Lap 1 - Cognitive Gearing

Building a Maker Community

Cognitive Gearing is our attempt to define a core set of identities and values in our Maker|Design|Engineering program at MVPS. While the origin of our program stemmed from an exploration of a PK-12 scope and sequence, we quickly realized that culture, identity, and core values are what really define a community. In our case the idea of a maker community - not makerspaces - was how we were going to define success.

Podcast Companion Episode(s):

  • Leigh Northrup - Cannon School: Building a Maker Culture

MVIFI Blog Companion Post(s):


Ready to dive in? One the things we hope to share through these lessons is a true "behind the curtain" look at how we developed our program. We don't want to imply that our language and designs are exactly right for your program, but by sharing our process we hope to spark some research, design, or iteration efforts at your own organization. We imagine that if we had these resources at our fingertips 3 years ago, we could have accelerated much faster. We hope the same is true for you.

Jim mentions in the video that we started with a core set of identities. While that is true, Artisan/Hacker/Tinkerer and the core values that go with them didn't happen by chance. We worked through a discovery and empathizing process that burned a lot of post-it notes in order to uncover a few gems. In the TINKER section of this lesson, you will have the opportunity to work through the same prompts we went through that ultimately resulted in Cognitive Gearing and the basis of our Maker|Design|Engineering program.

Driving Cog

Cognitive gearing is our answer to a scope and sequence document for our Maker|Design|Engineering program. I’ve tried to describe its origins, organization and meanings in this blog which is also linked above. I think it is worth re-posting the levels of organization and definitions here, but be sure to check out the blog for helpful additional context.

Within this “one pager” there are at least four levels of organization:

  1. Meta Organization – The gears are a meta organizer for our maker pathways – as tinkerers (PK-4), hackers (5-8), or artisans (9-12) – but do not exclude the others. You can imagine a motor being applied to the tinkering gear for lower grades, for example, yet because of the gear assembly design there are opportunities for other pathways come in turn.
  2. What we value – The four call-out boxes and quotes on the periphery – Fabrication, Craftsmanship, Idea Exchange, and Observation & Judgement – represent what might be akin to value standards. We believe these to be the core skills of making at MVPS regardless of age level
  3. How we work – The bullets within each call-out box represent the ways we work to meet value standards and are akin to process standards. On any given day in our MDE program elements of these should be readily observable.
  4. How we share – The bold words at the bottom of each call-out box – Build Permit, Carecheck, pHail, and liquid network – describe how we collect and curate demonstrations of learning. They might be considered the hallmarks of our MDE program because these are the elements that were intentionally designed to scaffold our desired skills, habits, and values.


Places to wander and wonder

To be clear, building a maker community is quite different than outfitting a maker space. With the latter, you might check out this post if simply looking for tools and furniture we chose. A community, however, includes culture and people as well as the tools and the space. For this, we need to exercise out design thinking muscles. We need to get out there and talk with people...observe....try little experiments and get feedback. When thinking about building a community from scratch (or close to it) it will require a diverse set of resources. Below are just a few of our favorites.

To Read:

  • Launch by John Spencer and AJ Juliani
  • Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape Their Worlds by Edward P. Clapp, Jessica Ross, Jennifer O. Ryan, Shari Tishman
  • The Art of Tinkering by Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich
  • Invent to Learn, by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary S. Stager.
  • Zero to Maker, by David Lang - Chapter 3 - Maker Mentality is particularly related to Cognitive Gearing



Your Turn to Play

REFLECTION PROMPT: When you watched the intro video and listened to Episode 1 of the podcast, what themes seemed to stick out? What are the aspects of a community and why would someone want to join yours? What language is inherent to your school the might be important?

As promised, here is the sequence of prompts and exercises that we went through in developing our MDE program. At the end of each exercise, we affinity mapped ideas and discussed. At the bottom of the page you can find a gallery of pictures that captures our ideas and insights from this work. It is our actual origin story!

HELPFUL HINTS: Try using these two "want ad" tools from MVIFI.

  1. What would would you look for in a teacher applying into your maker community?
  2. What would you look for in a student wanting to play in your maker community.

ALTERNATE ROUTE(S): Remake Learning is a collaborative network based out of Pittsburgh, Pa. They are doing tremendous work around maker centered learning. Related to the same reflection prompt above, give Remake Learning's "playbook" a shot. It is editable/personalizable for your community and really gets at the core of convening and catalyzing a community.

The full season of Build In Progress is available on iTunes, Podbean, Stitcher, or wherever you go to get your podcasts.
In each episode of the Build in Progress Podcast we ask our guests what they are listening too. Here it is...in all its eclectic glory for you to tap your toes to. It is a collaborative playlist, so we invite you to add your own Maker Tracks to this list!