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Maker-Based Instruction

For Maker-Based Instruction to gain traction as a meaningful and sustainable way to reform business-as-usual schools, it is imperative to define it well. Below are a number of the key characteristics of Maker-Based Instruction when it’s operating at its full potential.

  • Maker-Based Instruction is content agnostic.

While we agree that making and makerspaces are attractive potential vehicles to teach STEAM content, we believe that STEAM content should not be the only driver of Maker-Based Instruction. Rather, we consider making to be an activity in which students can connect to a broader skillset that may help them succeed in an ever more design- and technology-oriented world. These skills include collaboration and teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity and imagination. We also believe content can be layered on in thoughtful ways in response to teacher or student needs.

  • Maker-Based Instruction is not just high-tech woodshop or art class.

When Maker-Based Instruction is deployed at its highest fidelity, learning experiences focus on creatively solving a problem with a set of skills, tools, and materials. Traditional woodshop and art-based instruction are focused on the development of technique, not on the creativity of the output. Maker-Based Instruction champions truly open-ended, challenge-based learning experiences with no “correct” technique or demonstrable output.

  • Maker-Based Instruction is a way to differentiate instruction.

Maker-Based Instruction provides a platform for students who normally do not excel in a traditional classroom to shine. Maker-Based Instruction is an excellent way to engage these students and tap into their strengths in ways that traditional schooling does not. Conversely, Maker-Based Instruction provides students who do excel in a traditional model a needed push to help them take risks, struggle, and learn from failure.

  • Making represents a new perspective on learning.

The power of making is diminished when it is imagined as an add-on to the existing structure of K–12 schooling. Making provides a modern perspective on what school-based learning looks like.

  • Making supports affective and cognitive learning objectives.

Making is about holistic learning, preparing to make contributions, solving problems, leadership development, and empowerment. Making also helps reach students who are difficult to reach when using traditional forms of instruction, such as lecture- or inquiry-based learning. Importantly, cognitive and affective objectives are equally important (and interrelated) in making.

  • Making is low threshold, high ceiling (LTHC).

Making can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. Many making activities can be carried out using low-tech components. Additionally, there are opportunities for aesthetic expression involved in simple or complex making that allow participants to make the product their own. 

  • Making is more than the sum of the tools used in the process.

The power of making lies in the culture and mindsets of the makers rather than in the tools that allow them to make. Building makerspaces in schools is not a panacea for teaching STEM. More important is the culture around using the makerspace and how this culture is sustained over time.

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