Greg Pilewski | September 2014

STEAM Leadership: The Maker Movement

I like to tinker and make things with my hands. 

My grandfather had a seventh grade education and worked in a steel mill as a crane operator and was skilled at working with this hands.  Upon returning from World War II, he worked as the head of maintenance for a local knife factory, owned and operated two small successful businesses, and built houses on the side….for fun.

I remember his workshop space at this house was like a museum with different types of tools and machines, trade books and blueprints….there was always something around for tinkering.  I used to spend hours with him in his workshop, listening, learning, playing, and making things with him that I thought were fun.  To me my grandfather was my “American Idol” because not only was he smart, a kind and gentle family man, but he could fix or build anything and enjoyed sharing his knowledge and skills with me.

My grandfather had a major impact on my life for many reasons, but one that sticks out the most was his love for creating, tinkering, building, innovating, and sharing.  For example, one of the items on my “bucket list” was to purchase an older home and renovate it from top to bottom.  Lucky for me, my wife had a similar interest so it would make the journey that much more exciting.

In 2004, we purchased a three-story farmhouse that was originally built in 1901. It had great structural bones and lots of character. It took three months that summer for my wife and I to “gut” the entire house just before the next school year was getting ready to start.  Needless to say, it took us eight years to put the entire house back together working nearly every weekend and holiday while doing most of the work ourselves.  Thank God my wife had the patients of a saint during each phase of the renovation as most spouses probably would have said “I’m out of here”.

I recall during the construction that it seemed like the entire house was like a living workshop with tools and materials everywhere.  However, I was able to create a space in my basement for my very own workshop….just like my grandfather. This was a dream come true!  My very own space to create and make things with hand tools, materials, resources, work benches, a laptop, and a rolling table for specialized projects. I even have some of my grandfathers hand-me-down tools in my workshop and a “honey-do” list posted on the wall that will still probably take me my entire life to complete.  Stop laughing.

The point is every child should have a workshop space experience, access to cool tools they normally would not have access and a coach to encourage them to tinker, create, and make. I loved working on our house and still do.  I learned so much about my house, my relationship with my wife, myself, and met some great people that I may not have otherwise met.  Most of all, the experience caused me to reflect on all of the great memories I had with my grandfather in his workshop….tinkering and making things with our hands.

What could education look like if more children were exposed to new ways of teaching and learning about “making”? 

The Maker Movement

Recently, I was exposed to a growing trend that is generating tremendous momentum called the “Maker Movement”. It’s fascinating!  This movement has been fueled over the last several years by the development of new technologies like 3D printing, new opportunities being generated by faster fabrication tools and prototyping, the online distribution of physical products, and new opportunities for continuous dialogue and collaboration through online networks and communities. A perfect storm of sorts.  The movement grew out of an interest of like minded enthusiasts that enjoyed connecting with others who enjoyed learning about technology, tinkering, and making projects.   Check out some of these exciting resources that I would highly recommend if you are interested in learn more about this trending topic.

The Maker Education Initiative

Out of the Maker Movement grew “The Maker Education Initiative”.  This organization started in 2012 in response to President’s Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign to boost math and science achievement.  At the core of this initiative is the philosophy that “every child is a maker” and their core belief in creating more opportunities for children to develop confidence in creating and making through STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) integration.  Yes!

According to one of the founders of the Maker Movement and the Maker Education Initiative , Dale Dougherty in his article The Maker Mindset he states that “The biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity for the Maker Movement is to transform education”.  He argues that although technology has provided students with more control over their lives they often have to look outside of the school day to demonstrate their real learning and opportunities to express themselves.  Dougherty goes on to spell out in his article some key ideas below for school-based and district-level leaders for bringing the Maker Movement to education.

  • to create a context that develops the maker mindset, a growth mindset that encourages students to believe they can learn to do anything
  • to build a new body of practice in teaching making and develop a corps of practitioners
  • to design and develop makerspaces in a variety of community contexts that serve a diverse group of learners who do not all share the same resources
  • to identify, develop, and share a broad framework of projects and kits, based on a wide range of tolls and materials, that connect to students interest in and out of school
  • to design and host online social platforms for collaboration among students, teachers, and the community
  • to develop programs especially for young people that allow them to take a leading role in creating more makers in schools, afterschool programs, summer camps, and other community settings
  • to create a community context for the exhibition and curating of student work in relationship with all makers and making, such that new opportunities are created for more people to participate
  • to allow individuals and groups to build a record of participation in the maker community, which can be useful for academic and career advancement as well as support the student’s growing sense of personal development 
  • to develop educational context that link the practice of making to formal concepts and theory, to support discovery and exploration while introducing new tools for advanced design and new ways of thinking about making
  • to develop in all students the full capacity, creativity, and confidence to become agents of change in their personal lives and in their community

The Maker Movement and the Maker Education Initiative are exciting topics to further explore and reflection upon its impact on teaching and learning.  Check out the following resources if you are interested in learning more.

Are you implementing components of the Maker Movement in your classroom, school, or district? 

What success or challenges are you experiencing with implementation? 

What could  a “Maker Innovation” themed school look like?

About the Author

Greg is a former Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and has nearly twenty years of classroom, school-based and district-level leadership experience in five different public school systems. He has a passion for teaching and learning and a commitment to supporting school-level and system-level leaders with integrated and innovative resources. Not only is Greg an accomplished leader and speaker, he’s also an avid tinkerer in his workshop where he enjoys making projects around his historic home for his lovely wife and two Labrador retrievers. You can catch Greg’s insights right here each and every Thursday and contact him directly at: [email protected]