Tag Archives: maker movement

Modes of making: exploration, engineering, and entrepreneurship

Educators know the power of hands-on learning. Ask any teacher, coach, or mentor what they see when their students engage in hands-on maker activities and chances are they’ll describe how students are activated with interest and curiosity as they put their learning into action through making.

That’s one reason why maker learning has steadily gone from the fringes to the mainstream of teaching practices in classrooms, after school programs, and summer camps. In the Pittsburgh region, Remake Learning has identified more than 170 makerspaces, including more than a hundred in area school districts.

This concentration of maker learning has also produced some insights into the inner workings of maker learning, insights that Remake Learning members are sharing with others working to expand access to maker learning opportunities.

But what is maker learning good for? In addition to the thrill of discovery and spirit of invention inherent in maker activities, there are real learning benefits to hands-on creativity and collaborative problem-solving. Maker learning incorporates a range of competencies related to the creative process, researching, developing, and testing a design, as well as building technical skills with tools, materials, and techniques that prepare learners for future career opportunities.

“Making is about more than creating objects, learning STEM principles, or how to code,” University of Pittsburgh researcher Leanne Bowler wrote in a previous blog post. “It is also about understanding the process, thinking critically about oneself and the role that one’s values and assumptions can have on the objects one makes, and the effect that one’s creations might have on others.”

In other words, maker learning is as much about developing the curiosity to explore new ideas and the confidence to tackle difficult challenges as it is about learning to use tools and materials to make (and re-make) the world around you.

Making connections to the physical world

Many maker learning experiences embrace playful discovery, especially activities and programs for younger children and their families. This form of open, exploratory maker learning is best exemplified by MAKESHOP at The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, a place where kids and their family learn together with teaching artists and maker educators.

“MAKESHOP was one of the first makerspaces designed for family audiences,” says Lisa Brahms, director of learning and research at the Children’s Museum. “We did the prototyping, we made the mistakes that other people can learn from. We’ve had the opportunity to study it and now we can be a model.”

MAKESHOP intentionally mixes high-tech making like 3D printing with more traditional crafts like weaving, sewing, and woodworking. It’s an environment rich enough to attract the attention of Adam Savage, who visited MAKESHOP as part of his national Maker Tour.

But as important as the tools and technologies are, reflections that result from the co-learning that happens among the learner, their family, and the mentors is where the deeper learning occurs.

“One of the biggest things kids can take away from making is seeing the world in a different way,” says MAKESHOP manager Rebecca Grabman. “For a kid who’s never made anything before, making personally empowering to them. It shows them they are able to create the things they want and need in their life.”

For Lisa Brahms, who also part of the original team of researchers and graduate students from the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments that collaborated with the Children’s Museum to develop MAKESHOP, maker learning spaces are themselves made to fit their specific context.

“There’s no one right way to do it,” says Brahms. “It’s important for each maker program to think ‘Why making? Why do we want making to be part of what we do? Who are the people that are part of that experience? What is the stuff that we want to make?’”

In cooperation with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Children’s Museum set out to turn these insights into Making+Learning, a framework to help others set up their own maker learning spaces.

And to help more schools incorporate maker learning into their curriculum, from early childhood to tech-ed, The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, in partnership with Google and Maker Ed, launched the Making Spaces initiative which helped 10 schools develop the resources and know-how necessary to establish spaces for hands-on, project-based maker learning in classrooms and other in-school spaces.

Blurring the lines between making and engineering

For students who catch the maker bug, new interdisciplinary approaches to STEM provide them with opportunities to level-up their skills and make academic progress. Project Lead the Way (PLTW) is a national nonprofit helping schools bring more hands-on learning into the K-12 system.

Several school districts in the Pittsburgh region participate in PLTW, including Chartiers Valley where educators are using PLTW’s engineering pathway for middle and high school students. Using a project-based curriculum that emphasizes design thinking and hands-on making, teachers at Chartiers Valley challenge students to investigate engineering challenges ranging from making more efficient energy systems to improving automated manufacturing production.

“Many students who are considering college might want to re-evaluate that decision and look at training programs or associates degrees,” says Superintendent Brian White. “The students get hands on experience and an appetite to create new things in the world. It really opens up all kinds of doors.”

Throughout the program, students learn the principles of science, technology, engineering, and math, design ways to apply those principles to solve a problem, and use industry-grade technology like 3D modeling software and plasma cutters to turn their designs into real products. A recent student project earned an award from the Smithsonian Institution and filed a patent for a double-bladed windmill they created that doubled its energy production capacity.

“We’ve had students go everywhere after coming out of Project Lead the Way,” adds Jeff Macek, who teaches applied engineering and co-leads PLTW at Chartiers Valley. “Some students have gone on to become aerospace engineers for NASA.”

Making maker entrepreneurs

For some students considering their future in the world of work, becoming a maker entrepreneur gives them the chance to turn their hobby into their livelihood. Startable Pittsburgh is a maker-oriented youth entrepreneurship program borne out of the city’s growing startup community as a way to help young makers make a living through making.

Over the course of an eight-week summer session, teens are coached by other maker entrepreneurs as they develop ideas for a product, create a business plan, and then dive headlong into making that product a reality.

“Teens split their time between Alphalab Gear, a startup accelerator, and TechShop, a makerspace with everything you need to prototype and do small-batch manufacturing,” explains Startable program coordinator Jackie Shimshoni. “At the end, students launch their business at an open market of all their products and pitch their business idea to investors.”

Startable is emblematic of the kinds of self-directed learning that out-of-school learning programs provide to students as a complement to their in-school learning experiences. Youth are given the flexibility and independence to pursue their ideas and develop their skills at their own pace, but also have a supportive network of peers and mentors at the ready.

“I had no idea what I was going to make coming into the program,” says Miranda Miller, Startable alum. “But I had a huge field of mentors and instructors who helped me along the way.”

Through Startable, young people have launched businesses making jewelry, designing and fabricating lighting fixtures, constructing lawn furniture, and producing a local fashion line. While the businesses range in ambition and longevity, they signal a broadening and deepening of Pittsburgh’s startup business community.

“As a region like Pittsburgh develops, inequities can develop with it,” says Shimshoni. “By democratizing maker resources, we’re hoping to get more diverse voices in the engineering and maker fields. We need more minority entrepreneurs, we need more female entrepreneurs,” says Shimshoni. “If Startable can contribute to that in the next five to ten years, I think we will have done our job.”


In the final installment, we’ll see how employers are partnering with educators to help students channel their passion for making into careers in manufacturing, production, and entrepreneurship.

Connecting West Virginia to Pittsburgh’s Maker Movement

Since 2011, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s MAKESHOP has been a well-established destination for families to immerse themselves in projects as wide-ranging as circuitry, woodworking, stop-motion animation, and operating looms. Now, thanks to $200,000 in grants from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and Chevron, the museum is extending its reach into neighboring West Virginia.

Partnering with the Education Alliance, the museum will help build makerspaces in four West Virginia public schools and three education centers—the Robert C. Byrd Institute in Huntington (a manufacturing institute for adults that partners with Marshall University); the Larry Joe Harless Community Center in Gilbert; and the Heritage Farm Museum and Village in Huntington. Collectively, the new spaces will be called the West Virginia Maker Network.

Although the West Virginia border is only an hour or so from Pittsburgh, the seven new sites span all corners of the state, including rural areas and university towns. And while opportunities for making and hands-on learning are blossoming in Pittsburgh, similar opportunities in rural parts of West Virginia are geographically farther apart and sometimes scarce. In recent years, the state has fallen near the bottom of the country in math and reading scores.

Lisa Brahms, director of learning and research at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, said the region was “ripe for possibility and change,” and that early planning meetings showed a hunger for new educational opportunities.

“We really see West Virginia as part of our region, so it’s exciting to be part of this work,” Brahms said.

“We really see West Virginia as part of our region, so it’s exciting to be part of this work.”

The pieces of equipment that will end up in the new makerspaces—anything from drills and hammers to 3D printers or electronic components—are of little use, however, without educators who can guide the students who are learning in the spaces. That’s why the museum is hosting educators from the new sites for a week-long Maker Boot Camp this September at the museum’s MAKESHOP. The boot camp will serve as a kick-off for the initiative, where educators from each site will begin to conceptualize how they could incorporate making at their own locations. Museum exhibit designers will then meet with teams from each site to help design their new makerspaces to align with their priorities and goals.

Brahms said the diversity of roles that educators play “really runs the gamut,” with attendees including middle school classroom teachers, an assistant principal, and an IT director.

“We love when that happens,” she said. “It’s really great because that means there will be voices from all the different approaches of learning in makerspaces.”

One of the overarching goals of the network is that the new sites one day serve as hubs for making and learning in their own communities, and eventually expand their work within each region.

Or, as James Denova, vice president of the Benedum Foundation, explained in a statement, “The Education Alliance’s partnership will not only help disseminate the Children’s Museum’s best practices, but provide an anchor through which West Virginia can build its own community of practice around making,”

Mindful Making

Exciting things happen in makerspaces, including learning to think critically about oneself as a maker and about the social responsibilities that come with making. In the world of Human-Computer Interaction, this is called critical technical practice, or critical making. From this perspective, making is about more than creating objects, learning STEM principles, or how to code; it is also about understanding the process, thinking critically about oneself and the role that one’s values and assumptions can have on the objects one makes, and the effect that one’s creations might have on others.

Minful_MakerWith the help of Sprout’s Remake Learning Fellowship, I launched the Mindful Making project, with the goal of exploring critical technical practice in makerspaces for youth. We went into Pittsburgh-area makerspaces to look at the kinds of critical and self-reflective questions that makers–novice and expert–ask themselves when they create technical artifacts, the idea being that questions can help learners stop and think, and can guide them toward deeper thinking. Questions are a simple and portable language tool that mentors can use to scaffold deeper thinking and a disposition toward mindful and critical technical practice.

Youth makers usually begin a project by asking themselves, What do I want to make? That’s a good starting point but what happens next? Are there questions that can guide makers toward a critical technical practice? With the help of teens and mentors in Pittsburgh-area makerspaces, the Mindful Making project came up with a starter list of questions to help guide deeper thinking. The questions are below and you can find them at the Mindful Maker website:

  • What resources do I have and need? Mindful makers want to know what resources will serve as a muse to their imaginations. It is important to understand the properties of materials.
  • What will inspire me to give my time and effort to a project? Sometimes we lack the necessary skills to complete a project and need to make an effort to learn. Mindful Makers look for interesting projects that will keep them engaged and motivated (for example, music, sports, or a special cause).
  • What do I know? Mindful Makers ask themselves this question throughout the making process. That way they can figure out what they don’t know and take steps to learn.
  • What will make me happy? Mindful Makers are aware of the emotional connection between the maker and the objects they make. If the item makes you happy then you can have fun.
  • Can I let myself make a mistake? Mindful Makers understand that mistakes are okay and can make a project better. Sometimes this leads Mindful Makers to ask another question: What ways beyond the ‘right’ way can I make something?
  • Who is my audience? Mindful Makers understand that some of their projects will be viewed, used, and shared by other people. Who are those people? Mindful Makers think about how their own interests and ideals interact with the needs of the potential audience.
  • How will my creation affect other people? Mindful Makers think about how their project might affect people. Will it interest them? Will they learn something? Will they have fun? Will it make them happy or sad?
  • What kind of maker am I? Maker self-awareness helps us anticipate the best way to tackle a design/build problem.

If you want to give these question prompts a try in your own makerspace for youth, download and print the poster from the Mindful Maker site.

Many thanks to the young people and mentors from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, and Assemble, who participated in this project.

Leanne Bowler, an associate professor at the School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, studies youth interactions with technology.


Peering Into the EdTech Crystal Ball

Remember Stickybear ABC, the 1984 computer game that taught kids letters? Or The Oregon Trail? Or Apple’s 1990 prediction that one day teachers will send “cyberlinks” to each other?

History shows us that technology does not always play out in classrooms the way one might predict. http://cdn.nmc.org/media/2015-nmc-horizon-report-k12-interim-results.pdfBut every year, the New
Media Consortium (NMC) gives divining edtech’s future a valiant shot. NMC recently released the preliminary results of its annual Horizon Report, which explores how emerging technologies and trends are intersecting with education, and how lingering challenges will be addressed.

This year, makerspaces made it onto the list as an innovation that will be adopted into the mainstream in “one year or less.” Makerspaces are among the many homes of the maker movement. In libraries, schools, or community spaces, they come complete with tools and software that kids (and adults) can use to build whatever they dream up. As creativity, design, and engineering make their way to the forefront of skills needed for a 21st century economy, the report finds, makerspaces are helping “renovate or repurpose classrooms to address the needs of the future.”

Notably, in Pittsburgh, makerspaces like those at Assemble and MAKESHOP at the Children’s Museum dot the city and serve as places for rich hands-on learning in informal spaces.

Interestingly, last year, makerspaces were barely mentioned in the Horizon report. And while they may have made the short list this year, one of the report’s listed “challenges” worth noting is scaling teaching innovations. “A pervasive aversion to change limits the diffusion of new ideas, and too often discourages experimentation,” the authors write.

A makerspace takes plenty of planning and resources—although some schools have gotten creative with mobile makerspaces on carts. Meanwhile, several experts have critiqued parts the maker movement for a lack of inclusivity and heavy focus on tech. Any movement making inroads in education comes with its fair share of challenges.

Also on the list of edtech phenomena that the report predicts will be adopted in a year or less is BYOD, short for Bring Your Own Device, in which students bring their devices to school and connect to the school network. The report predicts cloud computing, or using apps and programs that make collaboration easier, has a one-year-or-less time to adoption, as does mobile learning, a concept that places no limits on where and when students learn with mobile devices.

The report also cites the rise of STEAM learning and cross-disciplinary learning at schools as other means for edtech to be effective and useful.

Finally, NMC predicts trends that are five years off or more. This year, the report says, microcredit and badges may be used as a way to grant credit for informal learning opportunities. (Some of Pittsburgh’s organizations, like the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, have already done so.) It also predicted the potential of drones for educational use and pointed to a school in Norway where students map out geometric shapes in the air.

Equally fascinating is examining the past and the forces that make educational trends fizzle. The NMC retired games and gamification this year from the list. The CEO of NMC, Larry Johnson, said the trend “is just out of reach for most people” and the developments that gaming experts saw coming have not materialized.

While technology and other promising trends may be eye-catching, questions usually arise once they are brought into the classroom. At the recent CoSN conference, where the preview of the NMC report was released, CoSN’s CEO, Keith Krueger, stressed the importance of considering the context of successful integration of new technologies into classrooms, according to EdTech Magazine.

“Emerging technologies always draw a crowd,” he said. “But as leaders we need to focus on solving real educational problems.”

In Pittsburgh, many organizations keep their fingers on the pulse of what’s new while emphasizing how to use innovations to remake learning. There is really no predicting what the future holds for kids today, but giving them an education that helps them love learning and adapting will prepare them for whatever is next.

The Maker Movement Gets a Dose of Critique

Seems everyone is a cheerleader for the maker movement these days, from President Obama to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Who isn’t in favor of more self-directed, hands-on learning projects; cupcake cars; or kids working with old-fashioned looms?

That’s why—for a lot of maker-oriented folks browsing the internet late last January—Debbie Chachra’s “Why I Am Not a Maker” in the Atlantic made them do a Twitter-scroll double take. It certainly did for me.

“An identity built around making things—of being ‘a maker’—pervades technology culture,” she wrote. “There’s a widespread idea that ‘People who make things are simply different [read: better] than those who don’t.’”

As Chachra, who is an associate professor at the Olin College of Engineering, went on to explain, placing such high value on making things isn’t only buying into an overtly capitalistic mindset—it’s carrying on a gendered history of prioritizing creation of stuff over occupations like caretaking or education, roles historically taken by women.

She also points to the peculiarity that coding has been folded so seamlessly into the maker movement. She attests that’s because we’ve figured out how to sell code—and it’s perceived to be done mainly by men. Meanwhile, teaching and caregiving, traditionally women’s work, isn’t considered part of the “maker” domain.

“Making is not a rebel movement, scrappy individuals going up against the system,” she wrote. “While the shift might be from the corporate to the individual (supported, mind, by a different set of companies selling a different set of things), it mostly re-inscribes familiar values, in slightly different form: that artifacts are important, and people are not.”

Cue the mental tire screech-sound effect at that one.

Although Chachra’s piece may be controversial, as far as I can tell, the general reaction on social media seemed to be an appreciation for her thoughtful critique. People all around the web—maker advocates or not—called it “challenging” or “thought provoking.” She does not hold back. And because so much coverage routinely hails the maker movement as the greatest thing since sliced bread, something that looks at it from a skeptical angle is refreshing to hear.

Of course, the piece elicited response from many who do consider themselves makers, often very proudly. At DML Central, educational researcher Nicole Mirra took Chachra’s critiques one by one.

“Couldn’t we instead proudly embrace our multiple identities and work to draw out the connections between them—the ways that we cannot fully realize our potential as makers until we work on cultivating the crucial caring virtues of listening, empathizing, and loving?” – Nicole Mirra

“Couldn’t we instead proudly embrace our multiple identities and work to draw out the connections between them—the ways that we cannot fully realize our potential as makers until we work on cultivating the crucial caring virtues of listening, empathizing, and loving?” Mirra wrote.

Meanwhile, blogger and the chair of computer science at the Baldwin School, Laura Blankenship, noted that the maker movement arose from our existing culture, meaning it brings with it cultural sexism, racism, and classism. But similar to Mirra’s articulations, Blankenship thinks it’s worth trying to change the movement from within.

“The maker movement deserves our critical eye, for sure, but it should be changed and not rejected,” she wrote. “Its focus can’t be on what makes white, middle aged men happy—robots, cool gadgets, cars—but we need to point out when this is happening and correct it.”

As Mirra pointed out in the beginning of her post, there does seem to be a gap in definitions. Although she doesn’t explain it, Chachra’s maker movement seems to focus in on techie, Silicon Valley start-up culture that builds the types of things that could be sold or, at the very least, shown off. But in schools and informal learning spaces, it’s the wondrously frustrating process of making that’s valued—the result of a catapult or a sword or circuit is really only a bonus. Many would likely argue there is no “adult” maker movement and educational maker movement but that it’s one and the same. However, there does seem to be a difference in definitions between what Chachra has experienced and what goes on day in and day out in makerspaces built for kids and their families.

A dialogue on making can’t be a bad thing, though. Along with recognition, at this point the maker movement has gained a key ingredient to any thing that’s ever made an impact: healthy critique.

3-D Printing Creates New Ways to Learn

Vishnu Sanigepalli was a senior at Brooklyn Technical High School when his calculus class was struggling to visualize the solid at the point where two cylinders intersect. (See? It’s tough to visualize.)

Sanigepalli decided to 3-D print a model to help him and his peers better understand what this intersection looked like. “Before, it was just in my mind, or on a piece of paper or on a computer,” Sanigepalli explained in a MakerBot video. “That wasn’t as cool as having the project in your hand because you’re able to touch it.”

The stories about the amazing things created with 3-D printers just keep coming: a trachea for a newborn baby struggling to breathe on his own, an (adorable) webbed foot for a duck, an entire working car. But as much as 3-D printing has revolutionized rapid prototyping and manufacturing, it’s turning out to be a game changer for teaching and learning. As kids like Sanigepalli watch their creations come to life, layer by miniscule layer, they’re picking up critical STEM skills that equip them for the 21st-century economy.

“The new era of rapid prototyping and the vast accessibility is opening up the field of engineering as a whole,” said Tom Curanovic, senior mechanical engineering instructor at Brooklyn Tech. “We’re seeing a lot more interest from all sorts of students, starting as early as freshman year.”

Brooklyn Tech is using 3-D printers in a required class, “Design and Drawing for Production,” but in schools around the country, educators are using this technology across the curricular spectrum.

You can get a sense of the demand by looking at DonorsChoose, which is only one site where teachers crowd fund their printers when there’s no room in the school’s budget. A New York classroom is looking for a printer for a course called “Art for Engineers.” A teacher in San Jose wants her students to print models of microscopic organisms. And a classroom in Highland Park, Illinois, needs filament spools to print inventions they’ve designed in programs such as SketchUp and Autodesk Inventor.

Accessible 3-D printers are only one type of technology spurring the growing maker movement in Pittsburgh and its classrooms.

“There is an explosion of maker activity in our city,” wrote Mayor Bill Peduto and co-authors Gregg Behr and Subra Suresh in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last month. Behr is executive director of the Grable Foundation and Suresh is president of Carnegie Mellon University. The authors highlighted places around the city like AlphaLab Gear and HackPittsburgh where people can make and innovate in their very own neighborhoods. “Digital technology—such as apps and other software, games and robots, some of them invented right here—is opening new pathways for many more people to make and test new ideas, and to build new jobs and the city’s economy right along with them,” they wrote.

In 2011, the Department of Commerce found that growth in STEM jobs, like the ones Peduto praised, was three times faster than growth in non-STEM jobs in the last decade. And, as a Brookings report found, 20 percent of Department of Commerce jobs in the United States in 2011 required a high level of knowledge in any one STEM field.

Christine Mytko, a science teacher at Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley, California, hosts a blog—Tales of a 3D Printer—detailing the ways she’s engaged kids in STEM fields. For the schools’ graduation last year, each student printed an artifact they wanted to remember from their middle school days. Perhaps most telling was the student who 3-D printed a 3-D printer, explaining that he’s not giving up on 3-D printing his iPad stand. (He later updated the post to say he figured it out.)

Last month, SpaceX and NASA sent a zero-gravity 3-D printer up to the international space station. Yep, you read that right. Astronauts will soon be able to 3-D print in zero gravity to create extra parts and tools. It’s the kind of little news item that makes predicting the future of technology feel utterly impossible. But it seems educators and students agree on one thing—the printing won’t be in 2-D.

The Common Core Meets the Maker Movement

Educators were out in full force this past weekend, for the annual World Maker Faire held in New York City. Billed as the “greatest show (and tell) on earth,” a good chunk of the DIYers, citizen scientists, crafting experts, and tech enthusiasts in attendance were, thankfully, also educators.

And in addition to working on their own projects, these educators were sharing ideas for how to use making in classrooms this fall. The Maker Education Initiative released an online resource library, a digital archive of sorts intended to help educators get started making in education.

But how do these maker projects jibe with the new demands placed on classroom teachers from the Common Core?

Back in June, Gary Stager, coauthor of “Invent to Learn,” told Education Week that he felt despite some “overlapping interests” between the standards and the maker movement, the two are ultimately “incompatible.”

Could this be true?

“The standards are rooted in this idea of a centralized body of knowledge that all kids must comply with, which is in stark contradiction to the notion that learning is more fluid, more intimate, more personal,” Stager explained. “That doesn’t mean that you couldn’t tick off boxes in the Common Core by having kids have meaningful making experiences. But the notion that some anonymous committee of grownups has made a list of stuff that all kids need to know because that’s what jobs are going to [require] in the future is preposterous. The maker movement prepares kids to solve the problems that [adults] never anticipated.”

The central goal of the standards is to cultivate critical thinking and collaboration and to reinvigorate deeper learning.

Stager’s point brings up many questions about how the two trending education topics relate. On one hand, the controlled chaos of a makerspace, where kids are soldering and 3-D printing, paints a much different image than the traditional classroom with partitioned topics and year-end assessments. But proponents of the Common Core say the central goal of the standards is to cultivate critical thinking and collaboration and to reinvigorate deeper learning. We don’t know what jobs will be ahead of us, they say, but we do know that being able to think critically will prepare learners.

But there’s a hitch.

Sylvia Libow Martinez, coauthor of “Invent to Learn,” said last May that schools tend to place too little emphasis on the standard’s overarching goals: making learning more relevant and experimental, and making it deeper. Instead, too many resources are directed to the specific standards and assessments.

“When we talk about how ‘making’ can align with Common Core, it requires schools and districts to refocus on those overarching goals, and away from how many computers you need to run the tests,” Libow Martinez wrote.

Science teacher, author, and blogger Marsha Ratzel is one of the thousands of teachers still navigating the Common Core implementation. Last year, she explained she was skeptical at first of how a student-driven science classroom (akin to the ethos in a makerspace) and the standards could be compatible. Although not specifically dealing with “maker” activities, she’s seen spots in the standards that align with her teaching methods, which revolve around keeping her classroom hands-on and student-driven.

“If assessments mirror the broad principles and effective pedagogy that the CCSS authors have championed, there is hope that rote learning and teacher-driven classrooms will not be necessary in order for students to pass the test,” she said.

A common misconception is that the Common Core dictates curriculum. Rather, the standards are goals. The path for getting students to achieve them is up to the teacher. First-grade teacher Tommy Young, who was invited to the White House Maker Faire, sought to reach those goals by using lessons embracing hands-on making activities, like having students build monsters using only materials they could afford in their budget.

Teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron, a project-based learning expert and blogger, recently explained at Edutopia that her method of designing a curriculum doesn’t use the Common Core standards as a starting place at all. Instead, in her English language arts classes, she develops projects and explorations that excite her and her students. Then she goes back, looks at the standards, and “fills in the gaps.” Most of the time, she’s already hit the Common Core targets.

Although the Common Core and the maker movement grew from two very different places, it’s no coincidence both reject memorization and the antiquated idea that schools should act as storehouses of information. Both reflect of a larger shift in how we think about teaching and learning, one that recognizes that rote testing isn’t going to prepare kids for the dynamic world ahead that will ask them to adapt to new technology and problems faster than we have ever had to.

Like Stager said in the Education Week interview, the maker movement equips kids to solve problems we don’t yet know exist. That should be a goal of education as a whole and, like any good maker problem, the best way to do that probably involves more than one solution.

Mozilla’s Maker Parties Teach Web to the World

The invasive Japanese knotweed has become a tricky ecological problem in Pennsylvania. But at the Pittsburgh Maker Party on August 2, Albert Pantone showed kids how to mix the pesky weed with cotton and soda ash, eventually transforming it into handmade paper.

The Pittsburgh Maker Party brought a dozen organizations together at the Society for Contemporary Craft and let more than 200 kids and parents get their hands dirty making seed bombs, creating mobile apps, or shooting marshmallows in the air with a bike pump.

It was only one of more than 2,000 Mozilla Maker Parties held in 368 cities around the globe since mid-July, which aim to “teach the web on a global scale through hands-on learning and making.” The events range in participants, size, activities, and resources available. What they have in common is the goal of equipping people with digital literacy and web skills so they can understand and help mold the web, not just consume it.

To do that, the events often teach partygoers Mozilla’s Webmaker tools like Thimble, which lets users write HTML and CSS on the left of the screen and instantly preview their work on the right. Another tool, X-Ray Goggles, let people peek behind any website and check its code. At the Pittsburgh maker party, the Remake Learning Digital Corps helped kids in attendance “hack” the New York Times’ website and replace the headlines with their own.

In Cape Town, South Africa, Teen girls learned to code with HTML and CSS. Then, they design websites for local community organizations.
 “In English, ‘learning’ can sound like as passive a verb as they come, yet learning is the most all-encompassing, mind-devouring, time-consuming, and dare I say intoxicating experience one may have,” Ani Martinez, head of the Remake Learning Digital Corps, wrote last month in a post about the maker party. “That’s what gives Maker Parties their vibe and why they are such the success they’ve become.”

The maker parties’ success also stems from how easily organizers can share detailed event reports, tweets, and videos with other makers around the world. The posts inspire ideas for future parties and are nearly perfect examples of the body of collective knowledge that makes the internet so powerful.

Here’s a handful of other amazing Maker Parties that taught people about the web, its inner workings, and the power of using it to create:

  • The Brooklyn College Community Partnership hosted a nine-day open house in the first drop-in teen makerspace in Brooklyn. The days were packed with 3D modeling, inventing contraptions that could save people on a deserted island, and debating what should go into a maker manifesto. At the end of the event, kids and educators reimagined their makerspace and built intricate prototypes of a dream space that included hydroponic gardens and a bamboo lounge.
  • The Code4CT program teaches teen girls in Cape Town, South Africa, how to code with HTML and CSS. Then, they design websites for local community organizations. At the Code4CT Maker Party, the girls each brought a friend and passed their new skills on to her.
  • The internet connection dropped out at the Maker Party in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. But the party continued offline as participants discussed how the web functions, voiced their concerns about privacy, and brainstormed other problems—like scams and malware—they find online.
  • At Coworking Monterrey in Mexico, youth got to 3D print their own Maker Party logos and crowns, and they even saw how it might be possible to 3D print a person. They took some great photos in the process.
  • The village of Gangadevipally, India, has no internet connectivity. That didn’t stop Meraj Imran from bringing a Maker Party to the village on a motorcycle to teach awareness about the web to rural families. He used charts to describe HTML tags and 3D prototypes to demonstrate how the internet works.
  • In San Francisco, volunteers and employees of nonprofits got free HTML training to make their websites and newsletters more effective through Aspiration’s Maker Party.
  • At MozFest East Africa in Kampala, Uganda, more than 30 Mozilla Webmaker mentors taught more than 200 kids how to “hack” with Webmaker tools. Mark Surman, the executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, recently wrote about the party in Uganda and explained the challenge of teaching web literacy with both depthand scale.

“We’ll see more people rolling up their sleeves to help people learn by making,” Surman wrote. “And more people organizing themselves in new ways that could massively grow the number of people teaching the web. If we can make happen this summer, much bigger things lay on the path ahead.”