Making and Education

Editor’s Note: This post was written about the National Week of Making. This year’s event in Washington, D.C. was hosted by the Nation of Makers and the U.S. Office of Educational Technology. Learn more about how you can get involved here.

At the Nation of Makers “Making and Education” event on June 21, the exhibition room at American University felt a bit like the laboratory of a cartoon mad scientist. 3D printers chugged away as they weaved digital designs into small plastic replicas, and robots of all shapes and sizes roamed about the floor. A van parked outside the building invited visitors to take on design challenges using Legos and recycled cardboard. Two young Makers transported guests to their dream vacation with the help of a green screen and an iPad on wheels.

Activities like these are generally a luxury for the average student, but thanks to the Nation of Makers, this may soon no longer be the case. The national nonprofit is working to make these creative playrooms, commonly known as “maker spaces,” a reality for all students by establishing them in schools, libraries, and other accessible areas. At the “Making and Education” event, the Nation of Makers teamed up with the U.S. Office of Educational Technology to showcase students, teachers, and organizations who are leading the way in harnessing the Maker Movement in educational settings. In addition to the showroom, the event featured a panel of Maker experts, who provided insight on how Making can be used to transform the educational experience of students all over the country.

The Maker Movement is much more than an activity or a piece of technology. Rather, it is a mindset that places inquiry and passion at the heart of learning. The Maker Movement positions itself as an escape from the traditional educational model of reading textbook passages and memorizing facts, and instead asks students to get their hands dirty by creating something new. For Makers, the learning process is cyclical: when students Make, they develop questions that prompt learning; when they learn, they apply their new knowledge to their Making. The end result? A transformative experience in which students develop passion, self-efficacy, and intrinsic motivation toward STEM fields.

Perhaps the Maker Movement’s greatest strength is its ability to empower. Making allows students, even those who may have struggled previously in the classroom, to demonstrate competence and be successful. By giving them these opportunities, educators can show students that you don’t need to be gifted or have a “knack” for science in order to create. The practice of Making frames learning as a continuous, growth-oriented process where failure is celebrated as an opportunity for improvement. The confidence that is built through this process can have a long-term positive impact on students’ academic success, as well as their social and emotional growth.

Opportunities for children to participate in Making have grown rapidly in recent years, especially in informal settings like summer camps and afterschool clubs. However, establishing maker spaces in schools presents new challenges. In a formal educational setting, educators must find a way for Making to enhance, rather than compete with the existing curricula. As with any educational experience, teachers play an instrumental role in supporting students through this new mode of learning, and must be trained in how to incorporate the Maker Mindset in their classroom community.

Further, the establishment of a maker space is a financial burden for many schools. The technology commonly associated with maker spaces is expensive, and most districts do not have the luxury of surplus funding. However, it is a misconception that technology is the foundation of a successful maker space. According to the Nation of Makers, maker spaces are not defined by the newest technology, but rather, the fostering of creativity through any medium. Students can start Making with nothing more than scrap paper, dollar store finds, and other inexpensive materials. As the maker space builds momentum, schools can work toward finding funds for more costly pieces. Various grants and other forms of support are available to help schools overcome financial barriers.

Although the task of creating maker spaces in schools is daunting, schools that have given their students the opportunity to participate in Making have seen tangible results. A handful of such schools in the DMV area sent young representatives to the “Making in Education” event to show off their creations. One group of 13- and 14-year-old boys explained their contraptions like seasoned professionals to a crowd of fellow Makers three or four times their age. The Making class, which their school offered as an elective, guided them through the inquiry process, encouraging them to evaluate and revise what they created throughout the year. Along the way, the young Makers picked up extensive knowledge of electrical circuits, coding, and structural engineering. All of the students plan to take the follow-up class next school year. 

About the Author

Sami Chiang
Educational Technology Intern

Sami Chiang is a senior at Vanderbilt University, where she is studying education and child studies with a minor in computer science. After graduation, she hopes to help foster growth mindsets and enthusiasm for learning as an elementary school teacher. Sami is the founder of Code Ignite, a nonprofit organization that brings free computer science education programs to high-need Nashville public schools. In her free time, she enjoys blogging, rock climbing, and listening to the Hamilton soundtrack.