Busted: common myths about maker education – Part 3: Is it for geeks only?


Ádám Horváth 2021. 09. 08. 07:06

Fact: maker pedagogy promotes STEM-rich learning. Fiction: that’s all there’s to it. In the third part of my maker education myth-busting series, I’ll take a deep dive into why role play is key to making makerspace activities a success and how it can guide students on their path to skills development and self-discovery.

Maker education: for “geeks” only?

I’ve recently had a great conversation with a high-school head teacher about our City of the Future course materials. The thing he liked most about the frame story, he said, was that not only did it offer kids a chance to shift into a new role – but a whole range of different roles. To give you some background: during the course, the participants’ task is to create the city they would like to live in 80-100 years from now, using city planning best practices (or not, it’s up to them). In essence, it’s a thought-provoking experiment to tackle the societal, environmental and technological challenges of the future through a joint creation process. Students play the roles of the city’s mayor, architects, engineers and leaders of civil society organizations as well as any fictitious expert they come up with.

Each role offers a wide range of creative tasks, which may be different in nature but are equally important. Some will only be responsible for a specific area, such as agriculture and food or sports and recreation, while others will oversee all city departments as the elected mayor. Some get more involved in designing the city’s buildings, some in actually constructing them. They also take turns doing recurring tasks like looking up information on the internet and documenting their findings. Besides their own areas of responsibility, the children also need to work jointly on cross-functional projects, such as building the city’s road network. All decisions must be made together, even if this sometimes sparks conflicts.

It’s crucial that students of all interests and career plans understand how a city, and society as whole, works, as well as what processes and responsibilities need to be set up to run them successfully. As all participants have their own tasks and goals throughout the course, it’s inevitable that they will use different tools and technologies to overcome barriers in simplifying workflows or making life easier for inhabitants. Whether or not they’re into “geeky stuff”. And that’s where well-constructed frame stories can make a real difference.

They have the power to engage and motivate students, from science buffs to artsy types, to combat challenges with the help of technology.

So why is this important?

Firstly, because in traditional educational settings, children are often put in boxes – like the class clown, the straight-A student, the rule-breaker and what have you. The problem is that if a child gets stuck in the same role for four-eight years, it can easily stunt their potential and inhibit their success. Say, someone is the worst runner in the class. Is there a chance that in another peer group, they might be at least decent, if not the best runners? Sure. But will they ever know? Probably not. Secondly, in regular classes, children are expected to perform the same tasks within the same time period, using the same resources. This often causes them stress and anxiety because, of course, not all children are the same. Not to mention that situations like this hardly exist outside of school.

When one size does definitely not fit all

Letting students explore and experiment with different roles and responsibilities is key to developing their awareness of themselves and others.

Because that’s how they learn that being “bad” or “mediocre” at something doesn’t mean they can’t be absolutely brilliant at something else.

Having run over 1,000 maker courses, we’ve seen first-hand how recognizing individual strengths and weaknesses takes a great deal of frustration off students’ shoulders, leaving more space for knowledge building and sharing, collaboration and discussion. Which makes sense: by virtue of comparative advantages, the only way communities can really thrive is if each of their members is in a position they can excel at. Maker pedagogy not only anticipates and accepts such differences but builds on them to empower students, so they can become the thinkers, creators, problem-solvers and innovators that tomorrow’s businesses and communities will need.

Going back to my previous example, while they’re building the city of the future, makers have a chance to try their hand at all aspects of urban planning, from freehand drawing to conflict management and everything in between. They learn the ropes of 3D design and how to use 3D printers with confidence on their own. They discover laser cutting as an alternative to printing when making models. They will also learn to simulate electronic solutions using a microcontroller to model even their most unusual ideas to solve problems.

Technology savvy, however, is only a means to unleash makers’ creativity – not the goal

In other words, maker classes aren’t designed to attract mini engineers and turn them into grown-up engineers. Using a well-thought-out pedagogical approach, they help students step into the shoes of engineers working on sustainable solutions, artists seeking ways to share their vision, entrepreneurs looking for the next big idea or designers developing a game-changing product.

The ultimate aim is that all makers understand how technology can bring them closer to achieving their goals in an effective and sustainable way.

Download our eBook on maker education!

We’d love to share the insight we have gained in the past five years experimenting with it. Read Unleash the power of maker education: a guide for teachers. The English language ebook contains ten questions about getting started with maker education, all answered.