In one sense, the answer to the question, "What is maker education?" is straightforward: It is the integration of the maker movement into an educational setting.
This of course necessitates the question: What is the maker movement?
The movement is best defined by its goal, which is to empower people to "make." Makers create, tinker with old technology, and invent new things. It's do-it-yourself at its best. Maker teachers inspire their students to dream up their own inventions, experiment, fail and experiment again until they've made something personally meaningful. Maker education is a combination of hands-on learning and project-based learning.
"[Making] is taking ownership of your surroundings and being aware of the design of everything around you. It's making it your own, changing it, and modifying it either to make it better or to make something more personalized," said Patrick Benfield, STEAM and makerspace director at St. Gabriel's Catholic School in Austin, Texas. "Fundamentally, it's about having the power to create and define the world on your terms and having the technology and the mindset to do that."
If this reminds you of the kinds of lessons in creativity and innovative thinking that you try to impart to your students, then you're already part of the maker movement.
The maker movement is the convergence of designers, inventors and tinkerers of all stripes.
Making incorporates aspects of earlier movements going back as far as the 1960s, taking countercultural and anti-authoritarian inspirations from groups like the Whole Earth Catalogue , the Electronic Railroad Club at MIT, and the Homebrew Computer Club in the Bay Area.
Making employs many of the same skills and techniques that were taught in traditional shop and home economics classes.
"Making is preparing kids for the good jobs they're going to need when they graduate," said Paul Singh, a fifth-grade teacher at Kensico School in Valhalla, New York. "It's trying to create that spark, that interest that kids will gravitate towards as early as third or fourth grade."
Maker education often incorporates new and cutting-edge technology, but it still includes traditional methods and means that encourage making. Students invent toys and bring them to life with computer-aided design (CAD) programs and 3-D printers. They build with construction paper and tape, and let their imaginations roam free with Lego Mindstorms. The maker movement embraces the flattening of technology.
But making does not require a makerspace — making can, and does, happen in traditional classrooms, often with the help of strategies like having maker carts in your room. Overall, the space should give students room to grow and learn in a new way. According to Simon Mangiaracina, a dedicated STEM teacher at the Ann Richards School in Austin, Texas, "Maker education is empowerment through creating and problem-solving — taking an interest in how things work, discovering that for yourself, and not relying on things that are mass produced."