Research on the ‘Maker Movement’

The ‘Maker Movement‘ is slowly worming its way into mainstream culture. Maker Faires are being held throughout the country and Etsy is thriving.  Not only do we have a National Week of Making (June 17 -23), but a number of universities are conducting research on the maker movement. Harvard’s ‘Project Zero’ has been collecting data for the last couple of years. While their conclusions are still underway, they recently published a white paper on their preliminary findings.

The kids (ages 9 and 6) as they dismantle an old fan.

The kids (ages 9 and 6) as they dismantle an old fan.

Preliminary Research on the Maker Movement

In the white paper, researchers mentioned the connection between maker ideas and the economy. Most of the press articles connected the maker movement to business. For example, people are excited at the prospect of STEM-trained children. Will the maker movement increase our ability to remain an economic superpower ?

Not surprisingly, that isn’t why I like the maker movement. And it’s not why I became a maker myself.

Thankfully, it seems the research is proving my point. After analyzing articles and books from the last five years, Harvard researchers proceeded to interview maker-educators. They discovered we aren’t consumed with making to increase STEM knowledge. We like the maker aspect because it helps a child recognize the process of creating. They begin to see. They deconstruct objects and build something else. Students become comfortable iterating their designs.

That is not to say that students don’t develop technical skills along the way. But, for the
educators we spoke with, technical skills and expertise are by-products in the service of the
larger outcome of self-development. To focus on STEM skills and the like as the primary
outcome of maker education would be to sadly miss the point—like saying that learning to cut your food with a knife and fork is the most important outcome of eating a nutritious meal. In contrast, what we have been hearing from maker practitioners on the ground is the power of maker-centered learning to help students develop a sense of personal agency, a sense of self-efficacy,and a sense of community.  – White Paper on MakerEd from Project Zero

Finally, I have a voice for the thoughts in my head. It’s not about creating the next tech-maven, it’s about empowering students so they can figure it out on their own.

A picture of homemade cardboard circuit cards to teach about direct current

More Research on the Maker Movement

This article, from the Journal of Pre-Engineering Education Research, describes three elements that comprise a ‘maker’ education: low-cost and available (tech) tools, a community of teachers and business people who are utilizing them, and the ‘maker mindset’ which requires an acceptance of researching, prototyping and iterating their creations.

One of the author’s first citations is from Dr. Montessori.  Dr. Montessori was not the first to use discovery through hands-on materials, but she took it further than anyone at the time. The Montessori Method was a pioneering educational method. Is it any wonder I feel a strong connection to the maker movement?

In addition to the previous two articles, I recently discovered the work of Dr. Kylie Peppler.  Pepper has shown some links between using wearable electronics and an increase in girls’ scientific interest. As a female who found math easy (but boring) in high school, I was thrilled I never had to take it again (thank you, AP Calculus). Therefore, I am fascinated by the idea that perhaps science and math are taught in a way that discourages girls – not because we feel dumb – but rather because we find it uninteresting.  What if upper-level science and math combined art and hands-on creating? Would that bring more girls into STEM-related fields?

Recent findings indicate that introducing such novel, cross-disciplinary technologies can broaden participation, particularly by women. This STEAM (STEM + arts)-powered approach also improves learning outcomes and thus has ramifications that extend beyond the issue of gender in computing.         – IEEE Computer, September 2013

Positive Impact of the Maker Movement

I hope further research shows the positive impact a maker-based education can have on our students. In my most vivid, idealistic dreams I see a lovely vision for the future of public schooling. We start with a Montessori environment, free of standardized tests and homework for PK-6th grade. Those years are followed by a maker-based, project-focused education for grades 7 – 10. The culmination of a student’s twelve years of education would include apprenticeships and gap-year experiences, allowing for some discovery before they go off to college. At that point, they should be more than equipped to choose a major and potential career.

A pipe dream, perhaps? But, it’s looking closer than it did five years ago…

picture of Montessori landforms

In a Montessori curriculum, students use modeling clay and water to recreate land forms.




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