An innovative program at Grand Haven Christian School has captivated students so much that they actually started looking forward to Mondays.

Dubbed "Maker Mondays," the program was created and piloted by 4th grade teacher Dawn Rotman, and has been expanded to all students.

During a maker session, the teacher poses a problem to the student, introduces some materials, and challenges the students to be innovative and come up with a solution. One example of a challenge was to create a machine that would dispense a piece of chocolate. Students had to use the materials provided to create a machine in the designated time.

Skills that are learned during Maker time are sometimes referred to as "21st Century Skills" -- being innovative, collaborative, flexible, persistent, a risk taker and a critical thinker. Sometimes there are failures, but students learn through failures, and often there are successes completed through teamwork and innovation. The idea is for students to learn how to become creators rather than followers.

“Some students started out very panicky because they prefer to be given detailed instructions on how to complete a task,” said Advancement Coordinator Kristin Clausing. “But by the end it wasn't as intimidating. It's so fun to see these kids realize they can do it, and it's amazing how it builds their confidence and their passion and desire to learn more.”

Parent Rachel Dyk said the program has had a big impact on her daughter, Daisy -- so much so that she grew to look forward to Mondays.

“She would say: ‘I love Mondays! It’s my favorite day of the week!’” Rachel said. “She would come home and talk enthusiastically about all the projects, and then she wanted to start doing her own at home.”

Maker Mondays build student success in many ways, said teacher Dawn Rotman. Students who are not necessarily successful in academics may excel in problem solving or working with their hands. Maker activities allow them to shine in ways that are not always seen in a traditional classroom.

“This goes a long way in building self-confidence and allowing students to see school as a place for success. Building on this success often transfers to more success in the classroom as well,” Dawn said.

The program is supported through donations from area businesses, churches, and other groups. For example, North Pier Cabinets provided some furniture; Goodwill pitched in electronics that the students can take apart; Once and Again has also donated useful items; and the Habitat for Humanity Restore provided tools and hardware that would fit the specific needs of students. 

Last year, the program culminated with a “Cardboard Arcade” event for the entire school community. Students built all kinds of traditional arcade games using cardboard and other materials.

With the success of the program, it became clear that there was a desire to expand. Through the financial support of families and the community, the school was able to build out a classroom that every teacher can now use for Maker sessions.

“As teachers decide what they want to do with their students in the room, then we'll look even more to the community to see who can bring in knowledge and resources,” Kristin said.

Rachel Dyk says the benefits to her daughter extend beyond academics.

“The lessons transfer to life skills, like how to handle problems with sisters and friends,” Rachel said. “It's one more piece where it's not mom saying, ‘Let's try to work this out.’ It gives them the confidence to handle it themselves, and touches along everything in her life.”


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