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Making in education: let’s call it Maker Literacy

Making in education: let’s call it Maker Literacy
I’ve heard of many projects where FabLabs, Makerspaces, Hackerspaces and 3D-print companies do workshops with kids, from making their own personalized objects to building their own 3D-printer.

Today I came across this article on Edutopia, in which Sylvia Martinez explains how the Maker Movement supports learning theories that have learning by doing at the core. At the beginning of her article she says something very interesting:

“I also think that “making” shouldn’t be just making anything. Schools have a tendency to cherry-pick the easiest parts of implementing complex ideas. When we talk about making in the classroom, we have to continually raise the bar and challenge ourselves to create an academically worthy process. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is to add computational technology to the making.

A computer with appropriate software means that opportunities for design, simulation, precision, accuracy, measurement, feedback, sensors, data, and programming are not just possible, but greatly enhanced. Interaction between the digital and physical world adds a level of complexity that results in greater understanding of both.”

I especially like that last sentence. You can easily stitch a model together in Tinkercad, using basic building blocks, but making that into a physical object may result in something unprintable on your machine. You can be told that it will not print, but nothing beats the experience of seeing it go wrong for yourself.

To see how the Maker Movement already enters schools, Edutopia published this wonderful story, how a boy brought making into his own school:

This story reminds me very much of the stories my generation tell about the introduction of the personal computer in their schools (and homes for some of them). I was lucky to have a father who bought an Atari 800 XL when I was about 6. Even though I was too young at that time, a few years later I did learn to type in some lines in Basic, so at that time I learned how programming worked.

I remember we were very patient computer users back then. Waiting for half an hour to load a game from a tape-deck was normal. And don’t get me started about the amount of failed attempts of loading in the last few seconds. Today, we are patiently waiting hours for our 3D-printer to finish printing. And don’t get me started about the number of restarts, because the first few layers didn’t stick to the print-bed.

Bringing the low-cost digital machines and electronics to schools is key to have more kids exposed to how stuff works and gets created in the real world. Now that we can afford to bring this set of tools into schools, we should. Just as we needed to learn about computers and the internet, we now need to learn about making. It’s time to introduce, what I would call, Maker Literacy in schools.

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Your thing tells a story.

Your thing tells a story.
talkingthingAre you a maker? Have you ever in your life created an object, a thing, that solved a problem for you, or was just a nice thing to have? And if you have, did you, while constructing it, give a thought about what the end product would look like? If you’re in the hacking/maker scene, there is a high chance you didn’t. You probably created a square box to put your electronics in, or used left-over materials from your previous project. Basically, this is how all first prototypes are being made. They are meant to function first. Design is not important in this phase. And if you’re really a maker, you don’t really care about form, if you’re really honest. You can admit it, this is no crime.

As long as your thing stays at your desk or is only shared between your friends at the maker space, function being more important than form is just fine. Yet, there comes a time you’re tempted to share your thing with a much wider audience, including the ones who dó care about looks, because deep at heart you dream about making money with making things. Secretly, you’re hoping your thing goes viral, the blueprint gets bought by a company for an insane amount of money or you get enough requests for a copy you can actually start your own business building them.

But the chance of your typical maker space thing going viral is very small.

You may not realize this, but the interest in self-creation is on the rise. Think of all the maker spaces, FabLabs and hacker spaces that opened up in the past decade. It’s not the typical young pale male joining these labs, it’s also the female jewelry designers, the industrial designers looking for a space to create rapid, cheap prototypes and the occasional hedge fund broker who is desperate to work with his hands in his spare time. And think about all the people who bought a 3D printer. Many of them are not good at creating designs themselves, so they browse online to find things to download and print. These are the kind of people that care about looks and feel of an object.

So if you haven’t thought about your potential reach for the things you share online, this is the time to do exactly that. Your design tells a story, and you should think about the story you want your thing to tell before uploading your files for others to download. Take the time to add proper descriptions and tags to your object, because that is how people will find your thing. Tell about the reasons for making the thing, what problem it solves, how you created it. Perhaps you’re even hoping for others to build upon your thing. Then tell them what you think is missing, or could be added and improved.

The digital machines for making things become more and more affordable. My guess is it will not take that long for many households owning them. Therefore, if you start paying attention to your designs right now, you know you have your story ready to tell once the machines become mainstream.

*This post was inspired by the workshop Ronen Kadushin gave at ThingsCon 2014 on Story-telling based Design Process.

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