Maker Education: A new education revolution

The Maker Movement is a social movement comprised of independent inventors, tinkerers, and designers. Makers, who resemble computer hackers from the 1960s and 1970s, create real-world artefacts.

Maker Education emphasises hands-on learning. It encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning by solving real-world problems.

Maker education revolution

Conventional education is struggling to provide the learning environment necessary to help raise the future innovators, problem solvers, and entrepreneurs that advanced societies need. Maker Education offers a model for education in the 21st century.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn”
— Benjamin Franklin

Inventors are revolutionaries. They change the way we live by solving everyday small and large problems. Their inventions are tangible proof of what is possible when our mindset and way of thinking goes against the grain of the established way of doing things.

Henry Ford showed that cars can be made in massive numbers and cheaply at a time when car manufacturing produced expensive cars for the few and privileged. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak showed the every home can have a computer, and that anyone can learn how to program them. Peter Diamantis and Elon Musk showed that private space flight and the commercialisation of space is possible.

In education too, it is now possible to think against the grain. The fundamental components for building superior educational experiences now exist. The academic research is rich with evidence-based best practices in every context imaginable. The educational materials, like textbooks, lecture videos, and computer programs, are plentiful and easy to find across multiple delivery channels. And the opportunities for hands-on experimentation and learning are also abundant.

For the last ten years, we have witnessed the evolution of a truly remarkable education paradigm that addresses the core of the problems in conventional education by applying the principles of inventor learning. It is called Maker Education. Its modern origin can be loosely traced to 2006 when the first Maker Faire event took place in San Mateo, in the San Francisco Bay area. A year earlier, the hallmark Maker publication, Maker Magazine, was published for the first time. Maker Magazine was inspired by the century-old Popular Mechanics magazine.

The social success of Maker Magazine is that it gave millions of people a name for what they do, an identity, and a sub-culture. People have been tinkering and making things for thousands of years, but through Maker Magazine these people assumed a strong identity, and a name for what they do.

The magazine, as well as other similar publications, defined the Maker Movement. The Maker Movement is a social movement that includes independent inventors, tinkerers and designers from all walks of life, educational and cultural backgrounds. These people tend to define themselves as ‘Makers’. While they resemble the computer hackers of the 60s and 70s, which nurtured the pioneers of personal computing and the likes of Apple and Microsoft, Makers create real-world artefacts using technologies that a few years ago belonged in industrial research and development labs.

Makers use technologies like three-dimensional printers, CNC cutting machines, laser scanners, laser cutters, open source software tools for designing models of objects like printed circuit boards and enclosures for electronic parts, and cheap, massively produced components. Makers favour open source technologies whenever they can find them, or they create their own when they can’t.

The Maker Movement is big. In the US alone, some estimates suggest that 135 million adults consider themselves to be Makers (this information is provided by Atmel, a maker of microcontrollers, which is an essential component of Maker creations). The value of the 3D products purchased by makers in 2017 is estimated to be around US$6 billion, expected to climb to US$8.41 billion by 2020.

Perhaps the most important outcome of the Maker Movement is the effect it is having on education. Maker Education favours a hands-on approach to learning. It advocates that learners take responsibility for their own learning by solving real-life problems. Just like makers are self-reliant problem solvers, in Maker Education learners are in charge.

In San Diego’s High Tech High, students are Makers (1). The Makers, ranging from kindergarten to Year 12 students, learn by “making, doing, building, shaping and inventing stuff”. Principal Larry Rosenstock, CEO and founder, explains that students spend most of their day working together in projects that give them the opportunity to apply knowledge that comes from different traditional ‘disciplines’. These disciplines are normally taught separately in conventional schooling, neatly separated by textbooks, classrooms and instructors. High Tech High is more like a 12-year-long kindergarten. Just as in kindergarten, children have the freedom to explore their curiosities. Throughout their time at High Tech High, students retain that freedom.

Consider a typical day at High Tech High. A humanities and an engineering teacher work together to devise a project for their students. The humanities teacher’s objective is to encourage his students to learn about the ancient civilisations of the Mayans, Greeks and Romans, and specifically their rise and fall. The engineering teacher wants his students to learn about geared systems and how to use them to transmit energy. Their combined project involves challenging the students to create a physical contraption in which interlocking cogwheels tell the stories of these civilisations. As the wheels turn, a different era is recounted. The students are broken down into groups of five, and begin their research: history and engineering, self-directed. Each group may return with a different interpretation of the objectives, but in each case the assignment is solved, in their own way.

What happens at High Tech High is an example of how Maker-style Education works. Self-directed learning, a conducive learning environment in which the educator is there to provide the direction and just enough support to help the student pursue their learning interest, and where the learner can find the tools they need to create their inventions. Collaboration is built into the environment, with teamwork designed so that learners support and motivate each other. This is an example of how a high-performance work environment is used to achieve high-quality learning outcomes.

All student work is open for visitors to the school to see, and learn from. Students become used to the ideal that they themselves are teachers for others. In the case of the civilisations project, the students’ six-foot-diameter geared wooden wheel that encoded their understanding of why civilisations rise and fall was an exhibit in the school’s annual exhibition. Exhibits and exhibitions like this transformed the school into a museum and art gallery at the same time.

What is the life outlook for students like the ones in High Tech High? Or any other young Maker? Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, observes how the world’s greatest innovators evolved through childhoods filled with creative play which led to the development of deeply entrenched curiosities. These became intrinsic motivations that guided their life and career goals throughout their lifetimes.

Perhaps more importantly, because as children these innovators were used to constant failure and recovery, like failed experiments, assumptions and materials, they developed to be resilient adults, able to not just cope with the setbacks of life but to persist and thrive. For them, what others see as difficulties or problems are opportunities for learning and growth.

In Maker Education environments, failure is not punished with a low grade. It is seen as another opportunity for learning.

In the sections and chapters of this book we will look at how Maker Education works and discuss practical ideas of how you can implement a similar environment in your own school or homeschool.

Interesting readings

Maker Education Revolution

Learning in a high-tech society.

Available in PDF, Mobi, ePub and paperback formats.

Using Maker Education as a model for education in the 21st century, Dr Peter Dalmaris explains how teachers, parents, and learners can apply the educational methods of inventors and innovators for the benefit of their students and children.

We publish fresh content each week. Read how-to's on Arduino, ESP32, KiCad, Node-RED, drones and more. Listen to interviews. Learn about new tech with our comprehensive reviews. Get discount offers for our courses and books. Interact with our community. One email per week, no spam; unsubscribe at any time

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}