A couple of weeks ago, my family and I made our annual spring trek to San Mateo, California to attend the Granddaddy of all Maker Faires. This faire, in its eleventh year, is the flagship of the Maker movement. In 2006, much to everyone’s surprise, 22,000 people gathered to participate in the inaugural event. Now, eleven years later, there are 191 faire events in 38 countries with an estimated 1.4 million people attending worldwide. There are currently over 2,000 Makerspaces globally with locations in about 26% of cities in the U.S., including Fresno and Clovis. The educational community has started to embrace the Maker movement, with an increasing number of dedicated Makerspaces popping up within schools. So, what is it about a Maker Faire that is so special? Why do we as parents feel it is important to take our children to the San Mateo event every year? Believe it or not, it has to do with their education. Or, to be more specific, the education they are not getting in the classroom.
A Maker Faire is as much about innovation and creativity as it is about the STEM disciplines. It is a place where kids can experience science, art, and design integrated across many different platforms. At a Maker Faire you will see 3D printers, robots, CNC machines, Virtual Reality (VR), aquaponics, and drones flying through air or water. But kids also have a chance to talk with inventors of all ages. For example, you can talk to a retired Silicon Valley engineer who built a high-flying solar blimp or maybe converse with a high school girl who has designed a metal sculpture that breathes fire. It doesn’t matter if you are 7 years old or 75, everyone at a Maker Faire is willing to talk with you at your level, sharing their successes and failures related to their creation. The joy of learning at a Maker Faire is contagious. It is a place where kids can let their imagination run wild, be inspired by new ideas, and dream of a future without bounds. It is a place where children of all ages cannot help but think outside the box because a Maker Faire is not a box meant to cage their imagination.
I would like to think that my kids are receiving a good education in a traditional classroom. But I don’t think that any of my three children, who are, by all normal measures, successful in school, would call their elementary classroom experience inspiring or even “joyful” in regard to learning. Why is that? Is it so hard to bring the joy of learning into the classroom? Shouldn’t the joy of learning be a major priority in education, no matter the subject or level? There are lessons to be learned from the Maker movement if those of us in education would only take the time to understand its significance for our students.