Skip to main content

Catalysts in the Classroom

By August 15, 2023No Comments

A chain reaction set off a high-energy summer at KID Museum – for kids as well as teachers and our community partners. In June, as schools were letting out, we hosted representatives from 16 local nonprofits that receive funding from the Mead Family Foundation to support under-resourced communities. To emphasize this group’s potential to catalyze change, KID maker-educators facilitated an activity to build a Rube Goldberg-like machine. Each table team created one component of the contraption, relying on the group before them and the group after to cause and sustain the reaction.

Collective impact has continued as a theme throughout the summer. Day campers have been applying maker learning to challenges in transportation, construction and engineering, and community farming. For adult learners, the break from daily teaching has let educators go deep and build their own making skills as they prepare for a school year that will again focus on pandemic recovery.

Teachers need ongoing opportunities to learn, refresh their toolkits and collaborate with peers. Unfortunately, in most schools and districts, those opportunities occur too rarely during the school year. Teachers’ appreciation is enormous when they get to experience rich and relevant “PD” (professional development), as two groups did at KID Museum in July.

"This was probably the most meaningful, fun, and impactful PD I've had in many years!”

- Anonymous Teach For The Future Participant

“I haven’t had the chance to build or do an interactive inquiry-based activity for myself for a long time,” shared one of 80 new and aspiring teachers from around the country who participated in a half-day workshop as part of the Teacher Quality and Retention Program’s summer institute. The Thurgood Marshall College Fund operates TQRP and has built the program since 2009 into a network of more than 600 educators from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Predominantly Black Institutions. KID Museum got connected to this great community through a mutual funder, Infosys Foundation USA, which has also sponsored our trainings for teachers serving Latinx students.

Another summer cohort of teachers, who work in Maryland, District of Columbia, and Virginia schools with student populations historically under-represented in STEM, spent two days with us developing their maker learning skills. Kicking off at KID’s flagship makerspace in Bethesda and at our partner the Universities at Shady Grove, the year-long Teach for the Future fellowship is KID’s first-ever fellowship program for educators. 

After engaging with KID Museum’s studios just like students do during field trips, one of the 60 fellows said, “Having the time to explore without the time pressures of the school year allowed me to learn new skills and generate ideas for using these maker skills in my media center.”

Another commented on the post-institute survey, “This was probably the most meaningful, fun, and impactful PD I’ve had in many years!”

While I love to hear this enthusiasm for KID Museum’s teacher programming, I wish it weren’t in contrast with common critiques about the way America’s education system trains and develops teachers. The knock on so much “drive-by” professional development is that it’s sporadic and brief. Teachers get little from “sit and get” sessions that are not interactive and are untailored to individual teacher’s needs or specialties. The content may be interesting in theory but hard to apply in the classroom.

Teachers’ lack of agency in their own development and practice is contributing to a labor shortage in the education sector, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has noted. As part of KID’s partnership with the Thurgood Marshall fund, I joined the TQRP fellows to hear Secretary Cardona after their workshop at KID Museum.

“This teacher shortage is a symptom of the teacher-respect issue we have in this country,” he said. “Let’s trust their decisions in the field. Let’s ask for their input as we reimagine schools after the pandemic.”

Just as students lost ground during COVID, instruction has degraded, according to a recent survey of public school leaders. “Teaching loss” is impeding recovery. The good news is: Maker learning offers a way to rebound and leap forward – for students and teachers.

My hope for all the educators who trained this summer at KID Museum is that they catalyze a movement in their schools and districts for more hands-on, experiential learning experiences that reach and engage especially students under-represented in STEM. What a chain reaction that could be!


is in the making at KID Museum, thanks to a partnership with MCPS around our Invent the Future programming. Founder Cara Lesser writes for The Education Trust.



in celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with an exciting event on October 8, 2023!