ASK AN EDUCATOR – “How does one become the appropriate instructor for the Adafruit Badges?”

Brian asks:

I am hoping to get [a] Maker group started and then grow it to the point where I can have [existing] equipment transferred to my name (as I am a civil servant) and eventually pull together [a] FabLab to be used by our local Maker community and STEM outreach.

To get the momentum moving, I was going to setup some meetings of the club to work through the Adafruit Academy requirements. Do you guys have any suggestions on setting this up? How does one become the appropriate instructor for the different topics? Any advice you can provide would be extremely helpful. I’ll, of course, get some of the badges too!

Part 1: Becoming the Instructor: (I will talk about setting up the Makerspace in a future post :-))

You have discovered one of the biggest hurdles any new (or seasoned for that matter) teacher faces when they are tasked with teaching new material. Here are a couple of approaches I have used in the past that have worked for me.

Approach #1: Always be two classes ahead of your students

The easiest approach is to compile your curriculum, materials and tools for the given topic and set up a rough timeline with benchmarks you anticipate the club/class to meet. By doing this you give yourself the opportunity to pre-learn the material prior to delivering it to the students. (This can be very challenging the first time around, as each class you teach often runs at a different pace.) This also helps to remove the initial burden of learning all of the material at once and gives your students a better experience than if you were scrambling through the entire lab.

Approach #2: Learn with your students

This approach is a little less predictable than #1. The idea behind this approach is to begin the topic by having a dialog with your students that discusses your expectations and that you are unfamiliar with the topic as well. You let them know that this lab is going to be learning process for the both of you and requires them to act with a level of maturity and responsibility greater than what is usually expected. You need to be careful though, especially with younger students, that the class doesn’t see this as an opportunity take advantage of the situation and breeze through the project. The flip side to this is that the method can actually boost their respect for you and your ability to instruct. By putting yourself on their level of experience, you are giving them a boost in responsibility that can make the lesson more meaningful and fun.

Approach #3: Make your students the teacher

This approach can be a lot of fun. I start by coming “clean” to the class by letting them know that I am as new to the topic as they are (just as in Approach #2). Instead of telling them that you will be moving through the lab together, you break the lab down into individual components and assign them to teams of students. The students get a class period or two to research, investigate and prepare an applicable lesson, then teach the class what they have learned. A good example of this is would be if you are working on a construction project, say building a Bird House. The Bird House project requires a fair amount of design, tools, and construction procedures in order to complete. You could break the lab into the following parts:

  • CAD
  • Hand Tools
  • Drillpress
  • Table Saw
  • Band Saw
  • Adhesives
  • Surface preparation and Painting
  • Finishing
  • Bird Observing and Identification
  • Food Consumption and other fun Statistical Analysis

The goal is not to necessarily teach each step of the Bird House project, but rather to teach the skills required to do so. The class then reconvenes and you proceed through the lab with your newly learned skills.

All three of these methods ultimately make you a legitimate instructor for that task. The first time though is always going to be a bit bumpy, but the more times you do it, the easier it will get and the more you can tweak to lab to add more content and more fun.

I hope this has helped to answer your question and best of luck setting up your Makerspace!

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“Ask an Educator” questions are answered by Adam Kemp, a high school teacher who has been teaching courses in Energy Systems, Systems Engineering, Robotics and Prototyping since 2005.

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  1. Larissa Swanland (@MCUniversiTI)

    I love this post 🙂 and plan on reposting it in the for the educator’s exchange. ESPECIALLY number 3. As educators, enablement is really the best approach rather than creating mini-clones/parrots.

  2. Thank you! Glad to help!

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