George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Maker Education

A Maker Movement for a World Beyond Things

What about the makers who give us poetry, mathematics, philosophy, and dance? Students need opportunities to explore making beyond materialism.

What does it mean to be a “maker”? Why has maker culture been limited to digital technology and materialism? What message are we sending students when “making” has mainly been aligned with Silicon Valley, wealth, and the world of material things?

Maker culture has become a hot topic in education circles these days. Maker culture and the maker movement is largely driven by our ability to use our hands and new technology to make things that were once only possible for big industry to make. Its roots are in DIY punk culture, the hacking community, the rise of affordable making technology like 3D printers, and the success of famous tinkerers like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk (the chief architect of Tesla Motors).

Artists have also been a major influence in the maker movement. The studio practices of artists have influenced how we think about making in areas of creative collaboration, project-based learning, and experiential education.

Yet, many artists are trading their studio practice for a post-studio practice. Post-studio artists create experiences, performative works, and short-term installations in the wider world outside the studio.

Material-Free Makers

By not making the studio the central location of their practice, these artists are embracing the notion that art and the creative spirit of making are more than just making objects that are meant to be displayed, looked at, and bought and sold. In a post-studio practice, we are brought into the true heart of making that goes back to our earliest human ancestors—makers who gave us language, song, mathematics, dance, religion, philosophy, and poetry.

Educators and parents should embrace this post-studio approach in the the teaching and raising of our kids so that they can understand that being a maker is really about having the direct experience of creation. Despite the smartphone in my pocket, I still believe that the most powerful of creations is in a realm beyond things, in the world of thoughts, ideas, and the imagination.

The Heart of Maker Curricula

Yes, new tech can be awesome, but beneath this celebration of new technology and making things, we discover that the true heart of the maker curricula is discovering what it means to be engaged in the world in the most direct way and no longer be only passive consumers.

Besides, don’t we have enough things already?

Currently, we are in a rut with things, whether we’re dealing with the manufacturing of things, the buying of things, the disposal of things, or the waste and pollution that are by-products of taking things out of the earth just so we can make even more things.

Is it really revolutionary that we can now make more things in our classrooms and garages, most of which we don’t really need?

So here’s to our makers of poetry, philosophies, and dance moves. Here’s to our makers of food and friendships. These heroes should be celebrated and be role models for our students and kids to discover the magic of making in a world beyond things.

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Jeff Courtney's picture
Jeff Courtney
"I never let my schooling interfere with my education." ~Mark Twain

As educators, as a society and simply as human beings, we need to expand our definition of what it means to be a "Maker".

A "Maker's Mindset" can inform all aspects in living a life of creative intentionality. What we are doing is not nearly as important as our state of consciousness when we are in the act of doing.

Whether we are making a more effecient material for collecting solar energy, making a cool animated GIF for a website, making a well reasoned argument to City Hall for upgrading crosswalks, or simply making the bed and folding the laundry; it is the mindset and quality of our approach, presence and attention to these activities that determines the results. All judgements as to the greater or lesser value of the activity itself are completely relative.

If you are living in the Sahara desert, acquiring and refining the Maker's skillset for more efficiently collecting and storing water and using those skills to build a beautiful and sustainable well and cistern for your village is a creative "Maker's" action of the highest order. Whether or not you can write your own name is unimportant.

xpx_wav's picture

I appreciate the point about materialism and the emphasis on the arts. However, I think Making in schools is a way of introducing the creative thinking typically associated with the arts to those that might not be the "arty type." And in particular it's a way to engage students in math and science, but through a creative, self-motivated route.

We want to offer as many opportunities for students to find and follow their passions. I always say my dream for our school is that our students can say "I love AC because it's an awesome tech school!" "I love AC because it's an awesome dance school!" "I love AC because it's an awesome ______ school!" where the blank fits what ever passion they are interested in pursuing. Maker opportunities provide another option for children to get excited about learning.

We are also interested in teaching design thinking and the design process to our students. We believe this is useful for them in a variety of ways. By learning this process we hope they will understand how to dissect a challenge into it's constituent parts and address them effectively. Knowledge isn't important as how to apply that knowledge. Solutions are the currency of now and the future.

With regard to materialism, we don't encourage our students to make unnecessary products. We ask them to create solutions to everyday problems. And we ask them to make extensive use of recycled materials. We've partnered with local builders to give us access to their scrap, and we have a warehouse of old school furniture, VCRs, CD players, etc, that we constantly mine for materials to re purpose. In the process they are learning to extend the life of something they may have otherwise thrown into the trash heap. They are seeing the value of "trash' and are considering the life cycle of their products.

There is certainly some connection to be made between the arts and making, as both use similar creative processes. Indeed many of our art students step in to our maker space to make bits and pieces for their works. However, I would make a distinction similar to the distinction between art and design. Where design's purpose maybe to answer a question, art's purpose is to raise questions. So, while we can certainly explore blurring the line in class, we cannot deny that the line exists.

I don't mean to be contrarian to the article. I think the points made are important points to consider for our schools as we develop maker spaces and maker programming in our schools. With the considerations made we can find ways to avoid the pitfalls and reap the benefits. And the idea of Post Studio is valuable because it place value in the creativity over the product. On the other hand, the product may be a solution with great value to an individual or family in need. Not everyone has enough "stuff." What solutions can our students create for earthquake victims on the coast? What solutions can our students create for children without access to technology, books or education? If we ask them to dream big, they will.

Glenn Rankin's picture

In my school's library we are developing a musical maker space with a MIDI keyboard and software. It's informal and caters to the musically curious that want to do something outside the scope of traditional band/orchestra/choir classes. I think curiosity and creation is at the heart of the maker movement, so I don't think it should be constrained by material components.

Shannon Pierce's picture
Shannon Pierce
Librarian for Freeport intermediate School

Interestingly enough, we found that many of our high school students enjoy just coming in and working on jigsaw puzzles. They actually "unplug" from their devices for awhile and visit while working on the puzzles.

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