FETC 2015 Highlight: The Maker Movement Goes to School

Posted by Matt Berringer on March 11, 2015

Capture 2At FETC, Sylvia Martinez—coauthor of Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering the Classroom and advisory board member of Generation YES, a nonprofit that evangelizes student leadership through modern technology—presented A Global Revolution Goes to School: The Maker Movement.

While it’s easy to focus on the technology, Martinez stressed that the emphasis should be on the learning as educators apply the Maker Movement to the classroom. “This is a learning revolution, not just a technology revolution,” she said. “We know that hands-on learning, project-based learning creates deeper, richer, and more long-lasting experiences for students. Seize this moment in history to give kids the mindset, tools, and techniques to make sense and take charge of their world. Help your kids jump into this moment in history and make things happen.”

A Learning Manifesto for the Maker Movement
Martinez offered the following Learning Manifesto as a framework to educators seeking to incorporate the Maker Movement in their classroom:

  • Learning occurs when a new experience makes connections to existing knowledge.
  • Learning cannot be delivered to the learner.
  • The best way to ensure understanding inside your head is through active construction of sharable things outside your head.

“I think this Learning Manifesto is more important than having a good shopping list, having a good plan, having the right space,” she explained. “All of those things will not change what happens in the day-to-day life of your students unless you have this Learning Manifesto that says that we’re going to give kids the agency and the tools to solve problems on their own."

For Martinez, Making becomes powerful when students feel empowered. “[Making] is a kind of stance in which kids can stand up and say, ‘I know I can solve these problems,’” she said. “I don’t think it’s the technology that’s engaging. I think it is kids doing powerful things that is engaging. They are empowered because they feel powerful themselves.”

In order to give agency to students, Martinez said that schools must first give agency to teachers. “I also know that you can’t have empowered students without empowered teachers … teachers who have agency over their classroom and curriculum and can make decisions about bringing in new materials and trying things out,” she emphasized.

Martinez focused much of her talk on three top tools of the Maker Movement, which she called “game changers.” “These are the top recommendations for the things that are going to change the classroom and change the way you teach science and math,” she said. These tools include computer-controlled fabrication, physical computing, and programming.

Computer-Controlled Fabrication
Martinez highlighted both additive and subtractive technologies for computer-controlled fabrication.

Additive technologies create things by layering substances—plastics, metals, etc. —until a product is created. The most common of these technologies is 3D printing. In highlighting this technology, Martinez quoted a seventh grader, who said, “When I first saw the 3D printer and the things we could make, it seemed so complicated. But wait! It’s just shapes!”

“You want kids to get that mindset—that everything can just be broken down, that they can solve it with tools that they know how to use, and that they can be part of a global movement,” she said. “In the Sudan, there are people running around with 3D printers on the back of mopeds, printing out prosthetic arms for kids who have had their hand blown off by landmines. That changes that child’s life. It also changes a village and changes the world. Students can be part of that. This is possible and happening right now.”

In order to create something with a 3D printer, you use STL files, which are like PDFs.

“You can go online to all these libraries and search. You can download these things, and you can open them up in your very own CAD software, which has progressed in the last couple of decades so that it’s not just for rocket scientists anymore. It’s for real people,” she explained. “There are simple and free versions of CAD software that your kids can use and learn easily. Download these STL files. Change them. Scale. Ratio. All the things we want kids to learn in math.”

Subtractive technology is like cutters—students cut material away and what you’re left with is the thing. “Coming soon, right behind 3D printers, are a whole family of different kinds of cutters—laser cutters, plastic cutters, even your old vinyl cutter can now be computer programmed,” said Martinez.

Physical Computing
Martinez listed robotics, microcontrollers, microcomputers, and wearable computing as examples of physical computing.

“Physical computing is when you add interactivity to the real world. So the things you do, all the digital stuff that previously had to just stay on your computer can now travel out into the real world so you can collect and analyze data.” she said, noting that sensors are now becoming less and less expensive and connecting to more and more things.

In addition to inexpensive robotics, Martinez highlighted the Raspberry Pi microcomputer, the Arduino microcontroller, and wearable computing, including Lilypad Arduino and FLORA.

“There also is a whole new class of sensors coming on the market. makeSense has a lot of low-cost sensors. You literally just take the sensor and plug the wires into the board and that board is inserted like a USB into your computer,” she said. “And you can feed that into a Scratch program or a computer graphing program, so you’re having kids work with real data directly from the real world.”

“You know there’s a global call for teaching programming K-12. I think that there are some languages that are really great. Scratch is one of them. Has millions of projects shared on the website. It’s an easy-to-use, block-based programming language,” says Martinez. “And a lot of the robots and makeSense sensors that I showed you are plugging straight into Scratch. I think this connects kids to the real world. It makes their thinking visible in a way that nothing else does.”

In answer to the question “Do you need a computer?” for Maker Movement activities, Martinez said, “I think the computer ups the ante. I think the computer helps you answer the question, ‘Why are we doing this?’” she explained. “If you’re using the computer you get to add design, you get to add measurement, you get to add precision and accuracy, and you get to increase those components as kids get older in age.”

Martinez and her co-author, Gary Stager, offer free resources to educators on inventtolearn.com. The website features a blog on which they share ideas, resources, and tips and tricks. Sign up for their free newsletter by sending an email to friend@inventtolearn.com or on the form on their blog.

Topics: fetc