Research on the ‘Maker Movement’

The ‘Maker Movement‘ is slowly worming its way into the mainstream. 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 colleges and 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.

Oddly enough, this paper confirmed everything about how, and why, I love to bring the maker movement to kids.

After analyzing popular press articles and books from the last five years; Harvard researchers proceeded to interview maker-educators. In their white paper, they mention that most of the press articles spoke of the maker movement in terms of business. For example, ideas were put forth that the maker movement will increase our ability to remain an economic superpower because our children will be academically advanced in STEM areas.

Not surprisingly, that isn’t why I like bringing the maker movement to kids. And, it’s not why I became a maker myself all those years ago.

Thankfully, it seems the research is proving my point. Most of us maker-educators are not in it to increase a child’s knowledge of STEM subjects. We like the maker aspect because it helps a child to recognize that they can do anything because most items are made up of parts and once you deconstruct those parts…they can become something else.

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

It’s nice to finally 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 first citations in his paper is from Dr. Montessori.  The author notes that playful discovery through hands-on materials has often been effectively used to teach children new concept and ideas, specifically through the Montessori Method. Is it any wonder why I feel such a strong connection to the maker movement?

In addition to the previous two articles, I have recently discovered the work of Dr. Kylie Peppler, who 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 that 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

It’s my hope that more research shows what a positive impact a maker-based education can have on our students. And 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 which 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.




One thought on “Research on the ‘Maker Movement’

  1. Pingback: Book Review :: Musical Inventions - Artisan Education

Comments are closed.