5 Tips for Building a Maker Culture of Equity and Inclusion

“When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit. It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.”
― Fred Rogers

3-D printers, CNC routers, and expensive tools are common when people refer to a makerspace. These makerspace tools can be intimidating and sometimes push educators away from making. However, making can be as simple as using six 4×2 LEGO® bricks. Søren Eilers, professor at the University of Copenhagn, wrote a computer program that shaped all the possible brick combinations and ended up with 915,103,765 combinations – WOW!

Making is not only limited to a makerspace, but is boundless and impartial to the imagination of all learners. According to The Maker Education Initiative, a nonprofit launched in 2012, maker education is a way to create more opportunities for young people to make, and by making, build confidence, foster creativity, and spark interest in science, technology, engineering, math, and the arts.

There is no better time than the present to redefine the culture of our schools. When students have an environment that is inclusive, they are more confident and creative – they create a love of learning and unexpected ideas happen – and we need new ideas. This nation’s greatest assets are sitting in every classroom in America with ideas to cure cancer, celebrate diversity, prepare for disasters, and so much more. But, to unlock every student’s potential, every student must have access to high-quality science, technology, engineering, math, and art initiatives. Rather than giving in to the temptation to focus on buying one 3-D printer for a makerspace, though, I’d suggest thinking through how these 5 Tips for Building a Maker Culture of Equity and Inclusion might work in your environment.

1. Involve All Stakeholders. Making is intergenerational. It has been around forever and everyone is a maker, so why not tap into all stakeholders in the community. Whether it is a custodian who enjoys tinkering and fixing, a grandparent that sews, a local historian that is an expert on storytelling, business owners that can contribute items, or parents who like to be involved – everyone can be included.

2. Choose Tools Based on Pedagogical Goals. Making is not separate from the curriculum; it strengthens the curriculum. One can help move the needle from teacher-directed environments to student-centered learning. Let students lead the process of learning through curiosity and discovery.

3. Make Learning Culturally and Age Relevant. Just because it is good for you, does not mean it is good for everyone (or kids). Tap into the student culture and learn what they like to do. As educators, we often complicate things by thinking about what children want instead of asking them and listening. Make the learning experience a two-way street.  Students thrive on voice and choice.

4. Empower All Learners–Including Adults. Learning is most meaningful when people are active participants in the learning process; however, learning cannot be forced upon someone. Learning has to be fun and exciting. People will always learn best when they are invested and empowered. When kids have a voice and they are empowered, the learning is elevated to an entirely new level that exceeds any expectation. The same is true for adults. Great leaders not only empower students, but they also empower adults.

5. Not Evaluate, Appreciate. How do you value making? If you want a maker culture do not value product, value the process. Are students collaborating? Did they answer the “Big Question?” How can you make it better? When implementing a maker culture, remember, questions are more powerful than the answers.

Making really can be done in all grades and on all levels. Once educators empower making, and students begin to make, the results are endless. I like to think this is one of the best ways we can create tomorrow’s moonshot thinkers, today!

There are many resources to help get started with your maker culture. Here are a few:

The Digital Promise Maker Learning Leadership Framework pushes the movement forward by offering a suite of resources, strategies, and models to help school and district leaders develop maker learning programs that are sustainable and equitable for all students.

Schools That Can (STC) is the largest cross-sector network of urban schools in the country, and MakerState believes one key to a quality education is providing real-world learning for the 21st century. The STC Maker Fellows program works directly to advance real-world learning by helping both students AND educators develop passion and skills in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM).

Agency by Design Pittsburgh is a research practice partnership designed to connect educators from diverse maker-based learning environments for the purpose of developing mutual understandings of maker-centered learning and assessment. Specifically, the teachers come together in the community to address their need to assess and document learning in maker-based learning experiences.

Remake Learning is a network that ignites engaging, relevant, and equitable learning practices in support of young people navigating rapid social and technological change.

LEGO® Education Maker empowers every student, at all grade levels, to follow their curiosity wherever it leads them in a safe, inspiring and instantly accessible environment. The LEGO® brick, with its simple and intuitive building system, is the perfect prototyping tool.  Feel free to browse a list of free LEGO® Education Maker activities.

Additionally, I’m a fan of the following books:

STEAMMakers, by Jacie Maslyk

Maker-Centered Learning, by Edward P. Clapp,‎ Jessica Ross,‎ Jennifer O. Ryan,‎ Shari Tishman

Free to Make: How the Maker Movement is Changing Our Schools, Our Jobs, and Our Minds, by Dale Dougherty‎, Tim O’Reilly (Foreword),‎ and Ariane Conrad (Contributor)

The Kickstart Guide to Making GREAT Makerspaces, by Laura Fleming.

With these tools and mindsets, creating an equitable maker environment can be a lot closer than many of us might think.

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Justin Aglio

Dr. Justin Aglio is the founding senior director for the Readiness Institute at Penn State. In addition to his duties at Penn State, he is a visiting LearnLab fellow at Carnegie Mellon University, Getting Smart columnist, and a member of the Remake Learning network.

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1 Comment

Patti Shade

Wow! Listen and learn - you can “make”’ creativity happen! Start with more appreciation and questioning!

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