By Sam Piha
The Maker movement is not new. In fact, one of the founders of the Maker movement, Dale Dougherty, was featured at our How Kids Learn III conference in 2013. However, with the growing interest in growth mindsets, STEM, and social emotional learning, maker spaces are being incorporated in both schools and expanded learning programs.
Below is an interview we conducted with Ilya Pratt. Ilya was a Maker Leader for Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) Project Zero, Agency by Design, and currently the Director of Park Day School’s Design+Make+Engage program and the Innovation Workshop. Ilya and her colleague, Paula Mitchell, will lead a Bay Area Speaker's Forum on May 7, 2018 in Oakland.
Q: Can you briefly describe the "maker movement" and how this relates to "maker spaces"?
A: Over the last 8-10 years there has been a revival of interest in making and repairing things for oneself or others. Early on in the movement, the question “Can I fix this broken thing rather than just throw it away?” was asked—and along with this, there was a rejection of the consumer habits so common to our larger culture. In addition, engineering companies in particular realized that their engineers lacked intuitive understanding of the materials and concepts critical to their field. This missing knowledge base was described as that which you learn through tinkering—more often in dad’s garage and while playing in nature, for example.
Meanwhile, digital fabrication has become more accessible to school and home due to simplified programming options and consumer-scale machines. This convergence has drawn attention to the fact that an immense amount of learning, sharing knowledge and cooperation are a part of making. At its best, this learning is about children developing agency—a belief that they can make change in their world. It is very in sync with our democratic ideals! And of course kids, with few exceptions, love making things. Which has led to the question, if there is so much learning—and social emotional learning—happening while making, how can we provide students with these opportunities?
Why maker spaces? They offer dedicated space, materials and tools to support these interactions. Their ethos is reminiscent of the neighborhood garage or corner coffee shop—there is an open invitation to come on in and pursue your dreams!
Q: We believe that the expanded learning space is perfectly positioned to offer strategies related to maker spaces. Do you agree and if so, why?
A: Absolutely! Expanded learning programs are perfectly positioned. They offer blocks of time unencumbered by state curriculum standards and standardized testing! To some degree, making has already been happening in many expanded learning programs, more often in the form of simple crafts. One push we need to make is to increase the complexity of the offerings. Students can do amazing things when they have the resources. Give them simple electricity parts and they will figure out how to light up a bulb and make their own flashlight. More importantly, there is subtle work on the part of teacher education that needs to be done. Shifting adults’ mindsets that all students will make the same thing to one of open-ended expectations is critical. Recognizing the leadership that students can bring to the group and each other—rather than the teacher always leading--is a game-changer!
Q: Can you briefly describe what you think are the major benefits of offering young people opportunities to create within "maker spaces"?
A: Opportunities to pursue their own passions, to lead, mentor and collaborate. To learn with their hands and develop an intuitive sense of how the things in their world are made—including increasing their understanding of materials properties and physics, electricity and electronics concepts that naturally come up when making. There are also opportunities to explore coding and physical computing—interacting with the computer in ways well beyond its typical and basic use as a productivity tool. There is so much more.
Q: Within the K-12 range, do you believe that maker spaces are appropriate for all ages? Or just some?
A: ALL. If you’re worried about safety, please, please accept that with proper training, kindergarteners (and middle schoolers!) handle sharp tools very appropriately! Maker spaces are, in fact, excellent places to learn how to be safe and to learn the repercussions of violating community safety rules.
Generally, there are opportunities for all ages to do so many things—and often with students younger and older than themselves.
Q: Of the "We are, we belong, we can" SEL categories, which do you think maker spaces best address?
A: I believe maker spaces can support all three categories well. Maker spaces demand from their users a high degree of self awareness, and an awareness and support of others. There is an emphasis on community. “We can” is at the heart of the spaces. We can figure out how to do what we set out to do. We will learn what we need to learn to make it happen and learn from our mistakes along the way.
Q: The California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs have identified six point of service standards. Which are best served by maker spaces?
A: Maker spaces score 6 out of 6 of the Point–of-Service Standards. Yup, no question about it. That list could have been written in response to a survey of maker spaces!
Q: There is both a growing emphasis on STEM and on building the skills of girls. How are these served by young people participating in maker spaces?
A: The hands-on learning that happens in maker spaces is a terrific foundation supportive of STEM skills. Math, for example is everpresent in making. Engineering as well. Many maker spaces prioritize coding and digital fabrication in their programs. There are “fablabs” that are all about digital fabrication. These maker spaces, and any space that provides access to digital design and fabrication resources, should have the supportive ethos common to maker spaces. Everyone is in learning mode—figuring things out both independently and together. Risk taking is rewarded and failures are perceived to be learning moments.
Q: For expanded learning programs that want to learn more, what do you recommend?
A: Check out the resources at Makered.org. They have been working hard to gather resources supporting maker space development, curriculum, etc. There are many other online resources now, as well as some good books that provide curriculum ideas and educational reflection on approach and learnings. My favorite book is Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape Their Worlds (Clapp, E., et al) because it both covers the teaching and learning strategies common to maker spaces, and it offers educators a framework to use to explore the thinking dispositions of makers and designers.
Q: For expanded learning programs that want to integrate maker strategies, what are the greatest challenges?
A: Two challenges stand out: First, do you have a key program staff member who has a making passion that they can share and build upon? Do you have a teacher who can say, “I don’t know, we’ll find out how to do that together? Let’s look on the internet!”
Second is the obvious—Resources. Making things takes stuff, and some stuff just has to be purchased. We can do a lot with recycled materials such as cardboard and food containers, but you’ll also need scissors, steak knives or another type of cardboard cutter, and connectors such as tape or zip ties.
About Ilya Pratt: At the heart of Ilya’s educational practice is a deep curiosity about how things work, whether it is a child’s approach to problem solving or an engineering design solution. Ilya has worked with children and educators for over three decades, in school and non-school settings. As the director of Park Day School’s Design+Make+Engage program and the Innovation Workshop, Ilya provides integrated and collaborative programming supporting STEM, community service and social justice curricula.
In addition, Ilya is a member of the Agency by Design Oakland leadership team, facilitating a teacher fellowship in maker-centered learning classroom practices. Ilya was a Maker Leader for Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) Project Zero, Agency by Design, a research project exploring the promises and practices of maker-centered learning. She has also been an instructional coach for the HGSE online course, Thinking and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.