Next week I’ll be hosted by the FabLearn DK (also known as Fablab@schools DK) network, a group of 44 (and growing) schools in four municipalities in Denmark: Kolding, Vejle, Silkeborg and Aarhus. These schools share resources, professional development, and expertise in their quest to engage students in high quality fabrication, design, and engineering experiences within the context of existing schools.
I’ll be one of the keynotes at FabLearn DK (sold out!) — but more importantly, I’ll be meeting and working with educators and learning from them. I’m very excited and honored that I can spend a week with these schools.
This is potentially a model of the elusive “scale” that so many educators seek from “maker education.”
An integral part of this effort is that a team from the University of Aarhus, led by Ole Sejer Iversen, has been documenting and conducting research from the start of the project to study how digital fabrication could promote 21st century skills in educational contexts. Here are some preliminary (draft) results from one report to be released very soon.
Fablab@school.dk status 2017
Number of firstname.lastname@example.org (schools): 44
Teachers engaged: 1,160
Students engaged: 12,000
Scaling the Fablab@school initiative towards 2019 (estimates)
Number of email@example.com (schools): 61
Teachers engaged: 3,050
Students engaged: 19,100
In a 2016 survey study with 450 firstname.lastname@example.org affiliated students (aged 11-15) and 15 in-depth interviews we found that:
FabLab students improved their understandings of digital fabrication technologies and design
FabLab students gained experience with a range of digital fabrication technologies
FabLab students found the work with digital fabrication technologies motivating, interesting, and useful for their futures. They “liked” FabLab, “loved projects with digital fabrication”, and “learned a lot.”
Learning outcomes and motivation were very dependent on schools and teachers*
Also quoting from the draft:
There were large variations within the FabLab group with regard to the number of technologies used, design process structuring, student motivation, and students’ self-perceived knowledge, as well as on self- perceived learning outcomes such as creativity with digital fabrication technologies, abilities to critically reflect on the use of digital technologies, and complex problem solving. The variations among groups of schools followed a pattern in which higher numbers of technologies, more knowledge of the design process model, higher motivation, and better learning outcomes appeared to be connected.
In schools in which students used a wide range of technologies, worked with own ideas with a diverse range of digital technologies, and had their work scaffolded and structured around the AU Design Process Model** to a high degree, students reported that they had on average become better at imagining change with technology, at working creatively with technology, at understanding how new technologies are created, and at understanding how technology is affecting our lives as well as at solving complex problems. Thus, the FabLab@School.dk project did initiate the development of Design literacy among some students. However, it was very much up to chance, what education in digital fabrication and design processes, the students received.
* Shocking, eh? (NOT) The full report goes into more detail on these variations, but it’s no surprise that when you give people more agency, they tend to do unique things. Can we all strive for excellence? Sure – but that’s not the same as everyone doing the same thing. Scale does not have to mean replication. More on this later.
** The Aarhus University (AU) Design Process Model is a specific design process being developed for educational use. The schools were free to use (or not use) this model with students.
In the past decade, the terms makerspace, hackerspace, and fablab have come on the horizon. These are new names for what people have always done—come together to fix things, make new things, and learn from each other.
These spaces support learning and doing in a way that redefines both traditional schooling and traditional manufacturing. Smart tools, rapid prototyping, digital fabrication, and computational technology combine with the global reach of the internet to share ideas, solutions to problems, and best of all, the actual designs of things you can make yourself. These spaces are launch pads for a future where people of all ages can be agents of change rather than objects of change.
Hackerspace – “Hacking” is both the action and belief that systems should be open to all people to change and redistribute for the greater good and often done for fun and amazement. It’s unfortunately recently gained the connotation of illegal and invasive computer activity, which was not part of the original meaning. Hackerspaces are more prevalent in Europe than the US (and apparently Australia, see the map). A hackerspace is typically communally operated. There are many models and no common set of requirements. Hackerspaces.org has a wiki with over a thousand active spaces listed.
Makerspace – Since MAKE magazine debuted in 2005, the word “making” has been adopted as a softer, safer alternative to hacking. This is especially true in K-12 schools, libraries, museums, and youth centers where the subversive aspect of “hacking” might be seen as negative or even criminal. You can see on the Google trends graph (above), that searches for the term “makerspace” started gaining momentum around 2013 as “hackerspace” started trending downward. “Makerspace” is now catching up with “fablab” (especially in the US). There is no single organizational body or rules about what a makerspace should be.
Fablab – Short for “fabrication lab,” fablab is a generic term, a nod to Fab Labs (see next) without formally joining the network. Even though the “fab” refers to digital fabrication, the activities in fablabs aren’t restricted to 3D printing and laser cutting. They run the gamut of physical and digital construction, using tools, crafts, and modern technology.
Fab Lab – The non-generic use of the term refers to spaces and organizations who participate in a network run by the Fab Foundation led by Neil Gershenfeld and Sherry Lassiter of the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms. Neil Gershenfeld is the author of the 2005 book “Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop–from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication” that predicted much of the impact that personal fabrication tools would have on the world. As of October 2016, the Fab Lab network includes 713 Fab Labs worldwide. All Fab Labs have a common charter and specific requirements for space and tools including digital fabrication tools, milling machines, cutters, CNC machines, etc. Every Fab Lab is required to have free and open access to the public and participate in the network.
FabLearn Labs – Formerly known as Fablab@school, FabLearn is run out of the Transformative Learning Technologies Lab (TLTL), a research group led by Paulo Blikstein within Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education. These K-12 school-based labs, developed in collaboration with university partners internationally, put digital fabrication and other cutting-edge technology for design and construction into the hands of middle and high school students. The goal of FabLearn Labs is similar to the Fab Lab network, but with a focus on the special needs and practices that support K-12 education.
Other space names
Tool sharing co-operatives, clubs, and community workshops – The are an infinite variety of non-profit and commercial organizations offering community tool sharing, classes, or incubation space for all ages. They usually offer different kinds of fee-based membership packages, but even commercial spaces may offer some free access in the spirit of serving the local community. These spaces offer different configurations of equipment, some focusing on heavy power tools, some offering artistic tools and space, while others are more electronics and computer-oriented. They also organize around different principles including community support, job training, DIY workspace, after-school/summer youth activities, small business incubators, recycling, or art studio. Some are adult only, while others have activities for youth and families.
School – Don’t forget that there is a long tradition of hands-on learning spaces in schools variously called labs, studios, shops, libraries, and even classrooms! It doesn’t have to be a new space with a new name. Libraries don’t have to change their name to be a place where hands-on activities are as important as the books on the shelves. While a refresh is always good, a school makerspace should not mean throwing away books or closing the auto shop. There is incredible potential to be found in integrating these activities—and integrating the segregated populations they tend to serve.
Libraries, museums, community centers and other local organizations are embracing the makerspace concept, with modern technology updates to hands-on activities and discovery centers beloved by generations of young people.
What’s the difference? What’s best?
As you can see, the differences are mostly historical, with increasing overlap in the terms. There are so many different models, with different missions, organization structures, and audiences, that it’s difficult to pin it down.
When these spaces serve children, the term “makerspace” is more prevalent than “hackerspace” simply because it sounds safe and legal. A few years ago, “fablab” was slightly more widespread globally, but I believe that “makerspace” has overtaken it in popularity. In any case, there is little difference between the generic use of fablab and makerspace. Makerspaces are now found in many K-12 schools, colleges/universities, libraries, museums, and community organizations. There is no special list of required tools, nor do makerspaces have to belong to any organization.
This looseness has pros and cons, of course.
Flexibility sets a low bar to entry
The benefit of a looser definition of makerspace is that it can be more inclusive and flexible. You don’t have to spend a lot of money or even have a special space. Anyone can have a makerspace; any place can be a makerspace. And as we claim in our book, Invent to Learn, every classroom should be a makerspace, where children make meaning, not just ingest facts to prepare for tests.
But while one makerspace may be a fully stocked industrial warehouse of cutting edge digital fabrication equipment, another is a box of craft materials, and others are everything in between. How do we even talk about, much less come to consensus about what works? How do we communicate best practices or any practices, for that matter? If everything and anything can be a makerspace, what is the value? What can we point to and say is special and different? We just don’t want to rename spaces and do nothing else. If “makerspace” comes to mean any space where kids touch something other than a pencil, then it means nothing.
Commonality provides context
One benefit of the formal Fab Lab model is that every space has similar tools. When they share information, plans, and processes, there is a better chance that it will make sense in other spaces. There is an expectation that every Fab Lab will participate in the network, learning and growing together while maintaining individual differences. This creates strong ties between spaces and a strong identity for the participants. There are events and opportunities for members like the Fab Lab conferences and Fab Lab Academy which offers credit and diplomas through nodes of the Fab Lab network worldwide. They can participate in global efforts like building sustainable wireless internet infrastructure, fabbing solar houses, and tracking global environmental data.
The downside of the Fab Lab requirements is that not every organization can afford the full list of tools. Since the Fab Lab charter requires open public access, they can’t charge membership fees. It’s a constant challenge to keep the doors open, the lights on, and to maintain staff and equipment. Some Fab Labs are associated with local universities, community organizations, or foundations that assist with the financial aspect, but others just get by. There is no doubt that money can be a limiting factor.
As with most things, there is no one right answer. Or rather, the right answer is the one that works for you and your community.
Networks, nodes, and identity
All of these space names imply similar ideas, and in fact, many spaces identify with multiple missions. You will find makerspaces listed on the Hackerspaces.org website and many Fab Labs that have close partnerships with K-12 schools. There are many spaces that create their own name in the spirit of their unique mission.
The first Fab Lab established off the MIT campus was the South End Technology Center in Boston. The center serves the community with low cost technology training, but also has innovative youth-led, youth-taught programs. The Youth Education Director at SETC is Susan Klimczak, who is also a Senior FabLearn Fellow and shares her expertise with educators around the world. This is just one example of how spaces can embrace multiple identities and belong to multiple networks to the benefit of all.
I don’t mind that there are many names for the spaces and experiences that people are having. It reflects the way people really learn, in unique and personal ways. There is no reason that every learning space, including the name, should not be unique and personal as well!
One of the questions I get asked quite a lot is about budgets for educational makerspaces. We are doing this on a shoestring, is that OK? We don’t have any money, is it still worth doing?
My first reaction is typical, I think – of course go for it! No one should be prevented from having a great hands-on learning experience because of lack of funds. There are lots of things that can be repurposed and borrowed. In fact, recycling is a hallmark of the “maker mindset.” Doing more with less is a worthy engineering constraint that develops ingenuity and practical skills.
However, I think there is a “yes… but” that should be understood. When educators are trying to change culture and practices in an organization, it matters that you acknowledge the size of the shift you are trying to accomplish. A bigger shift requires a bigger and more explicit commitment, and having a budget is a visible and commonly understood sign of commitment.
Whether it’s wanting STEM courses to be more inclusive or shifting teaching practices to be to more project-based, it’s about how far you want to go from where you are. You want big changes? Do big things. Of course, it’s not always about money. Your commitment might be towards long-term professional development, but that’s a commitment of time, an even more precious commodity.
Schools around the world are embracing the idea of authentic hands-on technology-rich projects for students that support all subject areas. Students say these project-based learning (PBL) experiences are powerful and engaging. Teachers agree!
But often there seems to be no time to integrate these experiences into the classroom. Curriculum is overstuffed with facts and assessment tests loom large. How can teachers take the time for “extras” like in-depth projects? When do busy teachers have time to learn about technology that is ever-changing? Several recent trends combine futuristic technology from the maker movement with design thinking – creating experiences that engage and inspire learners in areas that integrate well with curricular expectations.
PBL + Maker
Maker technologies like 3D printing, robotics, wearable computing, programming, and more give students the ability to create real things, rather than simply report about things. They provide onramps to success in STEM and other subjects for students who are non-traditional learners. Students are empowered by mastering difficult things that they care about, and supported by a community that cares about their interests.
These opportunities are not just good because it’s about getting a good grade, but it’s about making the world a better place with technology that is magical and modern. 3D printing is a fantastic learning opportunity because students can work in three dimensions, making geometry and 3D coordinate math come alive. But that’s not all – it’s literally making something out of nothing. It transcends getting the right answer by adding creativity, complexity, and best of all, you get a real thing in the end. For some students, this makes all the difference.
Look for ways to
Introduce challenges that are open-ended
Solve real problems (student-designed rather than teacher-assigned)
Use an iterative design methodology
Allow time for mistakes and refinement – there should be time for things that don’t work the first time
Support collaboration with experts in and out of the classroom
Another aspect of the maker movement is the “maker mindset.” Similar to a growth mindset, this is a personal trait valued by makers world-wide. Like MacGyver, the TV show about a tinkering crime-fighter, the maker mindset is more than just persistence. The maker mindset is about being flexible, thinking on your feet, looking for the unconventional answer, and never, ever giving up.
It’s a mistake to think that you can teach students persistence about tasks they don’t care about. That’s not persistence, that’s compliance. When the classroom is about invention and making real things, persistence becomes personal.
Students who experience success on their own terms can translate that to other experiences. Frustration can be reframed as a needed and welcomed step on the path to the answer. Students who figure things out for themselves need teachers to allow a bit of frustration in the process. In the maker mindset, frustration is a sign that something good is about to happen. It’s also an opportunity to step back and think, ask someone else, or see if there is another path. This may be a role shift for teachers who are used to answering student questions quickly as soon as they hit a small speed bump.
Luckily, with maker technology, it changes so rapidly that no one can be an expert on everything! In fact, this rapid evolution may make it easier to adopt the attitude of “if we don’t know, we can figure it out.” This attitude is not only practical, but models the maker mindset for students.
Adding maker technology and the maker mindset to the well-researched and practiced methods of project-based learning is a winning combination! Maker + PBL = Engaging learning opportunities for modern students and classrooms.
At ISTE 2016 I presented a new session called “Make It, Wear It, Learn It” about wearable electronics. It’s a combination of what’s out there now that can be done by students today, some far out gee-whiz stuff coming in the next few years, and how to start with wearables for young people.
Wearables are a way to introduce people to engineering, design, and electronics that are personal and fun!
Here’s the PDF of the slides. Video links are below. ISTE didn’t record this session, but someone said they were periscoping it. If anyone has that, I can post the link here!
There were some powerhouse tweeters in the audience who shared links, photos, and sketchnotes! Thanks to all of you!
Made with Code – Maddy Maxey – (This is the full video. I edited it down for time in the presentation.) There are other good videos on this page.
Fashion made from milk fibers – This is the “bonus video” I showed as people were coming into the presentation. Anke Domaske creates fabric from milk proteins, working at the intersection of biochemistry and fashion.
Links to shopping tips and resources for wearables