How Makers are conquering the classroom

Writing for The Journal, Greg Thompson notes that many educators are channeling a natural urge to build with help from Makers – a burgeoning movement that has prompted the establishment of annual Maker Faires and the creation of Maker spaces in classrooms across the country.

According to Pam Moran, superintendent of the Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia, American classrooms of yore regularly fueled a DIY Maker spirit of creativity. “I see the Maker Movement as being a reconnect, both inside schools, as well as in communities, to redevelop the idea that we are creative individuals,” said Moran.

“We are analytical problem-solvers, and we are people who, in working with our hands and minds, are able to create and construct. We are Makers by nature.”

As an example, Moran highlighted a recent 3D printing project, with a student designing a new and interesting case for her iPhone, which the school’s principal promptly posted on Twitter.

“When kids and teachers are given an opportunity to make, to create, all of a sudden you see people becoming passionate about who they are as learners.”

Glen Bull, a professor of STEM Education at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, expressed similar sentiments. “[The current Maker Movement] is buttressed by accessible technology, both in terms of cost and ease of use,” he explained.

“You can go all the way back to the 1950s and find that they had numerically controlled milling machines, but they were expensive. Now you can get reasonably priced 3D printers and computers.”

Meanwhile, Gary Stager, co-author (with Sylvia Martinez) of Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom, emphasized that Maker projects don’t necessarily demand that schools buy expensive machines.

“We see teachers and students working with traditional materials combined with new materials — even cardboard construction. There are new conductive materials, conductive tapes where you can paint a picture that actually does something, such as lighting up,” he noted.

“These materials draw people in in ways they don’t expect. One person might be interested in building a robot, but another might be interested in building a glove with a sensor on it.”

According to Thompson, Charlottesville City Schools, also in Virginia, has invested in creating spaces and purchasing equipment such as 3D printers that support Maker activities for middle- and high-school students.

“We renovated our science lab at the middle school, and we are renovating an atrium space. In our high school, we took a portion of the media center,” Gertrude Ivory, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the nine-school district, told The Journal.

“We’ve taken about one third of the library space, carved that out, and added two levels with the classroom — plus spaces for collaboration between students and teachers… We have other projects where students publish or print their artwork and sell postcards. We have something for students with disabilities that exemplifies the Maker concept. They make pastries and sell them throughout the school.”

Interested in learning more? You can check out the full text of Greg Thompson’s “The Maker Movement Conquers the Classroom” here on The Journal.

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