Maker’s Mark – How “Making” Is Influencing STEM Education
To understand the global impact of The Maker Movement, look no further than The Home Depot. In August, the world’s largest home improvement retailer launched a pilot program with MakerBot to sell its 3D printers and scanners at 12 stores in California, Illinois and New York.
This may not seem like big news. But if you’re a K-12 educator – especially in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education fields – it’s time to lean in. These savvy scanners allow solid objects to be transposed into a 3D computer-aided design image that can then be used to print out a high-resolution, 3D object. At Home Depot, customers are offered free 3D-printed items to take home, including adjustable wrenches, electrical outlet covers, and drink cups.
This sort of do-it-yourself (DIY)/techno-innovation is making headway in STEM curriculum, and certainly influencing 21st Century education. And it’s only beginning. There’s a wildfire of new (and increasingly more affordable) tools and technology now available, like 3D printers, robotics, drones, microprocessors, wearable computing, e-textiles, “smart” materials and more.
The Maker Movement Demystified
So, what’s The Maker Movement all about? Put simply, it’s a global technological and creative revolution that emphasizes active learning. It involves people of all ages and backgrounds making customized creations sans manufacturers, often using modern technology and collaboration. For students, it’s using their heads and hands to find and build solutions, collaborate, have fun and stay interested in STEM.
“Through making things, kids acquire a deep understanding of physics, engineering, math, and materials science. And, it’s interesting,” according to one online STEM website for educators and parents in Massachusetts.
The Maker Movement isn’t new, per say. To survive, humans have been innovators, problem-solvers and make-it-from-scratch gurus from the get-go. But the past few years have seen an explosion in making and makers, specifically as it relates to K-12 STEM education. So much so, it’s become a legitimate formal initiative. In May 2012, The Maker Education Initiative was formed in response to President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign.
AnnMarie Thomas, executive director The Maker Education Initiative, says making is about teaching students to be creators instead of just consumers. “At a time when many people are asking how we can get more students interested in the STEM fields, we are hearing from teachers who have found making to be a great way to get students excited and engaged in their classrooms.”
Her organization’s mission is to create more opportunities for all young people to develop confidence, creativity, and interest in science, technology, engineering, math, art, and learning as a whole through making. To that point, The Maker Educational Initiative offers teacher workshops, trains and places Maker Corps workers at host sites around the U.S., and provides a downloadable Young Makers handbook filled with ideas for kids ages 12 to 18 (see makered.org).
What Sparked The Making Movement?
Like most trends and cultural shifts, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact start. But much credit is given to the launch of MAKE Magazine in 2005, followed by Maker Faire in 2006 (both produced by Maker Media). According to their website, they “jumpstarted the worldwide maker culture that is now transforming innovation, culture and education.”
MAKE Magazine is a bi-monthly, all-ages publication out of California. It focuses on the DIY and Do It with Others (DIWO) mindsets. Every issue features step-by-step projects that often use household materials to make complex gadgetry and inventions. Its 2014 themes include homegrown drones, DIY consumer electronics, robotics, new maker tools, 3D evolution, and tinkering toys.
Next came Maker Faires. These massive events were initially created by MAKE Magazine to “celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects,” and act as DIY show and tell gatherings. Currently, there are two annual flagship Maker Faires (CA and New York). They are self-described family friendly events celebrating technology, education, science, arts, crafts, engineering, food, sustainability, and more. Maker Media also partners with museums to produce Featured Maker Faires, and works with communities to license hundreds of Mini Maker Faires around the world. (Find a full schedule at http://makerfaire.com/map/).
Creating a Maker-Inspired STEM Classroom
Creating a maker-inspired STEM classroom environment doesn’t necessarily happen naturally. Educators must dedicate space. Some schools re-purpose an old woodshop, transform part of a library to learning commons focused on making, or adapt an unused classroom into makerspace. Versatile, mobile classroom furniture, as well as easy-access power, play a big role in keeping a space flexible.
Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager, co-authors of the book Invent to Learn, reinforce the importance of dedicated maker space. “We must reimagine school science and math not as a way to prepare students for the next academic challenge, or a future career, but as a place where students are inventors, scientists, and mathematicians today.”
Once the space is allocated, it’s time to stock it with STEM tools. Today’s new, low-cost, flexible and creative technologies are powerful building blocks for students. “These tools bring electronics, programming and mathematics together in meaningful and powerful ways.” Martinez and Stager, in a recent post on the “We are Teachers” website, say there are three big game-changers of the Maker Movement that should be on every school’s radar:
- Computer-Controlled Fabrication Devices
Over the past few years, devices that fabricate 3D objects have become an affordable reality. Three-dimensional 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, students can design and create their own objects.
- Physical Computing
New open-source microcontrollers, sensors and interfaces connect the physical and digital worlds in ways never before possible. Many schools are familiar with robotics, one aspect of physical computing, but a whole new world is opening up. Wearable computing – in which circuits are made with conductive thread – makes textiles smart, flexible and mobile. Plug-and-play devices that connect small microprocessors to the Internet, to each other, or to any number of sensors mean that low-cost, easy-to-make computational devices can test, monitor and control your world.
From the Next Generation Science Standards, to the White House, there is a new call for schools to teach computer programming. Programming is the key to controlling a 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 learners of all ages.
Despite the famous movie line “If you build it, they will come,” there’s more to making than the space and tools. Educators have to create the right mentally for learning. They should put the learners in charge, with time to brainstorm, collaborate, invent, design, build and embellish. This is followed by time to test, repair and improve. Or perhaps start over, with encouragement.
Specifically, teachers should encourage students to:
- • Learn by making — and making mistakes — not endless planning.
- • Collaborate and share; there should be an “open vibe” in the space.
- • Select projects that have personal meaning, so kids are invested.
- • Draw on technology for risk-free, inexpensive prototypes.
- • Integrate the arts with creative design and decorating.
- • Look for mentors and materials beyond the classroom.
AnnMarie Thomas with The Maker Education Initiative captures the mentality of The Maker Movement. “… making allows kids to follow their own interests and passions and create something that is uniquely theirs, while applying the knowledge they are gathering in all aspects of life.”
The moving conclusion seem to be this: The Maker Movement is, indeed, about teaching students to be creators, not just consumers. So hats off to Home Depot for selling 3-D printers next to PVC pipe and paintbrushes. Microprocessors next to building materials may be next.
MAKE Magazine website: makezine.com.
Martinez, Sylvia. “Top Ten Tools of the Maker Movement for Classrooms at Global 2013 STEMx this Week!” Posted 9/16/13.
Martinez, Sylvia and Stager, Gary S. “Making Matters! How the Maker Movement is Transforming Education.” We Are Teachers website, 2013.
Mearian, Lucas. “Home Depot to sell the ultimate DIY hardware: 3D printers.” Computerworld post, 7/21/14.
The Open University, Innovation Report 2. “Maker Culture (chapter in Innovating Pedagogy 2013)“.
Thomas, AnnMarie. “Encouraging Students in the STEM Classroom Through Making.” Edutopia website, 9/7/12.
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