How is the Maker Ethos relevant to pedagogy?

Populations, communities, and practices typically share an “ethos” which characterizes their guiding beliefs around activities of interest. In Maker communities the ethos is grounded in attitudes, skills, knowledge, commitment, and competencies that allow people with similar interests to “hackadaptdesign, [and] create” (Bullock, 2014) artifacts (stay tuned to read more about “What we mean by artifacts”).  Maker communities involve collaboration amongst members within the do-it-yourself culture and are driven by affinity-to and curiosity-towards the activity at hand.  The spaces that Makers create are often micro-communities with self-guiding standards, such as being creative,  sharing knowledge and skills, problem-solving, togetherness, mentoring others, and making excellent mistakes while feeling safe to do so. These Maker Spaces can been seen in coordinated ventures such as Tech Shops, in labs, or can pop-up in someone’s garage. Making can happen anywhere, but the really interesting part is watching it unfold. What can we learn from the Maker Ethos that might be relevant to pedagogy?

Having the privilege of witnessing Maker Spaces, a couple of guiding beliefs appear to be at the core of the Maker Ethos. These drivers seem to be sharing, learning, exchanging, and gusto! Maker community interactions are a powerful thing and what’s evident in this ethos which I feel makes it distinct from, for example a collaborative group or team, is the inherent tendency to focus on the process of Making. This focal point of process in my opinion circumvents the innate drive towards a focus solely on finished projects and outcomes, which often seem to drive most team-based work. In Maker Spaces, competition appears to be deflected and the Maker Ethos shines through.  Then the innovation can happen.

The Maker Ethos opens some new doors for pedagogy. The guiding beliefs can play out in profound way such as:

  • Allowing learners to gather around a task/ challenge/ problem of interests to create gusto. This is associated with motivation and happiness towards the completion of projects/ outcomes.
  • Fostering  commitment to the solving of difficult problems by leveraging the Maker Community as a resource for the exchange of knowledge and skills.
  • Focusing on the creative and inspiring aspects of the learning and sharing process throughout the completion of projects/ outcomes to advance collective knowledge.

Educators can create opportunities in the classroom for students to learn by doing through working on authentic projects that are personally meaningful and globally valuable. The creation and design that learners bring to real problem can foster innovation in a relevant and momentous manner.


What is maker pedagogy? Some early thoughts…

So what do we mean by “Maker Pedagogy”? Well, in part that is just what our research project intends to explore. Recent popular interest in the Maker movement is largely the result of affordable yet powerful technologies such as small, modular electronics, the open-source software movement, 3D printers, and a host of online, collaboratively created instructions for fixing and re-purposing common technologies. There is little academic literature on the topic, particularly with respect to role that Maker sensibilities might play in teacher education. My starting definition for maker pedagogy is:

Maker Pedagogy is an approach that utilizes the principles of ethical hacking (i.e., deconstructing existing technology for the purpose of creating knowledge), adapting (i.e., the freedom to use a technology for new purposes), designing (i.e., selecting components and ideas to solve problems), and creating (i.e., archiving contextual knowledge obtained through engaging in the process of making, as well as the actual tangible products) as part of an overall way of working with those interested in learning about science and technology. (Bullock, 2014)

This research project hopes to bring these principles of Maker thinking to the foreground in science teacher education, both in a pre-service program and in the early years of a career. I believe Maker principles need to be introduced more explicitly in K-12 science education and that science teacher education is a promising venue for beginning this work. Typically, school is focused on acquiring propositional knowledge, mastering skills, and sometimes developing particular habits of mind. Except for the comparatively few visual arts and broad-based technology courses that continue to survive despite repeated budget cuts, schools are typically not places where children make things. This situation is particularly strange in the secondary science classroom, given that many students enroll in science courses with the ostensible goal of enrolling in engineering programs in university. It is possible, indeed likely, that many first-year engineering and science students have never had a formal opportunity to “make” something.

In this research project, I hope to provide participants with the opportunity to construct and extend professional knowledge about teaching science by building technological artifacts in a Maker Space created in their teacher education program. Among other things, I hope that participants learn more about fields such as robotics, engineering, applied physics, and computer programming and consider the ways in which these fields might play a role in their pedagogy. Our Maker Space will be an ad hoc place where participants come together, at pre-arranged times, in a classroom to work through technological projects designed to introduce them to the Maker ethos. Our team will focus on how new science teachers construct knowledge from experiences in a Maker Space. My hope is that this space, introduced in the relatively safe context of a teacher education program, will provide a touchstone for pedagogy and professional development in the often-tumultuous early experiences of teaching.