A new school year has arrived, and students and teachers around the country are tackling exciting new maker projects. But what counts as a “maker” project? Who is a “maker” and who is not?

Making is for everyone. As educators, that means we need to value many different kinds of making and include all of our students in this movement. If schools integrate maker learning activities that are traditionally associated with a particular gender, racial-ethnicity, culture, or social status— for instance, only focusing on robotics or entrepreneurship — those programs may leave many students and entire populations out of participation.

In their research, Shirin Vossoughi, Paula Hooper, and Meg Escudé identified four elements of an equity-oriented approach to maker learning:

  • Analyzing educational injustice;

  • Considering historical and cultural traditions of making;

  • Dedicating explicit attention to pedagogy; and

  • Investigating the social values and purposes that maker learning programs promote.

With the help of this four-part framework, the researchers identify issues of equity and suggest clear steps educators can take to address potential problems. For example, their research encourages educators to think reflectively about how they implement their program: rather than trying to “bring making into the school community,” try to identify the cultures of making that already exist and hold them up as legitimate ways that the school can approach maker learning more broadly.

Leaders of school districts from Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools recently hosted a webinar with this research team to learn more. Watch the researchers’ webinar and Q&A here, and then when you’re ready to take action in your own school community, use this one-page worksheet to help you envision a culturally relevant maker learning program.

 

Spotlight on Project H

Project H uses the power of creativity, design, and hands-on building to amplify the raw brilliance of youth, transform communities, and improve K-12 public education from within. Their programs teach rigorous design iteration, tinkering, applied arts and sciences, and vocational building skills to give young people the creative, technical, and leadership tools necessary to make positive, long-lasting change in their lives and their communities. Project H leads three programs: Studio H, a high school design-build class based at REALM Charter School in Berkeley; Girls Garage, a physical space where young women are taught how to build, weld, print and more; and Unprofessional Development, a creativity project for educators.

One of the equity-related issues highlighted in the research above is the need for an explicit focus on pedagogy. For example, in classrooms around the country maker educators struggle to balance teacher authority with student agency. How can projects allow freedom and autonomy while not creating a “sink-or-swim” environment that privileges some students over others? Dedicating attention to design constraints can help address this challenge. The right project prompt can spark creative and complex thinking within clear, simple boundaries that supports all students’ learning. The Unprofessional Development challenge “Designing with Constraints: Project Runway x IKEA”, draws inspiration from reality television shows – like Project Runway and Top Chef – that feature challenges that are both inspiring and bound by specific rules.  These challenges, which might involve making a garment from an unconventional material like candy or coffee filters, limit certain factors over and over again: time, budget, materials, place, or purpose.