I am curious about making. Maker Faire, Arduino, soldering, 3D printing, electronics and more. They all sound so delicious. This month I will be attending FabLearn a conference dedicated to the topic of digital fabrication. I am very grateful to Stanford University and the organizers who have provided me with a scholarship to attend.
For an example of what a child maker might do, check out Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show and her corresponding You Tube channel. Yes, this movement is making it’s way into the classroom and many teachers are snapping up copies of the book Invent to Learn to guide the DIY and tinkering in the classroom. Many teachers that are making the move are science and tech teachers who have proper shops already. Yes, the design and tech shop of my youth where we got to use a bandsaw is still around and is enjoying a resurgence thanks to the maker movement in schools.
I think there are a few problems with the maker movement:
- You need specialized tools. Having a bunch of crafts does not cut it. You need soldering irons, power drills, small tools, big tools, power tools, and a wood shop wouldn’t hurt. Ask David Hann, an Ontario teacher who engages his students in making. He has a full wood shop at his disposal.
- If you need speciliazed tools, you also need specialized knowledge. If you magically gave me a shop full of materials for electronics, CNC machine, 3D maker bot, wood shop, I would not magically transform into a super maker teacher. David Hann, Andrew Carle and other maker teachers I have been talking with are beyond brilliant and have mad maker skills. This is a lot harder then hacking out a good science experiment.
- What about pedagogy? Okay, let’s say you have the tools and you know how to use them are you ready to go? Not yet, you also need a sense of the pedagogical moves. Namely, the focus on design thinking. As mentioned, the book Invent to Learn could help here, but you aren’t going to be a star like David or Andrew just yet.
- It’s dangerous.
- Making isn’t really a part of the curriculum (yet).
- Grade 4 studies light and sound, you could sneak it in there.
- Grade 6 science includes a strand on electricity
- Grade 7 has an expectation about ergonomic design, you could do some DIY furniture pro typing
Despite all of this, I am still fascinated with the notion of making at school. I think there is a place for making at school. I think the science curriculum might be dated. After all, it was revised in 2007. Perhaps our needs have changed since then and there is a need for making and digital fabrication at school.
Here are questions I have about making at schools:
- What’s the big deal with the 3D printer? I remember one of the first things I did with my computer in the late 80s was print out a colour image from Corel Draw. Maybe we love the 3D printer because it brings a concept off the screen and into our hands. There must be other, better ways to engage in digital fabrication where we connect making on screen to making in our hands. But, the 3D printer seems to define the maker movement as schools purchase printer bots and then claim they have a maker space. Is it so important?
- We use the term maker movement to include a massive range of activities. What is the range of activities and possibilities for the school maker kid?
- What do we really learn about ourselves, our community and the objects in our lives through making? If we were going to write expectations for the maker movement at school, what are the outcomes? What do we expect kids to learn and be able to do?
- Is the maker movement a response to an society that is overly focused on consumption? If so, in what ways does digital fabrication resist consumption and in what ways does it magnify our ego-centric needs to have products that are tailored to our own unique needs.
- What is the roll of collaboration in the maker movement?
- Design thinking and the design process is at the heart of the maker movement, why is this important to students today?
Just wait, my Arduino kit just arrived from AdaFruit. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!