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Top ed-tech stories to watch: Maker movement makes waves

No. 5 on our list of key ed-tech trends for the new school year is the proliferation of maker spaces in schools

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Rapid advances in technology, such as 3D printers, have allowed students to create much more complex projects. (Stefano Tinti / Shutterstock.com)

[Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories examining five key ed-tech developments to watch for the 2014-15 school year. Our countdown continues tomorrow with No. 4.]

During a special summer camp last month, the Economic Development Center at West Virginia State University was buzzing with activity.

High school students Drew Jett and Christian Rohr were sitting in front of a computer, designing a silencer for paintball guns. Fellow student Sully Steele sat nearby, working on a prototype for an arm brace that holds a smart phone on the user’s sleeve until it’s needed—flip your wrist, and the phone slides into your hand. Not just intended as a cool, spy-type gadget, the device was meant to protect users’ pelvic regions from the electromagnetic radiation emitted by their phones.

All three students were using the free, three-dimensional modeling software Sketchup Make to design their creations, and they planned on using a 3D printer to bring their creations to life.

Paintball guns are “quite loud and obnoxious,” Jett said. “So we’re going to try and make [them] a lot more silent. There are no silencers currently for paintball.”

The students’ ideas were just the kind of innovative thinking the DigiSo Maker Camp’s organizers were hoping to foster.

“We touch on a little bit of design thinking, entrepreneurship, problem solving,” said instructor Venu Menon. “And then we … give students a lot of leeway to be able to use [technology] to create a project.”

The DigiSo Maker Camp is an example of how the “maker movement” is catching on quickly in education. As the new school year approaches, “maker spaces” are cropping up in countless schools and libraries nationwide.

Having students complete hands-on projects isn’t new. For years, many educators have championed a constructivist, learning-by-doing approach in schools.

But now, a number of factors have converged to push this concept into the education mainstream.

(Next page: Why the maker movement has grown in popularity—and how it helps meet a critical need)

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