George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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.

TED offers an interactive calendar to help locate upcoming TEDx events around the world.

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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Comments (10) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Josh Allen's picture

Thanks for sharing all of these great ideas and events. As the organizer of EdCamp Omaha, we greatly appreciate you including us in the list! We are very excited for March to get here so we can learn from all the passionate educators that will be there. We still have spots open and welcome anyone who'd like to come experience this great professional development with us! Nebraska is centrally located in the US and very nice in late March! :) We are also looking for additional sponsors if anyone reading this is willing to help out! There is a link on our wiki (which is linked above).
Thanks again, Edutopia, for being so supportive of education!

Greg Young's picture
Greg Young
Educator, Facilitator, School Coach

These are some great suggestions. I think there is real potential in making explicit connections between the DIY movement and STEM initiatives. Whats happening in the DIY movement is very interesting, people working together to find solutions to problems that there aren't existing answers to. This is very different from the older model of some tech-centered programs that use "station based" challenges. The DIY movement seems to channel some of the same passion that drove innovation during the space race. If we are looking to spur innovation (and not in the watered down "heres whats next" context) in this country in the science and engineering fields, this is the direction we need to go.

jill charrier's picture
jill charrier
ESL Head Start PreK Teacher

I have had one of the best DIY teacher development experiences ever. I received a Fund For Teachers grant in 2008. Fund For Teachers awards teachers money to pursue their dream that will best impact their teaching and students. It is up to the teacher to decide what, where, and how they are going to do this. My grant was to travel to England and Ireland to observe interactive storytelling classes with young children, attend a storytelling festival, and visit several children's museums as well as puppet shows to learn how to make storytime more interactive and create a love for reading. It was truly the best learning opportunity I have ever had as a teacher, and something that impacts my teaching and my students daily. Go to to view other past grants that have been awarded and to get more information.

Bill Betzen's picture
Bill Betzen
Retired computer teacher, Dallas, Texas, with dropout prevention hobby.

DIY is the power behind any nation's growth. It is also the power behind any student's success in school. Until a student takes ownership for their own success in school, it doesn't happen.

Too many students never take that DIY ownership for their own education. School is something done to them, not something they use as a resource toward their own goals. By middle school such personal goals should be expressed, documented, and a comfortable topic of conversation. Such a DIY ownership of the educational process should dominate decisions by high school graduation. It makes a critical difference.

In 2005 our inner city middle school started a project to help reinforce long term goals. It is a 10-year time-capsule and class reunion-mentoring project centered around 500-pound vault bolted to the floor in a school's lobby. Parents write a letter to their child about their dreams for their child. The child then uses that letter to write a letter to themselves about their history and their own goals. Then both letters are placed into a self-addressed envelope and placed into the vault. This process is repeated twice in middle school: the first month in middle school and again, after puulling and reading those first letters again, the final month of middle school. The second set of letters stay in the vault 10 years until the class reunion. At that reunion students know they will be invited to speak with then current students at their old middle school about their recommendations for success. They are warned to prepare for questions like "What would you do differently if you were 13 again?"

There are now 7 schools in Dallas ISD with such vaults in prominent places in their lobby. The major high school targeted with this project since 2005 had their graduation rates go from 33% to over 60% in 4 years. (See We are beginning to see the power of DIY in education!

Paul Bogdan's picture
Paul Bogdan
Student-Centered Secondary Math Teacher

I read this blog a when Betty wrote it, but only now see how relevant it is to my student centered teaching style. This is exactly what I do. I teach the students how to teach themselves. I agree with Bill's comment: 'Too many students never take that DIY ownership for their own education. School is something done to them, not something they use as a resource toward their own goals.' Write detailed lesson plans and then give them to the students to execute. Let them do it themselves. It turns into a very collaborative effort, but they direct the collaboration rather than you dictating it.

Bill Betzen's picture
Bill Betzen
Retired computer teacher, Dallas, Texas, with dropout prevention hobby.

Paul Bogdan describes good teaching method, more time consuming but certainly more effective. What I was attempting to describe was pushing DIY well beyond what is possible in one classroom by one teacher. One teacher can reinforce DIY but it needs a school-wide project, even district-wide, focused on the future to change the atmosphere in a school. Conversations change. Plans for the future definitely change. Graduation rates soar. Dare I even suggest that the immediate gratification consumer culture our students are smothered in will be broken out of? That is what happens if true long term goals become more of a daily lived reality.

DIY works against the choke-hold power of advertisers on our students. Once liberated it will be amazing what happens in the classroom. The absolute power of a self-motivated DIY student is wonderful! Each of us already have such students in our classrooms. We just need more of them.

Only teachers who really do not love teaching need to be concerned. DIY students are more demanding, critical, and usually more polite consumers.

JSpeenburgh's picture

I enjoyed your blog and see the advantaged of DIY. Currently at my school, we are focusing on DIY for our professional development. We have talked about different free technology that we could use in our classes that will help our students in their learning process. We have discussed using where students can go to your page and go to different links that you have chosen for them to look at. Animoto was another item that was discussed. This is basically where you can create free 30 second videos. You can use them to introduce new topics or units, or have the kids create 30 second videos that go along with your lesson. LocaModa is a great place where you can create polls and questions that students may use their cell phones to answer questions. Since they constantly are on their phones anyway, this is a great way to implement the use of their cell phones in the classroom and make it educational. These were only a few of the new technology that we focused on. Our school is currently having all teachers form teams to work on professional development based on interest.I think that DIY is a great way for teachers to make their classrooms into a great learning environment for students. Where students are able to teach themselves, and teachers are there for support.

J. Coffee's picture

Your post was very enlightening. I am currently not teaching, but a masters student looking for innovative ways for teacher collaboration. It was one aspect of teaching that I struggled with in special education. Most of the time I felt isolated and detached from the general education staff; many days in my first years teaching were spent overwhelmed and afraid to ask for help or ask questions. This new DIY movement is very innovative in connecting teachers with more accessible support. What ideas would you suggest for reaching other who are closer? There is no replacing daily face-to-face interaction in a way that is more meaningful and personal to you, your students, staff, and school.

Penelope Vos's picture
Penelope Vos
Primary teacher from Australia, author of "Talking to the Whole Wide World"

One thing that teachers can really usefully DIY is second language teaching. You don't have a second language? Perfect! Then you are ideally equipped to show your students that you can decide to learn something and do it!
"Talking to the Whole Wide World" teaches you and your students together, an entire language in just 100 hours of study (that's one sixth the time that Spanish takes from scratch and 1/22 of the time that Mandarin requires). Better yet, Esperanto, the world's easiest language, is used as an apprenticeship language by school children in dozens of cultures around the world- rich and poor, capitalist, communist, Christian, Buddist, Hindu, can get personal with peers in countries that seemed remote and irrelevant before.
The icing on the cake is that learning Esperanto first reduces the time needed to learn Spanish, Chinese, Arabic or any other language, by much more than your 100 hour investment.
Broaden some minds, and have fun!

Betty Ray's picture
Betty Ray
Senior Editor at Large

Hi J Coffee -- I know what you mean. Regular f2f is really important. I would say there are a couple of factors. Do you know of others locally who share your ideas and interest in collaborating? If so, you could start with monthly or weekly meetings in a local coffeeshop to share ideas and resources. You could also support those meetings and share resources with an email list using googlegroups.

If you don't know others locally, I would suggest going to social media to connect with the vast network of progressive educators there. (Follow hashtag #edchat on Twitter for a great start). (Social media -- particularly Twitter -- is a great way to find people. It's not f2f but it is an incredibly strong community and many many educators there have started from zero in their hometowns and grown them to bigger networks.

Good luck! Please report back and let us know how it went.

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