The “maker” culture that spun off from the do-it-yourself movement nearly a decade ago is now starting to make its way into schools.
Schools with varying levels of resources are adopting the concept – a Maker’s Space is, after all, about creation and innovation – but a few big-ticket items, like 3D printers, production equipment and laser cutters, have become popular additions where feasible. That has, in turn, led some schools to designate specific areas as a Maker’s Space that can be easily secured and monitored.
But two experts say to be wary of relegating the concept to one space in the building. Sylvia Martinez and Dr. Gary Stager, co-authors of Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, say what they are seeing with Maker’s Spaces now is reminiscent of the early move toward computer labs.
Martinez and Stager recently attended the International Society for Technology in Education conference in Atlanta, where the maker movement’s growing influence was visible. The two met at the ISTE conference 22 years ago.
“The history of computers went from 1-to-1 to labs,” Martinez, a former aerospace engineer, said in an interview with AS&U.
“The computer lab became a place that you visited as a separate part of your class. That gave permission for class to not change. What we’re trying to advocate for is that we don’t repeat that historical mistake. We don’t want the Maker’s Space to be where you learn this thing called Maker’s Space and then science class doesn’t change and math class doesn’t change.”
The two say the maker movement, which is heavily influenced by French theorist Jean Piaget’s research that children learn by doing, isn’t so much a class that can be added to a student’s schedule. It’s a different way of looking at student development and education.
“Philosophically, school is really good at nouns,” said Stager, founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge institute. “We ought to be focusing more on verbs. For some reason, we’re talking about putting Maker’s Spaces places as opposed to putting (in) making places.
“I like to say that the greatest Maker’s Space is in between your ears,” he also said. “It’s a stance. It’s a way of recognizing that I have the confidence and competence to solve any problem I confront, even if only to discover that I need to learn a lot more.”
That said, both of them agreed that the physical environment of a school matters when adopting the maker approach. They just don’t want to see a Maker’s Space materialize as a bunker down the hall.
Students should have flexible workspaces and room to spread out, with natural lighting and ample access to electrical outlets. Ventilation becomes important. Students also need spaces where they can be noisy without adversely affecting those who need to work in quiet. Classrooms need more storage – and storage with lids to protect ongoing projects. And after all that time and effort, the students will need display spaces to share their work and so others can learn from it.
“People are really, really inventive if you give them a little space and cool materials to work with,” Martinez said. “A lot of people are talking about how we need to add ‘aesthetics’ and ‘art education’ and it should be STEAM, not STEM. But if kids have great materials and time and they care about what they’re working on, they will automatically add their own aesthetic to their projects.”