The Expanding Universe: Why Making Matters

Involving great minds in the design of our Makerspaces

This summer we will implement plans to add two new makerspaces at our school as part of a major building renovation project that focuses on the provision of flexible, transparent spaces for collaboration and student-centred learning, the essence of what our school is about.

The desire to make things has been intrinsic to human nature since the creation of the first crude tools for hunting and survival. Throughout history, personalised endeavours like weaving, woodworking, food production, and the myriad activities of DIY enthusiasts and hobbyists have all ostensibly been conducted by “makers”. The Maker Movement has come about – a little like the vanguard days of the microcomputer industry – as a result of a convergence of new technologies and wider access to tools like 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, and microcontrollers such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi devices. As the focus on technology has rapidly transformed users from mere service consumers to active creators of digital knowledge and content (as evidenced by the popularity of sites such as YouTube, Wikipedia and Twitter), the culture of making has dramatically increased as the internet and relatively cheap technologies provide new opportunities that have democratised the creative production process. But making is much more than this.

In her book, Worlds of Making, author and Makerspace creator, Laura Fleming captures the essence of this question: “Bringing the Maker Movement into schools … immediately allows … young people to come together in a space that eschews the traditionally siloed curricular domains; that puts the learner firmly at the center of the learning; that enables teachers to encourage a much more participatory approach for students; and that often, it has to be said, encourages teachers out of their teacher-directed shells to experiment with the kinds of learner- focused activities that the makerspace fosters.” Some argue that this movement is yet another passing fad, that it is untested ground, and that there is little evidence that it will have any significant impact on learning. Others contend that the already crowded curriculum needs to be protected. The real focus needs to be on the unbounded potential, exciting opportunities to engage students, and innovative ways to make learning authentic that making offers.

Advocates for learning by doing and making have existed for centuries. People’s desire to make, to create, to envisage and build things never before considered is not new: the ability to make these dreams possible for our students today is. The generational shift back to making is not a fad. After all, it is almost five hundred years since the greatest maker of them all died. From Leonardo da Vinci to Steve Jobs, the creative learning opportunities available to our children are considerable and can’t be ignored.

Making is a central part of the key to problem-solving and the more elusive skill of problem-finding. These skills are essential if we want to teach young people to solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet. The real implication for schools is a need to acknowledge the truth that David Perkins has articulated:

“What’s conventionally taught may not develop the kinds of citizens, workers, and family and community members we want and need. The basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic, even if strongly developed, aren’t enough. The familiar disciplines in their traditional versions, sitting in their silos, constrained by regional perspectives, and taught to all comers for purely academic understanding aren’t enough. The universe of what’s seen as worth learning is expanding.”

Our students also make in our library, in our theatre, in our art room. They make when they write poetry, work on a science lab, design a solution to a complex problem, engage in service-learning, play a musical instrument. Making, creating, crafting, prototyping, designing all involve approaches to problem-solving and an aesthetic approach to learning, the process of producing something that was not there before. Making encapsulates all of these values, skills and beliefs. It matters.