The Maker Movement – Retinkering Education

In a new book, Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, internationally respected educators Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager capture the excitement of the Maker Movement and share the educational case for bringing making, tinkering and engineering to every classroom.

According to Martinez and Stager, the Maker Movement, a technological and creative learning revolution underway around the globe, has exciting and vast implications for the world of education. New tools and technology, such as 3D printing, robotics, microprocessors, wearable computing, e-textiles, ‘smart’ materials, and programming languages are being invented at an unprecedented pace. The Maker Movement creates affordable versions of these inventions, while sharing tools and ideas online to create an innovative, collaborative community of global problem seekers and solvers. The Maker Movement in education is built upon the foundation of constructionism, which is the philosophy of hands-on learning through building things. The key message from spending hours in this book was that the Maker Movement overlaps with the natural inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing. By embracing the lessons of the Maker Movement, educators can revamp the best student-centered teaching practices to engage learners of all ages.

A Maker Space is a virtual and physical space that serves as a community hub for the Maker Movement in education – a place for inventing, tinkering and hacking. An innovative and non-structured environment where learners can connect, create, collaborate, share, invent, tinker, build and explore the elements of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and maths) through experiential play. A Maker Space is flexible by nature, where tools, technology, expertise and networks evolve and change to suit the range of student-led DIY projects, sometimes with the help of mentoring from experts in the field. In some schools, these areas are found in libraries, media centres and computer labs. For educators with limited space, creative use of tinkering tables in the class breakout rooms or a dedicated corner of the classroom suffice in providing students with the same learning experiences.

Matt Richards, the Director of Edtech and Innovation at St Columba Anglican School, Port Macquarie is leading the Maker movement in Australian schools. Matt manages The Hub at St Columba, a permanent learning space for K-12 students that has many tools including a 3D scanner and 3D printer; a Raspberry Pi (a credit-card sized computer); an Oculus Rift (a virtual reality headset for immersive learning and playing); Goldie Blox (an engineering and construction set designed by female engineers to inspire young, female students); Chrome Boxes (compact computers); an Alienware computer designed specifically for gaming purposes; as well as blank computers for installing existing and new operating systems, and computer hard-drives that can be opened, taken apart, and explored. The school also participates in collaborative online environments where their students can share and explore virtual spaces with students from other schools, no matter the physical distance.

Matt recently joined my colleague Brett Salakas for an #aussieEd “Meet The Innovators” interview. He shared with us the importance of having a Maker Space to support inquiry, curiosity, and problem solving in a way that is familiar to many students and their relationships with modern technology.

Inspired by the idea of tinkering with a Maker Space, I asked Matt to join me in co-hosting an #aussieEd chat about learning spaces with a focus on Maker Spaces. Early on in the chat, it became clear that the participating educators could see the learning benefits of a Maker Space in promoting creative and critical thinking skills through DIY Maker projects. Student engagement and motivation to ‘tinker and invent’ were amongst other obvious learning benefits. The big questions that came from the chat were:

  • How might I create a Maker Space in my current classroom?
  • What resources would I need?
  • How do I fit it into the timetable?

Inspired by his efforts, and with some encouragement from Rob McTaggart (resident #aussieED Coder and Tinkerer), I worked towards developing a Maker Space in my flexible learning classroom. My students and I have created various spaces in the room based on the different work they are engaged in. The theory comes from David Thornburg’s work in the field of learning spaces. He coined the term Campfire, the Watering Hole, and Cave Space. Generally speaking, the Campfire suggests a place to learn from an expert, the Watering hole is a place to learn from peers, and the Cave Space is a place to learn independently. With this in mind, and after consultation with other educators via Twitter, we have added two more learning spaces: the Lab for tinkering, and a Mountain top for sharing your learning with others.

Having started later in the school year, and with an already crowded timetable, I implemented the various maker tasks within my English, Science, CAPA and Maths learning times. With limited classroom space and a tight budget, I was able to get my hands on a few resources lying around the school and cheaply online. My main goal was to just start with what I have and what I know, and of course to get out of their way! So here is the vision of my Maker Space in a Year 3 classroom so far…

In the heart of my Maker Space, there is a group of students wearing goggles and using screwdrivers to take apart an outdated Acer laptop. The aim is for students to identify the various components that work together so that the computer is functional. The students are able to record their learning on the classroom glass windows for others to see. On a high table by the window, students use a cardboard leg cut out connected to Lego WE sensors and littlebits technology to create an online soccer game using the MIT Scratch application. They can use the whiteboard tabletops to write down their code as they program. In the glass, sound-proof storage room, there are students using a green screen to create a Claymation animation. Some students may use Lego to create a digital story about their favourite novel. From a distance, you can hear the sound of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star being played on strawberries through the use of a Makey Makey. Lounging on the corner cushion is a group of enthusiastic coders and minecrafters, building and coding, some of whom are at the stage of developing their own app. Whilst some Maker Spaces operate during lunch times, this space is used throughout the day across most Key Learning Areas. My students record their learning through writing, video recording, visual sketchnoting and Twitter exit passes. Students organically create and critique their various design projects – constantly thinking deeply and critically with others about what they are making and inventing.

The Ultimate Maker Space Tool Kit

  • Computer controlled fabrication – 3D printer, mill, cutter.
  • Physical computing – Robotics, Arduino, Raspberry Pi, LilyPad, Flora.
  • Programming – Scratch, SNAP, C. Arduino, Coding apps: Kodable, Hopscotch, Daisy the Dinosaur.
  • New conductive material – Conductive paint, glue, tape, thread, graphite pencils.
  • Inventive Interface elements/kits – Makey Makey, Hummingbird.
  • Electronic components – Displays, LEDs, sensors (light, heat, motion), motors, batteries.
  • Traditional/Hybrid materials – Squishy circuits, Lego, cardboard.

As you can see, there are different ways to implement a Maker Space in your classroom or school environment – depending on your time, space and budget. The main idea is to give students the time and opportunity to tinker, design, invent, build, share and, most importantly, fail! The Design Thinking model is a good way to introduce the design phases of ideation, prototyping and critiquing. As a teacher, I facilitate the Maker Space by providing resources and asking high order questions along the way. I resist the urge to model or demonstrate how to use things – instead, I stand beside them and learn from them and with them. The most powerful words I can offer them are “I don’t know”. The Maker Movement is a brilliant way to give your students authentic voice and choice in their learning. What are you waiting for? Start making!


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Zeina Chalich
Zeina Chalich is a dynamic educator and international presenter with teaching experience in primary schools and university. In her role as Leader of Learning & Innovation, Zeina leads ‘disruptive’ change in digital pedagogy and personalised learning. In 2015, Zeina was awarded the CEC Br John Taylor Fellowship research prize for her research exploring design thinking in a makerspace through a STEAM curriculum. She also won a New Voice in Leadership Scholarship from ACEL for leading change in digital pedagogy and mentoring. Zeina is a founding member of #aussieED and the founder of #makerEDau twitter chat. She was recently announced the winner of the 2015 Edublogs Awards for the Best Individual Tweeter Category. Connect with her @ZeinaChalich and @makerEDau

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