About Maker Education

history of maker education

Interestingly, Eric Seigel of the NY Hall of Science describes the experience of a Maker Faire as a “model for learning,” and specifically, a model for “a tacit, lived kind of learning.”  This lived experience, and the energy and industry generated by the Maker movement and out on display at Maker Faires has spurred a correlated movement in the educational world – maker education.  

Like the more familiar STEAM curriculum, maker education is a multi-disciplinary, project-based, and highly engaging approach to incorporating science, math, technology, and the arts.  However, maker education draws heavily on the gritty, grass roots history and culture of the Maker movement, and introduces a curriculum that is, additionally, child led, progressive, and focused on the whole child.  Further, maker education has become a fundamental commitment of the Maker Movement and its founder, Dale Dougherty.

In fact, in 2012 Dale Dougherty founded MakerED: a Maker Education Initiative which is a national non-profit organization that provides educators with the resources and training needed to implement maker education curriculum.

practice of maker education

So, what does maker education look like?  Well, it can – and does! -- look all kinds of ways, but at its core maker education looks like students using their hands to create.  In fact, Raphael Abrams, co-founder of NYC Resistor (a makerspace in Brooklyn) touts the Maker movement as “a return to the hand.”  The materials and methods vary, but maker education provides students the time, space, materials, and guidance for open ended exploration -- exploration which, in the words of Jessica Schipp of Lighthouse Creativity Lab, “combines the fields of art, technology, craft, math, and humanities into something personally driven.” 

Maker education happens in schools, libraries, musems, community centers, and homes; it happens in makerspaces filled with wires and gears and circuit boards and bots, and it happens at tables with cardboard and tape and thread and paper and batteries and play doh.  The #MakerEd manifesto offers this description (which probably rings a bell to readers who have visited a PCS classroom in action):


“When you step inside a classroom filled with makers, you enter a whirl of noise and motion: students exploding with gloriously unfeasible ideas and honing them into concrete plans.  Plans become prototypes.  Protypes fail, and designs change.  It’s true this can feel like chaos to some.  It can feel like losing control.  But, that’s precisely the point.”

-- Christa Flores, the#Makered manifesto


so, losing control is the point?

Yep.  It is. 

Well, kind of.  The point is for educators to let go of some control, to let go of their role as transmitters of knowledge so that children can assume control of their learning:  teachers let go so that students can grab hold. 

When educators reframe the question from “how can I deliver information” to “how can I provide a landscape where curiosity abounds?” the result is what Jay Silver, in his essay “Trees of Knowledge,” calls “vibrant learners.”  Vibrant learners are both curious and capable – they are motivated not only to ask questions, but to seek answers – and our responsibility as educators shifts from providing those answers to offering the tools and materials and guidance for students to construct their own answers.

And here, maker education adopts the educational philosophy of “constructionism.”  Constructionism, which is Seymour Papert’s expansion of Jean Piaget’s ideas (constructivism), posits that “learning can happen most effectively when people are also active in making tangible objects in the real world.”  Engaging children’s hands in the stuff of their world – in the parts of a motor, in a basket of thread and fabric, around the handles of saws and soldering irons – gives them agency over the materials in their lives as well as their learning.  When children are free to take apart and put together the objects in their everyday lives, when they are able to manipulate parts into wholes and dissemble wholes into parts, they become responsible for creating and shaping their own meaning and understanding.

maker education: child led, progressive, and whole child

But maker education isn’t just about giving children access to raw materials and tools so that they can make a physical representation of what we as educators are teaching them.  Yes, hands-on learning is powerful, but maker education aims even higher – and we will talk about three facets of maker education that elevate the practice beyond craft and which are particularly relevant at PCS: maker education is child led, it is progressive, and it incorporates the whole child.

resources and sources

Raphael Abrams, NYC Resistor, interviewed as a part of: http://wearemakers.org

Jessica Schipp, Lighthouse Creativity Lab: “Making (in school): A Letter of Recommendation.  http://lighthousecreativitylab.org/2014/09/making-in-school-a-letter-of-recommendation/

MakerEd Manifesto: Christa Flores, Patrick Benfield, Amy Atkins, #makeredmanifesto. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1mJogicg-SCdVTROgJnHzGjLC4jt2lACQiIAHpRoptuE/edit

Constructionism and tinkering: https://tinkering.exploratorium.edu/research-and-development

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