A Makerspace Inquiry Lesson – Minecraft, Yarn, Smoothies and the Honeybee…

What does a ball of yarn, a quilt, a Makespace, the Honey Bee, a podcast, Green Smoothie and a Minecraft Museum all have in common?

The following is an example Inquiry Lesson that infuses Maker Space, Collaborative tools, Inquiry and Design thinking, including Minecraft. We facilitated this lesson at the Enrichment and Innovation Centre in our Grade Six Journalism Program, for Gifted Students.

This Video is the lesson consolidation. Everything is connected. “How Wolves Change Rivers”.


We ask: Is Interconnectedness essential for our survival?

DSC_0290_2*How does the interconnectedness of anything change its course or direction in life?

*What does it mean to depend on someone or something?

*Will the disappearance of the honey bee impact human life at the local to international level? In what ways?

*How can we strengthen our own connectedness to the earth? To each other?


Curriculum Connections:

Copy of IMG_20160110_183417 (1)

Social Studies: People and Environments, Political and Physical Regions of Canada (Ontario Curriculum)  For More Detailed Curriculum follow this link

Connections to Sustainable Development Goals:

Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

Goal 13:Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Pre-Lesson and Critical Literacy/Inquiry

To begin, we would use a “Flipped” approach. First, students would be given a task to investigate content related to the local and global issue of disappearing bees. Students explore, find, read,watch/listen and discover information related to why honey bees are disappearing. Second, students are  asked to bring a leafy green vegetable and a fruit (and any type of super food such as chia or hemp). Contributing means feeling part of something and recognizing the value you bring in- your importance. This piece is vital. It strengthens community and builds trust.



Room Design, Bulletin Boards and Relevant Activities (Self-Directed Activities)

Kitchen (connection back to home/family)

healthMock kitchen is created. Vegetables are displayed along with a nutritional information focus; Students would also share in a Tea Circle Discussion upon arrival (as they do most days); The kitchen would also have an assortment of plants (especially those with obvious pollen); A variety of honey types would be on display for students to explore the texture and taste and begin to make personal connections to the topic.


15375There is also a worm compost bin (vermi composting) to maintain the importance of connections and emphasize the value balancing what we take and give back to the earth.-Flowering plants on display for students to explore with microscope; A variety of informational videos available.


Living Room Area (literacy)

alternative spaces DSC_0087_4

Word wall and activities; Knitting/crochet activities (in shape of honeycomb; Sewing (creating a beehive pattern activity); A variety of books, magazines, newspapers and literature


Math Area

DSC_0096_4Collaborative puzzle for hands-on activities (an explicit way to demonstrate the connectedness of each individual piece and its necessity for the whole); A display that demonstrates facts and data, along with inquiry questions; A map display showing areas that are impacted; Honey Comb is be available  to help students learn about the geometry of the Bee Hive and how the HoneyComb is made.

Maker and Art Space


Students will have access to lego; Sewing Machine Activities; 3D printer; Programming activities (using scratch to program geometric shapes);Green Screen applications; Pencil Sketching, Math and GeometryDesigning



IMG_8002With a cup of tea, the lesson will begin around the “Kitchen Table” where we will feel, touch, smell and taste some of the fruits and veggies that will go into the Smoothies. We will discuss how the veggies change their attributes and nutritional impacts when the are paired with one another (i.e., vitamin C with Iron). As a group we begin asking questions about what we know and don’t know about the vegetables, their interconnections to each other as well as to the earth. We will ask, what would happen if they weren’t available?

Here, we would begin our inquiry.

DSC_0216_2Following our Tea Circle, students will begin an independent exploratory activity where they will participate in a  ‘shared’ Google Document and contribute to collaborative inquiry. (Here, a link is created by opening the document to anyone with link to make the process efficient.) Students contribute to information search focusing solely on the specific foods they brought in (or assigned to) and make explicit connections to nutrients. They use the information to create recipes that focus on a certain need or ailment.

We call it “Brain and Body On”.


  • We would later use this activity to make the connection that healthy foods are a necessity in our lives and begin the inquiry of WHY so many people continue to suffer obesity and health problems – relating this to our connections to the people and world around us.
  • We would discuss Nutrition in the context of wealth and poverty and further explore the Global Goals.
  • We would connect this to the biodiversity of our planet and examine the impact – the cause and effects of loss and gain. Students would see the chain reaction of how a honey bee can impact the lives of humans, food and climate change, and the impact this has for Ontario Farmers, Trade relations and cost of food. This article would provide a context: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do/food-and-our-planet/food-and-climate-change/
  • We would connect this to rising prices of fruits and vegetables due to lower yields of farmer crops, to the grocery store and finally to the consumer.  We would discuss Trade. This link would provide a context: http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/loonie-grocery-costs-1.3399841
  • Students would discover that this loss would perpetuate poverty and would lead to a health crisis since our most valuable resources (as they’ve discover) are only accessible to people who can afford the high costs.

Minds-on & Hands-On

DSC_0226_2Together:  Students begin the day, together in a large circle (this process helps students understand the impact of being connected and interconnected). Students are encouraged to be mindful of the fact that they all share in the moment, the day.  One by one, students pass a ball of yarn while celebrating and sharing one connection (a team, a family, a friend, a book…). They form a web of direct and indirect connections and would learn that they can be impacted indirectly when the yarn is yanked or dropped by anyone in the circle, even those that aren’t directly linked.

  • compare this to our connections to our planet, to other living organism,  to the foods we eat, to others – near and far.
  • bring this realization of interconnectedness back to the Big Idea (Is interconnectedness essential for our survival?)

Individual: Students are given time to explore hands-on activities provided throughout the classroom – all that demonstrate concepts of interconnectedness. This can be done at the start of class (when they arrive, or throughout the class as time allows.

  • puzzles
  • knitting, crocheting (co-creating a quilt)
  • sewing
  • Circuits and Programming activities
  • 3D printing
  • Creating Smoothies

(Assessment Opportunity – Teacher/Student time)

Inquiry – Student Driven:

As a class, students create a COLLABORATIVE book that identifies a variety of topics/issues involving the plight of the honey bees and the interconnectedness of the environment and humans. Together, students create a list of issues involving the disappearing bees ( focus on trade, farmers crops, use of pesticides, GMO’s, cause and effect on environment…). Upon completion, each of the Inquiries will be posted.

List of topics will focus on specific learning curriculum expectations

*connections between natural environment, employment, jobs and consumer (relating to bees)

*Jobs, land and organizations dependent on survival of bees

*Impact and connection of environment effects and land use (cause and effect)

*Environmental issues at an international scale and its impact on Canada

In partners or individually, students  are given a full period (or more) to research and discuss the topic of their choice, but always relating it back to the inquiry topic of the Honey Bee and its interconnected value to the world.


Staying engaged… feeding the body and soul…

*Note – Throughout “Worktime”, students will have an opportunity to make SMOOTHIES based on their recipes and ingredients (from earlier activity). During this small group time, students will be asked to share how the ingredients and the nutrients are directly connected to their inquiry topic. AT this time, we will make connections back to the land and its impact on farming and then back to the consumer.

(Assessment Opportunity – Teacher/Student time)

Product (Culminating) – What are students working to create/produce?

Copy of DSC_0228_2*Podcast – Students learn to use Audacity and begin exploring podcasting techniques. As part of Interconnectivity, students use SKYPE to discuss Podcasting techniques with an expet in podcasting -Rodd Lucier.. Students are given examples and podcasting techniques -how to express voice, to conduct an interview, to use voice to convey a message, etc. Students will create a podcast interview, informational podcast or a skit.


*Blog Students upload their podcast to their blog along with a blog describing the topic and inquiry question.Students have a prior knowledge of blogging. They will be reminded to use more than one medium in their blog and to end their blog with an inquiry question.

*Collaborative Book – Students will contribute to a Collaborative book using OneNote or Google Drive

Copy of IMG_ldwr7qStudents will add their information to the WHOLE class creation using Google Drive or OneNote, thus demonstrating and participating in a connected activity

*MinecraftEDU – Students will design their solution or their information topic in a collaborative world. Here students will design a collaborative museum, where they will add their information through design and interactivity.


Learning criteria will be established with the students. As a group we will discuss some of these expectations:

  • Research and Information produced must contain local and international data that explains a topic.
  • Students address connections to themselves as well as looking at connections at a large scale (consumer, poverty, land use)
  • Students will ask relevant and critical questions as part of their research
  • Students recognize the impact that the topic has at a larger scale and discuss reasons for this
  • Students use appropriate vocabulary
  • Students recommend solutions

Specific Expectations

*describe some major connections between features of the natural environment and the type of employment that is available in a region, with reference to two or more municipal regions in Ontario

* “Why are some jobs dependent on the seasons?” “What are some of the jobs that are connected to forests, lakes, and rivers? What sorts of jobs are connected to agricultural land use?”

*gather and organize a variety of data and information on the environmental effects of different land and/or resource use and measures taken to reduce the negative impact of that use

*evaluate evidence and draw conclusions about issues related to the impact of natural resource extraction/harvesting and/or use around the world

*communicate the results of their inquiries using appropriate vocabulary (e.g., non-renewable, renewable, flow resources; extraction; sustainability; deforestation; fossil fuels; aquifer) and formats appropriate for specific audiences

*explain why some environmental issues are of international importance and require the participation of other regions of the world, along with that of Canada, if they are to be effectively addressed

What inquiry looks like in a classroom with no bells, no subjects and no interruptions….

Problems that Matter…
Where our Inquiry Started…and never ended.DSC_0166

“Inquiry” seems is a hot topic in education today (although it certainly isn’t a new concept). Facilitating a true inquiry can be a challenge when students are strapped to a schedule, a curriculum or even when being assessed or monitored for their performance. It is a challenge when the classroom environment doesn’t allow for exploration or choice. Inquiry can be challenging because it isn’t predictable and it means taking risks, not knowing how long it will take and not always having the final answer.
DSC_0254Where I co-teach with Beth Carey at the “Enrichment and Innovation Centre” (geared for Gifted Students at the HWDSB), these stipulations do not exist. A few things are important to note about our program and its uniqueness compared to a “traditional” classroom setting. First, our schedule is completely flexible. We do not have periods or subjects, there are no bell interruptions, no set lunch, no duty and no specific transition other than when to arrive and when to leave. We do not have specific seating or teaching areas. This is key because this schedule and environment allows us the time and flexibility to fully and completely immerse ourselves (teachers and students) into topics and let our natural curiosity take over. It should also be noted, that we do not start each lesson with “how it will be assessed”, but instead we leave this open-ended and students drive their own assessment through constant feedback and dialogue. With support, students monitor their own thinking and we (and they) adapt as needed.

That is what happened today.

IMG_0021_2While we don’t have ‘Subjects”, we do use Big Idea questions to drive a topic. Today, for instance, we started with this question: How can LOCAL and GLOBAL citizens impact the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)? Of course, this led to further questions: Are we working on Problems that Matter? In order to understand a problem (or perceived problem) do we need to try to live or experience that problem ourselves? What is the role in FAILURE to help us guide innovations? Of course, this is also very tightly connected to the History, Geography and Social Studies Curriculum (as well as Language, Science and Arts).

For the most part, students participated in an INQUIRY focus around the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and the role of NGO’s, NPO’s and everything in between. Students collaboratively investigated and researched local and global initiatives and co-created a series of inquiry questions to help them develop their own humanitarian initiative. They had to first understand the topic and what exists already (and why). They c0-created a book to share a few of their ‘passions’ and what they deem as “important”.

Students created inspiring ideas. Seriously. 

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 7.22.50 PMOne group presented their idea, “Teen Teachers” , an idea that resembled something like a Khan Academy, except teens could join this website as ‘teachers’ or ‘students’ and learn together, as they wanted, when they wanted and what they wanted. This idea was so popular that a few other students began side conversations about how they might market this, how this could be part of their “Individual Education Plans”. Another group proposed a topic around Mental Health and Teens and suggested an organization that encouraged teens to use their musical talents, in hospitals or nursing homes, as a way to help those suffering from Mental Health disabilities. They suggested (hypothesized) that playing music for others could help the performer as much as it could help the audience.

Another group shared an inquiry that they eventually named, “Pretty in Pink”. Similar to the “Neighbourhood Watch” initiative, this organization would encourage neighbourhoods to train, talk, discuss and learn about issues relating to Women Safety. Residents, after being trained, would get a sign/logo to post in their front window, a way to show solidarity and support and let Teens in trouble know they had somewhere safe to go.

Another group spent the afternoon learning about local farmers only to find out they had more questions then answers. Why do local products tend to cost more then imported products? Why are local farmers not supported more in schools? How can local farmers reach out to the urban communities? This group decided to form a initiative to promote local, organic and non-gmo foods and to use a crowd-sourced donation effort to bring costs down.

DSC_0244As the students collaborated, their inquiries led to further inquires and more questions. The flexibility of our day (as I noted, we do not have specified periods, recess or lunch) allowed us to veer off topic when our questions guided us in different directions. At some points, students became entrenched in their work, even when they recognized it wasn’t leading to their final outcome. The fact that we didn’t fixate on an “assessment agenda” or “evaluative criteria” freed students from the need to perform. For instance, a couple of students found themselves immersed in the Raspberri Pi’s (small computers), eventually changing their inquiry topic completely. I could write an entire chapter on the amount of problems these students had to tackle in order to get the Raspberri Pi’s running (we don’t have an ethernet internet connection). They recognized that these small computers, priced under $50.00 could solve problems relating to lack of technology access.

15375At one point, we found our Sustainable Garden group with their heads in the Worm Compost (literally) which soon became a big excitement, as student after student had to observe, touch, smell and watch these little creature do their magic (and we found thousands of little baby worms, which was very exciting). “Black- Gold or Magic Soil is what we use in our classroom garden,” we tell the students. “The worms eat our fresh fruit and vegetables and then do their job”. The students were fascinated which led to more questions about how this could be an initiative in parts of the world where fresh food wasn’t always accessible.

Back to our initial inquiry. Problems that Matter.

Design Thinking ~ Make Urban ReDevelopment a Reality in Minecraft

The purpose of this lesson is to inspire and engage students to use creative and critical thinking skills to make decisions and designs that impact an urban area. This cross-curricular approach to Design Thinking, allows students the freedom to use and connect  their inquires to real examples. The activity is intended for group or collaborative learning and uses a combination of whole class and small group facilitation with access to a variety of tools. The final product is a Design and proposal of a chosen Urban Landscape in their own community. Minecraft (and lego) are ideal platforms for students to use resources and tools collaborative to display their concepts.  The example lesson (below)  was facilitated with a group of 7th and 8th Graders in the Gifted Program at HWDSB.

Design Thinking – How are Urban Landscapes changing to meet the needs of people and communities of the present and future?

Throughout their schooling, our students learn why cities are built along waterways. Most Social Studies  (History, Geography) curriculums emphasize the impact of Early Settlements and Explorers at the turn of the 19th Century. Students learn about industrialization and as they move along in grades and age, they begin to make connections between the age of industrialization, globalization, communities, Social Justice and Environment.  Our learners have and will make strong connections about how the age of industrialization has impacted them and the world around them. Eventually, they will use this knowledge to move forward and apply 21st Century technologies to make change and adaptations to the world around them.

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 5.20.37 PM

The picture here is Hamilton, Ontario, situated on the Western part of Lake Ontario (across from Toronto, South of Niagara Falls). The area at the bottom of the picture display the industries and factories that gave Hamilton it’s nick name – Steel Town.  Over the last few years, many of these factories have downsized, been bought out, or have shut down.

This is a REAL  example that IMPACTS my students. It is their community, their city, their economy. They need to feel compelled and INSPIRED to care, to understand why this single example connects to people and events around the world.

Ask the Learners to think Big: How can  old technologies and industries be transformed to meet the needs of today..and the future? WHY does it matter?

In most big cities, there are areas just like Hamilton where the industries that occupy the space are changing in scale and nature. Many are approaching the end of their time. This is an excellent opportunity to have students explore, investigate and make real world connections. Who knows, maybe one of their ideas and concepts will become a reality.

Ask them  to think BIGGER.

What makes a good city? Why?

What is the difference between demolishing and restoring?

How are cities changing or how should they change to meet the needs of a growing population?

Invite students to make GLOBAL Connections – In this short and compelling talk Kent Larson gives many examples of how cities and industries are changing to meet the needs of the future.

Kent Larson: Brilliant designs to fit more people in every city gives some examples that apply to the now and the future….

Bring it back to a local example and invite students to share potential ideas, concerns and insights from those shared by Larson. Are the innovations realistic? Doable? Possible? How do the ideas and theories from other communities impact our community?

Return to Barton and Tiffany (Hamilton’s Industry Land)

http://www.raisethehammer.org/article/2029/return_to_barton-tiffany “The Carr/Curran “vision” was presented to planning committee councillors in the late summer of 2012 and was greeted politely if not enthusiastically.”














Invite students to explore examples from other local areas. Examples that are real and possible. Here is one from Hamilton’s Neighbour – Toronto.The Cherry Beach area, along the Toronto Waterfront that seems to only be used by locals. Paths, and parks boarder along industries and along the waterfront.






Invite students to share the many examples of how land and space can be restored to attract people and improve communities. This picture is an example of bike and pedestrian paths that were added behind roads, beside roads, on the side of factories and even along old rail lines, eventually leading to the Beaches area of Toronto.






1) In pairs or groups, continue to investigate the history and examples of urban redevelopment both locally and globally.

2)Draw, Sketch and Discuss alternatives to the land.








3) Co-create and build the land in the Minecraft and/or LEGO Environment – Flat Land (collaborative server).








Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 7.20.21 PM








4) Using a shared Document, presentation style, ADD a captured screen shot of the proposed concept/design.








Community and Urban Planning – Project Based Learning and Minecraft

The following pictures/slides provide some information about how we are using PROJECT BASED LEARNING, INQUIRY and MINECRAFT in the classroom.

Recently, a reporter asked me, “So what have you learned through this project?”


I’ve learned that I need to step back and trust my students.

I need to provide time, support and facilitate the groups and activities and allow them to discover for themselves the different possibilities, avenues and perspective of an issue.

I learned how important it is to use tools that they themselves are familiar with and to explicitly provide situations where they can be leaders and facilitators themselves.

The Barton and Tiffany area in Hamilton remains vacant. These students, while their concept plans may never get to play out in the real world, have had their voices heard.

World of Sand Challenge – Problem Solving, Inquiry – and fun.

“Salt and water combine to form salt water, which sinks below pure water. Heating up salt water causes it to split back into salt water and steam. Steam rises and condenses, eventually forming water droplets. Plants drink water and grow, but die if exposed to salt water. And that’s just three of the nineteen materials available for you to draw.” – World of Sand

What I’ve discovered most about my students in this Gifted program, is that they want challenge. Not just any challenge, but a challenge that doesn’t have just one answer, but a myriad of possibilities. They want a challenge that can be done, and re-done over and over, with different results or possibilities. They want to create the challenge, to ask the questions, and to discover solutions. The epitome of inquiry?

Today, one of the students finally got to implement HIS challenge. Details posted on his blog post – “World of Sand Challenge” (A comment on his post would result in a  smile).

Using the REFLECTION app on the SMARTBOARD along with the iPad app World of Sand, he demonstrated how to combine the elements, tools and chemicals to create reactions. Once the students had a chance to practice, he set specific guidelines: Acid, Liquid Fire and Acid to be set as “automatic” – in that order. The problem? Combine the other elements so that these elements/chemicals do not touch bottom of screen.


Here is one student explaining their result. I feel humbled to be part of their learning journey.