Over the past decade, the maker movement has gained traction as a way for STEM learning to reach new participants across the globe.

The maker movement is a convergence of designers, builders, and tinkerers who combine creativity with skill to produce functional, “home-brew” technology and crafts. It’s part of a collective push in a direction away from technology that is mass-produced in a factory far from home. Rather than just buying and using products, makers want to understand how they work.

The maker movement can be broken down into two main elements: community spirit and a unified goal of fostering cross-disciplinary inventiveness. Innovations in 3D printing and more affordable computer components (such as Arduino kits and Raspberry Pi motherboards) have been a driving force behind the steady expansion of the maker movement in recent years. While people have been “making” since the birth of civilization, the current movement sets itself apart by utilizing new, digital tools to bring together creators from diverse backgrounds.

The maker movement is one of many ways to connect students with STEAM (science, technology, the arts, and math). In addition to fostering more technical ways of thinking, design and entrepreneurship skills are also an important focus. A typical project might include anything from rudimentary mechanics and electrical engineering to knitting or photography. Students could build a basic line-following robot from open source parts or design a sweater that also glows in the dark with LED lights. Encouraging students to build something they’re truly interested in is one way to facilitate experiential learning. By putting the individual parts together, students may also come to a more detailed understanding of how they work.

One of the fastest ways to get involved with the maker movement is by attending a Maker Faire or forming a Makerspace. Make magazine has been a hub for the maker movement since its launch in 2005. They regularly sponsor Maker Faires across the country. Maker Faires are meant to provide a place for inventors and makers across the globe to come together for inspiration and collaboration. Students who attend are able to engage in workshops and gather new ideas.

Maker Movement

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

“Makerspaces” are communal centers where makers can come together to try new projects and use shared tools and workshop space. Makerspaces offer opportunities for social interaction and productive teamwork as well. Many towns and cities have designated Makerspaces in public libraries. There are also a number of ways to raise funds for a new Makerspace – you could hold a “Make Sale” or consider applying for one of these Makerspace grants. If building or visiting a full-sized workshop space isn’t feasible, a Makerspace workbench might offer an easier alternative. A workbench can be as simple as a single table set aside in a classroom for making and inventing.

Want to bring the maker movement into your classroom? Read more about STEAM learning here.