Making Education Work

Making Education Work
Get making into the classroom.
Get making into the classroom.

Making Education Work

It’s a classic scene from “The Breakfast Club.” The teenage brain, Brian, confesses that when he pulled on the trunk on his ceramic elephant lamp, no light went on. His project got an “F,” and he’s failing shop, which is why he tried to off himself with a flare gun, thus landing him in detention on a Saturday. Harassed by the criminal, Brian asks, “I’m a F*&$#N@ idiot because I can’t make a lamp?” “No, you’re a genius because you can’t make a lamp,” replies Bender.

The moral of the story: Book smarts can only get you so far.

In a day and age when high-stakes testing is the norm, but science and math scores in America are embarrassingly low, there are many experts with ideas about how to turn it all around. They say it’s all about STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Pump energy into these four areas of education now, and we can spark a new and prosperous age of innovation for our country’s future. But how do we make science and math better, stronger, faster?

Education Day Bay Area 2013
Education Day Bay Area 2013

Well, imagine shop class and recess had a love child – that’s the maker movement, and many folks are betting that it can fix what’s broken in our schools.

Gone are the days of a class full of students all building the same elephant lamp, cooking the same bundt cake or coding the same if-then loop. Today’s school makerspaces are teaching students to discover and create, not just replicate.

The key to it all is passion. As Mitch Resnick, director of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT and creator of the innovative computer programming language, Scratch, explain, “Kids are going to learn the most when they work on things they are really passionate about, things they care about. Kids have many different interests, so we need to support many different paths.”

(Maybe Brian would have gotten an “A” if he’d picked his own project in shop and made a gorilla clock instead.)

It’s an idea echoed by AnneMarie Thomas in her “Every Child a Maker” address from the 2012 World MakerFaire. As part of the Maker Education Initiative she asks, “How do we get more kids to make?” Well, first we need to understand what making is. Making is personal. Making is playful. Making is social. Making is empowering. Making is as much about the people as the project.

Making is so much more than a step-by-step process. It’s the difference between being led on a march and choreographing your own dance. You’re moving either way, but which would you rather do every day?

President Obama and Joey Hudy at the White House Science Fair.
President Obama and Joey Hudy at the White House Science Fair.

President Obama has said that he wants our students “to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.” For that to happen, we need to break out of the industrial mode we’re used to and support creativity, problem-solving, collaboration, and self-expression – the skills that fuel innovation.

And that’s why the maker movement may usher in the kind renaissance we need to make science and math exciting again.

Delving Deeper

We’ll be exploring this theme further at World Maker Faire in New York next weekend.

Come check out exciting presentations by leading educators and makers:

  • Bigshot: The Digital Camera for Education
  • When Makers Apply to College
  • Making the Case for Making in School
  • Six Amazing Things About Making
Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Andrew Terranova is an electrical engineer, writer and author of How Things Are Made: From Automobiles to Zippers. Andrew is also an electronics and robotics enthusiast and has created and curated robotics exhibits for the Children's Museum of Somerset County, NJ and taught robotics classes for the Kaleidoscope Enrichment in Blairstown, NJ and for a public primary school. Andrew is always looking for ways to engage makers and educators.

View more articles by Andrew Terranova