Bring the Maker Movement Into Your Classroom
America has always been served well by the large number of its citizens whose ingenuity, hard work, and persistence under adversity developed technologies, businesses and lifestyle improvements that made our country a world leader and superpower. Franklin, Ford, Edison, Einstein - the list goes on and on. Millions of artists, engineers and business people throughout our country's brief history have strived and made a real difference.
If you grew up in the age of blocks, tinker toys and erector sets, then unfortunately you are dating yourself. Young Americans are now primarily consumers (and not creators).
Has America lost that creative spark? Hardly. It just needs to catch fire across the bulk of society.
The Maker Movement is focused on creating instead of just consuming. It's a new cultural and educational phenomenon that you urgently need to bring into your classroom, no matter what subject or age group you teach.
Hopefully this blog will inspire you. Let us know either how you are currently using, or how you plan to bring the Maker Movement into your classroom (Feel free to send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
What is the Maker Movement?
Tim Bajarin has a great article on the Maker Movement. He quotes an insightful Adweek definition of the Maker Movement:
"The Maker Movement, as we know, is the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers. A convergence of computer hackers and traditional artisans, the niche is established enough to have its own magazine, Make, as well as hands-on Maker Faires that are catnip for DIYers who used to toil in solitude. Makers tap into an American admiration for self-reliance and combine that with open-source learning, contemporary design and powerful personal technology like 3-D printers. The creations, born in cluttered local workshops and bedroom offices, stir the imaginations of consumers numbed by generic, mass-produced, 'made in China' merchandise."
The Maker Movement is not just about technology development. As Bajarin points out while walking through a Maker Faire, "While its roots are tech-related, there were people at the show teaching how to crochet, make jewelry, and even one area called Home Grown, where do-it-yourselfers showed how to pickle vegetables, can fruits and vegetables, as well as make jams and jellies. There was another area focused on eco-sustainability, bee keeping, composting and growing your own food."
Why is it important?
One of the best quotes I've seen recently that sums up what is wrong with where we are headed is the following: "Prosperity is not found in every man or woman for themselves, fighting over the sales items at Ross."
Millennials are often seen simply as consumers of technology toward a very trivial end. While each of us will not become a Franklin, Ford, Edison or Einstein; we would certainly benefit from turning our society away from the pure consumerism of technology, and into a society regularly demonstrating, appreciating and valuing more creative habits.
If they are never exposed to the behaviors and habits of the Maker Movement, how can you expect today's children to have any perspective on the shallowness of pure consumerism? How can you expect them to have creativity, ingenuity, hard work and persistence as valued cultural traits and ideals if those traits and ideals have never been experienced by the majority of society?
It is critical that the positive behaviors and habits of the Maker Movement are experienced in the education and development of all Americans, not just those highly oriented to the sciences, engineering and fine arts. Minorities, women, and immigrant populations are particularly at risk - they critically need exposure to and participation in the education benefits, behaviors and habits of the Maker Movement. Without the full participation of everyone, regardless of race, we are short changing our future and producing a society of purposeless, shallow consumers who contribute little to the greater good.
Wikipedia defines Make Magazine as:
"Make (or MAKE) is an American bimonthly magazine published by Maker Media which focuses on do it yourself (DIY) and/or DIWO (Do It With Others) projects involving computers, electronics, robotics, metalworking, woodworking and other disciplines."
Make magazine is free digitally on the web! It is your guidebook to everything related to the Maker Movement.
The emphasis is on step-by-step instructions for completing projects. Skills are also taught from leathermaking to surface mount soldering to using various types of tools. Common building block components such as bearings, gears, and LEDs are explained in simple terms to build enough understanding to start using them purposely and creatively. There is a detailed section on educational aspects and use of the Maker Movement.
You'll want to spend several lengthy sessions browsing http://makezine.com in depth, letting your mind follow thread after thread to explore all the possibilities.
My advice to you is to pick a project related to the subject that you teach. But there's not a subject taught that can't utilize creativity, ingenuity, hard work and persistence to dramatically improve the quality of the subject matter.
What if you don't teach science, math or art? If you have an elementary or middle school English class, focus on any project that can be documented well to be shared and understood by others. Almost any task or project could be used as the theme for such a real world writing assignment.
Don't make it stale or too safe: Expose your students to something that takes them to the edge of their comfort zone. Why shouldn't every kid in America take on building an electric train out of a battery, two magnets and some wire? You can find that project: here.
Hold a Maker Faire
Ok, so this is not just another excuse for a science fair with lots of formal (and pointless) documentation just to see how plants really aren't dramatically affected by playing rock music instead of classical music to them for a couple of hours a day. As Make magazine says, a Maker Faire is meant to "celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset." Celebrate and share, don't go crazy on process and documentation.
Guide your students through this process:
- Help them find a subject or new area of skill/study that interests them.
- Help them find a suitable project that is manageable to the timeframe given and not too big an undertaking.
- Motivate them to focus on key principles of success: creativity, ingenuity, hard work and persistence.
- Have them share failure as well as success with their peers - we often learn more from our failures than our successes.
- Most of all - let them have fun!
- Invite outsiders (and maybe even parents, the public and the press) to experience your Maker Faire.
- Encourage your most promising students to take part at a public Maker Faire in your area.
If you've read this far, hopefully you're inspired and you are "on board" with the Maker Movement concept.
Even if you don't have room in your curriculum this year for a full dose of Maker Movement concepts and projects, right now, i.e. this week, you can raise the awareness of your students to the Maker Movement concept:
Send them in search of something creative on TV or the Internet and have them report back to your class. That's a much better use of their time instead of counting their followers, taking yet another selfie, or watching reality TV!
About the Author
Bill Franklin, the CEO of Internet4Classrooms, is our guest blogger this month. He has been on the faculty at The George Washington University, was a career Army Special Operations officer and also coaches in the Collier County school system.