Wednesday, April 02, 2014


Maker Schools and Makerspace

"We learn by doing" Aristotle
"To understand is to invent" Piaget
"Constructing solidifies learning" Papert
Invent to learn" Martinez & Stager
"The Makerspace in the library is an oasis for student self-directed learning. It serves as a rejuvenation center for inspiring love of both formal and informal learning. In my opinion, a space like this should be a priority for all schools in the twenty-first century; and you do not have to break the bank to create one." Eric Sheninger, award-winning Principal at New Milford High School, Bergen County, NJ.

Maker Schools and Makerspace

For over 30 years the personal computer revolution has expanded cyberspace into our homes, businesses, government, the globe and our pockets and purses and ever so glacially slow into 1 to 1 computer-to-student-technology for our public school classrooms. Meanwhile, technology races on ahead, transforming and giving rebirth to long dormant ideas. Sprouting out of the advanced sensor and robotics areas of the cyberspace cloud, a makerspace uprising of 3D printers and more drives what many call a new industrial revolution. The maker movement is not just a digital transformation of our country's strong heritage of inventive making; it is also a potential trojan horse hiding deep intellectual, economic and school change (Brynjolfsson & McAfree, 2014; Rifkin, 2014).

To over-simplify, a makerspace (zoomable international map) is a room, often a community center, with tools and collaborative people that encourage making. There are other titles for the makerspace movement that are variations on this theme, titles like Fablab which come with slight distinctions.  Makerfaires (zoomable international map) are events in which makers share the works and ideas that emerge in their makerspaces. At present the makerspace movement is a fertile mix of the interests of the arts and crafts, science, hobbyists, digital composers, the Internet of Things, sensors, citizen scientists, industrial designers and entrepreneurs.

As our North Carolina schools take advantage of their move to 1:1 computing to innovate further, they should look closely at makerspace developments. Many interesting discussions center around the #makered and #pbl hashtags. Readily visible for those who have ever read the seminal work of John Dewey is the reinvention by other names of his progressive education movement. His book on Interest and Effort in Education should be considered a primary supporting document to the makerspace movement manifesto. Unfortunately Dewey's hands-on, project based learning door to creativity and innovation did not quite match the needs of his 1900's factory centered time like they do of our exponential 21st century age. Early makerspace movers and shakers are surfacing that are revitalizing their communities and libraries and Dewey would not be surprised to note that they are beginning to re-imagine the methodology and curriculum of public schools as well.

Makerspace is just the latest phase of our evolutionary layered literacy. This new direction does not conceptually leave cyberspace skills behind, though in practice it is sometimes hard to see the rich digital heritage of compositions for computer screens being hailed in makerspace communities. At the same time its reweaving of digital tools with hands-on making and thought in building objects draws on the very earliest literacy, the hands-on composing and communication skills of the first signs of human intelligence that emerged in the stone age. Given the deep digital foundation that is already in place, makerspace advance will happen much faster and perhaps with even greater impact than any of the prior ages of literacy. A digitally inclusive makerspace cloud would have the opportunity to expand and integrate all that has gone on before it. As a new kind of space for community learning, makerspaces of physical tools in libraries or community centers also become 21st century role models for a new approach to the meaning and methodology of schools.

As librarian Jeff Sturges of Detroit’s Mt. Elliott Makerspace said "this is about creating creative people". MakerFaires show that creativity in events held all over the world. One was held just down my highways in Raleigh on June 7. One cannot help but feel the footsteps of Dewey's Chicago School in the 1890's and the project based learning and inquiry groups of today (#pbl, #pbi). Much more recently Papert's ideas about constructionism pulls together Piaget's "building knowledge structures" with Dewey's experiential "learning-by-making" (Wikipedia; Papert papers).

The desire to make is so universal that the makerspace movement also raises the question as to whether separately tracked college-bound courses and vocational courses involved with physical design, creating, building and maintaining should have ever been distinct tracks for students over our long educational history.  The emerging digital fabrication palette of makerspace has re-ignited the deep American frontier spirit so thoughtfully described by the Pulitzer Prize winning work of Frederick Jackson Turner in 1933. It has also raised a storm of interest around the globe. There will be many competitors to American global leadership in manufacturing. For example, Barcelona, Spain (once home to Gaudi, Picasso and Dali) is revitalizing their spirit through plans for many makerspace centers around the city for public use. It is in this need for revitalization that makers and makerspace provide such an opportunity for everyone around the globe. In an age of rapid change and exploding knowledge, everyone in every culture has a need for what Sheninger called a "rejuvenation center for inspiring love of both formal and informal learning".


Many schools are at the forefront of establishing makerspace basecamps for further exploration, including equipment with specialized rooms, after school programs, library spaces and in-classroom time. These are school makerspaces within a school and classroom that tack such activity on to the current school model. Some are thinking about building a "maker school" and transforming the educational pedagogy from top to bottom. The "thinking about it" effort of West Michigan in Detroit has come to my attention. Another, the National Inventor Hall of Fame School in Cleveland, Ohio, was designed as a STEM school. It has been in operation for a couple of years beginning as a 5th - 8th grade school with nearly 300+ students and feeding the approximately 100 students in 9th & 10th grade at the National Inventors Hall of Fame® Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics High School. Their mission statements sound close to the goals of the makerspace effort but an analysis of their methodology and operation are not available at this time.

Only one (to my knowledge), Bricolage Academy of New Orleans has entirely erased the board and reimagined a school from scratch.
They've gone far beyond schools that are beginning to provide maker space in a library or spare room, tools, resources and time in the schedule;  they've planned an entire multi-graded school from Kindergarten on up, building one year at a time. Bricolage has built an entire charter school around the thinking of the maker movement; they began with kindergarten in the fall of 2013. They are growing and moving to new space this fall (link to school below), expanding to include first grade. They also gave great leadership to New Orleans' first MakerFaire, held, Saturday, April 5. I took this photo of the the marble ramps their kindergarten classes invented, replete with QR code for each that showed a video of the "engineer/designer" talking about their work.

But change also occurs in other ways.  Albamarle Schools in Virginia have spent more than a dozen years building project based learning, so makerspace was a natural progression. And moves to 1:1 computing only rev those engines further.

I would also claim that Montessori schools have had a similar mission since their inception in the late 1800's, but have not given sufficient leadership to digital age thinking using their methodology. So, who and where are the other Maker Schools that are in process or who have begun a "maker school"? Comment space below!

I was privileged to attend the entire day of this "first annual" event in NOLAland (New Orleans, LA), April 5, 2014. It was especially rewarding to also hear, meet and discuss why the maker revolution matters with Sylvia Libow Martinez, co-author with Dr. Gary Stager oInvent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, a book on my Kindle that has long been well "thumbed". She was presenting at the National School Board Conference (conference ; events ; #NSBAConf) there and made the extra effort to also present at this MakerFaire. Kudos to Sylvia for her talk on "Why Can't School Be More Like MakerFaire". Josh Denson, founder of Bricolage and the rest of the event team deserve a special Kudos for a highly successful first makerfaire and to the graciousness of so many in responding so thoughtfully to my queries throughout the day.

The third annual Burlington, NC maker faire that I also attended April 12 was impressive in that a much smaller city could provide a much larger and more significant set of exhibits from their community.

There is a difference between viewing a virtual object (e.g., computer screen, web compositions) and holding an object, whatever the composition is. Both are forms of composition are important. However, I've been concerned that maker movement efforts tends to leave cyberspace out of the focus of their thinking or at least underplay it. Compare this image on the left of the cyberspace digital literacy palette (click for an infographic loaded with clickable hotspots) with the makerspace palette above to see similarities and differences.

It was especially heartening to see that cyberspace for computer displays (image on left) was not excluded from maker exhibits at state and regional fairs; unfortunately this is not true of the world faires.  Elements of this cyberspace palette that were in the exhibits of NOLA's and Burlington's MakerFaire include: cardboard marble ramps with QR code linked to digital video story telling; image capture manipulation to study plant photosynthesis; video/image/audio with visual dj software using Arena and remote video viewing and capturing with a camera mounted on a drone; sound composition and manipulation with made instruments; and digital animated story telling with a wide variety of props which certainly could be 3D designed. This is how it should go with makerspace,  the creation of real world objects and events intimately integrated with the power of computer screen communication.

A final exemplar for now is the Maker Education Initiative  which is busily and productively engaged in creating a national youth movement of maker activities and locations. Not directly engaging and challenging the system of schooling currently in place has enabled it to grow dramatically, not impeded by past practice. Unfortunately this also means that a large, capable and interested professional work force is not contributing at its scale to makerspace advance.

To gain a better idea of what he makerspace movement is producing in enthusiasm and learning, Google Search "maker faire OR makerfaire" for your state or country and attend some this year. For North Carolina folks, this means April 12 for the MakerFaire in Burlington and June 7 for Raleigh; otherwise, visit

Educational Theory

It is interesting to watch the maker movement seek to invent from scratch some persistent but long marginalized educational ideas long promoted by Montessori, Dewey, Piaget, Freire and Papert, among others.  For example, Piaget's thinking, To Understand Is To Invent (entire book online). It goes much deeper than that. For a great study of the real genius behind the invent to learn idea and the science on which it is based and practiced for a century, see A.S. Lillard's work, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, 2005, Oxford University Press. Her book and related thinking is a tour de force of Montessori's thinking and the research that continues to uphold the value of the key elements of her methodology. Perhaps at last the many disconnected yet historical allies of the maker movement can be networked to a tipping point that takes us beyond the obsolete notions of "the school as factory and the child as a blank slate" (Lillard) that "are firmly ensconced in the standard operating procedures of today's schools" (Lillard citing Resnick & Hall).

As Lillard has shown of Montessori's work, there is an effective evidence-based world of choice, personal interest, intrinsic reward, learner centered boundaries, inter-age grouping, context learning and order. Makerspace is redefining this evidence based world as both digital and physical constructivism and constructionism. Dewey made a good run at this with the Progressive Education movement at the beginning of the 20th century before its star was driven off the road after WWII by a growing national addiction for the promise of "measurement driven efficiency".  That only 24% of high school seniors rated proficient in the last national writing assessment is one more indication that the current measurement efficiency model fails, in this case failing to sufficiently lift 3 of 4, 75% of our public school population. An even smaller percent graduate from college in four years. Too many see digital technology as the "at last" savior of what in reality has been revealed as a negligent and inhumane model for both teachers and students. Education has lingered long enough in trying to resuscitate this increasingly obsolete system.

Digital technology can be used to assist many causes. The makerspace movement is offering one more new-day alternative in the educational firmament of the 21st century. Which one do we choose? Will makerspace sustain itself over the long haul? Can it continue to transform the traditional school model? What allies might collectively work with it to do so? Will colleges of education lead or ignore such practices in the preparation of new teachers?


Below are some additional high interest resources for Makerspace developments in public libraries, school libraries and classrooms.

***Library concepts
"the emphasis is on creating with technology ...teaching our patrons to think for themselves, to think creatively, and to look for do-it-yourself solutions before running off to the store."
Jeff Sturges of Detroit’s Mt. Elliott Makerspace said in ALA TechSource’s December 3 makerspace webinar, “Beyond engineering and STEM, this is about creating creative people.”

-Bricolage Academy, charter school, New Orleans, founded 2013.
-Albamarle Schools in Virginia

***Public libraries

*** School Libraries
Leslie B. Preddy ( ). School Library Makerspaces: Grades 6–12, $45.00.

*** North Carolina Libraries (NC)

***School Classrooms after school

***Makerspace design

Curt Gabrielson, Tinkering: Kids Learn by Making Stuff, 2013.
Rifkin, J. (2014). The Zero Margin Cost Society.

Twitter tools and tags: #pbl #pbi #makerspace, #maker #makers #makered #inventToLearn

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Updated May 14, 2014

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