2e Tech by Marlo PayneThurman

The Maker Movement: Education Revolutionized?

March, 2015

In 2005, Dale Dougherty launched a new magazine, Make, to serve a growing community of do-it-yourselfers who wanted to re-think industry by building something rather than buying it. Since then a host of other magazines, along with Maker Faires, TechShop, Hackerspaces, Fab Labs, and Genius Hour have all helped both the highly skilled and the weekend garage tinkerer to move making into an international trend for both industry and education. [See the sidebar The Language of the Maker Movement below.]

For those of us concerned with education, Jean Piaget reminds us that knowledge is a consequence of experience. With this in mind, proponents of learning-by-doing and project-based learning have joined with Dougherty’s Maker Movement to re-think classrooms where children learn through creative play and tinkering.

The Role of Tinkering

Tony Wagner, author of the book Creative Innovators: The Making of Young People Who will Change the World, suggests that some of the world’s greatest minds develop out of tinkering. Reinforcing what we already know from gifted education research, Wagner observes that innovation evolves out of deep-seated interests, curiosities, and passions from our youth. He notes that successful adult innovators were nurtured as children for their imagination and taught to persevere and learn from their failures. Wagner suggests that the attributes necessary for innovation are “antithetical to our formal systems of education.…We penalize failure so there’s a complete contradiction between the world of schooling and the world of innovation.”

If Wagner is correct, then the Maker Movement might hold an especially important role for our most twice-exceptional children. These are the kids who struggle to fit into mainstream education, who are challenged to find time to pursue their strengths and talents, and who find producing work in the traditional pencil and paper format to be notoriously challenging.

The Maker Movement in Education and Why It Matters

Humans learn best when doing, as educational reformer John Dewey noted. Yet, over time schools have moved away from doing in the classroom and more toward listening and observing, denying students the chance to produce real products, learn real-world skills, and leave school better prepared for real participation in the adult world. But the Maker Movement teamed with project-based learning (discussed previously in this column in the September, 2014, issue of 2e Newsletter)  may be able to reverse this trend. Let’s look at the key elements of the Maker Movement.

According to Dougherty, the Maker Movement is based on these ideas:

  • Doing matters; we learn by making stuff.
  • “We” are smarter than “Me.” Open collaboration leads to shared ideas and increased learning.
  • Grit and determination cannot be taught without direct experience through both success and failure.
  • Mistakes made in tinkering are relatively inexpensive, while the cost of lost creativity and ingenuity are massive and hold untold results for our future world.
  • Pride in one’s work naturally develops as we embellish, decorate, and seek to make beauty in our lives.
  • Making creates opportunities for mentoring and apprenticeship by connecting learners with the greater community. Making is ageless.
  • Learning is personal. It occurs from within and can’t be designed or delivered.
  • By giving learners the opportunity to master what they love, they will love what they learn.
  • Learning depends on “maximum agency” over one’s intellectual processes. True learning is the incorporation of choice and ownership for our own knowledge acquisition.
  • Making is about technology, and the Maker Movement sees tools and technology as the raw elements necessary for solving problems.

Making is rapidly becoming a world-wide social movement. Unlike many other new ideas, it spans both the generation gap and the vast distance between current education paradigms and the modern-day work force. For the first time in human history, students may be able to both achieve “academic content standards” and use their own powerful ideas and imaginations to create real things that have the potential to improve the world.

Where to Find out More about the Maker Movement

For more on the Maker Movement, see these articles and resources:

Resources Consulted

Blikstein, P. & Krannich, D. (2013, June). The makers’ movement and FabLabs in education: experiences, technologies, and research. In Proceedings of the 12th international conference on interaction design and children (pp. 613-616). ACM.

Brown, S. (2009) Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. New York: Penguin Group.

Dewey, J. (1938) Experience and education. New York: Touchstone.

Dougherty, D. (2012). The maker movement.  Innovations7(3), 11-14.

Honey, M., &  Kanter, D. E. (Eds.). (2013). Design, make, play: Growing the next generation of STEM innovators. New York: Routledge.

Martinez, S & Stager, G. (2013) Invent to learn: Making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom. Torrance, CA: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.

Piaget, J. (1952).  The origins of intelligence in children   (Vol. 8, No. 5, p. 18). New York: International Universities Press.

 Wagner, T. (2012). Creating innovators: The making of young people who will change the world. New York: Simon & Shuster.

The Language of the Maker Movement

The Maker Movement has developed and language of its own. Here’s a list of terms common in the maker culture.

Maker Faires

Gatherings of do-it-yourselfers that feature art, crafts, engineering, and science projects and celebrate makers worldwide

  • Fab Labs
  • Hackerspaces
  • Makerspaces
  • TechShop

Terms that are arguably somewhat different from one another but essentially describe a common community-based center where members can access the shared tools and technologies necessary for designing, building, and innovating

Design Thinking

A term applied to the specific cognitive processes activated during imagining and making
(In schools, design thinking has become part of our standardized curriculum and resources like the Design Thinking Toolkit have evolved to encourage educators to re-think learning and teaching.)

  • Build
  • Create
  • Design
  • Fix
  • Hack
  • Invent
  • Make
  • Modify
  • Tinker

Terms used in the Maker Movement to honor and celebrate the engaged learning process of making something using one’s existing knowledge, tools, and materials.

  • 20 Percent Time
  • Genius Hour


Time allotted for thinking and tinkering in areas of personal interest and passion with the belief that this unstructured time is the mother of invention
(Introduced at Google, this concept has made its way into other areas of the corporate world as well as into the field of education.)

Learning Commons

Evolving spaces made available to the public for collaboration, connection, and access to common tools and technology-rich resources that would otherwise be unavailable to individuals
(These are considered by some to be the libraries of the future.)

  • Game-Changing Technologies
  • Maker Tools

Computers along with the world’s best creation tools such as 3D printers, laser and vinyl cutters, STEAM tools, Lego NXT kits, drones, and Arduino boards
(In addition, Maker Spaces often include basic shop tools as well.)

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Bringing the Maker Movement to the Classroom

At the very heart of the Maker Movement is the assumption that children are first and foremost competent. Having founded a sort of “maker school” for twice-exceptional children before the Maker Movement was envisioned, I learned first-hand that letting kids lead in creating can result in products that will literally astound.

Teachers who hope to create a successful Makerspace in the classroom should be aware that making isn’t always easy. It’s an entirely different and free-form approach to learning. To make a successful transition to this type of learning environment, teachers need to practice letting go.

Here are some tips and observations to help make this transition easier.

  • Making aligns with both core standards and 21st-century skill building. Therefore, it should not be seen as an aside to the regular curriculum, something to do when work has been finished. Making can supplement or even replace certain aspects of regular curriculum, especially when tied to relevant, authentic project-based learning.
  • When children are making, they often lose track of time, ask to stay after school to continue their work, and even wake up at night thinking about their projects. Be prepared for some perseveration, especially in gifted kids. But then again, isn’t this what teachers want?
  • Making still requires some initial thinking and planning. Teachers can’t just dump stuff out on the floor and expect that making will take over. Especially in the beginning, making has its own learning curve for both teachers and students. Remember that many of our children have never, even in building with their Lego sets, been given permission to build something without direction.
  • Maker classrooms are abuzz with activity; the process won’t work without it. Several different groups of engaged students will likely be working on various projects simultaneously, which, to a teacher, can feel a bit chaotic. If the class gets too noisy, some quiet background music can both inspire creativity and help moderate energy levels and noise volume.
  • Many Makerspace teachers struggle to re-think their views on authority. While makers continue to need strong and positive teacher support in the classroom, an experienced Makerspace teacher is more guide than instructor. Nevertheless, especially in the beginning, making will require some boundaries and some directions to address safety.
When creating a Makerspace in the classroom, a key point to remember is that connection and meaning come out of the process of making. Children who experience the challenge of making learn to see themselves as capable, relevant participants with competent skills and abilities. This is the true meaning of authentic assessment.

Marlo Payne Thurman, M.S., is a school psychologist, education consultant, and member of the 2e Newsletter Editorial Advisory Board. She specializes in assessment, advocacy, cognitive training, sensory and behavior support, and socio-emotional coaching for individuals from around the country who are gifted yet asynchronous. Marlo operates the Brideun Learning Communities, which designs custom play-based therapeutic programs and, in addition to her private practice, she provides consultative support to new 2e program start-ups. Marlo holds a board position with the United States Autism and Asperger’s Association, is the director of the U.S. College Autism Project, and teaches a course in the Special Education Department of the University of Northern Colorado.

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