Birch School : Maker Rings

Sharing the Story of "Students supporting Students to MAKE their best work"


BirchSchool: Maker Rings

We are excited about our new Maker Rings project.  Sign up here to get updates about this project.   The website is a works-in-progress.  As our project gets started we will have weekly blogposts.  Curriculum lessons and resource links are continually added to and updated.

November 20, 2014

Contact: Bob Jobin, NWP, 510-255-0963,

Kate Fox, The Birch School 845-361-2267


Rock Tavern, Hudson Valley, NY – The Birch School/Maker Rings Chosen for National Educator Innovator Award

LRNG grant will accelerate the creative application and use of digital media


Rock Tavern, NY –– The Birch School, a small independent school in northeastern Orange County, is one of fourteen schools across the nation to be awarded a LRNG Innovation Challenge Grant from the National Writing Project (NWP) to develop, pilot, and share promising strategies to strengthen connected and deeper learning. The LRNG Innovation Challenge is a new program sponsored in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation and John Legend’s Show Me Campaign.


LRNG is a new initiative that invests in forward-looking schools and teachers to design innovative projects that take advantage of new technology to support students’ creativity.


“The LRNG partners were impressed by The Birch School because of their teacher-led commitment to ensuring that young people become the problem solvers of the future”, stated NWP executive director, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl. “We are pleased to support their innovation and sharing their story with schools across the country.”


The Birch School plans to use the new funds to support their work with students to create peer-based learning communities that encourage trust and mutual support.  “Our small size allows us to take an experimental approach to student directed and project based learning,” said co-founder and Principal Teacher Ed Helbig.


The new project, called “Maker Rings”, will challenge students with opportunities to produce work that reflects what they are learning.   A key component of the project is designing and building a portable technology resource center stocked with tools for creation and “Making”. This “Pop-Up Maker Space” will include hand tools, craft and electronics projects, computer coding demonstrations and a 3D Printer. The Birch School plan is to have the students demonstrate and share projects at local events and festivals in hopes of inspiring other young people to become “Makers” themselves. Their teacher team will share the curriculum they develop through the network of LRNG learning communities and on their project website,

“This funding will provide the resources that allow us to develop new ways of learning for students of the 21st Century. We are honored to be chosen by LRNG, and be recognized by national foundations as innovative educators.” said Kate Fox, co-founder and Director of The Birch School.

Funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Show Me Campaign, and individual donors, the LRNG grantees will develop, pilot and share promising teacher-powered strategies and solutions to strengthen connected and deeper learning for the widest range of young people. To learn more about LRNG and the grantees, visit


Harry Sweet, Gaye Sable, Kate Fox, Ed Helbig, The Birch School Teacher Team awarded funding for their project “Maker Rings”.


Through its mission, the National Writing Project focuses the knowledge, expertise, and leadership of our nation’s educators on sustained efforts to improve writing and learning. Writing in its many forms is the signature means of communication in the 21st century. The NWP envisions a future where every person is an accomplished writer, engaged learner, and active participant in a digital, interconnected world. Located on nearly 200 university and college campuses, NWP works in partnership with K-12 schools, libraries, museums, after-school programs, and local Writing Project sites to provide high-quality, sustained professional development for 100,000 teachers a year. Through its many successful programs and partnerships, the organization reaches 1.4 million Pre-K through college-age students in over 3,000 schools districts annually.



This fall and winter, Birch School upper level students will participate in unique collaborative program that will help them to develop a strong level of mutual trust, strong communication skills and strong group process skills.

The project entails the creation of what we are calling “Maker Rings”. Maker Rings are groups of 5 – 7 students who meet together regularly to engage in authentic community. Students engage in established routines that both individually and as a collective. With direction and assistance from teacher/mentors, they participate in group activities that challenge them to expand their thinking, take risks and develop trust, enabling them to create a caring and kind group of students committed to doing their best work. We propose to develop and deliver a comprehensive curriculum of research-supported activities that when put into place would guide a student group through the process of developing strong relationships and group problem-solving ability. When the group has established a level of trust and creative group problem solving students would be encouraged to design and complete their own creative projects, either individually or in small groups.


Using tools such as “talking stick circles”, “Tribes agreements”, and a facilitated inclusive consensus group process we will develop a culture of inclusiveness and common group goals. We will help students develop skills in maximizing brain power and increasing focus by introducing the growth mindset (Dweck) and brain science (using Brainology and others) and brain focusing tools ranging from “Smart Moves” (Fablevision) and Mindfulness Yoga, to Luminosity and daily journaling, Frequent outdoor time and unstructured “play” time is also an essential component of our time together, promoting self-directed discovery and organic collaboration. We recognize the value in “learning by doing” and promote a safe, permissive atmosphere for participants.

Activities include negotiation of basic agreements, team-building challenges, frequent group check- ins and discussions, regularly scheduled feedback circles, brainstorming sessions, and group decision-making. Routines such as the “Morning Stand-up” and other “agile” practices, and executive functioning tools such as Trello and Evernote will be introduced. Mentor will design team-building challenges and games from sources like GameStorming, Project Adventure, Systems- Thinking Playbook, New Games, and others. In the circle students will be introduced to tools of creation, such as MIT Scratch, Mozilla WebMaker,, Minecraft, NaNoWriMo, They will explore tools of connection, such as Twitter (KQED DoNow), Instagram, blogging. We will use technological tools to construct more complex social arrangements and improve their ability to cooperate. (Rheingold) We’ll explore tools for communication coordination (Project Foundry and iRemix), as well as developing our own technological tools. We hope to increase their drive to produce their most creative work.



The Birch School is located in Rock Tavern, NY.  Mail address is Circleville, NY.  The project is funded by Education Innovator, The National Writing Project, The MacArthur Foundation, The ShowMe Fund.

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