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On-Site Staff / Program Design, Development, and Quality

Making: A Different Approach!

Remember those classes in school called Auto Mechanics, Woodshop, and Home Economics? During my high school years, these “vocational” classes were popular with kids who enjoyed building, creating, or simply doing things with their hands. Unfortunately, these classes in many areas of the country were phased out as schools placed more emphasis on core subject areas. Today, these classes are making a big reboot splash through a movement called Making.

What is the Maker Movement and why should busy out-of-school time professionals care?

CEO of Maker Media and founder of Maker Faire, Dale Dougherty has shared that the Maker Movement is more of a mindset. It is a way of thinking for the builders, the creators, the producers, the people who make things with their hands, as well as the people who make things with machines. He goes on to share that makers take an idea and develop it into something tangible that can be shared with others.[i]

Building on that concept, many educators are championing the maker movement as a way to transform the classroom into a real hands-on creative problem-solving lab that builds character, ingenuity, and an overall sense of accomplishment. Out-of-school time professionals have an amazing opportunity to embrace the maker movement as our programs celebrate the natural inclination of youth to learn by doing. Making can be the ultimate hands-on learning experience.

Many programs are using making and maker spaces as a way to enrich STEM education. This is wonderful as it fits really well. However, I challenged you to look beyond the simple STEM applications and to really consider how making can inspire youth to learn about collaboration, general teamwork, creative problem solving through the iteration process, complexity, and most importantly increased self-esteem through accomplishment.

An example of a program that did just this can be found in Spring Branch, Texas. Using a curriculum developed by the Exploratorium, instructor Jason Hammond was able to inspire students during summer to not only explore various projects such as circuitry and basic motor robotics but also encouraged the students to write about their projects in a journal that they created from scratch. Student comments shared during reflection time include such statements as:

“I know that I can do things on my own now. It might be hard at first, but I definitely can do it.”
“I feel really proud of myself when I finish the activity. I want to show my brothers and sisters how to do it.”
“If I try, I can do anything.”
“I want to be an engineer when I grow up. I like solving problems.”

The summer making program was so successful that Spring Branch plans to keep the program during the fall and spring.

Using a different approach, afterschool programs in Greenville, Texas are focusing on a maker mindset through a Virtual STEM Mentorship with Raspberry Pi program. A Raspberry Pi is a low cost, credit card sized computer that plugs into a computer monitor or TV and uses a standard keyboard and mouse. In Greenville, students build a computer system from the ground up and then are virtually mentored by computer scientists through an online program called VoiceThread to code that same computer. The programming language is Scratch and the open source curriculum is provided by Google CS First. The cost of the program is about $35 per Raspberry Pi, but the benefits are priceless.

As you can see from these two examples, the Maker Movement is more than a box of tools and a 3D Printer (although those are fun too). It is a different approach to generate engaged learning. Best of all, it is fun because it incorporates free agency and a level of playful creativity into our programs. The maker mindset empowers youth to solve problems that instructors haven’t even considered while embracing the tools and actual skills that are needed for that solution.

If you are interested in starting a Maker Space or focusing more on a Maker Mindset, then I encourage you to check out these three resources:

    1. MakerEd – A non-profit organization that supports and empowers educators and communities — particularly, those in underserved areas — to facilitate meaningful making and learning experiences with youth. (See resource section on their website)
    2. Edutopia Maker Page – A collection of benchmark practices from various programs around the country.
    3. The Tinkering Studio – A special section of the Exploratorium that focuses on learning by doing with complementary projects and activities.

The tools to truly impact youth are readily available and we have a choice to embrace them or get run over by them. The great thing is that in our industry we may have a little more freedom to demonstrate how new approaches can be used for good. Let us embrace making – a different approach – and see how far we can go to create positive changes in youth. Good luck making!

Oh, and for breakfast today, I dashed down a Sausage Biscuit and a Diet Mt. Dew. It’s the breakfast of champions for people on the run.

[i] Mclaren, C. (2012, June 20). Making Makers: An Interview with Dale Dougherty – Guggenheim Blogs. Retrieved August 12, 2015, from

Author: @shawnpetty

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