an activity would take.

You want there to be something learned and made in every meeting. In some meetings, the only thing made might be a poster of all the ideas that they came up with to solve a problem. In other meetings the product is a bunch of paper airplanes to test different theories about what makes a good plane. Or little balsa wood planes. You get the picture.

Every week you either learn a new skill or concept, which you demonstrate through creating something, or you combine skills and knowledge into a larger project that you are working on. Some projects may take a few weeks to complete, especially for advanced projects, but each week you can document your progress with pictures and a few lines written during the summary time (the quiet writing time) at the end of the meeting. 


I like what I see so far.  I would like to add just a few little notes:

  • Encourage social networking. They're probably already doing it already but reinforcing the idea of the kids helping one another out adds to that "older kids helping the younger and everyone learns" stuff.
  • Suggest possible field trips and experts that can be brought in.  For your glider example taking a trip to a local airport might be an obvious thing for some of us, but it doesn't hurt to have helpful hints like that including with the guidelines.
  • Don't be afraid to ask!  Lots of experts and professionals actually don' t mind helping out with groups like this.  We've hosted many Boy and Girl Scout troops at Goldstone and at JPL.  Heck even here at White Sands with proper permission you CAN get a tour of a Secret facility.  (Or at least have guys from here do a presentation for the scouts.)

Another good thing to think of in this same vein are suggestions for sharing the activities.  Especially in our modern world the Maker Scouts should totally have a Facebook page and a home page that tribes or whatever we're going to call them (again that whole cloth thing. Man) can share their project outcomes and weekly updates with.  That way Makers as a whole can feed off of what the individuals are doing and come up with new things to do in turn. 




I think its great that the main idea is to have the kids making every meeting, i also think that some lesson could even be about fixing things to show the kid that there new found skill as makers can apply in the real world and hey it may help them in the future. along with a few fun day where maybe the can take something crazy apart just to take something apart. thanks for reading my thoughts.

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