Six Lessons on Thinking Like a Maker

Six Lessons on Thinking Like a Maker
Justin working on his sub. Photo: Ken Beckerman
18 year old Justin Beckerman working on his latest submarine.
Photo: Ken Beckerman

Justin Beckerman has an inquisitive mind that has led him to explore technology and art since he was a boy. Now entering his senior year of high school, he has an impressive portfolio of projects of things that drive, fly or float. What lessons can we learn from such a talented and prolific young maker?

1) Learn by Doing

Experience is the best teacher. Justin learns by doing; he’s not afraid to break something. “Whether you do something the right way or the wrong way, you learn something,” he says. That mindset is often central the the maker mentality.

2) Think Things Through

Justin taught himself to think through a solution from start to finish, considering how all the systems will fit together. Most projects begin by thinking about how cool something would be. He pictures using the completed project and then considers, “How would I make this?”, “How would I improve upon that?”

3) Revise and Refine

One of Justin’s most impressive builds, a one-man submarine, has received recent attention in the news. This wasn’t his first submarine, though. He was building subs as early as 2007. More boats, underwater ROVs and submarines followed. You can see the evolution of Justin’s ideas in his work.

4) Understand what Works for You

Justin’s highly imaginative mind can jump from idea to idea. What’s exciting one day may seem boring on another. Justin has learned to manage his time effectively. If he’s feeling bored, he takes a break on one project and comes back to it later. Check out some of Justin’s projects over the years.

5) Find a Supportive, Safe Environment

Justin’s parents nurtured his creative tendencies and guided him enough to keep him safe. They would allow him to follow his curiosity, but knew enough to question him when needed. An experiment involving water and electricity prompted Justin’s mom Jess to have him call his father Ken. “Are you sure that’s safe?” he’d ask. Justin’s grandfather, a former pilot, helped spark Justin’s interest in avionics. A family that can balance the freedom to explore with safety is a wonderful thing. Justin says, “It’s not just what kids can do, it’s what parents can do. Parents have to be supportive.”

Justin with his grandfather Photo: Ken Beckerman
Justin with his grandfather.
Photo: Ken Beckerman

6) Find a Balance

Balancing school, his inventions and life is something Justin has gotten used to. He enjoys being around the water, and rows on a crew team. He’s a serious student, but even during school, his projects don’t slow down much. Major projects may get spread out over a longer time.

Class is dismissed. Go out and make something cool.

For inspiration, check out more pictures of Justin’s latest submarine before you go.

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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.

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