The Maker Movement: What it Looks Like, Mindsets and Motivation

I’ve been a #MakerMom since my daughter learned to walk. I didn’t label it that way, though, until she was in first grade and received a copy of Fashioning Technology from one of the editors of O’Reilly media. This book changed the course of her life in many ways, and how she thought of herself. For the first time she had a way of thinking about what she did so naturally – make things – and a community of support, encouragement and learning where she could develop her passion fearlessly.

The Maker Movement is more than electronics, robots, 3-d printing and drones. It is a way of thinking and a stance towards learning and community that is collaborative, participative, critical without being judgmental, and inclusive. One way that Making supports education is the natural evolution from any of the myriad entry points towards facility with electronics, design, coding, engineering, and iterative approaches.

Another way is the mindset of Making itself. Rather than judging a first attempt as inadequate, it is seen as a starting point for iteration until it reaches the status of beautiful work. This is the opposite of lock-step cohort education with grades and test scores and more the approach of mastery-based learning where students keep working on a concept until they have it right, whether that takes 5 minutes or 5 days.

Making has often been relegated to after school programs, clubs, and maker spaces, but Sylvia Martinez, co-author of Invent to Learn and former engineer talks about why it needs to be part of the regular classroom – at least so far as to respect the ethic of offering students relevant and meaningful reasons for their work in the way that Making does. She also talks about the balance between allowing students to take the driver’s seat and still maintaining structure. Martinez talks about these mythical free-ranging students wandering around the countryside barefoot with their hair uncombed and stumbling across the Pythagorean Theorem vs. students sitting in rows with their hands folded being lectured to – she points out there is so much real territory between those extremes. She advocates for student freedom with structure, not chaos or over-control.

Below is a paraphrased summary of my discussion with Sylvia Martinez, but to get her full thoughts I highly recommend the video playlist of our interview.

What is the Maker Movement?

The Maker Movement is a global revolution in new ways of production, of making products. It includes everything from new technologies like 3-D printing, to new participative, internet-based mechanisms for design collaboration, distribution, and improvement. It is no longer necessary to wait for a factory or big company to make what you want – you can make it yourself. Even farmers in Africa have a surprising amount of access to this technology and can design their own agricultural technology and share it without waiting for a government or organization to tell them what to do.

Why is Making important in the classroom?

The world is changing and we need to have kids be at the forefront of that.  Too often we think of kids as objects of change – how are we going to create their learning – but students should be seen as agents of change. Making puts that power in their hands.

Why do you think Making shouldn’t be limited to after-school Maker Spaces?

If we isolate Making, it becomes marginalized and we excuse the rest of school from taking on these new ways of learning and empowering students.

How does Making support intrinsic motivation?

Any time you can give kids a connection to the real world and give them relevant work, that is intrinsically motivating.  What is great is that with this new work, no one has all the answers, no one is an expert. This means kids and teachers learn together authentically.

What does Making look like in the classroom?

A lot less teacher talking, a lot more of teachers talking with kids, with the teacher driving the big ideas. There’s a myth that it’s about teachers sitting back and kids doing all the work and discovering everything – that’s just crazy thinking.

The classroom environment is not about just buying a tool and letting kids play with it.  It’s not just about messing around, though that’s great. It needs to include everyone, even those who don’t naturally jump in.

A Maker classroom keeps things moving forward, using scaffolding, without giving kids a seven-step checklist but instead letting them solve problems and really think. Kids bring a surprising amount of experience to the table and they can be involved in choosing where they want to take the questions they are investigating.

What are examples of Making in school?

Obvious opportunities are in the physical sciences for learning about electricity and motion. Because Making deals with physical objects, there is the opportunity to measure and analyze in support of middle and even high school science.  There is the opportunity to explore 3-D math with a 3-D printer, an area that has been largely ignored because it can’t be represented well by 2-D textbooks.

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