By CUE Member and Guest Blogger Joe Wood
Over the winter break, my youngest brother and I finally were able to make our Sonoma County brew tour. With him living in Washington DC and being an aspiring home brewer, this was a trip we’d tried to make on his previous visits, but it never seemed to materialize. This year, though, we made it happen, and in between brewery stops along 101, we made a short diversion to our grandparents’ ranch. After all, a water break was probably a smart idea.
At nearly 90 years young, our grandparents are the ultimate makers. The walls of Grandpa’s workshop are lined with well-used saws, lathes, drill presses, and all sorts of other tools I only recognize from This Old House on PBS. He’s also a canner – garlic, olives, pickles, asparagus – if it can be preserved in a glass jar, it will be. Grandma, on the other hand, is well respected for her pastry crusts, and when we were kids had two different large, steel-lined kitchen drawers – one for sugar and one for flour. Long ago, I learned that whenever you visit the ranch, you better show up with an empty trunk, because you’ll be leaving with a few of their latest creations. This time around, we departed with a box full of pickles and olives, a few more oak trivets, and a wine barrel that had been converted into a swing. (When you live in Sonoma County, you can convert a wine barrel into nearly anything you dream).
As I pulled out of their gravel road onto the highway, I also realized I had just visited the original makerspace. The ranch, with its workshops and kitchen, is more than just a home. It is also a space where making and tinkering fuel creativity and innovation. In many ways, the ranch is a perfect example of what school and our classrooms should look like – places where personal interests and access to tools drive learning.
Last summer, while attending the ISTE conference, I stumbled upon the Maker Movement – a movement in education that asks students to use kinesthetic learning skills to learn, make, and produce a product. I left completely inspired, wanting to start a makerspace at my school…tomorrow. Arduinos? 3D Printers? Makey Makeys? Lego Robotics? Yes! We need them and we need them now! Fortunately, I had a five-hour flight home from San Antonio to curb any impulsive curriculum redesign, bring me back to reality, and really start questioning what it was about the Maker Movement that I found so inspiring and critical for our students. In my notes from that flight home, I wrote one statement I keep coming back to – Kids understanding our world by building it.
Over the past few months, I have been learning more about the Maker Movement through reading books and blog posts on the topic, talking with other educators who are starting to employ maker elements in their classrooms, and listening to my students who are natural makers. The Maker Movement can mean different things to different people. For some, it tends to be centered around people producing items with digital tools – video games, Minecraft worlds, or robots. For others, it might involve people learning new skills through hobbies and personal challenges. Notice, I used the world “people” here because the Maker Movement is open to all learners regardless of age. This isn’t something just for students, but for teachers as well.
There is also an entire community built around making through resources like Make Magazine and MakerFaire. Depending on where you live, there may even be spaces in your area devoted to making, such as the HackerLab in Sacramento. While the Maker Movement can take many different shapes, I have found there seem to always be four key elements.
Makers Are Driven By Passion and Curiosity
Whether making occurs at home, in the classroom, or in a community space, makers are driven by curiosity and by asking their own questions. It may have elements similar to scientific research, creating art, or project-based learning, but at its heart, a maker approach involves the maker asking questions that often lead to even more questions.
Makers Are Producers
Makers are also producers, and the products are diverse – video games, virtual worlds, original music. Since they are products, they are often shared with an authentic audience using blogs, wikis, and YouTube videos.
Use of Digital and Analog Tools
Makers select and use the tools that meet needs of their project. The tools can vary from computer and 3D printers to saws, crayons, and thread. Part of the learning process is also learning how to use the tool. For example, just before Winter Break our students participated in the Hour of Code and learned about Scratch. During the vacation, a handful of our elementary and middle school students took on the challenge of using this programming tool to create interactive holiday cards.
Coaches Ask Guiding Questions and Suggest Resources
When makers, especially young makers, work with a coach (teachers, parents, knowledgeable peers), the most effective coaches ask guiding questions and suggest possible resources, but don’t supply the answer. Overcoming obstacles and discovery are key components to making.
Where to Begin
While I am certainly not an expert on the Maker Movement, I have learned quite a bit and see it as an innovative instructional approach educators can and should bring into their schools and classrooms. As you begin your journey for learning more about the Maker Movement, here are some places I would suggest starting.
Pick Up a Book
If you are looking for a great read on the topic of making and education, check out Invent to Learn: Making Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager. It is a fantastic resource and the type of book you will revisit often. The authors also have a very handy collection of resources on their website – Invent to Learn Resources.
Check Out DIY.org
This is not the website for the DIY television network, but is instead an amazing mobile app and online resource where kids can select challenges and earn badges for developing skills such as racketeering, filmmaking, and bike repair.
Attend a Maker Faire or Maker Camp
If you’re near the San Francisco Bay area in May, this year’s Maker Faire is May 17th and 18th, 2014, and a perfect opportunity to experience the larger maker community. The past two summers, Make Magazine and Google have teamed up to host an online Maker Camp for teens (and younger children with parents). This summer, consider participating with your children.
At my school, we recognize that we are preparing students for indeterminate futures. Our students will have many choices when it comes to post-secondary education, career fields, and even where in the world they might live. Defining a core set of skills and knowledge they will need is nearly impossible. Regardless of the path they choose, students will need the ability to identify and solve problems, employ creativity, communicate effectively, and think critically. This type of adaptable, lifelong learning is fostered through a maker approach. Additionally, whenever I visit my grandparents, I am also reminded that making and tinkering may also be the secret to keeping you mentally young. Quoting one of my maker colleagues, Diane Main, “They’re not new or fashionable. We’ve just forgotten that they’ve always been the best way to learn.”
Joe Wood is the Instructional Technology Coordinator for Natomas Charter School in Sacramento and CapCUE Treasurer. He is also a CUE Lead Learner, Google Certified Teacher, and Area 3 Writing Project Teacher Consultant. Joe blogs at JoeWoodOnline and can be found on Twitter at @ucdjoe.