What the Education Systems can take from the Maker Movement

Whether you are getting started in your classroom or building a Makerspace, the most important thing to remember is that making is about making sense of the world, not about the “stuff.” Making connections and making meaning are the true results of classroom making, not the plastic or cardboard artefact.

• “Doing” Is What Matters

Makers learn to make stuff by making stuff. Schools often forget this as they continuously prepare students for something that is going to happen next week, next year, or in some future career. The affordable and accessible technology of the Maker Movement makes learning by doing a realistic approach for schools today.

• Openness

Makers share designs, code, and ideas globally but making occurs locally. Makers share their expertise with a worldwide audience. “We” are smarter than “me” is the lesson for educators. Collaboration on projects of intense personal interest drive the need to share ideas and lessons learned more than external incentives like grades.

• Give It A Go

Modern maker/tinkerer are driven to invent the solution to any problem by making things, and then making those things better. Perhaps “grit” or determination can be taught, but there is no substitute for experience. The best way for students to become deeply invested in their work is for their projects to be personally meaningful, afforded sufficient development time, given access to constructive materials, and the students themselves encouraged to overcome challenges.

• Iterative Design

Computers make designing new inventions risk-free and inexpensive. You can now tinker with designs and programs and make prototypes easily and quickly. This is a departure from the linear design methodology that assumed that mistakes were expensive and need to be avoided.

• Aesthetics Matter

Many Maker projects are indistinguishable from art. It’s human to embellish, decorate,
and seek the beauty in life. In schools, there is a movement to add the 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 manufacturing date. The Maker Movement honours learners of all ages and embraces the sharing of expertise. Young people 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. No one can do it for you. Giving kids the opportunity to master what they love means they will love what they learn.

• It Is About the Technology too

The Maker Movement sees tools and technology as essential elements for solving unsolvable problems and not just a tool. To makers, a 3D printer is not for learning to make 3D objects. Instead it is the raw material for solving problems, such as how to create inexpensive but custom-fit prosthetic for people anywhere in the world. 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. Pre-packaged experiences for students, even in the name of efficiency, are depriving students of owning their own learning. Learning depends on learners with maximum agency over their intellectual processes.

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