How the maker movement inspires every student to love learning

No matter the subject, making and collaborating engages students in inspiring ways


You know the maker movement has hit the big leagues when even the President is talking about it.

Earlier this year, for the National Week of Making, President Obama issued a call to action to educators, designers, and makers of all stripes. “During National Week of Making, we celebrate the tinkerers and dreamers whose talent and drive have brought new ideas to life, and we recommit to cultivating the next generation of problem solvers,” he said. “As the maker movement grows, I continue to call on all Americans to help unlock the potential of our Nation and ensure these opportunities reach all our young people, regardless of who they are or where they come from.”

It’s a great vision but what does it actually mean for the teachers in the classroom?

I was about to learn firsthand.

A few years ago, my husband left a career in finance and went back to school to obtain his teaching credential. He landed a job teaching eighth-grade U.S. History to the amazing kids at Helms Middle School in San Pablo, CA. It seemed he had found his calling.

I’m not an educator per se, but little did I know that I would soon be in the classroom too.

My husband knows that I work for a software company that does stuff with 3D printing and that we get free tickets to Maker Faire, but that’s usually the extent of his interest in my profession. So I was shocked when he asked me to be a guest speaker in his class that first year.

While planning my first lesson for his students I asked myself, “What should I do?” How do I integrate design, modeling and 3D printing into an eighth grade U.S. history lesson? Where do the maker movement and history intersect?

I had planned to show the kids how to draw relevant historical monuments using software and then create 3D models, followed by an overview of 3D printing. But in true maker fashion, the students had ideas of their own. After nodding politely to their teacher’s wife, they got to work.

They started talking to each other, helping each other, laughing with each other. I stood back next to my husband and tried to lend a hand where I could, but it was hardly necessary. The kids were doing it themselves. At the end of the class, I asked the students how they felt about what they’d just learned.

They raised their hands and shouted out answers and sought me out to ask more questions. When the bell rang, they thanked me for my time. When the last student had left the classroom, my husband turned to me and said, “You know what was interesting about today? The kids that were the most engaged are the ones I can never connect with. They never raise a hand. They never care,” he shared. “Today they cared. Today they asked questions. Today they were engaged.”

That day with my husband’s students showed me firsthand the impact of the maker movement migrating into schools; it’s waking up classrooms, kids, and teachers. It’s fun, simple and—most of all— engaging. And it just might help educators connect with hard-to-reach students.

It can really be applied in a variety of ways across disciplines. In response to the President’s call to action during the National Week of Making, a new learning platform for teachers, called Project Ignite, was launched to bring the latest technology like 3D Design, 3D printing, and electronics into their classrooms.

“Project Ignite has been a wonderful addition to the classroom and I love what it does for my students’ excitement, engagement and overall interest with design and 3D printing technology,” Kim Coyle, an educator at Middle School of Plainville in Plainville, CT, told me. “Our goal is to inspire and prepare the students to be the next generation of innovators, so we’re expanding Project Ignite into other grade levels and looking into creating a makerspace next year to provide an environment that nurtures the students’ curiosity and creativity.”

Maker-based learning is starting to take hold. And luckily we are already seeing the results in the classroom.

Sarah O’Rourke is a product marketing manager focused on youth, education, and 3D printing at Autodesk.

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