Meet the Makers
be made, not
Here is what happens when you ask two Tech & Learning advisors to trade notes on one
of the fastest-moving phenomena in education technology. Sylvia Martinez (SM) recently
co-authored Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Dr.
Gary A. Carnow (GC) is Chief Propellerhead of Prolific Thinkers and the former CTO of
Pasadena Unified School District. He is also the co-author of multiple edtech books. Both
are excited about the Maker Movement. Read why you should be, too:
GC: I shudder when I hear
that my local school is now
reinventing itself as a STEM
or STEAM school. STEM or
STEAM is an interesting label,
but it limits what is happening
across the world outside
of traditional educational
institutions. A growing army
of empowered parents and
creative teachers are banding
together in Maker Faires. What
is this Maker Movement and
why does every reader of Tech &
Learning need to know about it?
SM: A number of reasons. First,
it’s a global technological and creative revolution.
Some very smart people are predicting that the
tools and technology of the Maker Movement
will revolutionize the way we produce, market,
and sell goods and services worldwide. Want a
new watch? Don’t ship it across the world, just
print it out! Better yet, design it yourself and
then print it out. Something this epic should be
on every educator’s radar.
Next, the Maker Movement advocates a “Do
It Yourself” or DIY attitude towards the world
and problems that need solving. Learning to use
what you’ve got and “give it a go” are valuable
mindsets for young learners.
Plus it’s cool! Makers worldwide are
developing amazing new tools, materials, and
skills and inviting the whole world to join in
the fun. Using gee-whiz technology to make,
repair, or customize the things we need brings
engineering, design, and computer science to life.
Finally, the Maker Movement overlaps
with the natural inclinations of
children and the power of learning
by doing. For educators, I believe
that being open to the lessons of
the Maker Movement holds the key
to reanimating the best, but oft-forgotten
|Gary A. Carnow
Global Maker Faires and a
growing library of literature inspire
learners of all ages and experience
levels to become inventors and
seize control of their world. Online
communities serve as the hub of a
global learning commons, allowing
people to share not just ideas,
but the actual codes and designs for what they
invent. This ease of sharing lowers the barriers
to entry, as newcomers can easily use someone
else’s codes or designs as building blocks for
their own creations.
However, at the Maker Faires
I’ve been to, I’ve met countless
parents who say to me (as they watch
their child happily soldering, building
with LEGO, or programming robots)
“School is killing my kid.” And
unfortunately, I know what they
mean. We can and must do better,
not just for the empowered parents
who can take their child to a Maker
Faire, but for all children.
GC: The Maker Movement,
according to Wikipedia, stresses
“new and unique applications
of technologies, and encourages
invention and prototyping. There is a strong
focus on using and learning practical skills
and applying them creatively.” What does
that mean for classrooms today?
SM: The new Next Generation Science
Standards makes explicit calls for meaningful
assessment, interdisciplinary knowledge,
creativity, inquiry, and engineering. Specifically,
we must change how schools approach science
In too many cases, science and math have
been stripped of practical applications because
of a false premise that practical math is only for
students who don’t go to college. This is a recipe
for disaster and I think we see the results in
students who gradually lose interest in STEM
subjects over the years. We cannot and must
not continue to pretend that success in STEM
subjects means memorizing the textbook.
Making is a way of bringing creativity,
authentic design thinking, and engineering to
learners. Tinkering is the process
of design, the way real scientists
and engineers invent new things.
Such concrete experiences
provide a meaningful context for
understanding abstract science
and math concepts while often
incorporating esthetic components.
Creating opportunities for students
to solve real problems, combined
with imaginative new materials and
technology, makes learning come
alive and cements understandings
that are difficult when only studied
in the abstract.
We must bravely reintegrate
actual labs and design into science. We must be
able to answer a math student who asks, “Why
do I need to know this?” (And the answer should
never be, you’ll need this next year.) We must
reinvent classrooms as places where students
ARE inventors, designers, scientists, and
mathematicians TODAY. Making is the avenue
to this reimagination of 21st century education.
GC: Your background is engineering. I began
my career as a teacher of gifted children.
We both subscribe to MAKE Magazine.
Where do teachers, parents, students, and
administrators, or for that matter anyone
who is interested in providing meaningful
experiences for students, begin?
SM: In his 2005 book, Fab: The Coming
Revolution on Your Desktop—from Personal
Computers to Personal Fabrication, MIT
Professor Neil Gershenfeld described the next
technological revolution as one in which people
would make anything they need to solve their own
problems. Gershenfield predicted that for the cost
of your school’s first computer, you would have
a Fabrication Lab or fab lab—a mini high-tech
factory—capable of making things designed on a
computer. This prediction is now reality.
In our new book, we identify three aspects of
the making revolution that are game-changers
for schools. All of these are accessible and
affordable today. Any of these are great places
Computer controlled fabrication devices:
Over the past few years, devices that fabricate
three-dimensional objects have become an
affordable reality. These 3D printers can take a
design file and output a physical object. Plastic
filament is melted and deposited in intricate
patterns that build layer by layer, much like
a 2D printer prints lines of dots that, line by
line, create a printed page. With 3D design and
printing, the ability for students to design and
create their own objects combines math, science,
engineering, and craft.
Physical computing: New
open source microcontrollers,
sensors, and interfaces
connect the physical world
to the digital world in ways
never before possible. Many
schools are familiar with
robotics, one aspect of physical
computing, but whole new
worlds are opening up, such as
wearable computing. Wearable
computing, soft circuits, and
e-textiles use conductive thread
and tiny mobile microprocessors
to make smart textiles and
clothing. Other kinds of new
microprocessors, like Arduinos,
combine with plug-and-play devices that
connect to the Internet, to each other, or to any
number of sensors. This means that low-cost,
easy-to-make computational devices can test,
monitor, beautify, and explore the world.
Programming: There is a new call for
programming in schools, from the Next
Generation Science Standards to the White
House. Programming is the key to controlling
this new world of computational devices and the
range of programming languages has never been
greater. Today’s modern languages are designed
for every purpose and every age.
The common thread here is computation.
The computational potential of these
technologies, tools, and materials elevates
the learning potential beyond craft projects.
Of course there are things to be learned from
building with cardboard or Popsicle sticks and
in our book we discuss ALL kinds of making and
makerspaces for learning. But computation is
the game-changer that should make educators
sit up and take notice.
All of these experiences and the materials
that enable them are consistent with the
imaginations of children and with the types of
learning experiences society has long valued.
Making is a stance that puts
the learner at the center of the
educational process and creates
opportunities that students
may never have encountered
themselves. Makers are
confident, competent, curious
citizens in a new world of
GC: What matters most about
learning to me is not the
product but the process.
What I love about the Maker
Movement is that makers
rarely work in isolation.
Making is a social activity.
The Maker Movement embraces failure and
believes that everyone can make. When I
look back on my traditional schooling, what
I remember is that I had gifted teachers
who knew the power of project-based
learning. I remember the projects and the
process and have little memory of whatever
facts I had to cram for the dreaded “pop
quiz.” What brought you to the Maker
Movement? Is this just the next big thing or
is this the real deal?
SM: Gary, you pack a lot into your questions!
What brought me to the Maker Movement is that
it deeply connects with my personal reasons for
becoming an engineer. I wanted to know how to
solve problems—real problems in the real world,
not textbook problems. I think all kids want to
change the world, and the Maker Movement and
Maker ethos teaches kids that they have the power
to make the world a better place, NOW. They
don’t have to wait for a book or a teacher to tell
them what to do, because there is a whole world
out there of people all trying things and sharing
the results. Somebody somewhere is asking the
same questions as you and by sharing the journey,
we all can learn more.
I realize the attraction of always searching
for the “new new thing”, the magic wand that
will fix all problems. I don’t believe that the
Maker Movement is a magic wand. I hope it
doesn’t get turned into a buzzword. Maybe
we can talk more about how to make sure the
hype doesn’t overwhelm the promise of the
Maker Movement in schools. However, it is my
strong belief that educators who look deeply
at the Maker Movement will find a wealth of
new ideas and inspiration to revitalize their
classrooms and give children the opportunity to
touch the future.