Burke’s Strategic Plan in Action: Learning by Doing in the Makery

Since its opening in 2013, the Makery is part of an educational push at Burke’s – and across the country — to implement a style of curriculum that is not textbook driven or fragmented, but is thematic, project-based and integrated. It’s learning through doing, where students exercise creative work towards common goals, enabled by the world we live in now and preparing for later. And, in its own way, it’s perfect for molding Burke’s girls for the 21st century.
Launched with funds raised through Raise the Paddle at Dinner Auction 2013, the Makery offers a place where imagination runs wild in an entirely new and different way. Come recess and lunch, students run in with an eye toward playing with robots, creating something with a 3-D printer or animating on an iPad. Or, their classes come by to find innovative ways to complete projects in all manner of subject areas, both high tech and not, leading to some truly unique results.
 
“My hope for the first year was to create a working space for the girls where their creativity could soar, where we could provide the materials and tools to help them create whatever they envisioned,” says Marilyn Schaumburg, one of the two Makery facilitators at Burke’s.
 
The projects that come through the Makery engage the kinds of skills needed in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subject areas, such as designing, experimenting and even failing at a project. Building that sense of comfort in trying and tinkering not only builds a strong sense of resilience in students, but it leads to the kind of joyful learning environment that fits right in with Burke’s mission and four-year Strategic Plan: Our Community. Our Campus. Our Commitment.
 
“What I love about the girls is their willingness to try new things,” Schaumburg says. “When an eighth grader wants to build a model of a steam engine, or create lightning, it is clear they feel empowered to try anything!”
 
Jenny Howland adds: “Their ‘toolbox’ of available materials and skills has expanded.  They will ask for a specific tool, like the pipe wrench, or a specific material, like LEDs or a motor, as they need them for projects. In general, they will be able to try something one way, see it doesn’t work and try it another way.”
 
In the future, that “toolbox” hopes to go on tour as the Makery mindset continues to evolve and meet students right in their classrooms. The same kind of innovation that’s embodied by the Makery is heading throughout campus in the form of flexible learning spaces where learning becomes a more vibrant and passionate experience. All classrooms will become places where students and teachers can more easily interact with each other and with technology, allowing for different class units and even grades to work together on a day-to-day basis. Both Howland and Shaumburg have already collaborated with teachers on multiple projects that cut across disciplines and divisions. 
 
But for now, the basic purpose of the Makery is thriving all on its own. Students were recently asked to write why they were grateful for the Makery. The most recurring themes of their answers were that the Makery provided them creativity and joy of building, seeing their ideas come to life and learning new technologies. The playful nature of the space and the lightness of their words serve as a testament to the objectives of the space and focus of the faculty who steward it.
 
Schaumburg notes, “The best feedback is watching the Lower School girls run to the Makery during Open Make time (before school and at recess); they arrive at the door out of breath!”
 
Examples of Makery Projects include:

Kindergarten: “The Breakery”
“The Breakery project in Kindergarten was based on the work of artist Todd McLellan, who takes things apart and then rearranges them to make art. The Kinders learned to use tools, wear safety glasses and find out what parts are inside electronics. ‘Righty-tighty, lefty loosey’ was a chant heard throughout this project.” —Jenny Howland, Makery Facilitator
 
Third Grade: Personal Narrative Comic Life
Third graders used narratives they wrote in class to make comics using Comic Life software on the computers in the Makery. They explored how to arrange text,
frames, speech bubbles and lettering to convey meaning as they used the comic conventions to sharpen up their visual literacy skills. Key questions to explore included: “Where do you want the reader’s eye to go? How will you make that happen?“
 
Eighth Grade: Independent Study in History
“In this project, the girls were allowed to study any part of American history during the 1700s, build a product to demonstrate their understanding and, in a presentation, explain how their topic related to the four worlds of history (economic, political, social and cultural). Students built everything from models to flags to villages to bridges and boats. Two girls worked with (Director of Maintenance & Facilities) Carlos Oliva to build a model of a trading ship, and (Director of Technology) Phil King helped another student create a model of a ‘Stirling’ engine.” —Marilyn Schaumburg, Makery Facilitator
  
Look for more updates on the Makery projects and innovative collaborations as they develop. For all of Burke’s progress towards fulfilling the goals of the Strategic Plan will be documented on our Strategic Plan in Action page. Check back to see more items as they happen!
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Burke's mission is to educate, encourage and empower girls. Our school combines academic excellence with an appreciation for childhood so that students thrive as learners, develop a strong sense of self, contribute to community, and fulfill their potential, now and throughout life.

Katherine Delmar Burke School

An independent K–8 school for girls
7070 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94121
Phone: 415.751.0177 Fax: 415.666.0535
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