What the Maker movement can do for your school

How do we engage students more in problem solving, collaboration, creativity and design? How do we prepare them for an ever faster moving world and allow them to gain resilience through failing and learning to recover in a safe environment?

Makers play with technology to learn about it. New technology presents an invitation to play, and makers find this kind of play highly satisfying. They experiment; take things apart; and they try to do things that even the manufacturer didn’t think of doing. Whether it’s figuring out what you can do with a 3D printer, a laser cutter or a drone, makers are exploring what they can do and learning as they explore. Out of this process emerges new ideas, which can lead to innovative real world applications and new business ventures.

Stereolithography, commonly known as 3D printing, has been around since the 1980s. Early pioneers called it rapid prototyping because it allowed engineers to iterate designs many times faster than existing fabrication processes.

The first patent for stereolithography dates back to 1986, granted to an American inventor named Charles Hull. He was the first person to invent a 3D printer. Like all great innovations, 3D printing took time before it reached maturity and widespread popularity. By 1992, the world’s first ever stereolithography machine was perfected and used for rapid prototyping. Now anyone who had the money (it was certainly too costly for small businesses and hobbyists), could manufacture complex 3D objects.

When the patent expired, the open-source movement started creating their own, open, 3D printers and the technology also found fertile ground in medical applications. This brings us to today where 3D printers can be found in labs, factories, hospitals and now in many schools and  homes. Objects as diverse as kidneys, guns and houses are being printed, opening up new ethical and legal concerns as well as opportunities.

In a near-future, post-scarcity view of what the capitalist and consumerist economy might evolve into in 10-20 years, Cory Doctorow’s “Makers” imagines a world of ubiquitous 3D printers and crumbling social structures with big corporations struggling to maintain their economic and political hegemony. Doctorow’s world view espouses openness and sharing and a radical transformation of what work and production are increasingly becoming.

16th Hatter seminar entitled “Bringing the Maker Culture into our Schools”

ORT has encouraged its educators to consider this view from an educational perspective through its many Hatter Technology seminars. Almost a decade ago, we examined entrepreneurship and fab labs during the 9th Hatter seminar entitled “Learning the Business of Technology”, the 10th – “Teaching Design through Technology” and, more recently, the 15th Hatter seminar – “The 4th Industrial Revolution and the Future of Work”. Our 16th Hatter seminar entitled “Bringing the Maker Culture into our Schools” sought to provide educators with practical and direct experience for introducing, developing and sustaining a makerspace in their schools. Participants were encouraged to promote a whole school approach to their makerspace and to create a maker manifesto instilling a maker ethos in their students and their community.

Of course ORT has operated makerspaces since its inception in 1880 using borrowed and second-hand equipment to provide an education for life to those most in need. The technology of makerspaces will continue to improve and continue to become more commonplace, and schools should be seriously considering how to take advantage of the learning opportunities and the way STEM careers will be transformed because of it.

To be successful the whole school must get behind a makerspace including students, parents, teachers and school leaders.  Collaboration on the makerspace manifesto is a great way to get early buy-in.

For teachers wanting to start a makerspace:

  1. Don’t get so stressed about creating your Makerspace that you forget why you’re starting one – just do it and make a mess.
  2. Collaborate on quick projects regularly, even if the project isn’t related to any current projects in your Makerspace – keep up the momentum and the camaraderie.
  3. Do something your students already enjoy doing, or take on a project that includes new skills – expose students to new ideas and new talents.

Tips for school leaders:

  1. Make your school more attractive to prospective parents by showing off makerspace projects and the makerspace itself.
  2. Forge relations with community and business to beg and borrow equipment and consumables.
  3. Ensure a safe and open makerspace environment that protects the space’s users and their projects.