Make Me a Robot or Just Make Better Schools?

Last weekend I got the opportunity to meet some of the educators who attended the Makers Ed conference (a teacher practice network we fund) and attended the Maker Faire in San Mateo. The conference’s keynote speaker Nichole Pinkard, a friend of mine, pioneered some of the early digital media and learning work with the MacArthur Foundation like YOUMedia. She said that she was surprised they asked her to speak. In other words, she had not thought of herself as part of the Maker movement but others did. We got into a conversation about how we used to call what Maker teachers do as hands-on learning; at one point it was problem-based learning and sometimes known as project-based learning. Many think of it as vocational education and some even think of it as personalized learning. We seem to invent these identities or names in education to characterize what we are doing. What’s interesting about the Maker movement is that it actually feels more like a movement than a fad in schools. It has a much broader following and started from industry (tech) and moved into education.If you haven’t been to a Maker Faire, it is a little overwhelming. I talked to a veteran attendee who had been at the very first Maker Faire with her husband’s “chess robot”. She reflected on how it has changed from a white male tech crowd to a family crowd, and the “crafts” and “science” and “food” sections were not part of the original Maker Faire scene. It was wonderful to see Lighthouse Community Charter School there and other educators who went toe-to-toe with 3D printer inventors on their “making” skills. If Maker really wants to be a movement it will have to embrace a much broader and more racially and culturally diverse audience, but I have a feeling they will figure that out especially with some of the amazing teachers I met in their ranks. Maybe there is an opportunity with this broader level of public engagement around “making” to see more family and parent engagement in schools too. Let’s hope so.