Making an Impact: One District’s Approach to Deeper Learning

As part of the Alliance for Excellent Education’s (the Alliance’s) ongoing series about how districts and schools are fostering deeper learning outcomes for students, the Alliance contacted Chad Ratliff, director of instruction for Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) in Virginia, to discuss his efforts to bring Maker-centered work to the district and its connections with deeper learning. ACPS is one of the first school districts nationally to recognize the value of Maker-centered learning, an instructional approach that encourages students to solve problems by tinkering, building, inventing, or otherwise creating physical or digital artifacts. ACPS started its efforts three years ago when the district’s Monticello High School converted its library to a Makerspace. The district also reimagined the elementary remedial summer school programs asMaker academies. Below is an excerpt from the discussion with Ratliff.

Alliance: How does ACPS define Making? What is a Maker?

Ratliff: We are committed to young people getting opportunities to construct knowledge and skills through the processes of imagining, creating, designing, building, engineering, evaluating, and communicating learning. We believe that it is essential that our students learn how to be Makers in all phases of their lives, rather than just consumers. We are committed to Making as how we learn, not as an add-on or event, and we understand that both learning to make and Making to learn are essential in everyday classroom practice.

Alliance: How does this approach work in a school district? How did it start in ACPS?

Ratliff: Our approach to Making begins with grassroots educators who value young people of any age, color, gender, or background getting the chance to answer the question, “What do you want to make?” When administrators from the superintendent to building principals support experiences for students to ask questions, be curious, explore interests, and pursue passions, then Making takes root as a path to learning in which our young people actively participate in what we call a “search, connect, communicate, and make” model, rather than what education has been defined as being in the past—more of a passive “read, listen, write, and recall” content model.  Making became integrated into Albemarle’s culture through a project called Design 2015 that began in 2012 as a way of accelerating shifts in practice that were more likely to engage our kids in learning for life, rather than just to pass tests and courses. We’ve allowed Making as a big idea to scale across the district rather than to force fit it into a program that we attempt to replicate or scale up in schools.

Alliance: How does Making support deeper learning?

Ratliff: Making is deeper learning. Kids who make often find themselves delving deeper into the rabbit hole of their interests. For example, (read the rest here…)


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