Maker High: Why Every School Should Be a Maker Faire

The prevailing problem with American high schools is boredom.  Actually, that’s just a symptom of alienation, irrelevance, and infantilization.  A disconnected string of classes—some too hard, some too easy—appears to most teens to have little to do with life.  And, they are right.
But there is a solution, or at least some inspiration at “Maker Faire” running this weekend in San Mateo.  It’s a “festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement.”
What if, instead of going to class, students planted a garden, started a business, conducted an experiment, produced a video, or wrote a book?
“What about stuff they need to learn to produce high quality products?” you might ask?  That’s where playlists come in.   School of One introduced us to the idea of a customized playlist for every student.  Advances in predictive algorithms and adaptive curriculum (some cool adaptive math products were featured yesterday) makes it possible to imagine a learning day that is a mixture of playlists and production.
That’s how blended learning should work—a combination of personal digital learning and community connected, team-based, production-focused, authentic, engaging, and relevant activities.  At Maker High, students would publish rather than ‘turn it in’.  They would demonstrate mastery rather than finishing a class.
Big Picture and Edvisions are school networks closest to maker philosophy. They are early flex models (according to Innosight’s Classifying Blended Learning). NAF and Expeditionary Learning get partial credit for maker aspirations.  As new Common Core-aligned capabilities develop, these networks could use better tools to diagnosis specific needs and help students produce high quality products. (see How Will Personalized Learning Really Work?)
Maker Faire is May 19 & 20 but the excitement for teachers starts Thursday (May 17) in San Mateo. If you’re a local teacher, join our friends at Edsurge for a free, very hands-on profession development meetup on Thursday, from 4:00 to 7:00pm. You can also score a free ticket to the weekend celebration by signing up here.  Check out “DIY Learning: The New School” pavilion. It will be packed the house with activities; take a look here for more details.
Maybe you can’t quit your day job and start a new Maker High, but you can create a maker culture with a focus on producing and sharing high quality products in your home, classroom, or school.  Edmodo is the perfect place to start and—since San Mateo is home—the Edmodo team will be out in force.  If you can’t make it, you can join me in tracking #MakerEducation.  I bet we’ll see more maker classrooms, schools and networks launched after this weekend.
Thanks to Alex Hernandez, Charter Growth Fund, for co-sponsoring the education strand at Maker Faire and for his leadership on developing thoughtful blends.
For more see  ‘s post on DIY Learning: Schoolers, Edupunks, and Makers challenge education as we know it.
Disclosure: Edmodo is a Learn Capital portfolio company

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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As I have traveled around the country for the last 300 days, I found that well over half the people I talked with felt that their high school experience was not useful. Most disliked high school a lot. I love the above-described high school plan. Whoever thought one could buy 15 acres of land and corral 2000 teenagers there, and have meaningful learning go on, needs to take a look at the reality of today. We must have a new plan.


Tom Vander Ark

Thanks Danny! I wore my "Big Schools Suck" T-shirt yesterday :)

Steve Heath

I am looking for the top 20 doable Maker Projects to launch some learning and experiment next school year, any ideas?


Tom Vander Ark

Last 2 newsletters have had Maker recaps with lots of resoruces

Petra Vos

Hi Tom,
(your name sounds Dutch.) I was in New York City with a group of teachers, deans,directors from Community Colleges. Our trip had the focus to look and talk with American teachers and schoolleaders about IT and Education. We've also met students. I'm very interested in the concept of the makers schools. Is it possible to get more information about makers schools in New York City and New Jersey ( aroud Paterson and Wayne) ?
Kind regards
Petra Vos

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