Re-Making Education

Those who meet Gary Stager will not quickly forget him, particularly  his infectious passion for indulging kids in “making”. Last year,  at the EduTech conference, I found him to be his usual self, bubbly with believers and grumpy with those who refuse to chant with him the mantra of making.


Garry is no longer grumpy. Early this week at EduTech he  was far too busy signing away his book “invent to learn” that he co-authored with Sylvia Martinez.  At the end of the conference he was running out of copies. “Making” – is now very much in demand.

The Maker Movement has been around for some time, but largely as an offspring of the  DIY culture, obsessing on the emerging technologies of interest mainly to geeks and their children. Its impact on education remained minuscule until now. But this is changing. The number of speeches, workshops and presentations related to the Maker Movement this year in EduTech was simply amazing. A clear indication that, in education, it is ready to move to centre stage.

All roads lead to making

The feeling I got at EduTech this year is that almost all discussions were heading in the same direction, empowering students and supporting their pursuits in a world where teaching is becoming increasingly meaningless and what is learnt is becoming valueless. Students now have the same access to information as their teachers and are better at swimming in the new world of information into which they were born. Education in the industrial word is clearly gravitating towards creation.

The children growing up in the industrialized nations carry the burden of having to create higher value, which can no longer be made through the making of industrial goods. They will need to make goods and services that are yet to exist. Education is thus under increasing pressure to create the next generation of innovators. Innovation, however, is something that cannot be taught. It is something that needs to be experienced – often through making.

Inflection Point in Education

From the numerous presentations we saw at EduTech 2015,  it is very clear that Making is gaining grounds in schools, in various forms and in various places with various flavours. Out of all places in schools, libraries seem to be most keen to embrace making, despite the messiness,  noise and chaos that making entails.  Perhaps that is what they just need. The concept of quiet and solemn places for learning seem to be most unappealing to kids. Such places are unlikely to survive the onslaught of the information age. Change is needed to breathe life into libraries and give new meaning to learning that Making brings to education.

We also saw many resourceful and passionate teachers exercising their belief in Making through various projects, producing inspiring results. We were not the only ones. But unlike us,  they had developed various ways to justify what they are doing, by pretending to teach. At this stage Making appears to be more like an underground movement with subversive intentions that are yet to be articulated. Its benefits, however, are clearly felt by schools that are struggling to make learning interesting and engaging to kids who now inhabit a different world, rich in information, entertainment and engagement. For them schools are far too boring. It would appear that schools are beginning to see Making as a bait to get those kids to come back to the world they have already escaped from.

Many schools, therefore, are embracing Making. We are also seeing plenty of initiatives offering workshops and training sessions to schools that wish to equip their students with skills that will be most needed in the future. Despite all this welcome change there are still some teachers  who appear unable to understand how to  participate in this new and fresh wave of Making. Making will challenge some people, it is not about using tools and machines safely according to well-known practices. It is messy, chaotic and worse still,  comes with its own culture, albeit a culture that does not lose sight of the necessary standards of safety in practice.

The Culture of Making

We are witnessing now, a profound cultural shift around the concept of knowledge and learning. Thankfully we see educators urging schools  to leave behind their emphasis on mindless repetition, teaching as telling, standardized curriculum and all its associated rituals. Some amongst them specialize in condemning the obvious disconnect between what is needed and what schools produce. But they do not have answers. The Makers have it.

It is simple : Making is Learning

Like all movements in their inception the Maker Movement in schools is being led by passionate individuals who have a profound faith in its  value and virtue. I had the pleasure of asking Gary to sign a copy of his book and he signed,

“Thanks for making the world better for kids”

Gary and many like him are  having too much fun remaking education. Thanks to their good efforts, you can see the the great joy in the faces of kids who have been given the opportunity to make and explore things that they like in schools. It is in the making of tools that made us evolve and when kids make,  their minds are remade. It is only in the minds of kids that new worlds are made.

We have surely arrived at the Makers moment.

Just in Time Learning

Typically students at ASMS who wish to learn electronics, learn to put together a power supply. That is the way they learn the “basics”. Not so in Innovation Space. They attempt instead to put together a Satellite.


My purpose at Innovation Space is to support “hair brained” student schemes, so I go along. I purchase the components they want and that is about it because once they start asking me questions I would not know the answers.

So I bring along a friend, Frank Horvat  a senior network engineer to see if he can help them – not at the beginning but at the tail end of the project. They had designed and put together the circuitry and sensors and developed the software to run them all. All the sensors were being read accurately and the data was being stored reliably until they tried to get all of the components to work together.

I think, you can guess, I had to ask a network engineer to have a look. They needed to understand how a “bus” (a communication system that transfers data between components) works.  Typically they would learn this in a university level computer architecture course – these high school kids did not have to know about it until they got everything else working. I am sure with Frank’s diagnosis the bus will be soon buzzing with data from a student- built satellite.

A great example of Just in Time Learning.