User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

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Educator Actions to Last a Lifetime

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I currently teach graduate level educational technology courses. I like to acknowledge exemplary work by tweeting out the best of the best to my 21,000+ followers.  A past student of mine was asked by one of her current teachers to describe a major positive learning experience in her education and she replied it was my course due to:

A major moment in this course was some validation of my work that I was not used to. A few of my assignments were used as examples, and some were even tweeted out, and retweeted! The fact that a professional in this field (the professor) and others thought my project had real value and took the time to share it thrilled me. That has been one of the best moments in my education, because for the first time I felt my work extended beyond the gradebook. I also felt like my work gave me some validation and confidence that I just might be able to put some things on a resume that might land me a sought after position someday.

. . . and then there was Payton, a gifted 5th graders who spent one day a week with me when I taught in a gifted program. Payton was a quiet and somewhat shy kid. He didn’t make trouble in his regular ed class the other four days per week but he also didn’t excel.  I had a number of robotics kits in the classroom that the kids could select from during our last hour of the day for choice time. Payton, after some weeks of experimenting, ended up creating a solar powered Ferris wheel. His subtle non-verbals indicated to me the pride in his work.  I suggested that he take it outside while the other students were walking to the lunch cafeteria. As they went by, he would demonstrate his creation to them. I hope that this is a memory he takes with him . . . forever.

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. . . and then there was Jose, a tough 6th grader who I had in a gang prevention group. I was doing a difficult group problem-solving task called Island Hop.  He figured out this task that even adults have had difficulty solving. Upon doing so, he looked up at me. I gave him a big head nod and thumbs up. To this day, I remember the look of pride in his face. I had a hunch this kid didn’t get a lot of positive feedback for pro-social behaviors, so I hope this moment stayed with him.

I am using these as examples to show the variety of ways to acknowledge exemplary actions and work of learners.  Isn’t this a big part of our responsibilities as an educator to acknowledge learner work that has gone past the normal expectations? I once heard an expression that our actions, even the smallest ones, can change the life and the world of another forever.

I am definitely an advocate of intrinsic motivation – providing students with choices and options so they naturally want to engage in the learning tasks, get joy out of the learning process itself. But I do believe that learners should be acknowledged for exemplary work – providing them with feedback and opportunities to shine for a job well done – noting that it is exemplary for them.  This matches real life where good works are or should be given credit. On the other hand, I don’t go into any learning activity offering learners any type of extrinsic rewards nor with the intention of finding the best work and using it as an example what other learners should be doing. I believe learners are on their learning journeys and should be acknowledged for actions and work that moved them beyond what they perceived possible for themselves.

Some ways to acknowledge and highlight exemplary learner work include:

  • Intentionally look for those big moments in learners’ lives.
  • Tweet or Blog about exemplary learner work.
  • Write learners personal notes about why you admire their work.
  • Ask learners to show others what they’ve done.
  • Ask learners to present at a virtual or face-to-face conference.
  • Don’t hold exemplary work up as an example of what you expect from other learners.
  • Remember that each learner is on his/her own journey.


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 27, 2015 at 2:15 pm

Student Voice Comes With Teachers as Listeners

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This piece was actually sparked by an interview of Lady Gaga by Soledad O’ Brien at the Born This Way Emotion Revolution Summit where Gaga stated, “It’s time to stop telling learners what to do and start listening for we can do for them.”

One of those accepted practices, sadly, in most educational settings is that the teacher is the authority to be respected and listened to without question. Listening to students is not a practice that is often taught in teacher education programs.

There is a current movement, in some circles, to promote and honor student voice.  But, and this is a huge but, if educators are serious about honoring student voice, they need to first learn how to listen, really listen to their students.

Students who are given a voice in setting goals gain ownership in what they’re learning. Teachers who listen to what students tell them they need to learn gain more than just a better understanding of the children they teach — they gain clarity on their roadmap to better teaching. And when conversations about teaching and learning are allowed to happen, teachers and students develop mutual trust and high expectations. (Want to Improve Teaching? Listen to Students)

Sadly, upon doing a Google search about why’s and how’s on educators listening to students, I found very little on the topic. It really gives the message – reinforces that teachers listening to students is not seen as part of best classroom practices. So my goal of this post is to offer some suggestions on how to listen to learners.

Listening Skills for Educators

  • Attend to the speaking learner with an open mind; without any agenda except to just listen.
  • Use body language and nonverbal cues that demonstrate a focus on the speaking learner.
  • Practice empathy skills with both verbal and nonverbal responses.
  • Engage in informal conversations encouraging learners to talk about non-school related topics.
  • Summarize what you heard the learner saying.
  • Reflect back to the learner what you believe to be the thoughts and feelings behind the stated message.
  • Ask open-ended questions if and when you don’t understand what the learner is saying and/or if you need further information.
  • Inquire about how learners connect to their learning; about their metacognitive strategies.


Benefits of Listening to Learners

The benefits of encouraging and listening to student voices, and then acting upon what they say include:

  • Positive classroom culture which can lead to a positive school culture,
  • Improved teaching and learning,
  • Better teacher-student relationships,
  • Learners see themselves as active partners in their own education; they become more invested in their learning,
  • Learners feeling that they are in a safe environment where they are willing and able to express concerns, ask questions, ask for help, take risks.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 20, 2015 at 12:30 am

LED Throwies Meet the Magnetic Board

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I have been offered an opportunity to teach maker education again at a local summer enrichment program during summer, 2016. Last summer was my first time around so I experimented with lots of different maker education activities to see what worked and didn’t work with the 5 to 10 year old kids. I now have this foundation and can build upon this foundation. I love creating new learning activities and will be thinking of new ways to use the materials so my returning students will have new activities. I plan to blog about those activities as I formulate them so (1) I don’t forget about them, (2) others will have access to them, and (3) folks will realize that maker education can be implemented with accessible, fairly cheap materials; that a makerspace is not required to do maker education.

LED Throwies Meet the Magnetic Board


  • LEDs (see
  • Coin Batteries (I get mine in bulk from ebay)
  • Magnets (I also get these in bulk from ebay)
  • Electric tape
  • Individual Magnetic white boards
  • Dry erase markers


  • Each learner is given the task to make 4-6 LED throwies (with the intent that they aren’t going to be thrown.


  • Directions from Make Magazine:
    • Pinch the LED’s leads to the sides of the battery, with the longer lead (the anode) touching the battery’s positive (+) terminal, and the shorter lead (cathods) touching negative (–). It should light up.
    • Cut a 7″ length of strapping tape or electrical tape, and wrap the leads tightly to the battery so the LED does not flicker. Wrap once around both sides of the battery.
    • The battery’s positive contact surface extends around the edges of the battery, so don’t let the short lead (cathode) touch it or you’ll short the circuit.
  • More about LED throwies can be found at


  • Each learner is then given a magnetic dry erase board and the task to create a design using both their LED throwies and dry erase makers (like the opening photograph).
  • Since it is a dry erase board, learners can be encouraged to create multiple iterations of their LED-based art pieces. Photos can be taken so the learners feel comfortable with erasing and creating new art works.
  • Learners can work with partners and switch around their LED throwies creating new and unique designs.
  • Group Version:
    • Small groups form a design on a larger classroom whiteboard. They all put their LED throwies on the larger magnetic, dry erase board. They all then use the dry erase markers to create a group mural.


This is a whole group example prior to me realizing they could have decorated their LED group creation with the dry erase makers.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 17, 2015 at 12:06 am

The Future Belongs to the Curious: How Are We Bringing Curiosity Into School?

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What is curiosity? The word is associated with the irregular form of the Latin verb cura, which can mean worry or care about or cure. The word closest in meaning is inquisitive, which also has a Latin root: quaere, to search into, to seek. (How Can Teachers Foster Curiosity?)

Curiosity is the quest for new ideas and information. Folks who are curious aren’t satisfied with what they already know or have figured out. They go after what they don’t know or can’t understand—and that missing information can become a driving need to find out. “Curiosity’s most distinguishing characteristic is its open willingness to explore….” (Cultivating Curiosity in Our Students as a Catalyst for Learning)

The future belongs to the curious . . .


A recent research study found a connection between curiosity and deep learning:

The study revealed three major findings. First, as expected, when people were highly curious to find out the answer to a question, they were better at learning that information. More surprising, however, was that once their curiosity was aroused, they showed better learning of entirely unrelated information that they encountered but were not necessarily curious about. Curiosity may put the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it. Second, the investigators found that when curiosity is stimulated, there is increased activity in the brain circuit related to reward.  Third, when curiosity motivated learning, there was increased activity in the hippocampus, a brain region that is important for forming new memories, as well as increased interactions between the hippocampus and the reward circuit. (How curiosity changes the brain to enhance learning)

So what are we doing (or not doing) in our educational institutions to encourage and spark the curiosity of learners?

Curiosity is inherently dynamic and propulsive, not sedentary and passive. Most traditional instruction depends on the latter state and seeks to control the former. This is true especially of the interrupting student or precocious child who wanders about, ignoring the lesson while remaining intent on some mission of his or her own.

The only rational answer to the conundrum of curiosity is to disengage our educational system from standardized testing and common curricula. Curiosity does not hold up well under intense expectation. Give agency to teachers, with the explicit message to slow down and provide students time to wonder and be curious. Counter-intuitively, our role as teachers is not to provide answers. Our role is to give time and free rein to inherent curiosity and questions, and let our students exist in the heightened state of hungering for knowledge. (How Can Teachers Foster Curiosity?)

In this era of overly scripted, overly tested, overly controlled students AND teachers, there seems to be little or no room for curiosity at school. So what is the cost of curiosity-void schools?  The result , way too often, is a school culture of malaise rather than a culture of curiosity, engagement, excitement and joy for learning. Educators along with their administrators need to be agents of their own teaching and bring curiosity into their classrooms especially if they have the slightest belief that the future belongs to the curious.

What follows are some strategies for allowing curiosity to flourish in the learning environment:

  • Acknowledge and model your own curiosity as an educator.
  • Bring lots of “What ifs” into the learning environment.
  • Find out what learners wonder about.
  • Have learners develop their own curiosity-driven questions.
  • Embrace and provide the time and setting for unstructured play, exploration, tinkering (for all ages).
  • Do curiosity projects.


Acknowledge and model your own curiosity as an educator.

The first and possibly the most significant action that educators can take is tapping into the curiosity of their students is to find, embrace and use their own curiosity as an integral part of their teaching strategies.

The power of modeling and social learning cannot be overstated.

When researchers invite children into a room containing a novel object, they find that children are very attuned to the feedback of adults. When the experimenter makes encouraging faces or comments, children are more likely to explore the interesting object. Experiments I’ve done show that children show much more interest in materials when an adult visibly shows how curious he or she is about the materials. In other words, children’s curiosity can be fostered or squelched by the people they spend time with. (The Case for Curiosity)

Bring lots of “What ifs” into the learning environment.

“What ifs” are defined, in this case, as what could be, what is possible. It is about possibility thinking. “What ifs” open doors to curiosity, imagination, and divergent thinking. A classroom filed with “what ifs,” generated by both the educator and the learners, is open to all kinds of possibilities. It is not constrained by what it but is becomes a place where thinking centers on what could be.

Find out what learners wonder about.

Micheal Wesch, the acclaimed digital ethnography professor from Kansas State University, had this to say about wonder:

What is needed more than ever is to inspire our students to wonder, to nurture their appetite for curiosity, exploration, and contemplation, to help them attain an insatiable appetite to ask and pursue big, authentic, and relevant questions, so that they can harness and leverage the bounty of possibility all around us and rediscover the “end” or purpose of wonder, and stave off the historical end of wonder.

I’ve developed and implemented a What Do I Wonder About? activity that I’ve done both 1st graders, 5th graders, and even college students.  I observed 100% engagement by all aged learners. Other wonder activities can be found at 4 Ways to Cultivate a Sense of Wonder (And Why it’s Important).

Not only do activities like these assist the educator in discovering what their learners wonder about, they give learners the message that what they wonder about it important and valued.

Have learners develop their own curiosity-driven questions.

Wesch believes that a sense of wonder and curiosity is nourished by learning to ask and pursue big, authentic, and relevant questions. The great educational philosopher Paulo Freire agrees with the power of the question and its direct relationship to curiosity:

I believe in the pedagogy of curiosity. That’s why I defend the pedagogy of the question and not of the answer. The pedagogy of the question is the one that is based on curiosity. Without that pedagogy there would not be a pedagogy that augments that curiosity. (The Future of School)

There seems to be lots of educational writings about how educators can use effective questioning techniques in the classroom. But these are the questions that are of interest to the teacher; that are composed and asked by the teacher.  These questions may tap into the interests and curiosities of their learners, but they are may not. If educators really have a desire to open up the channels of curiosity in their learning environment, they will facilitate helping learners develop their own curiosity-driven questions. As I discussed in Learners Should Be Developing Their Own Essential Questions:

If the true goal of education is inspiring students with a lifelong capacity and passion for learning, it is at least as important that students be able to ask the right question as it is to know the right answer. (Learning To Ask The Right Question)

Embrace and provide the time and setting for unstructured play, exploration, tinkering (for all ages).

As formal educational settings have evolved (seems a bit like a misnomer), there has also been less time blocked off for unstructured play, exploration, and tinkering. It seems that most Kindergarten through graduate school education have added more and more instructional time during each day leaving less time to just play.

Everywhere we turn these days we find pundits and politicians arguing for more restrictive schooling. Of course they don’t use the word “restrictive,” but that’s what it amounts to. They want more standardized tests, more homework, more supervision, longer school days, longer school year. (Learning Requires Freedom)

If learners of all ages had more time to just play, then their natural curiosities would emerge:

Whatever happened to the idea that children [and the rest of us] learn through their own free play and exploration? Every serious psychological theory of learning, from Piaget’s on, posits that learning is an active process controlled by the learner, motivated by curiosity.

If we stop to think about it, that the most valuable lessons we have learned are not what we “learned in kindergarten,” nor what we learned in courses later on. They are, instead, the lessons that we learned when we allowed ourselves the luxury of following through on our own interests and our own drives to play, fully and deeply. (Learning Requires Freedom)

Do curiosity projects.

Educators can even do a guided curiosity project with their learners. If educators want more detailed directions or a template for bring a curiosity project into their classrooms, see written and implemented by Scot Hoffman.

It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry. — Albert Einstein

Let’s change this! Let’s bring curiosity based learning into more formal education to help learners belong in the future of curiosity.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 14, 2015 at 2:50 pm

Cross Curricular Maker Education Activity That Addresses Common Core Standards

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My primary job is that of educating pre and in-service teachers with a bit of teaching elementary students along the way. I often say that there is not enough time during the school day and the school year to teach isolated and singular content area topics. I stress designing and teaching cross-curricular thematic units. Not only will the learners then get to experience multi-layered instruction, they will also experience more authentic learning experiences. Real life learning doesn’t segment itself into isolated content areas.

What follows is a specific lesson for upper elementary and middle school students. It combines geometry concepts with a language arts activity while addressing several common core standards.

  • Grade Level: Grades 6 through 8
  • Title: Geometry Meets Maker Education
  • Brief Description: Learners create a robot using geometric shapes and LEDs. They then compose a comic strip using Storyboard That which describes the geometric properties of their robot.
  • Common Core State Standards Addressed
    • Math: Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving area, surface area, and volume.
      • CCSS.Math.Content.6.G.A.4 Represent three-dimensional figures using nets made up of rectangles and triangles, and use the nets to find the surface area of these figures. Apply these techniques in the context of solving real-world and mathematical problems.
      • CCSS.Math.Content.7.G.B.6 Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving area, volume and surface area of two- and three-dimensional objects composed of triangles, quadrilaterals, polygons, cubes, and right prisms.
    • English Language Arts
      • ELA: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.
      • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.2.d Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
  • ISTE’s NETS-S standards addressed
    • Creativity and innovation: Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.
      • Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes
      • Create original works as a means of personal or group expression
      • Use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues
    • Communication and collaboration: Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.
      • Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.
  • The Learning Activities
    • Learners are offered a variety of styrofoam shapes, LED lights/coin batteries, miscellaneous art supplies and glue guns.
    • Learners are given the task of building a robot composed of geometric shapes.
    • 10704133_10152777880134939_5875649242895121512_nLearners are asked to determine the surface area of their robots using the tape measures to get dimensions of individual pieces. They can use the LearnZillion tutorial to assist them –
    • Learners share their results, both their constructed robots and their surface area results, with peers. Peers give feedback.
    • Learners are then told that they are to explain the properties and story of their robots through a digital story using Storyboard That. Their stories need to be at least four panels and contain both images and test in each of the panels. These are shared with peers.


  • Reflection

Having learners engage in hands-on activities, both with the art items and with the technologies, permits educators to directly observe the performances of their students. Because these activities are somewhat self-directed, educators can actually view the learning activities as formative assessments and intervene when individual learners are having problems. This increases the chances that mastery by all learners are achieved.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 11, 2015 at 4:56 pm

The Educator as a Maker Educator: the eBook

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makered bookcover

I compiled all of my blog posts about Maker Education into an ebook that I published via Amazon Kindle. The price is $3.99.  It can be accessed at

The pieces include theoretical ideas, informal research-observations, ideas related to the educator as a maker educator, the maker education process, suggestions for implementation, and reflecting on the making process. Graphics and infographics created to support the chapter content are included.

The Table of Contents:

  • Introduction
  • The Perfect Storm for Maker Education
  • Is It Project-Based Learning, Maker Education or Just Projects?
  • Maker Education and Experiential Education
  • MAKE STEAM: Giving Maker Education Some Context
  • The Intersection of Growth Mindsets and Maker Education
  • Becoming a Lifelong Maker: Start Young
  • Making and Innovation: Balancing Skills-Development, Scaffolding, and Free Play
  • Let Children’s Play (with Technology) Be Their Work in Education
  • Tinkering and Technological Imagination in Educational Technology
  • Educator as a Maker Educator
  • Educator as Lead Learner
  • Promises to My Learners as a Maker Educator
  • The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture for Tinkering and Maker Education
  • Maker Education: Inclusive, Engaging, Self-Differentiating
  • Team Building Activities That Support Maker Education, STEM, and STEAM
  • Stages of Being a Maker Learner
  • Making MAKEing More Inclusive
  • Example Lesson:  Maker Education Meets the Writers’ Workshop
  • Reflecting on the Making Process


The Perfect Storm for Maker Education

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Originally published at

Perfect Storm: an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically.  The term This term is also used to describe an actual phenomenon that happens to occur in such a confluence, resulting in an event of unusual magnitude.

Maker Movement:

The maker movement, as we know, is the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers, a convergence of computer hackers and traditional artisans. Makers tap into an American admiration for self-reliance and combine that with open-source learning, contemporary design and powerful personal technology like 3-D printers. The creations, born in cluttered local workshops and bedroom offices, stir the imaginations of consumers numbed by generic, mass-produced, made-in–China merchandise. (Why the Maker Movement Is Important to America’s Future)

A movement made up of hobbyists, tinkerers, crafters and innovators is getting ready to change what you thought you knew about the American economy. They’re teaching a new generation how to repair rather than replace, and if what they’re looking for is not available, to invent it. They call themselves “makers,” and they will figure out how to build whatever you can imagine. (The Maker Movement Is About the Economy, Stupid)


There currently exists the conditions for a perfect storm for maker education due to:

  • The Do It Yourself (DIY) Movement
  • Focus on STEM and STEAM Education
  • Information Access and Information Abundance
  • Affordable Maker Technologies
  • Crowdsourcing and Participatory Culture
  • Open Source Resources

perfect storm

The Do It Yourself (DIY) Movement

Do It Yourself, or DIY, is a term that is used by various communities of practice that focus on people creating things for themselves without the aid of a paid professional. embers of these subcultures strive to blur the lines between creator and consumer by constructing a social network that ties users and makers close together. The phrase Do It Yourself along with its acronym is also commonly used where a layman endeavors to complete a project without the physical aid of a paid professional.

What this means for young people is that they are growing up in DIY cultures, where they have role models who engage in DIY and where they have 24-7 access to information and technological resources. For example, younger makers can turn to DIY, a safe online community for kids to discover and learn new skills. Older makers can use Make: DIY Projects for inspiration, ideas, and how-tos.

Focus on STEM and STEAM Education

One of President Obama’s initiatives has been a call to action for making STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education a priority in the United States. He emphasized the need to broaden participation to those groups who typically do not engage in STEM initiatives:

President Obama knows that we simply cannot, as a Nation, expect to maintain our run of ingenuity and innovation—we cannot maintain that stream of new and different ideas—if we do not broaden participation in STEM to all Americans, including women and girls and minorities. (Educate to Innovate)

Some professionals and practitioners are expanding STEM education to include the arts which translates in STEAM education.

In this climate of economic uncertainty, America is once again turning to innovation as the way to ensure a prosperous future. Yet innovation remains tightly coupled with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – the STEM subjects. Art + Design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century. (STEM to STEAM)

Maker education can be a gateway to STEM involvement by students who may not have had interest in the science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines in the past.

At a time when many people are asking how we can get more students interested in STEM fields, we are hearing from teachers who have found making to be a great way to get students excited and engaged in their classrooms. We are seeing making occurring in subject classes such as math or science — in classes specifically listed as maker classes — and in a variety of less formal settings such as clubs and study halls. Many of these projects incorporate a variety of STEM topics. Students working on designing and building furniture for their classroom use algebra and geometry to figure out the dimensions. E-textiles and soft circuitry, in which circuits are sewn using conductive thread or fabric, have shown to be an engaging way to teach electronics and programming, especially for young women. The possibilities for ways to incorporate making into the school day are endless, and it is exciting to see what teachers have been developing and sharing. (Engaging Students in the STEM Classroom Through “Making”)

Information Access and Abundance

We are living in one of the most exciting times in the history of humankind. Our world in now filled with information abundance, surplus, and access. The result is synergy whereby the human mind plus our current technologies far exceed the sum of these individual parts. We have technologies to access any type of information and to create products that match the pictures and voices in our minds; and we can use technology to get the assistance and feedback from folks around the globe. (Information Abundance and Its Implications for Education)

Anyone with access to the Internet has access to all kinds of information, resources, and tutorials. Young people are used to going online to find information and how-to tutorials via YouTube, Wikipedia, and their social networks. Young makers have taken advantage of this easy and free access information to make valuable contributions to our world. For example, Jack Andraka, who as a high school sophomore, discovered a test for pancreatic cancer through reading science research he found online. Katherine Wu, a ninth-grader, invented “the driver’s companion,” a device that could monitor drivers’ blinks and brain waves to see if they were in danger of falling asleep at the wheel. She studied neuroscience to find out how to identify signs of sleepiness, took an online course to learn how to create the computer code that would recognize those signs. (Local teens’ inventions impress scientists)

Affordable Maker Technologies


Accessibility of affordable maker technologies (e.g., 3D Printers, DIY computer devices) is due, in part to the democratization of these technologies.

When something is democratized it means that it is accessible to everyone. When used in the context of the maker movement, ‘democratization’ refers to the decreasing cost of the tools and technologies credited with spurring the movement. The cost of 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, and 3D scanners has dramatically decreased over the past five years. (Democratized tools of production: New technologies spurring the maker movement)

Today, the availability of affordable constructive technology and the ability to share online has fueled the latest evolutionary spurt in this facet of human development. New tools that enable hands-on learning — 3D printers, robotics, microprocessors, wearable computers, e-textiles, “smart” materials and new programming languages — are giving individuals the power to invent. (The maker movement: A learning revolution)

Maker technologies such as Makey-Makey, littleBits, Arduinos, 3D Printers, and robotics kits provide opportunities for learners to experiment and invent for themselves. They are accessible and usable by a wide range of skill and age levels; and even though there is a cost attached to them, they are more accessible to those with less financial means than similar technologies had been in the past. There does, though, need to be a continued dialogue and proactive efforts to create a maker culture of accessibility.

If the rise of the maker movement and these new tools for democratized production are going to create opportunity, how do we ensure that all people truly have access and training? It is essential to understand and address the social structures and identity categories that are inherent in the maker movement before the tools of production that play such a prominent role are truly democratized. (Democratized tools of production: New technologies spurring the maker movement)

If one of the characteristics of the maker movement is democratization of related tools, software, and techniques, then efforts need to focus on the education institutions that serve children (school, libraries, museums, after-school programs) especially underrepresented and underserved children. We need to insure that there is little or no gap between those of means and those with little means when it comes to maker education. Dr. David A. Williams (SVP of Program, Training & Youth Development at the Boys and Girls Club of America) has tackled this head-on at BGCA (Tackling the Digital Divide & Closing the Opportunity Gap in STEM Education).

Crowdsourcing and Participatory Culture

The maker movement and makerspaces are driven by principles of crowdsourcing and participatory cultures. Makers, as a group, freely share their makes so others can replicate and/or improve upon them.

Many maker movement initiatives are rooted in the idea of a “Participatory Culture,” a term coined by American media scholar Henry Jenkins. Henry Jenkins recognizes the key elements of a participatory culture to include low barriers to expression and engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices. (Worlds of Making: Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace for Your School By Laura Fleming)

And as Dale Dougherty (@dalepd), considered by many as the father of the maker movement, stated in the Maker Mindset:

The Maker Movement is spurred by [….] the increasing participation of all kinds of people in interconnected communities, defined by interests and skills online as well as hyper-local efforts to convene those who share common goals. (Dougherty, The Maker Mindset, 2013)

Massimo Banzi (@mbanzi), the inventor of the highly popular maker technology Arduino, noted how a participatory maker culture spurs creativity.

Whenever you design a tool that allows people to be creative, there are people who will start to be creative with the tool. Once we made that available, people are now responding and creating. So it’s not so much that we’ve become a world of people who do hardware hacking, but, I guess, a world where people are becoming more involved in the creation of products. (Arduino’s Massimo Banzi: How We Helped Make The Maker Movement)

Related to crowdsourcing is crowdfunding which, as it implies, is asking the public to fund some worthwhile causes. Crowdfunding sites like Donors Choose can help educators get maker materials for their classrooms, increasing the chances that underfunded classrooms can get the tools and materials related to the maker movement.

Open Source Resources

Open source software is software that can be freely used, changed, and shared (in modified or unmodified form) by anyone. Open source software is made by many people, and distributed under licenses that comply with the Open Source Definition.

Makers often share their “makes” so other can reproduce them and/or improve upon them. For example, Markerbot’s Thingiverse is probably one of the biggest online repositories of open source 3D designs. A quick perusal of the website shows designs everything from prosthetic devices to footwear to toys.

The sharing culture that marks the maker movement carries over into maker technology companies in that they often make their software and hardware open source. Popular educational maker hardware such as Arduinos and lillteBits are open source:

Open-source hardware shares much of the principles and approach of free and open-source software. In particular, we believe that people should be able to study our hardware to understand how it works, make changes to it, and share those changes. To facilitate this, we release all of the original design files (Eagle CAD) for the Arduino hardware. These files are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license, which allows for both personal and commercial derivative works, as long as they credit Arduino and release their designs under the same license. (Arduinos FAQ)

littleBits has the following to say about developing open source hardware:

Open Source Hardware means that we make the design files available for the circuit designs in our modules pursuant to the CERN Open Hardware License Version 1.2. It makes sense for us because littleBits products are a teaching tool: sharing our designs allows for the possibility of teaching how these circuit designs work down to a circuit level. (What does Open Source mean?)

The bottom line is that educators both in formal and informal settings would be foolish not to take advantage of this perfect storm of maker education resources, tools, and strategies that currently exist.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 16, 2015 at 9:15 pm


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