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The Maker Movement and STEAM

Teachers and parents both know how difficult it is for a child to learn if he or she is not engaged and involved in the learning process. But then the question becomes, how do we engage kids and should we turn to non-traditional methods for success? There are many different ways of learning and many students do have positive results from the traditional method of “teacher-lecturing, student-memorizing-and-regurgitating knowledge via testing,” but the sad truth is that most students need more to truly retain knowledge. Good teachers have been striving for… well, forever… to engage their students and keep them engaged. Benjamin Franklin has been quoted as saying, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Enter the Maker Movement.

What exactly is the “Maker Movement?” Before we go any further, let’s define exactly what it consists of. A cultural phenomenon starting about a decade ago, the Maker Movement can be defined as society’s movement towards producing as opposed to simply consuming. Some sociologists claim it is society’s response to capitalism and the anonymous chain stores and the increasing distance between what we consume and what we actually make. This is a manifestation of a culture-wide desire to perhaps return to the days when home life was more hands-on: making one’s own food and other things we use in our everyday life, as opposed to being so far removed from the production of our things that we are 100% dependent on others’ efforts. The Maker Movement emphasizes life once again becoming more hands-on.

A finished model Minecraft village, complete with farm and a renewable energy source.

So, how does this relate to education and, more specifically, STEAM?

  1. More learning, better learning Numerous studies have shown that students who are taught using hands-on teaching methods consistently learn more and test higher than those who are taught using the traditional lecture style. Though testing well is not really the purpose of the movement, testing well will help them get into the colleges of their choice and, after that, their desired career path.

  2. Improved relationships with peers The movement emphasizes and encourages “making” in an informal social environment in order to promote shared learning with peers.  This is especially vital for anxious students who will do their best in an environment that is relaxed and friendly and where they feel they fit in well. The ability to get along with many kinds of people will serve them well in the future when they will have jobs that depend on working with other people and, let’s face it: most of us need to learn to get along with some difficult people as we go through life.

  3. Fun Even more conducive to actual learning “that sticks” for kids and teens is the added bonus of fun: they are making things with peers who soon turn into friends, under the influence of a common goal of making something; whether it is utilizing technology to make a robot or to design a geometric sweater, it is all in the spirit of cooperation. Hopefully, for parents, this may also translate into more cooperation in taking the garbage out and mowing the lawn. One can always hope.

  4. Increased self-confidence When a student makes something with their hands, based on their knowledge and trial and error, and they have a tangible result of it that they can hold in their hands, it kicks their self-confidence up exponentially. They begin to feel that they can do it themselves (whatever it is.) They trust themselves. Even when things turn out in unexpected ways, they don’t see it as failure; instead, they see it as an experiment, a learning experience, one which will help them learn more. Both experts and parents know this: self-confidence is key to having a successful life, both professionally and personally.

The Maker Movement is a return to a hands-on kind of life, like those that many of our ancestors lived. In a society that has been stepping away from making, this is a trend that will have ripples far beyond the learning process and guide young people into independent living. After all, don’t we all want our children to eventually pack up their stuff and move out of our basements and into places of their own?



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