Maker Mindset

Some of the jewelry and other things that can be printed

Attending STEAMshop at Drexel this weekend got me thinking again about making, what it is, what it means to me.  I’ve long felt that I approach things with a maker mindset.  That is, I look at almost anything as a problem to be solved and as something I could dig in and help solve.  I rarely approach something new and throw up my hands and say, “Nope. Can’t do it.”  The one thing I did do that with, programming, I eventually came around to.

Making in education is closely aligned with things like inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, and mastery based assessments.  It is at odds at times with approaches that are concerned primarily with grades or testing, i.e. summative approaches.   Making can look messy and challenging and way beyond one’s ability for both teacher and student.  There’s a certain amount of loss of control on both sides.  Certainly, even those of us who do this work almost daily face challenges.  One of my colleagues is ready to throw his 3D printer out the window because it’s often unreliable and using it isn’t supporting the kind of pedagogy he’s aiming for.  He’s ready to go old school shop class.

When I used to run the #makered chat on Twitter, we often got questions about what equipment to buy and materials to have.  We would often skirt that conversation because for us making was about mindset not about stuff.  We would often joke that as long as you had glitter, glue, and cardboard, you were all set. #glitterchat  Making for us was about hands-on work, letting students guide the learning, failing and learning from failing, and yet, being driven to succeed.  You don’t need a 3D printer for that kind of work.  But at the 10,000 foot level, 3D printing and laser cutting are both easy to explain and look shiny.

My colleagues and I are thinking through how to impart this mindset to our fellow colleagues, and partly to allow them some time to explore the equipment and possibilities of using making in their own classes.  We’re thinking maker happy hour, but haven’t settled on anything yet.

I also think I need to walk the talk a little more.  I haven’t always approached faculty in the same way I’ve approached students, i.e. letting them drive the conversation or generate ideas, etc.  To get back to that, I think I just need to get my hands dirty a little.  I might make time for my own 3D printing, laser cutting, and cardboard and glitter.

5 Replies to “Maker Mindset”

  1. Most makers I know would have loved to have had the option to have an old-school shop class. Getting hands-on tools experience with a variety of tools is important, and glitter and glue are no substitute. A 3D printer sounds very modern, but they are so slow that only a small number of tiny projects can be done, especially if more than one class a day is doing any making. Traditional wood shop tools can get a lot more making done.

    Note: laser cutters are much faster than 3D printers, so can support many more students. They tend to be the most popular tool in makerspaces.

  2. Indeed, the slowness of 3D printing is our main frustration. And yes, the laser cutter works faster, but our goal is to have the students operating the machines and it’s a challenge to get middle schoolers capable of doing that in a short time frame. Worth working on, for sure.

  3. At UCSC, the training to use the laser cutter is onerous, and students generally pass their design files to one of the few grad students authorized to use the laser cutter, rather than getting qualified themselves. This policy was instituted when some students (ironically, grad students who had been qualified to use the cutter) caused a fire in the laser cutter, destroying the first laser cutter. So expecting middle-school students to use a laser cutter safely themselves may be asking too much.

  4. Your post is timely for me because starting this summer I’m going to be more involved in our makerspace in the library and the management of it. The reason I get excited about makerspaces is exactly what you point out here, it isn’t the stuff in the space (although the tools are cool), it is the challenge and the messiness of it all. My first directive is to get students more excited about the space, but I also want faculty here to get excited too and I want to enable them to think about ways they might want to use the space for their courses.
    I may need to pick your brain for ideas sometime soon!

  5. Shannon, That’s so awesome and exciting. We, too, struggle to get students and faculty excited about our space. I think the stuff sometimes draws people in, but I also think there’s a kind of mystery surrounding the work of a makerspace. People don’t really get how you can get outcomes out of the messiness. They see strings of plastic going into a printer and fully formed objects come out. How does that happen? Magic, they think, a magic they can’t possibly master.

    Idea generation is key and dispelling the myth that there’s some kind of magic to accomplishing something.

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