By Teachers, For Teachers
Maker education comes from the maker movement. The maker movement is a culture of do-it-yourself (DIY) individuals who want to make themselves more aware of the environment around them. They are known to be tinkers, inventors, and innovators. They enjoy taking old technology and repurposing it until it is something new. Makers like to “hack” into the world around them and improve the design through collaborative efforts.
This philosophy is at the core of Maker Education. The educator encourages their students to bring an item down or rebuild an old piece into something new. The focus is on the community, not the object. The students work as a multi-disciplinary team in a project-based learning environment. They are encouraged to fail until they succeed in producing a new final product. When they fail, they will go through iteration after iteration until the team succeeds, and then the students will share what they have learned with other makers. This philosophy drives the student to be part of a community more significant than their immediate world, learning more about the world, and encouraging other students to learn about their world.
Maker education goes beyond merely teaching students to memorize a set of facts or steps, then recite those facts or steps on an exam. It shows the student to face a problem that does not have a single definitive answer, work as a team, propose solutions, fail, and retry until they succeed.
In STEM, this approach is a tenet of everyday life. As a previous engineer, it was not uncommon for me to be part of a team where we had a problem to solve. We would work through idea after idea, run simulations, exchange ideas with each other, and continue until we had a solution that corrected the problem. The problem itself could be a production issue, a way to innovate a new product, a way to improve our current production, or how to integrate new technologies or companies into our current company/production.
Maker education is project-based or problem-based learning. With the growing global economy, our students may be working with teams from around the world to solve a problem that does not have a pre-determined solution. With a “maker” education mindset, those students will be ahead of and have an advantage over students who are accustomed to working in a solo environment. Makers will be prepared to fail and learn from those failures. This process will give them an advantage over the traditional student who discovers that failure is wrong and everything must be solved correctly. I encourage my students to make mistakes in our labs so that they can learn from them.
Maker education dovetails nicely into our students’ desire to learn by doing. In a traditional classroom, educators teach students to follow a series of steps to solve a problem. When the steps fail, or they are required to work around the steps, they get bogged down and discouraged. With maker education, they are encouraged to follow principles without having to follow a specified series of steps. This process builds creative thought solutions and the ability to think critically. This learning method leads to more competent students who will become more competent leaders.
Maker projects do not have to include expensive software or hardware. The teacher can create projects out of materials they are likely to have in their classrooms already. With a few supplies such as tape, construction paper, straws, a fan, and a few other items, students can make a wind-powered car. Give students some cardboard, paper, scissors, tape, and a few marbles to make a roller coaster. With a small investment into a Raspberry Pi, the educator has a seemingly endless list of projects that are available for students ranging from third grade to senior-level work.
By definition, the Maker Education world is limitless in its possibilities for project ideas. A quick search for Maker Education ideas will present teachers with insights from the most basic to the most complex.
Allen holds a BBA in Mgmt. of Info. Systems and is pursuing an M.Ed. in Instructional Technology from University of St. Thomas, TX.