When President Obama called on higher-ed institutions to create more maker initiatives last summer, Carnegie Mellon University answered the call.
Partnering with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Science Foundation, and the other members of the MakeSchools Alliance, CMU recently launched MakeSchools.org, a site aiming to connect the dots between the making happening in universities and best practices in maker education.
For those of you who may not have heard, the maker movement is a growing network of do-it-yourself enthusiasts who are building everything from marshmallow cannons to hovercrafts in garages at Maker Faires and state-of-the-art makeshops. The movement is making its way into classrooms as well, taking advantage of kids’ natural inclination to tinker and work with their hands.
Currently, 25 universities have profiles on MakeSchools.org, but more are in the works. The site’s goal is, in part, to increase awareness of the potential for making on college campuses.
“We’re working to showcase how making is an enormous catalyst for innovation that leads to economic, societal and community impact,” said Daragh Byrne, Intel Special Faculty at CMU and one of the managers of the site, in a press release.
Although CMU is known here in Pittsburgh as a leader in spurring the maker movement, the site lets prospective students or makers get a broader sense of what kind of making is happening nationwide.
For example, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland is in the process of renovating a $35 million, seven-story, 50,000-square-foot makerspace called think[box], set to open next August. Right now, a much smaller think[box] is running in a separate building. But students there are already building mini airplanes, printing with three 3-D printers, and using 3-D microscopes. Think[box] is open to all students and the public—unique for a university makerspace.
Ian Charnas, who is spearheading the new think[box] (he was also one of the designers of that cool waterfall swing), was the first leader on the site to be interviewed regarding his school’s making culture.
“When you leave the sphere of consumerism, when you bridge the gap from only having bought or looked at things, and enter the world of the producer, the inventor, the maker—your mindset changes from someone hoping for a better world to someone scrambling to make it happen,” Charnas said.
Makerspaces, like the ones at CMU and Case Western, are complete maker heavens. But in Pittsburgh, kids are getting the chance to experience making much earlier than college.
As we continue to see the potential of rapid prototyping and 3-D printing, it’s even clearer how beneficial equipping kids with a maker mindset can be for day-to-day problem solving. Last month, a video about a huskie named Derby born with deformed legs went viral. A group from a company called 3D Systems created a set of custom prosthetics designed just for him. The prosthetics had looped bottoms so he wouldn’t dig them into the dirt as he ran. Maker education can help today’s students take part in this kind of exciting design and rapid prototyping. And this mindset doesn’t have to start in a university lab.
A person’s making journey can start anywhere—a garage, a shop class, a kitchen table, or an afterschool space devoted to helping kids get more chances for hands-on learning. We’re working to give kids more opportunities for this kind of hands-on learning and designing here in Pittsburgh.
We recently wrote about students in the South Fayette district who will be building with a robotics platform called VEX IQ starting later this year. And at community makerspaces like Assemble, MAKESHOP at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, and TechShop, kids and their families are working with looms, creating paper, and learning to silk screen. And, in 2015, we expect this will be only the beginning.