As Kristin Berbawy packed projects into her car, she lingered over one in particular. Two 3D-printed Makerbots with wire hooks—a pair of earrings. They matched the white braces on her teeth and the white strands in her hair. Her students had made them—as they had all the projects in her car—in their high school makerspace. She was proud of them. She was going to display their work to other teachers.
Smack in the middle of AP exams, a growing group of teachers is pouring time, creativity and energy into activities for which there are no standardized tests: makerspaces. The movement is avowedly grassroots and candidly quirky, and its main gathering is the Maker Educator Convening in Oakland, CA, where Kristin Berbawy was headed with a trunkload of laser cut wood and 3D printed objects.
Berbawy teaches science and engineering at Irvington High School in Fremont, CA, and she had come to display her students’ projects and talk to educators about involving parents in maker education.
“I want them in the discussions, in classrooms, in makerspaces,” she said. “I want them to understand that maker ed is a valuable option. Too many parents are obsessed with elite schools and AP classes. The companies that sponsor my makerspace tell me that just going to a four-year university does not a good worker make.”
To be sure, the Maker movement is still young. Teachers talk about finding one another because schools that have maker labs are still the exception, not the rule. Of the 3.1 million teachers in the US, 200 attended the Maker Ed convening, a large increase from the previous year. Maker Faire estimated that there were 24 school maker faires across the world in 2015.
The nonprofit organization Maker Ed provides maker-oriented professional development for teachers and educators in both formal and informal settings. The organization aims to help educators infuse making into their pedagogy, whether that is a full-blown makerspace or a one-off after school activity. It held its second annual Maker Educator Convening on May 18, the Wednesday before Maker Faire.
Teachers presented to one another on maker-related topics, connected through workshops and small projects, watched “Most Likely to Succeed,” a documentary about High Tech High. They also listened to Ignite Talks and a keynote speech by Nichole Pinkard, an associate professor of computing and digital media at DePaul University, and the founder of the Digital Youth Network.
For Jessica Parker, Education Community Manager with Maker Ed, the purpose of the event was to deepen the impact of maker education across the country. She wanted the Convening to connect teachers who have mastered maker educator with teachers who are just beginning to express their interest.
“The best way to share best practices isn’t for us to hand them to someone else,” she said. “It’s for teachers to get together. This is an open community that wants to share both online and in person.” She hopes bringing together educators from the different varieties of makerspaces—schools, museums, community centers and others—will shed light on the unique challenges of each and allow educators to cross pollinate.
“There is a natural divide because K-12 and informal educators don’t have time to connect,” she said. “Libraries and museums and schools are physically disconnected. But both types of educators can share their stories and their knowledge here, and each type knows a great deal about its learners.”
Kristin Berbawy shared her experience creating Irvington High School’s maker program and makerspace from scratch. Her advice to teachers considering the same boiled down to three key factors.
“Administrative buy-in, copying successful makerspaces and money,” she said. “The first one is straightforward but not easy. The second requires visiting other spaces and broadening your community. The third can take several forms. Earning a Career Technical Education credential opens up a lot of grant opportunities; approaching companies about sponsorships and donations is also a good option.”
Nora Peters, a maker educator at the Millvale Community Library in Pittsburgh, PA, said watching “Most Likely to Succeed” was the most validating point of the Convening. Roberts also gave a presentation on “What the 21st century library will look like,” as she described it.
“On my Post It reflection after ‘Most Likely to Succeed,’ I just drew the ‘praise hands’ emoji,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see education being rethought in a way we all want and that’s already being implemented. As for my presentation, I basically said that libraries will either rebrand or stick with the old model. We’re at a tipping point.”
Nicholas Cole-Farrell, the director of technology at the Brandeis K-8 school in San Francisco, presented after Roberts. He was promoting what he calls “lockpicking for good,” that is, technical proficiency combined with ethics. Brandeis teaches Jewish ethics in its core curriculum, and Cole-Farrell hopes that other schools will teach some sort of moral code that will inform students’ making. Cole-Farrell had come to the Maker Ed Convening to learn about how museums and community centers were introducing making to students and community members.
Educators weren’t the only attendees. Shradda Chaplot, an engineer at Cisco who volunteers with young children at museums, said she learned a great deal about how to engage girls in STEM activities, one of her passion projects. She also found that the event added value to her professional life, too.
“I’m amazed at the engagement of educators,” she said. “I think teachers and corporate employees should swap places every once in a while to encourage creativity. Adults learn to stop thinking creatively, but I still like thinking like a kid.”
A few teachers shared their thoughts about the events on social media at #MakerEdConvening:
— pammoran (@pammoran) May 19, 2016
— barb noren (@BarbMakesThings) May 20, 2016
— Steven Isaacs (@mr_isaacs) May 20, 2016
— pammoran (@pammoran) May 19, 2016
The First School Maker Faire
Maker Faire Bay Area, now in its tenth year, hosted the School Maker Faire on Friday, May 20, the morning before the convention began. Roughly 50 teachers gathered in a large, dark room to discuss the nuances and logistics of hosting Maker Faires at their schools across the country.
Sabrina Merlo, Maker Faire’s Program Director, said the idea for the workshop came less from Maker Faire’s leadership than from teachers themselves.
“We’re just responding to momentum,” she said. “This workshop is important, and people wanted it, so we worked with them to make it happen, just like the original Maker Faire came to be.” She was confident that next year’s flagship Faire would include another School Maker Faire.
Cindy Laurin, a parent who volunteers often with her children’s homeschool charter school in the Santa Cruz mountains, said that she saw the most value in learning about new projects at the workshop. “I’m so excited about using a flashlight to teach math!” she said.
Lisa Kessler, a teacher who manages the Innovation Space at the Viewpoint School in Calabasas, CA, loved the project ideas but enjoyed connecting with like-minded teachers most.
“What we do is a unique job in many places. It definitely is in Calabasas. It’s nice to see other people in similar shoes who we can collaborate and share ideas with. That’s what’s going to benefit our programs and, ultimately, our students.”
She hoped to connect with both teachers and companies during Maker Faire proper. “I’m here to discover tools and products my school might invest in,” Kessler said. There are resources online, but to sit here and have discussions with other teachers about what works and what they’re looking for is incredibly helpful.”
Travis Good, the Producer of Maker Faire San Diego, said he came to the workshop to both give support to teachers and to learn from them.
“I’m here to hear about the realities of teachers’ daily lives. What are they up against?” he said. “My end goal is to send my team—I’ve had 600 volunteers involved in our Maker Faires—to schools in San Diego and say, ‘If you want to do a maker faire, we’re here.’ I want them to know they’re not alone.”
Though he wants to help teachers, Good felt his findings indicate it’s an uphill battle to start Maker Faires in schools.
“I can’t even begin to imagine how much friction there is to embracing new things,” he said. “It’s shocking how much we ask of teachers. To allow making, they have to give more of themselves or not do something else.”