Making and MakerEd

Tomorrow evening at 6 p.m., I’ll be hosting, along with Andrew Carle (@tieandjeans) a Twitter chat around the idea of Making, MakerSpaces, and MakerEd.  These ideas are loosely tied to Make Magazine, the publication that inspires people to make their own stuff.  It returns us to a time when instead of throwing something out, we make something out of it or instead of buying something to fill a need, we make it ourselves.  My personal interest in Making goes back a ways, but I have two pressing projects that bring me back to seriously examining how to approach this.  I’m teaching a Physical Computing class where students will primarily be working with the Arduino platform.  And our school is embarking on creating a DREAM Lab for 1st-5th grade that will be a MakerSpace like space with a hands-on, multidisciplinary curriculum.

So, what are these terms, and what do they mean in an educational context.  Andrew and I touched base this morning to chat about these things.  Andrew has a Maker class already in Middle School, something I hope to add here.  Making is not just about making stuff, but it’s also a philosophy.  It’s a way of approaching teaching that really does put a lot of control in the hands of the students.  The approach is NOT, I would argue, to come up with a project with a specific set of instructions and expect the students to end up in the same place.  One may start there, sort of, but the idea is that students will solve problems by making something directed by their own interests and using their own way of getting there.  They have questions and something they make can answer it.  For example, my own question that I want answered is: where does my cat go at night?  The answer will be found, I hope, from a GPS tracking device I’m making.  So making is the idea of creating something that solves a problem or answers a question or perhaps demonstrates a concept more fully.

A maker is someone who seeks to find answers and solves problems.  They are not trying to get the “right” answers.  This is what I want my students to be.  I want them to be curious and explore their world through these projects.  I do not want them wait for me to give them the answers.  I’ll talk a little more about my role momentarily.

A MakerSpace is simply the space provided for this to happen.  It’s part art studio, part computer lab, part electronics lab, part whatever you need it to be.  MakerSpaces can have supplies as simple as cardboard and tape and glue and as complex equipment as 3D printers, laser cutters, and soldering irons.

Teaching in these spaces and with this philosophy is a challenge for sure.  I’m experiencing a little of this in my tech and CS classes, though we’re not dealing with physical objects there.  But students are allowed to go in whatever direction they want.  How do you help 6, 10, 20 students who are all doing different things?  How do you encourage effective use of online resources?  This is an area I’m finding I need to work on the most.  I do want to guide my students, but I don’t want to answer the question, “What should I do?” or “What am I supposed to be doing?”  What I want to answer is: “I want to do x, how do I do that?”  I’m also thinking about structuring classes around things like badges, so that students can move at their own pace, and perhaps be more encouraged to do so.

What is MakerEd then? I think that’s what we’ll be exploring in these chat sessions. Is it just about creating stuff with your hands? Is it a philosophy, and if so what is that? How does one take this approach in an environment that is often very counter to this approach? What about testing? What about grading? What are our students learning?

I’m looking forward to finding my way and learning from folks out there who are already doing a lot of this.

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