The Maker Mindset

*Cross posted from MakerEd.org’s blog and co-authored by Pam Moran.

A few weeks ago, some of our young people reminded us that “making” is a mindset that can occur any time, any place. During a snow day, a group of kids were co-opted by a local teenage video “maker” into creating and publishing a fabulous YouTube video, “Call Me Maybe, Josh Davis.” It represented the inherent passion and joy that surfaces when young makers get together and intersect talents, skills, and interests in a collaborative venture. They learned from and with each other. They sparked ideas and inventive thinking. They showed our community what happens when kids exercise their spontaneous and creative genius, use technology tools in powerful ways to communicate, and leave their mark upon an authentic audience.

We also see inventive potential when our elementary school students children construct their own cardboard arcade games for their school carnival, use chairs, tables, and unifix cube bridges to test bending movement and design engineering solutions to meet challenges pitched to them. The same potential is inherent in the creative genius of our teenagers who built their own 3-D printer, designed quadcopters and musical instruments, produced their own studio music and made document camera projectors for less than $100.

Making is a natural learning state for humans. It offers a different way to see the world through the practical lens of finding solutions to problems, conundrums, and perplexities embedded in daily life. Such opportunities stretch analytical, creative, and integrative thinking. They create multidimensional–hands-to-mind and mind-to-hands–processing that engages the mathematical and language centers of the brain.

Making offers integrated learning opportunities–the best of learning in any century. We see it in the collaborative efforts of Destination Imagination teams to design-build solutions to challenges. We see it in the gardens created and nurtured as part of a school’s own “grow local” effort for their school cafeteria.

But it’s not just about math, science, engineering and technology.

A hyper-focus on STEM content knowledge is great if we want our children to be the next generation of skilled technicians and workers. But, for us, the hacker/maker movement is about creating the next generation of entrepreneurs, creators and inventors. That’s what adding the “A” to STEM gets at–a necessary injection of the creative arts shifting STEM to STEAM. We believe whether it’s the advanced manufacturing spillover influence from the University of Virginia’s engineering school into our elementary school digital fabrication labs or our year-round Irish-influenced coderdojos where kids make games in Scratch, create websites with HTML, or work with Java, our children are moving back through these experiences to the natural learning that’s fueled America’s inventors, patent-makers, backyard mechanics, studio artists, NASA engineers, and skyscraper designers and builders.

A number of our Albemarle schools have been prototyping maker spaces in libraries, redesigned computer labs, hallway niches, and converted classrooms. We see the results in the energized work of young people to create, design, invent, engineer, and make. This summer we will partner with MakerCorps to create new pathways for young people to explore. Next year we will open Design 2015 teacher-developed maker space projects in a number of schools. We want our children to learn to use manual tools and much more.

In today’s environment, digital tools are often very necessary in early-stages of “making” — drawing or programming to make something else do something. But consider the tools, materials, skills and knowledge that is necessary to make that something else and get it to do something. How many educators are readily equipped with the skills (or recognize the underlying progressive education philosophy) to do this work? How can we increase the number of colleagues who recognize the value of this educational experience?

We see the connectivity of the MakerCorps summer project work with children as offering a different kind of interactive professional development for teachers who will partner in this hands-on maker experience using a variety of traditional and contemporary technologies. The MakerCorps offers us an opportunity to draw young people graduating from our MESA Academy, a real-deal maker program, into serving as mentors for both our children and the teachers with whom they will interact.

We are at a turning point in human history–a rising tide of a culture of participation in global networks that open doors of which we humans have never dreamed. We must remember, “making” at its core, is about “teaching” kids to view the world (not just school) in a completely different way. It’s about empowerment and ownership of destiny. The ability to wonder and dream is great but realizing that one can “make something happen” is a very powerful thing.

Many of us talk about what’s wrong with the world (our work, our culture, etc)—we opine about what needs to change and wonder about something better. But very few of us actually do much of anything about it. We tinker around the edges at best. We are mostly admirers of problems rather than solvers of them. Public schools, very much by design, perpetuate that. And most educators, by default, are products of public schools. It’s a vicious cycle.

So moving kids from compliant listeners to wonderers and dreamers is the first step to be sure. The ultimate goal must be to move them from dreamers to doers. And ultimately, we hope later in life, to changemakers.

But in order to make our own dream a reality — we’ll need to reflect and move ourselves and colleagues along that continuum. No small challenge. Where are we today? Where is your faculty and staff? Your child’s teacher? Or you, as a parent? There’s a lot for all of us to think about. And to Make.

UPDATE: The result of our initial Summer of Making:

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