Making to Improve Mastery

At Early Light Academy, we are shifting to using a Mastery Learning model. The Mastery Learning model has been gaining momentum across the country (see Mastery is the new classroom buzzword). Yet, there is a growing movement toward making (see this article from TIME magazine about the maker movement). Taking this even further, doing any sort of internet search for the phrase “maker movement education” produces literally millions of results. This begs the question: how might Making improve mastery?  


Mastery Learning Flowchart

The main principles of Mastery Learning are shown in the infographic to the left. How we use this at Early Light Academy is very similar, but with Mastery being set at 80%. We use the Common Core as our guide for the topics to be mastered. The main principles of Making is to make, share, give, learn, tool up, play, participate, support and change (Hatch, 2014). Where can these two seemingly contradictory models blend? Kathleen Costanza recognizes “both reject memorization and the antiquated idea that schools should act as storehouses of information. Both reflect of a larger shift in how we think about teaching and learning” (Costanza, 2014).

When Making is used in the learning process, I feel, is the essence of the answer to my question on how Making might improve mastery. I see three opportunities with three different possible outcomes of when Making could improve mastery in this lesson (and in other lessons). I will call these good, better, and best.

To illustrate my point, take a student in math class. She will learn about volume. In a Mastery Learning classroom she will go through the mastery cycle shown above. She will learn formulas for finding the volume of a rectangular prism or a cylinder, practice finding volumes, then take an assessment on it. A good attempt at using Making for mastery is to have her demonstrate she’s mastered volume by extending her learning in making containers. A better use of Making is in reteaching her. Perhaps she wasn’t sure what all the variables in the formulas meant. She could see, through making, what volume is and where the parts of the formula come from. The best way to use Making for mastery, as I’ve discovered, is at the beginning. Before anything is formally taught on volume, the teacher needs to give way, through Making, for her to form a question, or a problem she can’t resist asking. Perhaps a situation where she sees questions such as, “How much will each person get?” or “How can we compare amounts?” She will be more interested in answering a question she formulated than one imposed on her. She will be eager to find a way to calculate “how much” (the volume) faster and a need for the formula for volume. She will know just where the parts of the formula came from. The knowledge will be hers.

Transferring ownership to the student so she is more interested in her learning volume is essential (Berger, 2014). Einstein said it well: “The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill” (Einstein, 1938). Having the formulation of this problem happen in her head is the answer.  She will still be able to find the formula and practice finding volume same as before but, it will be her questioning that got her there. Then when she takes assessment on it, she will be empowered with profound personal skills to answer it.

In short, the answer to whether Making might improve mastery is in how it is used. Making can provide a meaningful hook for students to formulate the questions and therefore the answers.


Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Costanza, K. (September 22, 2014). The Common Core Meets the Maker Movement. Remake Learning. Retrieved from

Einstein, A., & Infeld, L. (1938). The evolution of physics. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. 

Hatch, M. (2014). The Maker Movement Manifesto. New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education.



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