Maker. Ever heard of it? That is, until a year ago when I was introduced to the “Maker Movement” at Hillel Day School.
What is a maker? A maker is an adult or child that creates something. An adult or child who is defined as a maker can collaborate, discover, build, tinker and most importantly, play. But what does making have to do with education?
The maker culture is growing rapidly. It is becoming a way to express creativity and community (Halverson, Sheridan 2014). So, along with this explosion comes makerspaces. A makerspace is a workshop where there is no right or wrong. It is an exploratory toolbox that allows for makers to thrive and bring their innovative ideas to life.
“Learning through making reaches across the divide between formal and informal learning; pushing us to think more expansively about where and how learning happens” (Halverson, Sheridan 2014). This informal type of learning allows for students to have the flexibility they crave. Students are showing this through projects that spark interest on a different level.
Skeptics may believe that learning isn’t going on when students have the freedom to make. However, I encourage them to step into a makerspace when students are working. They will quickly see how even though so many activities are going on, students are engaged. Students are working toward a goal and trying to solve a problem. Each student that enters a makerspace will feel empowered that they have the ability to play and create.
As humans, we are curious. We question what’s around us. Even though we may stop after age five, we still ask questions in our heads and inquire. Fear of asking the wrong question or having the wrong answer stands in our way of asking more questions (Berger 2014). It is important as educators and questioners ourselves to promote curiosity and inquiry. Making can encourage us to continue questioning aloud.
“In a sense, we’re all ‘makers’ now, or, at least, we would do well to think of ourselves that way. Whether or not we were ever properly taught how to question, we can develop the skill now, on our own, in our own spaces” (Berger 2014). Seeing yourself as a maker allows you to ask questions even more. We can question topics that don’t make sense to us. We can question the tools around us. We can ask a question to answer with another question. We have the power to make, by asking the world a simple question.
Hillel Day School’s makerspace has tools that students in kindergarten through eighth grade can use; once properly trained. When first starting at Hillel, I didn’t know how to utilize this place. I didn’t know that students in 6th grade could use a drill press or 3rd graders could safely use a hot glue gun or even 8th graders could fluently use 3D software to print on the MakerBot. This was new to me, but it was exciting.
Not until October did my colleagues and I find a way to pull tools from the space for a project. We simulated Shark Tank. Just like ABC’s hit show, we had students ask a question. What is a problem they see in their lives? How can they improve upon it? After extensive research on the background of their existing product, students began to work in the makerspace to make their product better. Each work day, I couldn’t direct my attention to one student. I had kids working at a drill press, students using a 3D pen, exacto knives were in use; kids were painting, students were cutting styrofoam with a hot wire cutter and so on. I had makers.
At first, I didn’t think my students were learning anything. But after talking with them one-on-one and hearing them present their pitches to a panel of judges, and getting ‘offers’ from investors, I was certain they learned. Through this experience, it taught students how to be successful people in the world; not just people who can memorize. As Berger said, “these are the kids who will have the skills to rise to the top.”
This teaching was extremely informal. I guided students with focus questions, but I had to sit back and let them figure things out. This unit opened my eyes to the power of making and how students can take an idea and bring it to life.
What beautiful question do you have? I bet it can change the world.
Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.
Halverson, E.R. & Sheridan, K. (2014). The maker movement in education. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 495-465. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0T9DOVhrGV7S21ZWDljUGNpeHc/view
All photos taken or created by Emily Sherbin