The Maker Movement – Feasible, Sustainable, and Effective Education
All humans are makers. We tinker. We create. We build stuff – from cookies to robots. So, the Maker Movement of recent years is not new – and may not even be a “movement” – but its momentum continues to grow, generating excitement and hope to create opportunities and solve intractable problems around the world.
Computers, of course, play a significant role in the Maker Movement. Even here, it is worth remembering that computer application of the Maker Movement is almost 50 years old, sparked by a 1971 breakthrough paper, “Twenty Things to Do with a Computer” by Dr. Cynthia Solomon and Seymour Papert, who along with other researchers, developed the first programming language for children.
Today, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and STEAM (which incorporates ‘art’ with STEM) are essential to the development and application of high tech skills that will allow today’s children to succeed in an economy transitioning from manufacturing to one that is more knowledge based and entrepreneurial.
As a grass roots and global trend, the Maker Movement presents challenges to educational institutions, businesses, individuals, and parents trying to harness its potential. In his TED Talk, “Every Child Deserves a Maker Space,” Vipul Redey, sharing his experiences creating a Maker Space in India and citing examples from the US and elsewhere, advises parents to create their own Maker Spaces, however modest, to help stimulate creativity.
Vipul Redey argues that Maker Spaces must be fully integrated into a school and its curriculum, as it affects the curriculum, schedules, teachers hired, kind of training offered, content and assessment, and even the architecture of the building to create an open space to facilitate exchange of ideas and creativity.
But there are challenges to implementing a successful Maker Space. Some schools may have to incorporate the Maker Space as an add on that is disconnected from the curriculum and real-world challenges. Teachers, who are a key factor to the sustainability of the Maker Space, may feel intimidated by a different learning environment, or feel threatened by technology they are not familiar with. Moreover, they may feel uncomfortable with changes in power relationships with students in the Maker Space. To allow students to unleash their creativity, teachers are no longer expected to be the technical expert, but act more like coaches. The best Maker Space outcomes are generated when students are provided only general goals, rather than being forced to follow “school solution” intermediate steps to reach their goal, which encourages creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills in each student.
Some schools cannot afford expensive high-tech equipment, such as 3D printers, but that does not mean they cannot have a dynamic Maker Space. Schools with limited resources could, for example, develop whatever is feasible and available to their local area. In “The Classroom or Library as a Maker Space,” Jackie Gerstein, author of the 2015 eBook, “The Educator as Maker Educator,” examines practical ways to create Maker Spaces in classrooms and libraries that promote “playing, tinkering, making, collaborating, discussing, researching [and] reflecting” in an “agile and nimble learning environment.” Her approach creates Maker Spaces that are accessible, affordable, and sustainable using materials and space already available rather than on “shiny toys” and high-tech environments.
These Maker Spaces may also be augmented through creative arrangements with non-profits, community service organizations, even businesses, that support sharing equipment and specialized training. There are also commercial Maker Spaces, such as Maven Makers in Savannah, Georgia, which provides space and training for local students, as well as adult makers. Or the TechShop franchise, which has expanded domestically and internationally.
With Maker Spaces moving into schools, it is important to keep in mind that their set-up, implementation, and continued development cannot be taken for granted. It is one thing to be able to create a Maker Space, but another thing altogether to make it work for students and remain sustainable. With the proper knowledge and tools, Maker Spaces can bring innovative and creative thinking into classrooms everywhere.
As Redey argues, Maker Spaces encourage students to get their hands dirty and take initiative, while becoming self-reliant and resourceful. Maker projects and tasks encourage tenacity to get the job done without giving up and making do with the materials available to solve the problem at hand. It does not matter if students make things using popsicle sticks, glue, and paper or all the way up to high-tech 3D printers and all the possibilities in between. The goal of the Maker Movement is to stimulate creativity, strengthen problem solving, enhance learning, and build confidence. What better gift could an educator or parent provide to children to prepare them for the future?