Contributor: Stephanie Chang
Technology is the key word these days for all areas of education, and thankfully the definition of technology has widened to encompass more than laptops, tablets, and clickers. Maker Faire, TechShop, hackerspaces, and the like have influenced education to actively embrace and include analog tools, along with the digital toolkit, in influencing how students learn and do.
This type of hands-on learning encourages students to actually try things out – tinker, take apart, fix, and make. In some ways, it brings a more holistic view to learning, as students are encouraged and inspired to not only fixate on the digital screen but also appreciate and acknowledge the skills involved in drawing, hammering, and sewing. Especially for parents and schools who worry about everything becoming less tangible and too digital, “making” brings in new aspects of creativity and innovation. As making is also “real,” it gives students a sense of the actual materials and the physical effort required to manufacture and create things.
The reach – and popularity – of making is big. It fits well into physical science, project-based curriculum; it aligns easily with 3D art and sculpture; it is an obvious fit for applied sciences and engineering, where the act of doing is often seen as more effective than the act of reading about such concepts and projects. And its appeal even stretches into computer science, where students learn to program a device or computer in order to make it move or do something. Math enthusiasts have also embraced making, as math transforms from abstract numbers to actual measurements and calculations, all with a purpose, and even and lovers of the natural sciences bring in their perspectives on renewable resources, sustainable building, and environmental impact. There is truly something for everyone.
Do not be discouraged by the price tag of a 3D printer– the cost of making is rather appealing as well. Basic build-outs and workshops don’t require hundreds of thousands of dollars to start; rather, basic craft supplies, a few electronics kits, and recyclable materials can be easily acquired and used for a wide variety of activities and projects, used to supplement or lead learning. These activities can occur in the classroom, as part of after-school programs and weekend workshops, or as hobbies at home or with friends. New initiatives, stemming from the brains of Make Magazine, the Exploratorium Museum in SF, and other organizations, are helping to encourage and support making in all of its diverse forms. And these technologies don’t have to stand alone either – laptops and handheld devices are perfect complements to making and tinkering and can indeed enable more advanced design and creation. Three-dimensional CAD software, some of it free, can help students learn how to plan, iterate, and visualize before actual creating anything physical. If funds are flowing, the inclusion of laser cutters, vinyl cutters, and 3D printers allow for quick prototyping and show students how engineers and scientists may actually design.
New organizations such as DIY.org and SparkTruck are also exciting examples of how popular and inspirational the making movement has become. DIY.org is an online community, specifically geared towards kids and young makers (with safety and privacy built in), which allows them to create their own portfolios and share them with one another. SparkTruck, a project that began as a Stanford d.school and Master’s project and evolved into a successful Kickstarter campaign, is a workshop on wheels, currently traveling around the country with a truck full of equipment and supplies, inspiring kids (and parents and teachers!) to joyfully problem-solve, create, and build. And Makerspace, a recent educational initiative and collaboration between MAKE Magazine and Otherlab, aims to help bring making – via online tools, shared teacher resources and communities, and low-cost physical makerspaces – to 1000 high schools in the next 3 years.
Making is not solely STEAM-related either. Understanding and tracking the process involved is important and can be applied to disciplines such as writing and reading. Students can blog about their progress and experiences, write research papers about the design process and scientific method, present their creations and discoveries at school conferences or public events like Maker Faire, and even incorporate multimedia and create photo-essays or video documentaries. These aspects become integrated into the project and process, allowing for more complete understanding, critical analysis, and self-evaluation.
As edtech grows in impact, its definition grows too. Consider how all sorts of technology have influenced our habits in the past decades, and how the collaboration of old + new technological tools can change learning!