+ The Maker Movement and STEM Education

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Margaret Honey and Eric Siegel feel that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) learning.

In an article in the Feb 2, 2011 Education Week, they explain that the movement has been spurred by the success of Make Magazine and its creation, Maker Faires.

According to Dale Dougherty, general manager of Make’s parent company O’Reilly Media, “makers” are the people who

…look at things a little differently and who just might spark the next generation of scientists, engineers, and makers.

Makers delight in tinkering, hacking, creating and re-using materials and technology.  They have organized themselves into thriving communities, we read, in which they create objects that they are passionate about.

Springing up in cities and communities across the country, Maker-spaces invite people in to learn from friends, mentors and peers.  They learn about 21st-century tools; they learn to use computer-controlled table-saws, laser cutters, and 3-D printers to create prototypes and fabricate physical objects.

The Obama administration has spotlighted innovation, particularly in the STEM fields. 

In his April 2009 address to the National Academy of Sciences, the President urged us to

…think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it’s science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent — to be makers of things and not just consumers of things.

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, or PCAST, recently released a report “Designing a Digital Future: Federally Funded Research and Development Networking and Information Technology.”

The reports states that the problem is not just students’ lack of proficiency, that there is also a lack of interest in STEM fields among them.

PCAST acknowledges that when students and teachers develop personal connections with the ideas and excitement of STEM field, education is most successful.

The maker movement, they feel, might be able to stir the right kind of passion missing from traditional education.

Last Fall, the World Maker Faire joined with the National Science Foundation to fund a workshop that would consider how the maker movement might inform and improve STEM education.  

Leaders gathered from foundations and federal agencies; there were educators; innovators from schools of engineering, architecture, computer science, and multimedia design.  They were joined by entrepreneurs, research scientists and directors of leading science centers, museums and arts institutions.

Their conclusion: the maker movement is not just a shiny new toy to be appropriated by reformers as the next disruptive new wave.

Rather, they agreed, it is the maker sensibility that defines its possibilities: a deep engagement with content, experimentation, exploration, problem-solving, collaboration, and learning to learn.  These are the ingredients of effective learning communities.

As Honey and Siegel write:

From John Dewey to Theodore Sizer, progressive educators have championed these very conditions, urging schools to value depth over breadth, exploration over efficiency, and patience and persistence over acceleration.

By creating spaces where individuals can dig deeply into their passions and take time to explore, tinker, and invent with like-minded others, the maker movement affirms the kind of deep learning that matters.

Big Picture Learning, based in Providence RI, supports a network of 140 schools that focus on students who have been alienated by traditional schooling.  It uses a methodology known as POPS — people, objects, places, and situations — to engage their interests in a process of “thinkering.”  They reduced drop-out rates as they prepared students for 21st-century careers.

RAFT, Resource Area for Teaching, is a thriving nonprofit organization founded in California in 1994.  RAFT’s mission is to help educators transform the learning experience through hands-on education, collaborative activities and an emphasis on 21st-century learning skills.  They are currently working with more than 10,000 teachers in classrooms, home-school environments and after-school or community-based programs.

The 2010 World Maker Faire staged a series of Maker Days in the months leading up to the event.  These were weekend family programs.  They guided visitors in open-ended table-top challenges, such as building robotic vehicles, designing buildings, and creating miniature boats.  In these sessions, makers inspired visitors of all ages to innovate, create and solve problems together. 

Organizers watched intergenerational play and family collaboration.  They were greatly encouraged by the amount positive feedback from visitors.

It is our natural inclination to create as we learn and to learn as we create that is at heart of this movement.

Sole source: article in the February 2, 2011 issue of  Education Week, a weekly publication.  Visit http://www.edweek.org.  A subscription will allow you access to premium online content and nearly 30 years of Education Week archives. 

Margaret Honey is the president and chief executive officer of the New York Hall of Science.  Eric Siegel is NYSCI’s director and chief content officer. 

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