A confession: This is one of my favorite topics. I think that hands-on experimentation, design, invention and creating is one of the most stimulating things you can engage students in, and I lap up anything I can on the thriving maker movement.
For teachers this is not new. Teachers have been puzzling out how to make practical their lessons for eons: making rocket ships from matchsticks, paper mâché solar systems, cabinets in Woodshop and Beef Wellington in Home Ec. So, it is with mild bemusement - I’m sure - that many teachers observe the breathless passion with which so many millennials talk about the Maker Movement.
Beyond the overly complex nomenclature of the Maker Movement (what exactly is the difference between a FabLab and a HackerSpace? -- A topic perhaps for another blog), there are discernable differences between simply applying classroom lessons to practical problems, and the ethos of the Maker Movement.
At its heart the Maker Movement is a method of production that hopes to de-industrialisz and decentralize the manufacturing process. Taking the making and inventing of things out of the industrial complex, and putting it back into the hands of individual artisans, inventors, tinkerers, craftspeople, weekend-engineers and others, has the potential to revolutionize what we buy, and where and whom we buy it from. Ideologically it is a push against unmindful consumerism, corporate dominance and unethical manufacturing practices.
The Maker Movement hopes to bring people out from behind their screens, to interact and create in “the meatspace”, achieving self-sustained communities that are again empowered to grow, build, manufacture and buy goods that are hyper-local (seems I’m getting trapped in the nomenclature myself). The maker movement ethos can be found in ideals such as economic self-determinism, and has inspired movements such as amateur and citizen science, urban agriculture, slow food and the return to artisanal crafts.
The Internet brought new ways of collaborating, sharing, inventing and creating; incrementally Open Source ideology is being applied to the manufacture of goods (not just software), where once patents and intellectual property was jealously guarded, increasingly companies are finding ways to monetize, and profit from sharing their resources with the Crowd.
So let’s unpack three of the pedagogically relevant concepts that drive the Maker Movement.
No, not outer space - we’d need a few more Elon Musks in the world before space travel became an individual maker-pursuit! I’m talking about a dedicated room, garage, lab or other space that is dedicated to tinkering and making.
Any of us who has a DIY partner will know the endless piles of “stuff” that accumulates when making things. This “stuff” can’t easily be put away at the end of a work session, and so most makers require a dedicated space, where their “stuff” can remain without cluttering out other areas.
Creating a makerspace in your class or school need not come at huge expense. I like this blog that gives some practical tips on carving out a makerspace in your school.
Pinterest is also an amazing resource for maker spaces - specifically for elementary school projects.
Underlying all the gluing, crafting, making, soldering, cutting and creating of a makerspace is a principle called “Design Thinking”. What defines Makers (capital M intentional) is that they think about problems as design flaws.
The problem is: It doesn’t work.
The questions are: Why doesn’t it work? How can it be built so it does work? What else can we change to make it work better?
Even though our maker project might only be redesigning a backpack or vacuum cleaner, the underlying thought process is a powerful engine of critical thinking. Design thinking can and should be applied to wider topics: looking at social, environmental and economic problems as design flaws can yield wonderfully engaging projects for high school students. Read about how one teacher applied design thinking to history here.
Error and practice are inherent in the Maker Movement. Learning from our mistakes, seeking guidance from experts and accepting the process of try-try-try-again are, in and of themselves, a natural fit for the classroom.
On a deeper pedagogic level the emphasis on constructive learning means that students are applying - in an almost seamless manner - what they learn, with what they can do with that learning. The impact of their knowledge is immediately revealed by what they create with their hands, and minds.
A lengthy - but highly readable - talk on Constructivism vs. Instructivism clarifies the deeper theoretical foundation for the value of maker models in class.
Then there’s the ideology: Creating something new is not only challenging and fun, but could end up engendering a deeper sense of self-reliance, independence and enthusiasm for micro-manufacturing.
The Maker Movement has an almost infinite variety of options for teachers looking to use all the very best technology has to offer to create practical, hands-on learning environments for students of all ages.