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The Maker Mindset

written by Lower School Head Cathy North
Children have always reveled in tinkering… taking things apart, putting things together, and exploring small and large toys, objects, and earth’s surroundings. This combination of play, joy, and discovery cultivates imagination and creativity. Tinkering is a big part of the Maker Movement. The Maker what? What is this and why is it important to children’s lives, education, and overall being?
Simply stated, the Maker Movement is a community of designers, inventors, engineers, artists, and tinkerers, who let their imaginations create and solve problems while valuing the process along the way. Regardless of what is being created “Makers” show a spirit of curiosity, embrace trial-and-error and collaboration to further an idea, to invent something to solve a problem, and/or add value to what currently exists.

Play, Passion and Purpose

Last summer, our faculty and staff read the book, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World by Tony Wagner. Wagner profiles some of America’s greatest innovators and summarizes three important characteristics that are commonly found in innovators: play, passion, and purpose. These same natural and intrinsic qualities are ones that begin in childhood and, as parents and educators, we look to support and nurture.

The Maker Movement promotes this same mindset and overarching philosophy. As educators, we look to provide opportunities to engage students in valuing the process of learning, doing, tinkering, and creating.

The Design Process

The Design process is a series of steps taken to solve a problem. It provides a framework and common language to promote risk-taking in a safe environment and may be utilized by adults and children as they innovate at home, school or work.

There are numerous, similar models of the Design Process to promote learning and innovation to solve a problem. Design Squad Nation, a PBS Kids program, uses the following process:
  • Identify the Problem: provide developmentally appropriate real-world problems or ask students to generate problems they wish to solve within a given context to promote a natural and inquisitive desire to find a solution.
  • Brainstorm: generate a list of possible solutions.
  • Design: select a possible solution, determine the materials needed, and design it. Build, Test & Evaluate, Redesign: We learn by doing…build away! The iteration stage is vital. During this time, individuals self-reflect and use feedback.
  • Share Solution: communicate the process and results; as well as how the end product will solve the problem.

An Evolving Movement

Although the essence of the Maker Movement is not new, the presence it now has in our classrooms and overall positive impact it has on promoting positive, reflective mindsets has evolved. The merging of math, engineering, creative and critical thinking, along with aesthetics has provided greater purpose for understanding and applying content and skills in a meaningful way to produce results. One cannot innovate without knowledge. One cannot innovate without the risk of failing and failing well, using the failures to build successes.

For children, promoting a mindset of asking questions and giving them time to tinker with and explore their questions makes a difference. Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question, shares how children ask fewer questions as they progress through early childhood, elementary, and middle school grades. Having a mindset that questions builds a pursuit for learning. Providing materials to build and explore in an open-ended and safe manner without predetermined goals of what the outcome should be is a great start for children.

The exciting news is that Maker labs and spaces are growing in number. The labs provide the space and resources for children and adults to explore their passions, use their skills and knowledge, collaborate, and reflect upon their trial and errors while finding purpose to solve a problem or create something new. Regardless of one’s age and knowledge, “Making” is about doing, collaborating, becoming an active innovator and celebrating the process along the way. 


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