The maker movement: A new way to engage young people in STEM

Creative learning allows students to engage with complex topics and enjoy education for its own sake, says Ricky Ye

The education sector has found itself increasingly under fire for moving too far towards a strict, one-size-fits-all, ‘teaching to the test’ style of education. Even the latest Ofsted guidelines have recognised this as an issue and amended their framework to call for less focus on exam results and a greater emphasis on how students are taught. With this in mind, it’s important to look outside the traditional mould for learning opportunities that may otherwise go unnoticed. One prime example is the maker movement, which promotes a style of learning that embraces creativity, personalisation and engaging activities from the outset.

Exploring the maker movement

The maker movement is a growing community that has developed over the last five years. It consists of ‘makers’ from across the world who come together to form a creative hub where ideas, designs and processes can be shared, be it in person or over a variety of digital forums. The central aim of the movement is to inspire involvement and innovation in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects through a more independent, open and inventive style of learning and creating. This is an important focus in a society that is undergoing a new STEM-dominated industrial revolution that will permeate most of our lives, especially those of the next generation. The movement also regularly holds events such as the Maker Faire and Maker Carnival where people can gather, share and explore ideas together in person – it is the ultimate in creative knowledge sharing and organic innovation.

Maker-centred learning shifts the focus onto creative thinking and away from teaching to the test

The opportunities of maker-centred learning

Incorporating maker-centred learning into the classroom allows students to explore complex topics – such as robotics, coding and programming – in a way that both appeals and allows them to take ownership of their own education. Rather than being told what to do, they are provided with instructions and guidance whilst being encouraged to create their own projects.

Employing a creative approach to educational activities offers students the opportunity to learn through play. This allows young people to associate education with fun and therefore increases the likelihood of students staying engaged in the subject throughout their lives. It can also help bolster a level of fluency around a subject, as students are no longer passive learners; instead, they are taking charge of their own academic process and formulating a true understanding of the materials they are engaging with.

The more confident they feel about innovating and creating within a topic, the bolder they will be with their creations. This will help them to develop greater faith in themselves and their ability – an incredibly important outcome in STEM, where one barrier to attainment is a misconception about the difficulty levels and the student’s own ability. It also can work to bolster their confidence in their wider academic ability; if students are able to interact in academic subjects through a more self-expressive medium, this could enable them to build a more positive relationship with learning in general.

Maker-centred learning is also a positive way to include students who may struggle with traditional forms of learning. It is increasingly recognised that we all learn in different ways, and that many students find practical learning more conducive to engaging with and retaining information. Maker-centred learning is naturally more practical and, as such, offers students an alternative way to engage with STEM-based topics. This safeguards against students being left behind simply because their learning style is different to their peers. With STEM more important than ever, it is crucial that every young person has equal access and opportunity to learn these subjects, and maker-centred learning is a great way to provide this.

People can explore ideas together at a Maker Carnival

Incorporating maker-centred learning into our education system

Maker-centred learning can be introduced into the classroom to teach more complex topics, such as programming or artificial intelligence. This might involve building a robot and programming it to do certain actions, allowing students to see the real-life applications of programming firsthand, rather than learning the concept in the abstract. Providing students with the practical demonstration of a subject can offer more intuitive insight into complex academic concepts and syllabus. This focus on the enrichment of the learning process is key to supporting pupils; by offering academic and practical learning you are catering to all learners and alleviating the pressure of simply teaching to a test.

Afterschool or lunchtime clubs can also provide a great space to incorporate maker-centred learning into schools. These may work best as cross-curricula clubs; for example, art and science would work well as crossover subjects. Blending artistic creativity and scientific knowledge allows students to create anything from a robotic sculpture to an automated solar system. Additionally, providing students with a less formal space in which to learn can also help bolster their confidence – they are still learning the same skills, but feel less pressure than they might in class. Furthermore, it has the additional benefit of encouraging students that might otherwise not engage in these topics to get involved. It may be that a student who favoured art would be less likely to want to learn programming, or that a student who preferred science would be less likely to engage with more creative subjects –a shared space can help demonstrate how interlinked these topics can be.

Maker-centred learning inspires engagement from a wider range of learners and shifts the focus away from teaching to the test, instead inspiring students to enjoy the act of learning itself. This is why it is important that more schools adopt the concept, whether in the classroom or in school clubs – this type of creatively-focused STEM learning has the potential to enthuse and support students.

Ricky Ye is CEO of DFRobot

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