The Maker Movement and the Classroom

The Maker Movement is a new trend based on old school traditions in which the philosophy of doing, building, and creating prevails over just simply buying. Instead of going to the toy store, people are learning how to design and 3D print their own toys. Instead of shopping for furniture, people are going to local community workshops like TechShop and building their own custom chairs and tables. The Maker Mentality creates a powerful paradigm shift by eliminating the separation between consumer and producer. By looking at the benefits and upsides of the Maker Movement and analyzing why it has reemerged, we can use it productively in the classroom by intertwining these new techniques with the classic methods such as lecture, reading, and so on.

Maker Movement image

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons by Steve Rainwater

About the Maker Movement

The Maker Movement is an extension of the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) movement inspired by the democratization of manufacturing practices and tools in the early to mid-2000’s. Instead of relying on commercial manufacturers, who only catered to large corporations, Makers use tools like the 3D printer and even drone technology, to take creation and production into their own hands. In this way, new technologies have created a level playing field between corporations and individual creatives, a fact that Makers use to their full advantage.

As Roger Schank of the Institute for the Learning Sciences Northwestern University writes, “When there are ‘doing devices’ available, it is easier to implement learning by doing.” Similar to how laser and inkjet printers drastically shifted the landscape in which businesses and students operated, the tools most popular among Makers are becoming cheaper, thus inspiring an increasing amount of people to join and create.

The Maker Movement celebrates kids, as they have one thing that many adults have slowly let slip away: their imagination. Kids do not know the generally accepted rules that adults impose upon themselves, and therefore are free to create fiercely without fear of judgment. These tools have inspired amazing creations from people of all ages all around the world. Taking action — and essentially being a maker — enhances the learning experience by drawing upon the students’ creativity and imagination, as well as combining mental knowledge with physical application. Instead of students reading the answers, the maker movement encourages students to create the answers.

Doing (or Making) Improves Learning

learning model image

As David Kolb argues in this model for learning (shown in the diagram above), that learning should encapsulate four elements:

  1. Concrete Experience
  2. Observation and Experience
  3. Form Abstract Concepts
  4. Test in New Situations

Ideally in Kolb’s model, learning should start with a concrete experience and make its way around the cycle to Test in New Situations, although it can begin at any stage. He argues that the best type of learning occurs when one experiences a need to learn, in contrast to having learning imposed upon them such as in school or on-the-job training. In other words, when we realize how learning will make our lives better, or come to learning through our own natural curiosity, motivation is never an issue. Seeing a valid need to learn is an essential part of the first step of Kolb’s learning model:concrete experience.

The second step, observation and experience, is about analyzing how events work in specific situations so that the outcome is predictable if they were to occur again. This analysis is an ongoing process that occurs during and after the specific situation. The third step, forming abstract concepts, is about taking those experiences and analyses and generalizing them, or abstracting them, so that they are applicable to more events.

Unfortunately, the phase of forming abstract concepts is where learning usually starts and stops in schools. Thus, there is no innate or deep-seated motivation to learn the subject, which hinders overall learning. We have all experienced this either first-hand or in observing others: people who have fun or love what they are studying end up learning more. There are countless people who hate mathematics and history, yet know the statistics for every basketball player in the NBA down to their high school numbers. In the most basic sense, the Maker Movement is about bringing fun and curiosity back into the classroom, and as a result, improving the learning experience for students.

How the “Real World” Embraces the Maker Movement

Two very big things had to happen in order for the Maker Movement to occur. First, there had to be tools that allowed for the affordable manufacturing of personal designs. That has come in the form of 3D printers, iPads, which can be hacked in any number of creative ways, CAD software, microcontrollers, drones, and so on. Second, there had to be a network that allowed the rapid sharing of information. Of course, that is the Internet.

The Internet has embraced the Maker Movement in a beautiful way in the form of entrepreneurship. Crowdsourcing has become a powerful form of funding, and websites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo attract over one million users per month. This allows for people like you, me, and your students to be fully involved in the creative process and kickstart small businesses that were not possible even 50 years ago due to manufacturing restrictions. This opens up a huge door for unprecedented opportunities. Students, like Henry Simonoff, have already embraced this technological revolution by starting businesses inspired by these new tools.

Building things gets kids excited about subjects in the classroom. This blurs the line between education and fun. The goal is to get students to see that, by investing time in learning what may be boring basics, a world of creative opportunity awaits. The Maker Movement might, for example show a student how building with legos can lead to an engineering degree, or how geometry can lead to a fashion career. Thus far, “Maker” types of classes have been restricted to the science lab and the workshop. It is important for us to expand the Maker Movement by encouraging teachers to figure out ways to include Maker opportunities throughout their curriculum.

How Schools Can Start Embracing the Maker Movement

Maker movement painting

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons by Francisco Osorio

1. Teach to Student Interests and Encourage Students to Apply Their Knowledge

Creating situations in which students experience the need to learn will motivate them to actually do that learning. This is especially true if students particularly enjoy the subject. Taking the time to understand each individual student’s interests will help teachers cater their teaching styles to help motivate students to learn. For example, understanding that a student loves video games can help you steer them toward a career in coding or computer animation. Focus on not only teaching subjects, but helping students find how to apply their knowledge in ways that are meaningful to them.

2. Buy the Tools

3D Printer Easy Maker

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons by Creative Tools

One of the best ways to encourage students to be Makers is to create a makerspace. Buying tools like 3D printers, camcorders, instruments, computers, arduinos, drones, and microcontrollers will encourage students to tinker around and learn how they work. Without the tools, it is very difficult for students to create many types of the most contemporary projects, at least when working with modern technology. For more information on how to create makerspaces, see this guide.

3. Reward Failure

Encourage students to experiment and reward their efforts. One of the most important things to do to begin a Maker Movement at your school is to create a safe space for students to create and learn. Failure should be reframed simply as data a student can learn from the next time around.

Conclusion

The maker movement is the future. Encouraging students to start designing and making closes the gap between theory and application. It is one thing to learn about art, it is a whole other thing to create it. It is one thing to study physics and engineering, but it is a whole different thing to build a functional robot. The act of making adds a significant dimension to how students learn. Humans have an innate desire to create and build. We are surrounded by things that are already made. Embracing the Maker Movement not only teaches students about how things are created, but it also increases their appreciation of the things around them, all while teaching creative problem solving. This leads to a generation that is empowered and confident in their ability to conquer any challenge.