One of the most exciting developments on the educational scene is a movement that celebrates tinkering, creativity, and the do-it-yourself nature of so many artists and inventors of the past: “Making”!

Inspired by Dale Dougherty’s Make Magazine, a quarterly DIY (Do It Yourself) publication launched in 2005, and the Maker Faire, a celebration of invention and creativity first held in the Silicon Valley community of San Mateo in 2006, (a must see), the Maker movement has spread to include of thousands of enthusiasts of all ages.  The events, too, have grown in number and geographic distribution across the globe to include mini-Maker Faires held in city as far afield as Barcelona, Oslo, and Jerusalem.

So, where’s the connection between “Making” and the NEED Project? One of NEED’s star teachers, Aaron Vanderwerff at the Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, CA, recently received a $10,000 Bright Ideas grant from NEED partner Pacific Gas and Electric.  Aaron and his teaching team are Makers: they encourage their students to learn in a hands-on way.  Students work with in a variety of media, fabrics, electronics, machines and gears and repurposed parts, to create new items, most of which integrate some form of energy science.  Projects are open-ended, inquiry-based and interest-based and really put the learners at the center of the action.

Aaron’s grant funds will support completion of a project a team of students started last year: converting a light truck to battery electric power.  The team is well aware that transportation technologies are changing and they want to be a part of it.  To be successful, they’ve learned about electricity, energy storage, and how to properly match motor to battery supply and all the components in between.  What’s more, they’ve learned to sketch their ideas, to make prototypes, how to weld and use the correct types of parts- all of these skills being critical to many careers in the energy industry AND skills common to being a Maker.  Another NEED-like feature you’ll find at Aaron’s school and others like it is that students do presentations to one another and to the public; a “Kids Teaching Kids” approach that we all know works.

Makerspace High Schools:

Educators, especially in those engaged in STEM programs, increasingly recognize the value of hands-on activities and in scientific inquiry, and in cooperative learning. Even DARPA supports these efforts. This Department of Defense agency provided initial funding to O’Reilly Media (now Maker Media, Inc.), publisher of Make Magazine, to establish “Makerspaces” (centers for DIY activities) in up to 1000 high schools across the nation.  Aaron’s school, Lighthouse Community Charter School, is one of the first of these schools.

Above: Guests at the Detroit Maker Faire enjoy one of countless “hands-on” creations. Examples of alternative forms of transportation are common creations to be found at Maker Faires!

The Makerspace movement is working with teachers to develop what will eventually be hundreds of kid-tested projects that will be made available to anyone who wishes to use them.  These will be integrated and correlated to content standards. Sound familiar?

    • Teacher-created and teacher-tested;
    • Supportive of cooperative learning, teamwork; “Kids Teaching Kids”;
    • Materials are freely available to all who wish to use them;
    • An eye toward sustainability, demonstrated, for example, by the number of alternative transportation designs present at Maker Faires, and a common desire by makers to repurpose and recycle parts and materials.
    • Finally, both organizations embrace and support a community of highly dedicated teachers, students and others working together to make a difference in the future.

Above: A low altitude wind turbine designed by artist Carlos Neilbock as seen during Maker Faire Detroit at The Henry Ford museum on July 30, 2011.

To learn more about Make Magazine, attending or presenting at Maker Faires, or becoming involved with the Makerspace in schools project, please visit these websites:

Save the Date: Maker Faire Bay Area
May 18 & 19, 2013
San Mateo County Events Center, CA


Save the Date: World Maker Faire New York
Sep. 21 & 22, 2013
New York Hall of Science, Queens, NY