The Education of A Revolution

Charles Tsai
Sep 25, 2015 · 3 min read

How Makers Are Made

The Maker Movement has been heralded as the harbinger of the Third Industrial Revolution, defined by Wired’s Chris Anderson as our increasing use of digital tools to enable personal manufacturing. More and more, we see people (young and old) using new technology to make their own things, customized to their own individual needs and tastes. Collectively, these tinkerers, hackers, hobbyists, and inventors are known as “makers.”

You can find them easily in the thousands of makerspaces that have popped up all over the world — the modern day workshops that are equipped with laser cutters, 3D printers, and CNC routers. But those machines are making their way to our homes and desktops. As they get smaller, cheaper and more powerful, they will enable a “mass market for niche products” and, in turn, transform the global economy.

Finally, Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of “production by the masses” (replacing mass production) will come true.

But not so fast. Big Manufacturing won’t give way so easily. Nor will the big institutions that have all been shaped by the previous industrial revolution.

Writing about the Maker Movement, the founder of Make Magazine, Dale Dougherty, singles out one institution in particular as its biggest obstacle: education.

“Formal education has become such a serious business, defined as success at abstract thinking and high-stakes testing, that there is no time and no context for play.” — Dale Dougherty

In short, Dougherty believes “the rigid academic system is short-changing all students.”

This is why he and other champions of the Maker Movement have put transforming education at the top of their collective agenda.

In 2012, they launched the Maker Education Initiative to create more opportunities for young people to make, both inside and outside the formal school system.

As far as I can tell, though, they have not offered a definition for “maker education.” Without one, it may be challenging to design or redesign an education program to produce the desired outcomes.

I’d like to offer my own working definition but before I do, I want to highlight some key ideas from the literature I’ve read about makers.

  1. Mindset over Skills
    What’s emphasized in the Maker Movement is the mindset of the makers, not their individual skills. This stands in contrast with other education reform efforts, even those that emphasize “21st century learning” or competency-based education.
  2. Experimental Play
    Makers would argue that making needs to resemble play more than work. Those who make need to be guided by their own curiosity, passion, and whimsy — intrinsic motivation — rather than someone else’s expectations and judgments. In other words, let learners direct their learning as much as possible.
  3. Sharing Across the Web
    What sets today’s makers apart from those who have come before is their tendency to create in an open and networked system, drawing inspiration and sharing ideas freely over the internet. This sharing isn’t an added bonus — it’s the main fuel of the Maker Movement and the eventual economic revolution.

With those key points in mind, here’s my working definition of what I understand to be “maker education.” This will guide the design of my Tiny Home School and the metrics we will use to evaluate outcomes.

Maker Education helps learners develop a “maker mindset” — a sense of oneself as a creative agent of change, one who is able, confident, and motivated to generate new ideas and design new solutions. Such mindset cannot be fostered through standardized curriculum or skills training but through experimental play as well as self-directed creation, iteration, and open sharing of real world projects.

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