Creating Makers, Not Spaces

Move the desks out of the way, pull up a piece of rug, and invent something using the engineering process and leftover parts. Just like anything else, the Internet provides a plethora of ideas to define and design “makerspaces.”

Other names include fablabs, hackerspaces, and design labs. In our school, our students devise problems when their teachers run out of ideas.

One problem we do eliminate, however, is the cookie cutter approach. The cookie cutter approach creates the same type of cookies. We like to experiment with variety to spark the next generation of engineers that start their training in our halls, classes, and outdoor spaces. Since those areas are there anyway, we need to take students and teachers to higher planes of creation.

We still use hardware and software in the form of 3D printers and free downloadable software, but we also use plastic spoons, pieces of wooden pallets, and popsicle sticks. When young adolescents are collaborating by writing on walls and floors with dry erase markers, you know the young engineers, artists, and inventors are hacking the spaces to collaborate and create. The students are an intricate part of creating the ever evolving spaces throughout the school to adapt their passions and advancement of technology.

Budget is always a challenge, but the creators see no limit, they only see a solution and an understanding that everything can be improved, even their own designs.

According to examples posted on Edutopia, in an inquiry based learning environment, teachers guide students with higher levels of questioning. Students are then trained to create their own questions that solve problems and create multiple solutions. A student driven, problem led environment lets students and teachers discover.

For instance, on most of the doors in our school, we have metal on metal latches. Doors are locked at all times with a magnet strip allowing the door to open. In a security lockdown, the magnets are easily removed and the doors are locked.

In an older section of our building, there are double doors where wood meets wood. A sixth grade girl designed a sliding object that would keep the latch flat and could easily slide up and down to be removed. She sketched it on a CAD program and printed it on a 3D printer: “Ta-Da!”

The maker movement that we are experiencing now in education is not much different, in many ways, than the traditional industrial arts classes of the past. The students still need to learn how to use the tools and techniques to design and make, but they have a new host of resources at their disposal.

What we are looking at is what we like to call an “old roots with new growth approach.” If you look back, the maker movement has always been in schools, just in different forms. Home economics, industrial arts, music, and art have a long history in the education of our children and these subjects are experiencing a renaissance today with the creation of makerspaces in schools and communities.

There are many great examples and resources available to help educators develop the correct mindset and program that follows the old roots, new growth mindset. Innovators like Gever Tulley of Tinkering School offer great examples of the inquiry based, hands-on, make from scratch, problem finding/solving approach. His TED Talk demonstrates this approach with great examples.

It’s important not forget our past. In the past we created from scratch, not from kits that were supplied from vendors. Students created products from materials they had in front of them in class. These are makers, not the spaces in which they work. Many ideas are monetized and standardized.

From an educational standpoint, the ideal maker movement sees value in students creating and making things on their own. But, when you get caught up in the “kit culture” that is being fostered you are losing the soul of the movement.

What we need to do is build the skills of the students so they can create these solutions on their own, not from a pre-cut kit with directions. Let them fail, over and over again if necessary, to develop that grit and creativity that modern education can teach out of them.

Furthermore, so many people in education talk about problem solving, which is great, we all need those skills. But, if the problems are just handed to our students, they are missing an essential part of the plan. In addition, we need to teach them how to be problem finders, not just solvers. Some of the greatest inventions and innovations in the world came from people that looked at the world in a different way and “found” a problem that many overlooked.

Teaching our students to be more observant and empathetic from a global perspective will give them skills to engage with people and problems in a whole new way. This will then foster the creativity and innovation that we need to sustain and improve or futures.

A great example of this is the story of Tony ‘TEMPT’ Quan, a legendary LA graffiti artist, social activist, and publisher who was diagnosed with ALS in 2003, and Mick Ebeling filmmaker, author, and entrepreneur. Mick found out about Tony through a friend at an exhibit of his work and felt a need to help him (empathy) communicate again. From there Mick was able to, with a group of makers and programmers from around the world, create the eyewriter. This work has grown into a global organization called Not Impossible Labs. Their website describes its mission this way: “Not Impossible makes DIY, accessible, tech-based solutions for people around the world, and then powerfully tells those stories to inspire others to do the same.”

If we want the maker movement to have real lasting and enduring value we should teach students to be problem finders and nurture them to develop their skills and help people. Have these “Core Points” for success in your mind when developing your program:

  • Innovate (Get dangerous!)
  • Teach the skills and tools to create (Not just kits!)
  • Create and use common values/mission (Unite don’t hype!)
  • Collaborate (Technology helps!)
  • Lead (Commit!)
  • Be patient … slow and steady (Fail forward!)

This will give them the life skills that will help them in so many areas in their school experience as well as in the future. Remember, as Seymour Papert stated, “The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.”