What is a Makerspace? (Day 5)

Here at MakerBridge, we've each taken a turn this week defining what makerspaces mean to us. Today, as we wrap up our five-day series, we think about how others define it. Here are some definitions from around MakerWorld.

 

"A makerspace is a physical location where people gather together to share resources and knowledge, work on projects, network, and build. Makerspaces provide tools and space in a community environment – a library, community center, private organization, or campus. Expert advisors may be available some of the time, but often novices get help from other users. The makerspace – sometimes referred to as a hackerspace – is often associated with fields such as engineering, computer science, and graphic design. The concept emerges from the technology-driven “maker culture,” associated with Make magazine and the Maker Faires it promotes. This idea of a collaborative studio space for creative endeavors has caught hold in education, where the informal combination of lab, shop, and conference room form a compelling argument for learning through hands-on exploration. On campus, the makerspace is being embraced by the arts as well as the sciences, and a new energy is building around multidisciplinary collaborative efforts." - Educause

 

"The maker movement in libraries is about teaching our patrons to think for themselves, to think creatively, and to look for do-it-yourself solutions before running off to the store. In short, a makerspace is a place where people come together to create with technology."- Caitlin A. Bagley, ALA TechSource

 

"Makerspaces, sometimes also referred to as hackerspaces, hackspaces, and fablabs are creative, DIY spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn.""- Ellysa Kroski, OEDb

 

"It's the place where an idea turns into a thing. A makerspace is the distance between your head and your hands." - Allison Parker, Make It At Your Library

 

"I like using a simple definition for Maker Spaces: “A shared work area where people build things collaboratively.” - Michael Groenendyk in Public Libraries News

 

“[A] way to bring together generations of learners who can share and build on each others’ knowledge and skills that will benefit both the individual and the community.” - Peggy Watts

 

“It’s not the tools and resources that define a makerspace -- A makerspace is defined by what the people create using the available information and resources." - Patrick Molvick

 

"Diversity and cross-pollination of activities are critical to the design, making and exploration process, and they are what set makerspaces and STEAM labs apart from single-use spaces." - Jennifer Cooper, Edutopia

 

Your turn ... how do you define it? 

 

- Kristin Fontichiaro

 

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MakerBridge Post Week: A MakerBridge Exclusive (Day 4)

Today marks the fourth day in our special MakerBridge post week. So far, Sharona, Kristin, and Emily, have  already talked about each of their own definititions of "what is a makerspace"?

I very much agree that a makerspace doesn’t need to be a permanent space. I would also say that a makerspace can exist when you least expect it. An area does not need to be designated a makerspace in order to be one, nor do planned maker related activities or time frames need to exist for making to occur.

A makerspace can occur in any of these places or designations to be sure, but I think it’s important to remember that just because a space isn’t called a “makerspace” or a set of tools isn’t what you would normally think of when you think of “making”, but whether or not you and others, especially others who are not just like you, can create something new out of them and learn from eachother.

The most important aspects of a makerspace to me, then, are imagination, collaboration, diversity, and a community that fosters experimentation and creativity.

 

 

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Makerspace Post Week: A MakerBridge Exclusive (Day 3)

Today, we continue our special week in which we take turns sharing our definition of a makerspace.

If you've been following the MakerBridge blog this week, you know that Sharona and Kristin have already laid down their own definitions of makerspaces, emphasizing community, shared resources, and space. I'm on board with everything they've said so far. That said, I want to highlight the fact that in my mind a sense of community and shared resources are the most important parts of a makerspace. Without those, you might have a maker, or you might have a tools library, but you don't have a makerspace.

This is not to discount the importance of having an actual location for a makerspace. You do need a location. Just because a makerspace needs to be a space, though, it doesn't follow that it needs to be a permanent space. I love projects like Eden Rassette's pop-up makerspace kit, which is full of craft supplies. Teen Librarian Toolbox's pop-up makerspace with Legos, duct tape, and Raspberry Pis makes me happy, too. These are basically just boxes of tools and supplies. On their own they're not makerspaces. When you put them somewhere, open them up, and add a gaggle of users sharing ideas and helping each other out--that is definitely a makerspace!

On a larger and more expensive scale, Maker Shed sells portable cabinets full of tools, and even companies like Google are getting behind the idea of pop-up makerspaces. And at the opposite end of the spectrum, I think you could make a pretty strong case for a coffee shop or bar being a makerspace during those wonderful hours when knitting and crocheting circles meet there, with everyone sharing patterns, advice, hooks, and needles.

A makerspace is anywhere makers get together and share resources. It doesn't matter if that's a classroom, a coffee shop, someone's backyard, or a massive space dedicated full-time to maker activities.

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Makerspace Post Week: A MakerBridge Exclusive (Day 2)

 

This week, we continue our special week in which we take turns sharing our definition of a makerspace.

I spend much of my time during the academic year in Michigan Makers, after-school mobile makerspace projects in local K-12 schools. I often start to describe maker culture by quoting two people. First, Dale Grover of Maker Works, who says that makerspaces are "tools plus support plus community." I might also quote Thomas (2013), who uses the triad of people, process, and place. 

Definitely community. Definitely process. Definitely shared tools. Definitely space.

Yet when I step back and really think about it, what is it that makes my Spidey sense say, in the midst of a maker activity, "Ahhh, this is it!"? That takes me a bit longer to verbalize. Then I realize that it's a feeling that comes over me, some combination of seeing and hearing, that tells me we're in the zone or what Czikszentmihalyi (2004) calls "flow." 

I know our makerspace is working when I look around and realize every kid is working on something that interests him/her and, for one brief moment, they're doing it without me. (Don't get me wrong: mini-lessons and peer instruction are critical for skill development, but after 45 minutes of threading needles, a moment when everyone is in the groove is a wonderful feeling.)

Maybe one kid is showing another how to use the stop-motion animation app she likes. Another is manning the Silhouette Cameo, showing a peer how to rearrange elements and "weld" them together. Someone else is spending some solo time with LEGO; a boy is running the foot pedal on a sewing machine while a mentor guides the fabric, and a girl is churning out handmade infinity scarves for her friends. Some kids are in the hall, competing to keep their gliders in the air. In those moments, I sense what Dewey (1900) called a student's "center of gravity," when they're settled into themselves, concentrating on what they chose to work on, and intently focused. I feel the same sense when I visit Ann Arbor's Maker Works and All Hands Active: a kind of focus even within a larger social setting.

To quote a certain judge, it's something where "I know it when I see it." And when I see it, it's a pretty magical moment.

- Kristin Fontichiaro

Photo from the Michigan Makers project; copyright 2012 Regents of the University of Michigan

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Makerspace Post Week: A MakerBridge Exclusive

As regular blog readers may know, occasionally MakerBridge does what we call “Fifth Monday” posts, in which the MakerBridge bloggers all write on the same topic. This week, we are trying something a little similar but a little different--we’ll be posting once a day all week, each discussing the same question: how do you define a makerspace?

 


Image Credit: Milwaukee Makerspace Meeting by Pete Prodoehl on Flickr

 

I think that makerspaces get defined in a lot of different ways, and that people often choose one thing or another to focus on in order to determine what counts as a makerspace. For example, many people strongly associate makerspaces with 3D printing, while some think of it as a workshop-like environment full of tools.

 

In my personal view, the most important elements of a makerspace are people and sharing. If a person works on DIY projects alone in her garage, I would consider her a maker but I wouldn’t say the garage is a makerspace. If a space has a 3D printer and a laser cutter but people use the tools independently and don’t interact much, I wouldn’t consider that space a makerspace. Tools and projects and technology matter, but for me, a makerspace means people working together, sharing ideas, and teaching each other. It means people working together as a team to create. To me, collaboration and the learning that comes with it are huge parts of the maker movement, and are also what set the movement apart from the type of DIY projects and work that people were already doing before making took off the way it has. Of course, this is not to say no one collaborated before, but I think these type of interactions and this sharing of knowledge are central to the maker movement.

 

Agree or disagree? What do you think a makerspace is? Keep watching the blog this week for other opinions, and let us know your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments!

 

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A Charter for Your Makerspace

Image showing the words, "Make things for other people," a quote from Mythbusters' Adam Savage

 

I got to talk a lot with educators and librarians this summer about makerspaces, maker-friendly culture, and even (gasp) assessment of maker work. Now I'm back in the rhythm of the school year, with a bit more desk time during which I can reflect on all I have learned and solidified in my mind since the last school year - and maker season -- came to a close. For a long time, I've been reminding folks to "know their purpose" and how important it is to have an answer for why you're adopting/hosting/creating a makerspace.

It could be to support academics, to supplement academics, to bring in new faces, to provide a safe and social space, to develop soft skills that our frenetically-paced classrooms can no longer make time for, etc. Just saying it's about STEM or "21st-century" isn't enough ... what exactly about STEM are you developing? Because let's face it ... STEM is a pretty wide set of fields, and just think of how most the projects we hear about related to STEM are really mostly about technology and engineering.

Poor M ... the poor relation of T and E.  So what part of STEM are you going for? Collaborative skills so kids can code in pairs? Animal identification to support biology class? Geometry skills to help future mosaic makers? Memorized multiplication tables so engineers can calculate more quickly in their head?

I'm being a little bit snide here,  but the point is that if you don't have a clear understanding of what you want your makerspace to accomplish, then it's harder to get buy-in, donations, attendees, volunteers, etc. And, as a result, your makerspace is more likely to be a fad that will pass in a few years instead of a vibrant space. I have used words like "purpose" or "the spine of your makerspace" to describe this to others and have suggested that they take advantage of Mark Hatch's invitation to hack the Maker Manifesto (first chapter available free here) as a launching point for conversations.

One of the smartest thinkers I ran into on my summer travels suggested the use of the word "charter" instead, meaning a working agreement, which bears great promise as being even more direct about roles, purposes, outcomes, etc., than a manifesto (and sound slightly less Marxist to conservative ears?). Another option -- either to launch a discussion or to hack (with attribution, of course) is to have your planning team examine and discuss this video of Mythbusters' Adam Savage, talking about his Ten Commandments of Making as a starting point for your makerspace's Big Ideas:

  1. Make something
  2. Make something useful
  3. Start right now
  4. Find a project
  5. Ask for help, advice, and feedback
  6. Share
  7. Recognize that discouragement and failure is part of the project
  8. Measure carefully
  9. Make things for other people
  10. Use more cooling fluid

I see most of these play out in our most successful maker pilot site (exception: cooling fluid, but hey, the kids are ten years old). Notice how nine of them are about mindset and preparation for making, not tools or skills, which reinforces what we've found all along in our Michigan Makers work: that making without maker culture is a series of activity stations. Making with a robust culture that thinks about the items that Savage discusses above? It's a makerspace. And it's feels better, too.  

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Canning Your Own Food

In recent years, I've met more and more people who can and preserve their own food. When a friend gave me a jar of peach and blueberry preserves that she canned herself, I started thinking about this even more. At this time of year, I'm always buying too much at the farmers market and then scrambling to find things to do with it all. What, exactly, does it take to get into canning your own food? Is it the kind of project that could be undertaken in a library, school, or makerspace? 

I've done some preliminary investigating, and here's what I've found out. 

Basic supplies

1. A source of information about what on earth you're doing. If you can find an expert, that sounds desirable. A New York Times article also recommended the National Center for Home Food Preservation, which has the support of the USDA, the University of Georgia, and Alabama A&M (among others). The same article also recommends Pick Your Own as a site that translates the NCHFP page into plainer English. My own searching also turned up some straightforward-sounding instructions from Better Homes and Gardens.

2. Mason jars with lids (images)

3. Boiling water canner or pressure canner (definitely a pressure canner if you're canning foods that aren't very acidic)

4. A jar lifter (images)

5. A spatula

6. Lots of boiling water for sterilizing jars

7. Better Homes and Gardens also suggests a jar funnel and a magnetic lid wand (both of which sound like they would simplify the process immensely).

8. Food to can!

What to do with those supplies

Follow directions from experts! Apparently the health and safety standards for canning food have changed a lot in relatively recent years, so you probably want to do some reading before you dig out your grandma's old recipes. You can get food poisoning if you don't do things properly. That being said, here are some sets of directions I found:

1. National Center for Home Food Preservation, "Using Boiling Water Canners" and "Using Pressure Canners."

2. Better Homes and Gardens, "General Canning Steps."

3. Pick Your Own, "Directions for Home Water Bath Canning" and "Home Pressure Canning Foods."

Are libraries, museums, etc. already teaching this?

Some of them are! You'd definitely need a kitchen setup to be able to pull this off, but once you've got that, the canning equipment doesn't appear to be terribly expensive. Some libraries I turned up who are already into canning include:

1. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA: Family Cooking Class: Homemade Preserves. (I love how it sounds like they're tying this into WWI history!)

2. Historic Waco Foundation in Waco, TX: Victorian Harvest Time.

3. Campbell Library in Campbell, CA: DIY: Preserving Fruits and Vegetables

 

Do we have any readers who can their own food? I'd be curious to hear more in the way of dos and don'ts, and tasty recipes!

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#MakeHealth Brings Together Health, Tech, and Design

Earlier this month, we took you inside the We Make Health Fest, one of the first events to bring together a maker festival with a health fair. After attending on August 16th, I’m happy to report that the Fest was a definite success. There was plenty to do, from a speaker schedule packed with fascinating talks throughout the entire day to an exhibitors area featuring a wide range of projects, products, and ideas.

 

 

Some highlights for me personally were a superhero comic book about a boy with diabetes (I am a big fan of comics), Lia Min’s presentation of her comic about autism (comics again!), a shirt that helps detect early warning signs of heart attacks called MyoAlert, and a woman who helps dementia patients with her photorealistic mosaics.

 


Trevor Torres and Jake Dwyer show off their comic about a boy with diabetes

 

One of the things I took away from the event was the amazing amount of enthusiasm and energy I saw. I spoke with one attendee who was a technologist and had come to the event with no idea what participatory healthcare or patient-centered design was. After hearing the keynote, things clicked for him and he was instantly excited about all the possibilities he saw at the intersection of the maker movement and the field of healthcare, already considering how he could apply this new knowledge to his mother’s health situation. Another woman was attending the festival with an idea in mind she had already planned out, hoping to find designers she could collaborate with to make it a reality. The organizers’ goal of bringing together healthcare workers, technologists, and designers played itself out in the best possible way, generating excitement, unique ideas, and new connections throughout the day.

 


e-NABLE is an organization that creates 3D printed prosthetic hands for those in need
 

Another really positive takeaway for me was the diversity I noticed both among the people and the projects. Initially, I was concerned; the trailer for the documentary Maker, which was being screened at the event, focuses predominantly on white men, and I knew both of the keynote speakers were men. Recognizing diversity in the maker movement is an issue we’ve spoken about previously on MakerBridge. I came away from the event feeling reassured, however. In fact, the We Make Health Fest seemed more diverse to me in terms of attendees, speakers, and exhibitors than many maker faires I’ve been to. I was also pleased to see projects all along the technological complexity spectrum. It’s important to understand that making moves beyond just circuits and 3D printing, and I felt the We Make Health Fest did a good job recognizing that idea.

 

 


Creating photo-realistic mosaics with Starry Night Mosaics

 

Be sure to check out our Flickr album and the Make Health Fest Flickr group for more photos of the event! Did you attend? What was your favorite part? Tweet at us or let us know in the comments!

 

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Review: LittleBits Space Kit

What am I reviewing?

littleBits Space Kit
Price: $189

Disclosure: littleBits sent me a Space Kit for free so that I could review it.

littleBits Space Kit with pen, for scale  
(The pen is for scale)

TL;DR

This is an excellent choice if you want an accessible way to:

- ease kids into creating circuits without having to do any programming.
- inspire kids (or anyone else) to really dig into all the technology that goes into space exploration and using satellites to conduct experiments.

The box says ages 14+. Depending on the child, someone as young as 10 could enjoy the simpler projects. The younger the child, the more they would need assistance and scaffolding, though.

What's included in the Space Kit

Note: A "bit" is a self-contained module that connects to other littleBits modules.

littleBits Space Kit contents

- 2 power bits
- 2 nine-volt batteries with cords to connect to the power bits
- 2 connecting-wire bits
- 1 DC motor
- 1 numerical display
- 1 LED
- 1 infrared LED
- 1 speaker
- 1 aux input cable
- 1 microphone
- 1 remote-trigger
- 1 light sensor
- 2 small, plastic screwdrivers (for adjusting sensitivity on the light sensor)
- 1 booklet full of space-related project ideas, instructions, and interesting information about real-world applications

What's not included

Most projects in the booklet require some sort of craft supply or normal household object. Projects I tried out called for things like an mp3 player, a glue gun, a tv remote, a small amount of milk, disposable dishware, tin foil, craft sticks, various sizes of boxes, and lots of cardboard and tape. If you are already well-stocked in recyclables and craft supplies, you’ll probably be fine. You’ll definitely want to read through the materials requirements for each project before you begin, though!

Because I don’t usually buy disposable dishware or craft sticks, I sometimes found myself scrambling to find alternative materials. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing (here’s to problem solving and creative thinking!) but you may want to factor that into any considerations of how long a project will take you and how easy/difficult it will be to complete.

What was my experience with it?

I’m entirely new to LittleBits, so the very first thing I noticed about my littleBits Space Kit was the design. The design on everything in this kit is amazing. The booklet of instructions is attractive, well-illustrated, and informative in addition to containing step-by-step instructions for each of the suggested projects. Even the box the kit comes in feels like a luxury item.

The good design is most apparent on the bits themselves, though. Each bit is labelled as to what it does: “remote trigger,” “DC motor,” etc. That’s great for when you’re following directions for a specific project.

When you’re just messing around with the bits, though, what’s even better is that 1) you don’t have to program anything, ever, and 2) the bits are color coded. Power modules are blue, input modules are pink, output modules are green, and wires are orange. You can easily swap out modules as long as they’re the same color--which means that it is incredibly easy to move from following the directions on a project to modifying the project to do anything else that suits your fancy.

When you’re putting the littleBits together, they snap very satisfyingly into place. Because of the magnets in each bit, you literally cannot put them together incorrectly. I tested the kit out with a friend who has almost no circuit-building experience (we played with Snap Circuits together one time a few years back, and that’s it), and she especially loved that feature. It kept her from worrying about shorting anything out, and let her experiment freely with the pieces. She assembled and tested out her first circuit well under two minutes, and easily kept up with me as we played with the kit, despite the fact that I’ve been playing with circuits in the form of my Arduino for more than a year now.

photo of a circuit that interacts with my tv's remote control
lighting up an LED when any button is pressed on the tv remote

 

We worked our way through most of the simpler projects in the booklet, doing things like lighting up an LED when we pressed a button on a tv remote, and wirelessly transmitting sound from my iPod to the speaker that came in the kit. During that process, the booklet took us from explaining, “What is energy?” up to projects with lessons like, “Learn the science behind satellites and make your own parabolic reflector.” These projects (and the information in the booklet) inspired all kinds of further questions in my friend and me. For that reason, I think that this kit would be a wonderful lead-in to an independent research project.

The wireless transmission project is an example of why there are two power bits in the Space Kit: We had one circuit to do the transmitting, and a second to do the receiving. That same project is also an example of a time when some experimentation was necessary beyond the directions in the booklet, since it turned out that this project works *much* better in a dark room--which I couldn’t find anywhere in the directions.

Eventually we worked our way up to the more involved projects at the end of the booklet. These projects require more supplies, and also take much longer to complete. The big project that we focused on was making our own Mars Rover.

Making the Mars Rover

photo of our Mars Rover
Our finished product. Click through for video of the rover in action!

 

What I loved about this project:

- Building the circuit was very easy.  

- As always with littleBits, there was no programming required.  

- At the end, we really did have a little rover that we controlled with a tv remote, and that displayed what it was picking up from its light sensor as it went.

- The idea that NASA needs line of sight communication with Mars in order to control their rovers was driven home by the way our rover only moved if you hit the remote sensor with the IR from the rv remote.  

Setbacks we encountered as we worked on this project:

- I had made the mistake of taking out the recycling the day before we began this project, which greatly limited our choices of supplies.

- We had trouble figuring out things like what size box to use for the rover’s body. The box we ended up with made our lives difficult by being too small to easily arrange all the necessary parts inside.

- The booklet’s directions for an axle holder for the center wheel didn’t work for us at all.  We ended up making our own system to hold that wheel in place, using another straw and a hole in the outside of the box.

- We tried using a popsicle stick instead of a craft stick to attach to the motor and power the Rover. We never did manage to keep the popsicle stick attached to the motor for more than a few seconds of driving at a time, although judicious use of masking tape improved things considerably.

- We made some miscalculations when assembling our center wheel, and as a result our Rover went in circles.

- We had to add counterweights to the back of our Rover to keep it from tipping over due to how we had to arrange the motor, the battery, and the light sensor/display part of the Rover in order to make everything fit.

photo of our rover's broken axle
the axle kept breaking

 

Now, these setbacks were sometimes frustrating.  I want to put that out there, because it’s worth keeping in mind, especially if you’re working with someone who is easily put off by setbacks.  That being said, we’re supposed to be makers, are we not?  And that’s all about realizing that something is a problem, and then trying out ways to fix that problem.  Thus, you can look at the limitations of the booklet as either a design flaw, or a feature. I’ll leave it to you to decide what you think!  

Summing Up

The littleBits Space Kit is as foolproof an entree to circuit building as I can imagine. I can see this kit being a big hit with kids or adults who are just getting into circuit building, or who have any interest in space. (And really, who isn’t at least a little interested in space?)

The very minimum skills a child would need in order to use this kit are:

- Ability to manipulate relatively small pieces (without putting them in their mouth).
- Understanding that everything you make with the kit needs a power source.
- Understanding (or patience to learn) that any input will affect the outputs after it.

That said, I think a kid would get a lot more out of this, and need a lot less scaffolding and assistance, if they also had:

- Some very basic level of understanding of electricity.
- Basic knowledge about our solar system, that the moon orbits the earth, etc.

When I try to imagine where a kit like this would have been great in my own education, here’s what I come up with:

- I would have loved assembling some of the very simplest projects when I was 10 or so and was first introduced to electricity in science class--but I would have needed an adult or an older kid on hand to help and to explain things.

- I would have been able to assemble the circuits easily and focus my attention instead on the takeaway lessons if this had been included in, say, my 9th-grade earth science class. (The project about studying the atmosphere from a satellite springs to mind as one that would have fit into that class well.) This actually lines up well with the suggested minimum age of 14 that’s printed on the box.

- I actually had a lot of fun with it now, as an adult. It led me to asking some questions about satellites that I hadn’t thought to ask before.

- I’m excited to take this into work to use as part of the Tech Petting Zoo that our Emerging Technologies Librarian puts on; I fully expect this kit to be a big hit with the college students and occasional adult who attend those.

As long as you can keep track of the pieces and have enough craft supplies at hand, the kit should do well in a makerspace, classroom, or library. If you have books or other resources about energy, satellites, NASA, the solar system, etc., display those near this kit. I bet you’ll get a big boost to their use!

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PACE-ing yourself when planning maker learning

As maker learning moves from informal settings like makerspaces and libraries and into K-12 classrooms, I've found it useful to spend some time thinking about how to effectively frame that learning in the context of school. In the Michigan Makers work that we do, our primary goal is culture over tools or completed projects. If we can get the culture right, then the rest seems to flow more effectively. 

And that means that when we approach maker learning, we are taking a participant-centered approach over a manager-centered approach. If we merely bring maker tools into the classroom, but tell students the steps and procedures required to "successfully" complete the project, then we aren't creating makers. We're creating directions-followers, folks who can paint-by-number but not grow as innovativ thinkers and creators.

Now sure, there are some mini-lessons that we might impose on students in order to give them a functional toolkit with which to openly explore later. For example, having every child practice with the same soldering 101 project gives them a chance to learn from each other and for the teacher to maxmize safety and opportunities for practice. Similarly, the inital Blinking LED Arduino exercise helps introduce students to the Arduino's physical and computing environments. But if this is where maker learning ends, we're doing our students a major disservice and betraying the makerspace heritage from which the maker movement emerged.

Too many adult-prescribed activities also means students learn that success comes from doing it the teacher's way, not from following their own thinking paths. This actually minimizes experimentation and risk-taking, two key elements necessary if we say we are committed to maker learning leading to innovation in society and the workplace, as President Obama said in his proclamation at the first White House Maker Faire:

Our Nation is home to a long line of innovators who have fueled our economy and transformed our world. Through the generations, American inventors have lit our homes, propelled humanity into the skies, and helped people across the planet connect at the click of a button. American manufacturers have never stopped chasing the next big breakthrough. As a country, we respond to challenge with discovery, determined to meet our great tests while seeking out new frontiers ...

I am committed to helping Americans of all ages bring their ideas to life ..

Today, let us continue on the path of discovery, experimentation, and innovation that has been the hallmark not only of human progress, but also of our Nation's progress.  Together, let us unleash the imagination of our people, affirm that we are a Nation of makers, and ensure that the next great technological revolution happens right here in America (emphasis added).

In other words, the pathway to future success means making room for novel ideas and iteration. So we need to have maker mindset in our schools, not merely skills and tools.

In an effort to develop a shorthand with educators (and to give my own middle-aged memory a mnemonic), I ask educators to PACE themselves when planning maker learning:

P - Prioritize process 

A - Promote student agency 

C - Provide choice

E - Value experimentation 

 

Process Over Product

So much of our schools' accountability movement has focused on product: what's on the walls at parent-teacher conferences? What are the students' test scores? What's their final grade? Maker learning focuses instead on process: on slowing down, looking around at what others are doing, chatting about options, and creating and later discarding prototypes. We encourage students to be productive, yes, but we recognize that productivity works at a different rate for different students. Instead of students rushing to complete something that works right away so they get that guaranteed A, we want them to try, iterate, change, update, mock up, and revise their work, with each revision adding a layer of understanding or insight. This may mean that we do not grade maker products in school. Perhaps instead we grade maker journals, Instagram reflection timelines, or artist statements. Holding students accountable for their process-driven experiences means no more, "Well, I just liked it that way." Grading products leads to less-risky products. 

 

Agency

Makers are active participants in makerspaces. While they may go through some training sessions to qualify to use certain tools in a makerspace or to learn basic skills, the makerspace imposes very few rules on how they employ those tools and skills. Open-endedness and feeling as if one is, to use an overworked cliche, in the driver's seat on one's journey are essential. We want to strengthen students' executive function: their ability to self-monitor, self-assess, and self-navigate. As John Dewey said in his essay "The School and Social Progress" in School and Society

I may have exaggerated somewhat in order to make plain the typical points of the old education:  its passivity of attitude, its mechanical massing of children, its uniformity of curriculum and method.  It may be summed up by stating that the center of gravity is outside the child. It is in the teacher, the text-book, anywhere and everywhere you please except in the immediate instincts and activities of the child himself.

On that basis there is not much to be said about the life of the child.  A good deal might be said about the studying of the child, but the school is not the place where the child lives.

Now the change which is coming into our education is the shifting of the center of gravity. It is a change, a revolution, not unlike that introduced by Copernicus when the astronomical center shifted from the earth to the sun. In this case the child becomes the sun about which the appliances of education revolve; he is the center about which they are organized.  

If we take an example from an ideal home, where the parent is intelligent enough to recognize what is best for the child, and is able to supply what is needed, we find the child learning  through the social converse and constitution of  the family. There are certain points of interest and value to him in the conversation carried on: statements are made, inquiries arise, topics are discussed, and the child continually learns. He states his experiences, his misconceptions are corrected ...

The ideal home would naturally have a workshop where the child could work out his constructive instincts. It would have a miniature laboratory in which his inquiries could be directed. The life of the child would extend out of doors to the garden, surrounding fields, and forests. He would have his excursions, his walks and talks, in which the larger world out of doors would open to him.

Now, if we organize and generalize all of this, we have the ideal school. There is no mystery about it, no wonderful discovery of pedagogy or educational theory. It is simply a question of doing systematically and in a large, intelligent, and competent way ... The child must be brought into contact with more grown people and with more children in order that there may be the freest and richest social life. Moreover, the occupations and relationships of the home environment are not specially selected for the growth of the child; the main object is something else, and what the child can get out of them is incidental. Hence the need of a school (1900, pp. 51-53).

Dewey's century-old visioning of the dawning of a new student-centered education may still feel like an unachieved goal, but his metaphor for the "center of gravity" couldn't be more spot-on. Dewey's "center of gravity" should be evident in our students when they are making. For some schools, this concept is so contrary to the day to day realities of school (and let's be honest: reduced funding, fewer staff members, higher expectations, more diverse students, and more students overall are very real challenges we cannot brush off or ignore) that maker learning is better suited in a standalone setting: a separate course, an enrichment activity, or a lunchtime club. In that way, it can fully flourish even if the rest of school cannot take a student-centered approach.

 

Choice

If agency is the sense of oneself in the world, then choice is the ability to determine projects, project partners, desired media, and more. In maker learning, we want students to feel they have options and choices, not that they must complete a project in the same media, style, or timeline that we do. This is important for all students. Students from higher socioeconomic classes often have velvet constraints -- their school trajectory often pre-plans what courses they will take in order to get into college (which is always an assumed stage, not an optional one). Many suburban, middle-class kids are, in a parent's well-intentioned desire to expose them to many activities, shuttled from activity to activity, often with little choice in how soccer practice unfolds or which piano music they will learn. Students from lower socioeconomic communities sometimes face a paucity of choices. Their schooling, in another well-meaning gesture, may be narrowly focused on intensive drill and practice on limited subjects (primarly those measured by standardized tests). Lack of funding can mean lack of exposure to options for creative expression at home, in school course catalogs, and in after-school enrichment activities. These are broad generalizations, but the bottom line is that choices -- digital or physical LEGO? Engineering a pattern for a stuffed animal or one for a wooden treasure box? Graphic design or HTML? -- are a key factor in student satisfaction and engagement. Again, the realities of the school day may or may not be conducive to choice in materials or activities, so consider out-of-school-hours options instead if necessary.

 

Experimental

If maker learning claims to promote innovative and entrepreneurial thinking, then we need to find or save time (see earlier notes about the very real constraints of school!) for experimentation, prototyping, trial-and-error, and revision. James Dyson famously made over 5000 prototypes before mastering the world's first bag-free vacuum. Thomas Edison reportedly said, "I have not failed; I have just found 10,000 ways that don't work." (Imagine if we evaluted Edison solely from his dyslexia-challenged educational output.) Our educator mindsets struggle to grapple with how to teach revision in writing, yet revision is natural in making. We have a vision in our mind's eye that we want to carry out, and we're willing, much of the time anyway, to keep trying until we get closer to the outcome. Our teacher mindsets must adjust for the amount of time this takes, the amount of expertise we need in order to guide students into new paths, and the shift in mindset for our anxious, high-achieving academics in the classroom.

 

As I've said a few times in this post, some of what I'm discussing here seems to fly in the face of everything teachers are being asked to do each day. So if you have to make the choice between jamming some thin lessons into a classroom or building a new course, club, or lunch group that can do the deep dive, I vote for the depth. What about you?

- Kristin Fontichiaro

This entry was cross-posted to the Active Learning blog

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