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Making And Tinkering In Schools

You have probably heard about the Maker movement, a growing global Do-It-Yourself (DIY) culture. Creativity, collaboration, and open access are the hallmarks of the Maker Movement. We are all aware of the power of the internet to connect everyone in virtual spaces. Virtual networking has highlighted the need for hands-on experiences in designing and producing in the physical, real world. Design Thinking processes and the language of design schools are finding a place in our lives; ‘rapid prototyping’, ‘design cycle’,  and ‘ideating’ are some of the concepts and practices that are slowly becoming familiar.

Forecasting the Future of Making

The Institute for the Future (IfTF) does long-term forecasting using quantitative futures-research methods. They provide strategic and practical foresight into the shifts taking place in a rapidly changing world. Playing the role of provocateur, in 2008, IfTF identified future forces that are likely to have a profound impact on the ways in which we live and work. Their forecast “map” for “the Future of Making” has the following statements that nudge us to consider the implications of the maker mindset:

Forces are “intersecting to transform how goods, services, and experiences — the ‘stuff’ of our world – will be designed, manufactured, and distributed over the next decade. An emerging do-it-yourself culture of ‘makers’ is boldly voiding warranties to tweak, hack, and customize the products they buy. And what they can’t purchase, they build from scratch. Meanwhile, flexible manufacturing technologies on the horizon will change fabrication from massive and centralized to lightweight and ad hoc. These trends sit atop a platform of grassroots economics — new market structures developing online that embody a shift from stores and sales to communities and connections.”

“Individual makers are amplified by social technologies that connect ideas, designs, techniques, and, of course, people, to revolutionize the process of innovation and production.”

“The maker culture will not replace traditional industry. In the future, traditional manufacturers and maverick makers will be closely linked – sometimes cooperating, sometimes competing, but frequently blurring the boundaries that separate them. Success will occur when the new culture are woven together in new and interesting ways.”

The “map” of “The Future of Making” is a useful guide for understanding and exploring the maker mindset. Understanding the concepts of “drivers”, “trends”, and “signals” are essential for reading the map. There are six “drivers” of change – social and technological phenomenon that are making the trends possible:

Platforms for Sociability – Social networks as hubs for collaboration and problem-solving

Eco-Motivation – the new mantra is Reduce, Reuse, Remake.

Rise of the Professional Amateur – the blurring line between amateurs and professionals

Access to Tools – decreasing costs and increasing capabilities are making access to tools commonplace, making it easy for everyone to become a maker.

Open-Source Everything – customization and zero cost is the new mantra for software

Quest for Authenticity – the growing need for hands-on experiences and a new balance of the virtual and real worlds.

The “trends” that will shape ‘making’ between 2008 and 2018:

If You Can’t Open It, You Don’t Own It: From closed IP to open innovation — “What it means to own a creation is changing as more makers expect their hardware and software to remain in beta, open for tweaks, improvements, and unintended uses.”

Personal Design and Fabrication: From the machine shop to the desktop– “Better desktop tools for design and fabrication are making it so that access to a complex shop full of tools and machines or a formal vocational education is no longer a prerequisite to making cool things.”

Grassroots Economics: From products to stories — “Makers are turning away from big retail and venturing out on their own, often online, to share and sell goods and services in marketplaces where shoppers want to know the people and stories behind the products.”

Lightweight Manufacturing: From centralized production to ad hoc factories — “Unlike assembly lines and dedicated factories, job shops enable fast, flexible, and customized production.”

Citizen R&D: From R&D labs to R&D communities — “Research and development is no longer relegated to a lab where only ‘experts’ are welcome. Makers reach out to communities and networks to ideate, iterate, and solicit feedback.”

Networked Artisans: From garage inventors to maker meet-ups — “Makers aren’t tinkering alone in garages, backyards, and basements. They’re building communities, forming networks, and meeting up to collaborate and celebrate their creations.”

Each trend has related “signals”, examples of products, ideas or innovations that will coalesce by 2018 to realize the trend.


Making in Schools

A film produced by Abilene Christian University shares stories of making, highlights the contexts that nurture the maker culture, and provokes conversations about the implications of making for education and learning.

One of the individuals in the film is Dale Dougherty. Dougherty is the founding editor of Make magazine and is considered the founder of the Maker Movement. His passion and drive for creating communities of makers and tinkerers has become the catalyst for widespread conversations about the importance of “making” in our lives. His Maker Education Initiative, with the tagline “Every Child A Maker”, has launched several programs for young learners including Maker Corps and Young Makers. In 2006, Dougherty started Maker Faires, popular maker meet-ups, hosted in several cities across the US and the world.

In the primary years in schools, students “make” and “create” things using playdough, legos, wooden blocks, craft objects, and other items. As they move through the older grades, somewhere along the way, the focus on the maker mindset seems to disappear. How can schools create opportunities for making and tinkering? In several schools this is taking the shape of Maker Spaces and Maker curriculum that enables students (and adults) to tinker, experiment, and fabricate using design thinking processes.

Making Their Way: Creating a Generation of “Thinkerers”

Why the Maker Movement is Popular in Schools

What is your school doing to provide making and tinkering opportunities for your students?


author credits


Educator, Consultant, Presenter DR. SHABBI LUTHRA is empowering educators, students, & parents, & building powerful 21st century learning environments. She is currently the Director of Research & Development, at the American School of Bombay.

Image Source: Judy Baxter

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