Professional Learning

Empowering Teachers with DIY

Mini Maker Faires, EdCamps, and TEDxEds empower teachers

January 26, 2011

Do it Yourself -- or DIY -- culture has been around since the 90s. (Remember 'zines, and indie record labels?) Now that technology is a gazillion times cheaper, more pervasive and powerful, the DIY movement is spreading into almost every aspect of society.

This has powerful implications for teachers; many of whom are participating in some innovative (and low-cost, or free) professional development opportunities. To that end, I would argue that we are amid a learning renaissance, and that the DIY movement is one of its most powerful catalysts.

Indeed, if you're a regular Edutopia reader, you're already aware of how personal technologies (computers or cell phones running web 2.0 software) can enable an entirely different model of learning by offering unprecedented access to information and personalization tools.

But, perhaps more importantly, these tools give students and teachers access to supportive communities of practice that can facilitate collaboration and new ways of teaching. Armed with unprecedented amounts of information and the tools to connect with one another, teachers are organizing on a DIY grassroots level to create some amazing learning and professional development opportunities.

Mini Maker Faire

One example of DIY culture is the Mini Maker Faires that have been sprouting up around the country. Part science fair, part art show with a heaping dose of MacGyver, these community-created events showcase science and technology as well as arts and performance projects that were created for the love of creating. Parents, teachers and students work together to bring some of these amazing project-based efforts to life. Some examples: A human scale game of Mouse Trap, a solar powered theramin, homemade video games, clothing made from recycled bottles, circus arts and more.

These events are great places to meet other "Makers" in your community. There is also a growing Young Makers program that's actively putting teacher/mentors in touch with students and collaborative work spaces to encourage innovation and learning.

Check the Mini Maker Faire Starter Kit to organize one in your area.


Another DIY movement is the advent of the "unconference," a participant-driven professional development gathering like edcamp or EduBloggerCon. Attendees of these events, just like those at Mini Maker Faires, are not just passive consumers of information, but are also active participants in the day.

For instance, I had the pleasure of attending edcampOCLA at Davis Middle School in Costa Mesa recently. Rather than sit through a day of pre-programmed lectures, we were all invited to suggest a topic for discussion as is the case with unconferences. There was a big white board that showed 5 rooms and 5 time slots. Anyone who had a suggested topic could put their suggestions on the board and - presto! A day of brainstorms and practical discussions about topics by and for the people in attendance.

Again, something shifts when a group of motivated people get in the same room and direct their own experience: They share what's working and what isn't. They support each other. It's both inspirational and incredibly practical. Anyone can ask for help and support - whether you're looking for ideas for teaching the Civil War to middle schoolers, or resources to help make the case for allowing social media in the classroom.

We include a list of upcoming edcamps in the weekly Edutopia Newsletter, or you can see a schedule of edcamps on the complete edcamp calendar.


Conceived by the people who produce the popular TED talks, TEDx is an opportunity for other independent organizers to use the TED brand to produce a TED-type talk in a region or around a certain topic. They're intended to be in the spirit of TED -- a series of thought-provoking speakers - but they're often more focused on a topic or region. Organizers for TEDx events must get their ideas approved by TED and the talks must adhere to the same format. But beyond these formatting guidelines, these talks are open and free to customize by the organizers. In this way, TED talks become "open sourced" learning opportunities that can spread across more niche communities.

For example, last summer I attended TEDxDenverEd during the ISTE conference. It attracted a confluence of forward-thinking educators and performers. After the event, there was an opportunity for attendees to reflect in small groups on how they could implement change in their own schools or communities.

Likewise, this April in San Francisco, there will be a TEDxSFED for Bay Area educators. (Full disclosure: I am part of the team organizing TEDxSFED.) The talk itself will be at a local arts space and showcase educators who are innovating in the classroom and beyond. Afterwards, there will be a series of workshops in schools throughout the area to focus on how these ideas can be implemented.

These participatory models represent a whole new collaborative platform that can happen anywhere. They connect people who really want to make a difference with people who are already doing so. In this way, the DIY movement provides an exciting road for those educators who want to make the journey.

Have you done any participatory DIY professional development? What other avenues have you found?

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