Making in education is a current “hot topic” for schools looking to offer students creative, authentic learning experiences. The tools of the maker movement are accelerating into schools at a rapid pace. New coding apps for the iPad, useful plugins that give Chromebooks more capability to interact with physical computing tools like Arduino, and fun robots like Sphero are practical, affordable, and useful for many different subject areas. Plus, new inventions are arriving everyday that make connecting the physical world to the digital world simpler, like these two:
litttleBits are components that snap together magnetically so you can not only “play” with circuits, but also prototype inventions. They have just added some amazing bits – the Cloud Bit and wireless bits, plus music and home automation.
Hummingbird is an invention kit that supports building and programming robots using upcycled materials. The secret of the Hummingbird is that it is very easy to use even without understanding electronics, yet students can graduate to more advanced programming modes in time. Hummingbirds now work with Chromebooks!
The best part of joining the maker movement is a return to the importance of fun in education. Fun and play are important factors in learning, not just for younger children, but for all ages. The interesting tools of the maker movement combine well with lessons in STEM and other subjects, giving students the ability to create and shine! A resource for creative and clever classroom technology projects is a new book, The Invent to Learn Guide to Fun – full of cool projects that explore innovative software, hardware, and upcycled materials. Combine simple electronics with LEGO bricks, 3D printing with clay tiles, computers with cardboard, and more.
The Maker Movement has crept into the consciousness of schools in the past few years. For some, it’s a wake up call that over-tested, over-scheduled young people are not going to become the creative, enthusiastic learners we all hope to nurture. For others, it’s a personal reconnection to our collective, deeply-felt human impulses to create, invent, and shape the world. Makerspaces, genius hour, design thinking, and other frameworks can help make these ideas come to life in classrooms, libraries, museums, and community centers. But are these innovations accessible to everyone, to every child?
I just wrote an article for EdSurge, Making for All: How to Build an Inclusive Makerspace showcasing several makerspaces around the world that intertwine making with empowerment for all citizens. The article concludes tips for building an inclusive, welcoming program no matter the size, budget, or location.
The idea of inclusion is not only important for community organizations or schools serving underserved populations. Every makerspace should be aware of their capacity to serve all people: children and adults, all genders, all backgrounds, and those who are interested in the arts, engineering, or both. Even in the best-resourced maker environments, there should be constant vigilance about the assumptions that are made about the people who might want to use them.
To create inclusive experiences in schools, educators should consider these factors:
Empower students not just to be passive objects of the lessons, but to include them as allies and advocates for making things that matter to them.
Culturally responsive, situated, and relevant doesn’t mean asking students to write hip hop lyrics about the scientific method. But it doesn’t mean ignoring hip hop either. Seeing cultural practices in a maker light can open doors and blur the lines between teachers and learners.
Sensitivity to surroundings. Research shows that girls react to surroundings that reflect stereotypical “hacker” culture by denying that they are interested in science and engineering. If you aren’t sure what vibe your classroom or makerspace is communicating, ask some kids.
Reduce competition. Both overt contests and more subtle competition, like competition caused by a lack of adequate materials and tools, can reduce participation of girls. It can also be a barrier for beginners and students who don’t see themselves as “technical.” The competition aspect raises the stakes to a level that is too risky for students to jump in and try something they may actually enjoy.
Don’t advantage one kind of building over another. Robots are cool, but the same technologies of micro-controllers, sensors, motors, and lights could make smart clothes, a useful invention for an elderly aunt, or better still, something no one has thought of before. Provide incentives, multiple on-ramps, praise, and glory for all kinds of making.
There are many, many examples of makerspaces, both community and school-based, that work to empower everyone, not just those who want to build robots. Creating these experiences means that everyone can benefit from the learning that happens when hands-on is combined with heads-in. Makerspaces should be about empowering people, all people, to experiment with ways to make sense of the world, to make the world a better places, and to make meaning in their lives.
I’m honored to have an article included in Educating Modern Learner’s compilation of their Best of 2014 articles. Even better, it’s available for free as a lovely e-book!
Educating Modern Learners is a new website created to help every school leader become better informed to make better, more relevant decisions for the children they serve in this new, modern world of learning.
My article, What a Girl Wants, is included in this e-book, along with 13 other terrific essays and analysis of current education practice and policy.
As New York prepares to lift its longstanding ban on cellphones carried by students in schools, it joins an increasing number of cities, including Chicago and Miami, where school leaders are yielding to the ubiquity of mobile phones and the futility of trying to keep them out of the classroom.
Some education experts say schools have a responsibility to help students learn self-control over devices that will be integral to the rest of their lives.
“Did kids never doodle in the columns of their textbooks and always pay rapt attention to their teachers?” said Sylvia Martinez, former president of Generation YES, a nonprofit group that helps schools integrate technology, and co-author of “Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom.” “Blaming the cellphone or laptop for kids being distracted is kind of silly.”
Administrators acknowledge that banning cellphones can actually create discipline problems. In Chicago, where individual principals set cellphone policies, the district changed its citywide policy regarding suspension this year to differentiate between social and disruptive uses of mobile phones. Before the policy change, a student who used a mobile phone at all in school could be suspended.
In New York, Ron Gorsky, who recently retired as the principal of Concord High School on Staten Island, said trying to enforce the ban caused more conflict than having phones openly in schools would.
“I’ve seen the stress when we take phones away from students,” he said. “They’d rather leave school than give up their phones.”
The haphazard enforcement of the cellphone ban in New York also disproportionately affects low-income minority students, who tend to be the majority in high schools with metal detectors at the entrances, where mobile phones are confiscated.
I just wrote a short blog for Edutopia about whether “making in the classroom” is just a fad, and what we can do to make sure it isn’t –
Should we worry that making in the classroom is just the new-new thing, soon to be replaced by some other newer new-new thing? Should we worry that lots of schools will run out and buy 3D printers without thinking about what they will do with them? Yes, I think we should worry, but not give up! To prevent this, I like to combine the work of education pioneers and giants with the new work of scholars to show that this is more than just a fad or a chance for a shopping spree.
“Whether it’s a paper airplane or a robot that walks, kids have always wanted to create functional objects with their own two hands. These days, many educators are channeling that natural urge to build with help from the wider “maker movement,” which has spawned maker faires and dedicated “maker spaces” in classrooms and media centers around the country. Pam Moran, superintendent of the Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia, contends that American classrooms of the past regularly fueled this type of creativity, and now is the time to bring back that spirit of innovation. “I see the maker movement as being a reconnect, both inside schools, as well as in communities, to redevelop the idea that we are creative individuals,” Moran said. “We are analytical problem-solvers, and we are people who, in working with our hands and minds, are able to create and construct. We are makers by nature.”
The article has some great examples of what’s going in real schools, and we contributed as well:
“While cutting-edge technology can help engage students, Gary Stager, coauthor (with Sylvia Martinez) of Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom, pointed out that maker projects don’t require schools to buy expensive machines. “We see teachers and students working with traditional materials combined with new materials — even cardboard construction,” he said.
Martinez added, “There are new conductive materials, conductive tapes where you can paint a picture that actually does something, such as lighting up. These materials draw people in in ways they don’t expect. One person might be interested in building a robot, but another might be interested in building a glove with a sensor on it.””
The next revolution in education will be made, not televised.
Here is what happens when you ask two Tech & Learning advisors to trade notes on one of the fastest-moving phenomena in education technology. Sylvia Martinez (SM) recently co-authored InventTo Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Dr. Gary A. Carnow (GC) is Chief Propellerhead of Prolific Thinkers and the former CTO of Pasadena Unified School District. He is also the co-author of multiple edtech books. Both are excited about the Maker Movement. Read why you should be, too:
GC: I shudder when I hear that my local school is now reinventing itself as a STEM or STEAM school. STEM or STEAM is an interesting label, but it limits what is happening across the world outside of traditional educational institutions. A growing army of empowered parents and creative teachers are banding together in Maker Faires. What is this Maker Movement and why does every reader of Tech & Learning need to know about it?
SM: A number of reasons. First, it’s a global technological and creative revolution. Some very smart people are predicting that the tools and technology of the Maker Movement will revolutionize the way we produce, market, and sell goods and services worldwide. Want a new watch? Don’t ship it across the world, just print it out! Better yet, design it yourself and then print it out. Something this epic should be on every educator’s radar.
Next, the Maker Movement advocates a “Do It Yourself” or DIY attitude towards the world and problems that need solving. Learning to use what you’ve got and “give it a go” are valuable mindsets for young learners.
Plus it’s cool! Makers worldwide are developing amazing new tools, materials, and skills and inviting the whole world to join in the fun. Using gee-whiz technology to make, repair, or customize the things we need brings engineering, design, and computer science to life.
Finally, the Maker Movement overlaps with the natural inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing. For educators, I believe that being open to the lessons of the Maker Movement holds the key to reanimating the best, but oft-forgotten learner-centered teaching practices.
Global Maker Faires and a growing library of literature inspire learners of all ages and experience levels to become inventors and seize control of their world. Online communities serve as the hub of a global learning commons, allowing people to share not just ideas, but the actual codes and designs for what they invent. This ease of sharing lowers the barriers to entry, as newcomers can easily use someone else’s codes or designs as building blocks for their own creations.
However, at the Maker Faires I’ve been to, I’ve met countless parents who say to me (as they watch their child happily soldering, building with LEGO, or programming robots) “School is killing my kid.” And unfortunately, I know what they mean. We can and must do better, not just for the empowered parents who can take their child to a Maker Faire, but for all children.
GC: The Maker Movement, according to Wikipedia, stresses “new and unique applications of technologies, and encourages invention and prototyping. There is a strong focus on using and learning practical skills and applying them creatively.” What does that mean for classrooms today?
SM: The new Next Generation Science Standards makes explicit calls for meaningful assessment, interdisciplinary knowledge, creativity, inquiry, and engineering. Specifically, we must change how schools approach science and math.
In too many cases, science and math have been stripped of practical applications because of a false premise that practical math is only for students who don’t go to college. This is a recipe for disaster and I think we see the results in students who gradually lose interest in STEM subjects over the years. We cannot and must not continue to pretend that success in STEM subjects means memorizing the textbook.
Making is a way of bringing creativity, authentic design thinking, and engineering to learners. Tinkering is the process of design, the way real scientists and engineers invent new things. Such concrete experiences provide a meaningful context for understanding abstract science and math concepts while often incorporating esthetic components. Creating opportunities for students to solve real problems, combined with imaginative new materials and technology, makes learning come alive and cements understandings that are difficult when only studied in the abstract.
We must bravely reintegrate actual labs and design into science. We must be able to answer a math student who asks, “Why do I need to know this?” (And the answer should never be, you’ll need this next year.) We must reinvent classrooms as places where students ARE inventors, designers, scientists, and mathematicians TODAY. Making is the avenue to this reimagination of 21st century education.
GC: Your background is engineering. I began my career as a teacher of gifted children. We both subscribe to MAKE Magazine. Where do teachers, parents, students, and administrators, or for that matter anyone who is interested in providing meaningful experiences for students, begin?
SM: In his 2005 book, Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop—from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication, MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld described the next technological revolution as one in which people would make anything they need to solve their own problems. Gershenfeld predicted that for the cost of your school’s first computer, you would have a Fabrication Lab or fab lab—a mini high-tech factory—capable of making things designed on a computer. This prediction is now reality.
In our new book, we identify three aspects of the making revolution that are game-changers for schools. All of these are accessible and affordable today. Any of these are great places to begin:
Computer controlled fabrication devices: Over the past few years, devices that fabricate three-dimensional objects have become an affordable reality. These 3D printers can take a design file and output a physical object. Plastic filament is melted and deposited in intricate patterns that build layer by layer, much like a 2D printer prints lines of dots that, line by line, create a printed page. With 3D design and printing, the ability for students to design and create their own objects combines math, science, engineering, and craft.
Physical computing: New open source microcontrollers, sensors, and interfaces connect the physical world to the digital world in ways never before possible. Many schools are familiar with robotics, one aspect of physical computing, but whole new worlds are opening up, such as wearable computing. Wearable computing, soft circuits, and e-textiles use conductive thread and tiny mobile microprocessors to make smart textiles and clothing. Other kinds of new microprocessors, like Arduinos, combine with plug-and-play devices that connect to the Internet, to each other, or to any number of sensors. This means that low-cost, easy-to-make computational devices can test, monitor, beautify, and explore the world.
Programming: There is a new call for programming in schools, from the Next Generation Science Standards to the White House. Programming is the key to controlling this new world of computational devices and the range of programming languages has never been greater. Today’s modern languages are designed for every purpose and every age.
The common thread here is computation. The computational potential of these technologies, tools, and materials elevates the learning potential beyond craft projects. Of course there are things to be learned from building with cardboard or Popsicle sticks and in our book we discuss ALL kinds of making and makerspaces for learning. But computation is the game-changer that should make educators sit up and take notice.
All of these experiences and the materials that enable them are consistent with the imaginations of children and with the types of learning experiences society has long valued. Making is a stance that puts the learner at the center of the educational process and creates opportunities that students may never have encountered themselves. Makers are confident, competent, curious citizens in a new world of possibility.
GC: What matters most about learning to me is not the product but the process. What I love about the Maker Movement is that makers rarely work in isolation. Making is a social activity. The Maker Movement embraces failure and believes that everyone can make. When I look back on my traditional schooling, what I remember is that I had gifted teachers who knew the power of project-based learning. I remember the projects and the process and have little memory of whatever facts I had to cram for the dreaded “pop quiz.” What brought you to the Maker Movement? Is this just the next big thing or is this the real deal?
SM: Gary, you pack a lot into your questions! What brought me to the Maker Movement is that it deeply connects with my personal reasons for becoming an engineer. I wanted to know how to solve problems—real problems in the real world, not textbook problems. I think all kids want to change the world, and the Maker Movement and Maker ethos teaches kids that they have the power to make the world a better place, NOW. They don’t have to wait for a book or a teacher to tell them what to do, because there is a whole world out there of people all trying things and sharing the results. Somebody somewhere is asking the same questions as you and by sharing the journey, we all can learn more.
I realize the attraction of always searching for the “new new thing”, the magic wand that will fix all problems. I don’t believe that the Maker Movement is a magic wand. I hope it doesn’t get turned into a buzzword. Maybe we can talk more about how to make sure the hype doesn’t overwhelm the promise of the Maker Movement in schools. However, it is my strong belief that educators who look deeply at the Maker Movement will find a wealth of new ideas and inspiration to revitalize their classrooms and give children the opportunity to touch the future.
This report has resources, links, and a summary of why educators should be aware of the Maker Movement. It also features a short list of projects for elementary, middle and high school with some of our favorite Maker activities and tools.
Kid makers possess a skill set and self-efficacy that will serve them well in school, as long as they are engaged in interesting activities worthy of their capacity for intensity. Despite the swirling politics and external pressures on schools, the maker movement may offer teachers cause for optimism. The stuff of making is super-cool and gives those teachers so inclined another chance to reanimate progressive education. If your administrator likes to buy shiny new things, then there are plenty of things to buy that actually amplify the potential of children. Silicon Valley billionaires are endorsing the nonprofit Code.org, which advocates for kids to learn computer programming. President Obama, Bill Gates, the CEO of Google, and the Association for Computing Machinery are campaigning for computer science to be a curriculum staple from kindergarten to twelfth grade.
None of these experiences or the materials that enable them are inconsistent with the imaginations of children or with the types of learning experiences society has long valued. Making is a stance that puts the learner at the center of the educational process and creates opportunities that students may never have encountered themselves. Makers are confident, competent, curious citizens in a new world of possibility.
In our book, Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering, we explore how to put an active learner at the center of the learning process, building on traditional progressive classroom practices combined with materials old and new, and incorporating the lessons of the Maker Movement.
The “Maker Movement” is a technological and creative revolution underway around the world. Fortunately for educators, the Maker Movement overlaps with the natural inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing. Embracing the lessons of the Maker Movement holds the keys to reanimating the best, but oft-forgotten learner-centered teaching practices.
New tools and technology, such as 3D printing, robotics, microprocessors, wearable computing, e-textiles, “smart” materials, and new programming languages are being invented at an unprecedented pace. The Maker Movement creates affordable or even free versions of these inventions, and shares tools and ideas online, creating a vibrant, collaborative community of global problem-solvers.
Lessons from the Maker Movement
“Doing” is what matters – Makers learn to make stuff by making stuff. Schools often forget this as they endlessly prepare students for something that is going to happen to them next week, next year, or in some future career. Students can and should be scientists, artists, engineers, and writers today. The affordable and accessible technology of the Maker Movement makes learning by doing a realistic approach for schools.
Openness – The Maker Movement is a child of the Internet but does not fetishize it. Makers worldwide share design, code, and ideas, but making occurs in real life. Makers share their expertise with a global audience. “We” are smarter than “me” should be a lesson for educators. Collaboration on projects of intense personal interest drive the need to share lessons learned, not external incentives like grades.
Give it a go – Back in the ‘80s, MacGyver could defuse a bomb with the chewing gum and paper clips he found in his pocket. Modern MacGyvers are driven to invent the solution to any problem by making things, and then making those things better. While perhaps “grit” or determination can be taught, the best way for students to become deeply invested in their work is for their work to be personally meaningful, supported by time and encouragement to overcome challenges.
Iterative design – Computers make designing new inventions risk-free and cheap. You can now tinker with designs, code, and make nearly perfect prototypes easily and quickly. This is a departure from linear design methodology that assumed that mistakes were expensive and need to be avoided. However, many educators are still clinging to old design models where students are provided recipes and prescriptive rubrics. This deprives students of the chance to take risks and learn how to navigate their way to the end of a project.
Aesthetics matter – Many Maker projects are indistinguishable from art. It’s human to embellish, decorate, and to seek the beauty in life. In schools, there is a movement to add Arts to STEM subjects (STEAM). That’s a good instinct, but if school hadn’t artificially removed all traces of creativity and art from STEM subjects, we wouldn’t need to talk about STEAM. Find ways to allow students to make projects with pride and unencumbered by categorization.
Mentoring defies ageism – As Sir Ken Robinson says, school is the only place in the world where we sort people by their date of manufacture. The Maker Movement honors learners of all ages and embraces the sharing of expertise. Young people like “Super Awesome Sylvia”, a young maker who broadcasts her project tips on her own web show, or Jody Hudy who surprised President Obama with a marshmallow cannon at the White House are valued alongside decades-older master tinkerers and inventors. Schools may create opportunities for mentoring and apprenticeship by connecting with the greater community. Access to expertise must not be limited to the classroom teacher.
Learning is intensely personal – The current buzz about “personalized learning” is more often than not a scheme to deliver content by computerized algorithm. Not only is it magical thinking to believe that computers can teach, it confuses learning with delivering content. Learning happens inside the individual. It can’t be designed or delivered. Learning is personal – always. The Maker Movement values the intensity of the learning experience with endless options and choices about what a person might find interesting or fall in love with. Giving kids the opportunity to learn about what they love means they will love what they learn.
It IS about the technology – Some educators like to say that technology is “just a tool” that should fit seamlessly into classrooms. In contrast, the Maker Movement sees tools and technology as the essential element for solving unsolvable problems. To Makers, a 3D printer is not for learning to make 3D objects, but is the raw material for solving problems like how to create inexpensive but custom-fit prosthetics for people anywhere in the world, or print a pizza for hungry astronauts. The Maker philosophy prepares kids to solve problems their teachers never anticipated with technology we can’t yet imagine.
Ownership – One motto of the Maker Movement is “if you can’t open it, you don’t own it.” Educators often talk about how learners should own their own learning, but if the learner doesn’t have control, they can’t own it. Teachers should consider that prepackaged experiences for students, even in the name of efficiency, are depriving students of owning their own learning.
Common Core and the new Next Generation Science Standards emphasize critical thinking, creativity, and 21st century skills. To achieve these goals requires taking a hard look at both what we teach and how we teach it. The Maker Movement offers lessons, tools, and technology to steer a new course to more relevant, engaging learning experiences for all students.