I have a confession: I am not a “maker” in the conventional sense. I have no idea how to program in Arduino, no desire to 3D print anything, and I have yet to take advantage of the free soldering lessons offered at the Maker Faire each year. Regardless, I am enamored with this movement, its potential to revolutionize learning and what it can offer educators and students.
Fortunately, those within the maker movement also realize its potential to transform learning. In just the four years I have been attending the Maker Faire in San Mateo, I have noticed some exciting trends in the way this movement is addressing its role in education.
This year, for example, the Maker Ed stage — which is filled with talks every half hour from open to close — was moved to a more central location, not tucked into a back corner as in previous years. Also, two of the more prominent stages featured talks by educators: Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich from the Exploratorium and “Invent to Learn” co-authors Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager.
Another noticeable shift was the content of the talks presented at the Maker Ed stage. Anecdotal examples of individual programs have dominated the conversation in the past, but some of this year’s presenters took a wider perspective. While it is important to glean inspiration from powerful examples of making with students, it’s vital to think about how to implement some of the principles more broadly if this movement is going to shift education in a large-scale and meaningful way. With topics like “Adopting a Maker Philosophy in Schools” and “Top 10 Myths about Making in K-12 Education,” the speakers explored a greater breadth of questions this year.
What maker culture brings to education
As someone who has spent much of her adult life thinking about education, I believe the culture of the maker movement has much to offer educators in both formal and informal settings. Makerspaces, both in community and school settings, nurture innovation and experimentation. There is an emphasis on coming up with ideas or projects and then tinkering with materials in hands-on ways to find solutions. Repurposing and reusing are core values to makers, who often work with what they can find around them — physical objects as well as ideas.
Sharing: Makerspaces also embody what a dynamic community of practice can look like. The movement embraces a strong culture of mentoring in which individuals practice the open sharing of skills as well as tools. When someone “masters” a new technique, they turn around and teach it to someone else who is just starting out.
Passion-based learning: Makerspaces also encourage interest-driven exploration of ideas and projects. In fact, the very nature of coming up with new answers to problems almost demands that makers (as individuals or small groups) follow their own insights and interests as they pursue novel solutions.
Process vs. product: Make is a philosophy that embodies the notion of valuing process over product. There is a perception that ideas and creations can always be improved upon, so even when you are done making something you could probably still tweak it to make it better, more aesthetic, more efficient or more interesting.
Iteration: Making also encourages grit and persistence. In many cases, first attempts will not be successful. Makers often have to pivot, try something new, explore another angle, prototype and reiterate again and again. And maybe making even allows us to toss away the word “failure” and embrace the variety of steps innately involved in learning and trying — and the gifts of insight we receive when we figure out why something didn’t work.
It is an exciting time to be an educator. The democratization of tools and information offered by the maker movement will only help learners become more technologically literate and interact with technology as producers, not just consumers. However, I think it’s the “soft skills” provided by these experiences that will help prepare students for whatever the unknown future holds and enable them to face it with confidence.
This blog post was produced in partnership with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Stay tuned for two more guest posts this month.
Jennifer Wyld is a Ph.D. candidate in free-choice learning in the Science and Math Education program at Oregon State University and a guest blogger for the International Society for Technology in Education. Meet her at the ISTE 2014 Maker’s Playground and Agile Learning Space.