I have just returned with a group of tired, but happy kids from Maker Faire Education Day, decked out in pipe-cleaner accessories, holding LED light wands and clutching their pint-sized schwag bags. I’m sitting in my classroom, taking time to sit back and observe the students in my biweekly afterschool 3D printing club. We have one Makerbot, currently running a 20 minute print job, yet nine kids are keeping themselves busy with very little teacher oversight: two are working on the Google site they created to document our work, another pair is troubleshooting our Printrbot, another set has downloaded and is printing out a replacement part, another kid is blogging the whole process, and two others are exploring AutoCAD (free for educators and students!). They have very little structure, and none have specific instructions or textual support for what they are working on. Yet, there is little frustration in the room and a lot of engagement. They are relying on each other (and Google) to propose solutions to problems, test their ideas, celebrate their successes, learn from their failures, and design new projects. It’s an educator’s dream, really.
This looks very different from “regular school.” While I recognize that these students are part of small group who choose to participate in an extracurricular activity, I’ve seen the magic of making in my classroom before.
I decided to sit down with this group of kids, some of whom joined me on the field trip today and many of whom plan to attend this weekend’s Faire, and asked, “What’s so great about Maker Faire?” Here’s what they told me.
Maker Faire has “no rules.”
There is no set procedure. There often is no easy solution; and the answer certainly is not in the back of the book. They tell me that “school always tells you what to do” but at Maker Faire kids just get to explore. The goal is not to get the one “right” answer. They like the idea of having to troubleshoot and figure it out themselves, especially when they are not penalized for getting it “wrong.” It takes the pressure off and makes learning fun.
“Maker Faire is hands-on learning. It is really creative and there are not always particular guidelines. You get to really stretch your imagination.” (Emma, 7th grade)
“There are so many different things, and you get to choose – choose what you get to learn, and how long you have to stay there. You can take breaks when you need them, and stay longer when you are interested.” (Louisa, 6th grade)
Maker Faire is creative
My students love to explore. They are excited about the possibilities of having ideas and making them real. It is not unusual to see one of my students retrieve his or her print from the 3D printer only to literally jump with joy over seeing their digital designs come to physical fruition. School is so often input-driven and it is exciting to watch what the kids can output using their own imaginations.
“At the Maker Faire, anything you could ever think about is there. It has the feeling of ‘anything is possible’ – like driving cupcakes, how awesome is that? I like that not everything there has a use yet – they are not all making products to make money; they are sometimes just making projects ‘cuz they’re cool.” (Adam, 8th grade)
Maker Faire is collaborative
I enjoy seeing my young makers collaborate, often in groups that span multiple grade levels. Sometimes I just eavesdrop, listening to students propose and discard ideas, as well as refining each other’s ideas in a way that might not be possible working individually. I enjoy seeing kids brainstorm together to find resources and come up with ways of finding experts for advice and guidance.
Even better, as people visit my classroom, students in my 3D printing club often draw in other teachers, friends, student alumni, parents, grandparents, or siblings into what they are working on. Maker Faire is similarly multi-age fantastic, with kids and adults working side-by-side, often on a level playing field as they explore and learn together.
“Everyone gets to really work hands-on with the stuff as opposed to just reading about how it works . You get to see how it works.” (Louisa, 6th grade)
Maker Faire is fun!
Of course, the biggest draw is that making is fun. The kids excitedly recount makers from last year that they hope to see again this year – the light-up giraffe, the Lego car and, of course, all the 3D printers!
“There is something for everybody!” (Lucy, 7th grade)
We wrapped up our discussion by brainstorming ways we might allow for more making in our school next year. One idea was that, during our occasional all-school study halls, we might offer students the option to participate in maker activities instead. Although the kids were quick to caution me that “there would not be a lot of people choosing studying, for the record.”
Christine Mytko is the Upper School Science and Technology Teacher at Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley, Calif. She has a particular affinity for fish mummies, 3D printers, improv comedy, stomp rockets, and wikis.