Last month, I had the distinguished honor of being invited to speak in DC before the Capitol Hill Maker Faire as part of the week long celebration of making.
Congressman Takano opened the daytime panels by discussing why he helped co-found the Congressional Maker Caucus. What was interesting to me, were some of the constants I’ve observed from working with new makers and working with companies like Makey Makey and littleBits. Here are some of my favorite sound bites from Congressman Takano:
- “New technology scares the general public.”
- “It is not simple to label, but it is easy to recognize the energy of this movement.” (In regards to the maker movement)
- “Are we ready to take making to the next level?” (and how?)
- “Each of us can be CREATIVE and INNOVATIVE regardless of age.”
Throughout the day, listening to experts from the maker movement on these amazing panels organized by the IMLS, I heard 3 big concepts reiterated across the varied fields. (See the full line up of panel speakers here.)
- Inclusivity (The maker movement is for EVERYONE)
- Accessibility and democratization of tools needs to happen
- Community based = Maker Success
- Open Access and sharing are key
When founder of Make Magazine Dale Dougherty, asked the first panel how we can expand and grow makerspaces in schools and libraries across America, this panel had a powerhouse of answers.
Sherry Lassiter stressed the importance of communicating, collaborating, and cooperating to build universal access for makers.
“Making is not about tools, but PEOPLE and the EMPOWERMENT that comes from making something with your own hands.” Sherry Lassiter
She also stressed the importance of letting students be the maker mentors for other students. (Something I’ve seen among my own students at both school makerspaces I’ve started. Letting students LEAD the learning let’s students OWN the learning.)
Kristin Fontichiaro, clinical assistant professor and faculty founder of the Michigan Makers project for elementary and middle school makers in under-resourced schools brought up many important points I’ve been focused on as of late.
- Our “low income students are filled with high creativity”
- “Rural communities have very different budgets and access. They are diverse, rural, and underserved.”
- “Some rural communities have no cell, data or Internet access.”
Bronwyn Bevan, currently Senior Research Scientist at University Of Washington (previously Director at S.F. Exploratorium) discussed the benefits of learning through making.
- “It encourages entrepreneurship.”
- “Engineering is collaborative.”
- “Hands-on STEM is the next generation of K-12.”
- “Science is the process of learning about the world.”
- “Tinkering is open ended and has no blueprint.”
- “Self directed learning helps students LEVEL UP.”
- “Educators need to create a culture of “What if?”
- “Students need to feel empowered and supported to ask questions.”
Kipp Bradford, a research scientist at MIT Media Lab, discussed how one of the most essential aspects in the success of the future of making is that, “we need to connect our makerspaces with communities and make tools accessible.”
He also stressed that “engineering is about making the world better for humans. It is important that in all the push for STEM, we don’t lose humanity.”
The next panel continued to stress accessibility and community-driven makerspaces. Greg Mickells of Madison Public Library said something I’ve been trying to communicate everytime I’m asked to speak. “Making is not about the stuff, we should focus on people.” At the Bubbler at MPL the goal in making is “to learn, share, and create.” Patrons are encouraged to “design like MAD” in this “dynamic library environment.”
So how can we increase accessibility to maker education? Should we put a makerspace in every school library and public library? Could you imagine how awesome that would be?
Lisa Brahms of Make Shop Pittsburg part of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh proclaimed, “the point of a library is to point people towards resources.” So doesn’t that mean that a library is a natural fit for a makerspace?
I loved how Kipp Bradford went ahead and stated the obvious, “Why don’t we just make the investment to fund innovation?” What is holding us back?
It is pertinent however, that all schools, libraries, and public officials realize that it isn’t as easy as just creating a space and letting people in. As design education evangelist Jeremy B. Carter from Autodesk states, “You can’t just open doors, you have to MAKE it happen.”
Building a culture of creativity and making takes work. You need a facilitator (or librarian ) to help grow your makerspace. You cannot expect a successful space if you do not have a passionate maker leader driving your maker bus.
Training for teachers and staff should focus on equitable and culturally responsive makerspaces. When instituting a new makerspace, administration and teachers should discuss building a culture of making and inquiry that builds a maker community in their school. Getting students involved in the process will also drive your makerspace success and allow students to become leaders and experts in the space from the get go.
I had a blast sharing my own passion for making in education with the all star panel organized by the IMLS:
Once again, our panel brought up the need for involving the community – and not just the local community, but expanding to the global maker community. We also stressed the importance of process over product, failing forward (or as Congressman Takano put it, working from the “failures you learn from and successes you build on.”
Don’t be afraid to learn alongside your students. Even if it means exposing yourself to failing in front of them. This is a good thing. Kids need to see us fail and move on.
Throughout the course of the day, I heard a lot about marketing, manufacturing, and entrepreneurship, and while I appreciate that the maker movement facilitates these things…. it is not why I believe that making in education is relevant and indispensible.
You see, I used to have an Etsy shop and make things for others, but what I love about the maker movement is not making things for others.
What I love is teaching others to make things for themselves. That’s why I enjoy being an educator even more than being an artist or a maker. I think a lot of this stems from my love for the transcendentalist movement founded on the ideas by Thoreau and Emerson who believed that humans should think for themselves AND be self sufficient.
While I would love for my students to grow up and invent the next big thing, thinking that all of these kids caught up in the maker movement will grow up to be the next Elon Musk is a bit far fetched. That is like assuming all students who take math will grow up to be mathematicians.
Instead, we should focus on the fact that these engaging activities are essential skills for all of our students to gain! Making teaches students to work collaboratively in ways that our curriculum often doesn’t. Many times, our students leave our schools lacking the ability to problem solve, work in a group, act as a leader, and deal with failure because it isn’t in the curriculum.
The good news is that these are all skills students can build through making.
Evening Maker Faire
In the evening, Aaron and I taught Maker Faire attendees how to make their own simple paper circuit and even how to make a simple DIY switch. One of the highlights for me was teaching fellow Dentonite and Congressional Science Fellow David Visi how to make a paper circuit. Another highlight was watching Aaron teach a gaggle of Girls Scouts about circuitry. Thanks so much to Chibitronics for providing some circuit stickers and if you are interested in our templates they are in our upcoming book – The Big Book of Makerspace Projects to be published in October 2016.
Thank you again to the IMLS for organizing such a great day! It was a blast and wonderful experience and I hope I am able to attend the next one!