There is a conviction, among some educators, that schools are too preoccupied with academic subjects. Hardly their fault ,of course, given that what is taught , in the classroom, is driven by the respective prescribed curriculum and assessment regimes. Students are rarely given an opportunity to collaborate, undertake project work or to give practical effect to the knowledge they have learnt in the classroom. Given that collaborative work is what you actually do when you get a real job, this might seem strange to some. This is where the Maker Movement has stepped in to the space. Although US based ,its probably safe enough to predict that some of its ideas will resonate in the UK education establishment.. So, what is the Maker Movement?
“Maker classrooms are active classrooms. In active classrooms one will find engaged students, often working on multiple projects simultaneously, and teachers unafraid of relinquishing their authoritarian role. The best way to activate your classroom is for your classroom to make something.”
“The best way to activate your classroom is for your students to make something. This might an amazing high-tech invention or it might take the form of costumes for a historical re-enactment, homemade math manipulatives, a new curtain for the local auditorium, toys, a pet habitat, a messy science experiment, or a zillion other things.”
Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager expand on this approach in their book ‘Invent to Learn‘. Some regard their book as the Maker Movement’s bible. They are keen to show that children learn best when they collaborate, and engage in practical work, in class. It is seen as very different to the traditional ,much more academic approach to learning evidenced in most schools. Vocational or pratical education is often seen as the poor cousin of academic education (though opinion may be shifting on this score). This is about learning by doing.
‘The Maker Movement, they claim, is a technological and creative learning revolution underway around the globe, which has ‘exciting and vast implications for the world of education.’ ‘New tools and technology, such as 3D printing, robotics, microprocessors, wearable computing, e-textiles, “smart” materials, and programming languages are being invented at an unprecedented pace.; The Maker Movement creates affordable or even free versions of these inventions, while sharing tools and ideas online ‘to create a vibrant, collaborative community of global problem-solvers.’
There are three big game-changers of the Maker Movement they say that should be on every school’s radar:
Computer-Controlled Fabrication Devices
Over the past few years, devices that fabricate three-dimensional objects have become an affordable reality. These 3D printers can take a design file and output a physical object. Plastic filament is melted and deposited in intricate patterns that build layer by layer, much like a 2D printer prints lines of dots that line by line create a printed page. With 3D design and printing, students can design and create their own objects.
New open-source microcontrollers, sensors, and interfaces connect the physical and digital worlds in ways never before possible. Many schools are familiar with robotics, one aspect of physical computing, but a whole new world is opening up. Wearable computing—in which circuits are made with conductive thread—makes textiles smart, flexible, and mobile. Plug-and-play devices that connect small microprocessors to the Internet, to each other, or to any number of sensors mean that low-cost, easy-to-make computational devices can test, monitor, and control your world.
From the Next Generation Science Standards to the White House, there is a new call for schools to teach computer programming. Programming is the key to controlling a new world of computational devices and the range of programming languages has never been greater. Today’s modern languages are designed for every purpose and learners of all ages.