From 3D printers and lasers, to robotics and coding, as well as the more traditional activities like woodwork and art, the philosophy encompasses a wide array of skills and interests.
MakerBox founder Jess Weichler says the maker movement is primarily about creating.
“I think the phrase that best embodies it is ‘creative spirit’. You could be coding or building, or even art. From 3D printing right through to flax weaving and painting, that’s all part of the maker mindset.”
The maker movement provides ‘real-world applications’ to problems.
“You can see the use and the purpose of things. So often I see kids who might struggle with certain skills, and through makerspace it just clicks.”
She says a makerspace can “shine a lens” on other aspects of the school curriculum.
“As a kid I didn’t understand variables in mathematics. But through coding, which my students taught me, I realised I did understand.”
Weichler says through making, students can learn different skills depending on the focus.
“The top three things though would be about inspiring creativity, innovating through invention, and celebrating mistakes.”
Those three skills are vital not only through childhood, but through life, she says.
“Mistakes are stepping stones. Even if my students forget the actual technical skills, as long as they remember that mistakes are not a failure, that’s most important to me.”
From teachers to mentors
CORE Education facilitator Suzi Gould says the movement has turned teachers into mentors and coaches.
“It is a different model from when we were at school. This means there can be concerns from parents and teachers but it provides so many opportunities.”
For both children and adults, it teaches the skills to think outside the square, she says.
“It allows you to see the possibilities, to ask questions. It’s about growing that innovative mindset from an early age.”
Children could develop confidence, independence, collaboration, and negotiating skills through making, she says.
“It’s really about building that solid platform of learning through the key competencies and dispositions.”
Clive School in Hawke’s Bay has made the shift towards a maker movement.
Associate principal Sherryl Scott says makerspaces have allowed children to learn through their own experiences.
“They learn through their own interests in a fun and creative way.”
Teachers have found that children are more independent, adaptive and innovative.
“Their oral language skills are more developed, and they are more settled in their learning. The children are also more open to learning.”
Allaying teachers’ fears
Weichler says for teachers who did not have a background in technology, using makerspaces in a classroom could be scary.
“They can be worried that they’re going to make mistakes. But actually, it’s okay to say you don’t know something and to research and experiment together.”
Any school, or community, could create a place for the maker movement, she says.
“You don’t have to have a lot of money, or use certain equipment, or be a particular age. It is for anyone.”
While schools might get caught up on “big flashy equipment,” makerspaces could be filled with as something as simple as cardboard.
Other simple tools and equipment could include scissors, tape, and screwdrivers.
“My favourite thing is to take apart an old toy. What do we think is in there? Were we right? What can we do now? It is really that simple.”
The school uses the local community to help inspire the maker movement with older students.
One group is building water sensors to sit under a cycleway bridge. If the river is in flood, the sensor will send an alert. Another group is creating rubbish bin sensors that will let contractors know when the bin needs to be emptied. The Ātea a Rangi star compass, in nearby Waitangi Regional Park, is the focus for another group creating a video game app.
Bryant says the maker movement changed the understanding of what learning is.
“For both children and the teachers, it’s about making mistakes.”
He says one aspect that stopped schools from trying makerspaces was the equipment.
“But it really does not need to be expensive. Just collect parts. It’s the children’s imagination that really drives them.”
O’Leary says it could be hard for teachers wanting to start.
“My advice is to give it a go. Be kind to yourself and try again if things don’t work out the way you thought.”
Developing a maker mindset
Even before the first school bell of the day rings, Clive School students are busy learning.
The maker mindset is part of its core philosophy, with students exploring and experimenting using different materials and methods.
The school hosts creative art spaces, a hut building area, and a ngahere area where pretend fires, cars and planes are conjured up.
Planks and ramps provide the learning tools to explore force and motion, while space stations and cities come to life in a block area.
Teacher Rob Bryant says the shift came during an inquiry into supporting boys’ literacy.
“We found that to get children really engaged in writing, it needed to be purposeful and meaningful. The maker mindset encourages that innovative mind.”
Earlier in the morning, teacher Anna O’Leary says, a group of boys were in the hut making area.
“On the fence they had a piece of writing that, to them, was the instructions on how to make their structure safe and stable. That’s exactly what they’d done too. They made a safe and stable structure using their ‘instructions’.”