Each week, our Founder details core beliefs and principles that guide our work. This week, Andrew explains our commitment to maker learning. Maker education is a hands-on, project-based approach to learning that helps student learn advanced academic skills and principal character traits.
During the fall of 1878, Thomas Edison announced that he “solved the problem of the subdivision of the electric light.” That winter, Edison hired a large team of engineers, mathematicians, and scientists for a new research laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey: The Invention Factory. During the first year, the research team developed more than 1200 experimental light bulb designs and tested more than 6000 alternative metals, threads, and woods.
Still, Edison continued to revise and sharpen the design. He tightened the vacuum seal to limit air exchange, and he developed a durable glass casing to protect the internal elements. He designed a new parallel circuit to stabilize electric current, and he built stronger safety fuses to suppress electrical surges. Over the next year, innovations extended performance to 100, 200, 600, and eventually 1500 usable light hours. And in 1882, the Edison Electric Light Company introduced the New Type Edison Lamp, the first incandescent electric light bulb designed for commercial sale.
The commercial electric light was the result of thousands of designs and experiments resulting in more than 200 formal United States patents. One day, the story goes, an assistant explained to Edison that a particular experiment had failed. They had tried several alternative approaches, but all of the designs failed. “They’re not failures,” Edison reportedly said. “They all taught me something that I didn’t already know. They taught me what direction to move in next.”
The electric light is a story of continuous innovation. Of persistent failure and dogged determination. It is a story of collective collaboration. And it’s also a perfect capsule of the challenge, engagement, and passion of maker learning.
So, what is maker education?
Maker education is a hands-on, project-based approach to learning that helps students learn advanced academic content and professional technical skills. Students design and engineer complex objects using applied technology, including digital, mechanical, and industrial machines and tools. Because an essential part of maker education is the opportunity for students to construct, craft, and engineer physical objects.
Because maker learning is a natural match for adolescent development. Hands-on activities and instruction helps students engage and focus on target concepts and skills — which, in turn, helps students acquire and retain applied learning. Because project-based learning actually improves student achievement. Research explains that project-based learning significantly increases “student content knowledge and the development of skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving.”
At every stage, makers implement tools and technologies that make life more effective and more efficient. But here’s the thing: maker education is about much more than straightforward technical competency. At its core, maker education emphasizes principles and values that promote creativity, curiosity, and collaboration. That support agency, initiative, and innovation.
Technology may change. The specific skills needed to craft or engineer ideas and objects will change, too. But what will not change is our commitment to shared principles and values that drive us to learn and grow. Because a maker mindset helps students learn they have the power to strengthen ourselves and shape our world.
“The big idea behind the concept of maker empowerment is to describe a kind of disposition — a way of being in the world — that is characterized by seeing the designed world as malleable, and understanding oneself as a person of resourcefulness who can muster the wherewithal to change things through making.”