Making Maker ED Universal Means Reaching Those that Have NOT Drank the Kool-Aid

When thinking about Maker Education, you might imagine scenes of highly engaged and independent learners, tinkering, wondering, and creating collaboratively. It might even be in a well-curated design learning space with prototyping buckets, bright colors, inspirational quotes, and an annex of digital fabrication tools (3D printers, laser cutters, LED-lined computers). Also present, a learning facilitator whose dynamic presence, effusive personality, and quirky disposition serves as a student magnet. These learning wonderlands often have community exhibitions where fellow Maker Ed enthusiasts, community leaders, donors, parents, and employers can gather to provide feedback, opportunities, and industrial networks to the students who work in the space.

I drink the Kool-Aid on maker education and have visited these spaces and people; many of which are run by or associated with fantastic FabLearn Fellows. What happens inside—and outside—of these intentional, well-funded, and mission-driven learning environments is awe-inspiring. These spaces take on real problems, which matter to their students and communities and utilize the appropriate technical skills to create innovative, sustainable, and elegant solutions. Hopefully, the space and operational leaders make a purposeful and committed effort to be not just inclusive, but also diverse and accessible to all learners in their community. Increasingly, this is true and these spaces are not just a place for self-motivated and college bound students to learn and work with great resources and dynamic teams.

These examples of excellent maker education are the standard bearers for the future of our education and economy. These lighthouses of interdisciplinary exploration set the tone for their districts or are the showcase buildings for an independent school. I wish this was what people thought of when they imagined a public school in their community. I wish this was how the typical student, at a regular school got to approach and interact with learning. I think those of us that relish in the ideas of FabLearn and constructionism who have access to resources and tools to make and create and have classes filled with students who want to make and create have a responsibility to share the magic. We need to find access points so every classroom, at no cost and with no institutional commitment can have frequent, yet meaningful maker sampling.

I have been reluctant to share about my classroom seeing all the amazing things that the Fellows are doing. I can look back on when we started without any support, resources, or training and I wish I knew this amazing community and their resources on how to effectively build to maker experiences and places. Making education is a rabbit hole and, for those of us in it, we can continue to burrow down into richer soil with more exciting and meaningful projects. I think we also must return to the surface and share samples that passersbys can safely enjoy and hopefully dig into for a bit more.

I want this blog to be the starting point for a series of activities that the everyday teacher can integrate into their classroom. For teachers without a maker building or project based learning curriculum or participation in wonderful conferences such as EurekaFestival or FabLearn, I—and I trust the majority of my FabLearn fellow troublemakers—want every student, classroom, and teacher to get to engage in the magic of making exactly where they are. For every amazing post I see on here about using laser cutting or bridging the intellectual history of making through Papert’s ideas, I hope we can also have a post about what a 3rd grade teacher with a scripted curriculum in a stagnant school can do to bring the magic of making to students.

I wish every educator had the tremendous opportunities I have been afforded to learn from the rich tapestry of education as a design-oriented, contact sport. I wish every administrator saw the increasing importance of pivoting education away from automatable skills and query-ready knowledge into dynamic mindset practices, collaboration experiences, and meaningful project-based learning needed for the 21st Century economy.

I often wonder where the best place for the fight exists. Is it in individual classrooms and with passionate practitioners or is it through rallying community partners and leveraging political weight to adjust system infrastructure? It is probably on both and many more fronts. Today—and hopefully for the next several weeks—I want to share with learning facilitators who want to add a bit of making thinking and doing to their classroom in small and accessible ways. Next week, I’ll share a bit on how to bring making thinking into math class with the Joy of Graph Stories.