“What is a ‘maker’? Quite simply, makers make things. Some makers build robots, some sew clothes, some prepare food, some design tools, some construct houses. ‘Maker’ isn’t a title conveyed after passing some test or degree program; rather, it is a self-identification. It’s also not, by any stretch of the imagination, a new concept.”
In AnnMarie Thomas’ fantastic book, Making Makers: Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation, she takes a deep look into what makers are made of, how their childhood experiences with making form the adults they turn into and what adults can do to help nurture a spirit of making in children. She interviews all sorts of makers, from Mitchel Resnick to Eric Rosenbaum, on how their childhoods shaped and formed them. It is delightful to see images of so many of my favorite makers as children, and to see the commonalities and differences between their life experiences.
What Makers Are
AnnMarie frames Making Makers around eight common traits that makers have (I’ve paraphrased them slightly in the above image). In her interviews, she looks at how these traits are exemplified in the lives of makers. Nearly every maker she spoke to is curious – they want to understand why things work the way they do. They are playful, adding whimsy, stories and imagination into their projects. Many are risk-takers, taking on projects that are often potentially dangerous (including at least a few scrapes and bruises). Theses makers are responsible – they want to help others and their projects often revolve around making the world a better place. They are persistent — they will keep trying and reiterating until things come out right. Some of the makers came from families that didn’t have a lot of money, so they had to be resourceful in finding supplies to build their projects. Makers share; they want to help others, and are generous with their knowledge and tools. And of course, they’re optimistic – always looking for a way to make a difference in the lives of others and make the world a better place.
AnnMarie takes issue with some of the more popular phrases in the Maker Education world like “celebrate failure” and “fail fast”. These have become such common expressions among educators, and it’s interesting to take a second look and reconsider them. AnnMarie’s issue these phrases are that they can be confusing to children – failure in tinkering is okay, but failure in math isn’t. Why is it okay to fail in one and not the other? Instead, she prefers phrases like “prototype early”, “try lots of things and experiment”, “learn from your iterations” and “just try something”. Maybe not quite as catchy, but I think it’s a really good point to bring up.
On Tools and Age
I love how AnnMarie frequently brings up the fact that the Maker Movement is both age and tool agnostic. So many people get hung up on the misconceptions that makerspaces are always high tech; that you have to have a 3D printer; that it’s expensive to start a makerspace. AnnMarie reminds us that its not about the tools, it’s about the Makers. Your students are what make your makerspace valuable; the tools that you have, whether low-tech or high-tech or everything in-between, are just that, tools. And makers come in all ages and sizes. She has stories about makers who’ve been creating things for as long as they can remember, and stories about making at just about every age from 0-99.
Making Makers: Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation is such a great book, and if you haven’t read it yet, you definitely should. Whether you’re a parent, an educator, or just an ordinary adult looking to encourage creativity in the lives of children around you, this book is for you. The stories are inspiring and beautiful and will definitely make you want to go out and make something.
Whether you have children of your own or your students are your “kids”, Making Makers is full of wisdom and advice for helping to nurture our next generation of makers. These stories of makers’ childhood experiences can be powerful for educators – we have much to gain from listening to them.
What’s your favorite childhood memory of making something? Share it in the comments.