Makers: What’s the Connection to Education?

Real scientists and engineers tinker to learn and work out designs, usually in a constant iteration of make, test, adjust, repeat. Similarly, Maker education provides students with real-world problems, physical materials, tools to work out solutions, and encouragement for peer collaboration. Giving students license to solve problems their own way and learn by doing in a social environment has been found to increase knowledge and skills that are necessary for successful adults in the new millennium.

These skills include critical thinking, problem solving and the ability to work well with others. Whether inside school or out, the philosophy behind the Maker movement “emphasizes informal, networked, peer-led, and shared learning motivated by fun and self-fulfillment.” According to Mitchel Resnick, head of the MIT Media Lab’s research group that designed the Scratch programming language and inspired LEGO Mindstorms’ programmable brick technology, that fun and self-fulfillment piece is crucial.

There are many types of learners out there, and a great number of them are falling through the cracks right now because learning isn’t fun for them. In order to engage more students and get them to love learning, Resnick says, “we need to provide people with opportunities to make things in collaboration with others – and to make things they care about.” To create schools in which all students have rich learning experiences like this, it’s important to consider that “everyone is going to have different pathways to learning, so you have to be aware that one size doesn’t fit all.”

Dale Dougherty, commonly known as the Father of the Maker movement, also sees the power of Maker education. “I believe that one of the lasting impacts of the Maker movement is to transform our education system,” he says, “replacing a standardized curriculum and testing with learn-by-doing experiential learning. Kids will lead the way, saying “I don’t learn the way they are teaching.” That’s how the next generation will learn that they have the freedom to become productive and creative.”

Organizations like Maker Ed agree, that “by enabling educators to use Maker education—with a particular focus on those in unserved communities—we…can help them transform their learning environments, and together we can reach thousands of youth of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities.” A recent study on Maker education shows support that educators are using Maker education to teach students in communities underrepresented in STEM fields. Specifically: 29% of students in Maker clubs or classes were girls, 31% low income, 14% English language learners and 21% minorities underrepresented in STEM fields.

So in a nutshell, the Maker movement provides a natural model for twenty-first-century education, because life in the information age requires a new set of skills, and those skills necessitate a retooled style of teaching. In addition to making high quality education accessible to more students, Maker education can empower the innovators of tomorrow with the skills they need to solve the complex challenges of our world.

-Guest Blog Courtesy of Heather Knape, Writer and EDMO Parent