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The Impact of Maker Experiences at Zurich International School

By Jon Butcher
The Impact of Maker Experiences at Zurich International School

The Maker Movement has generated huge interest and excitement, but what exactly is it? Back in 2013, Edutopia announced the Maker Movement was “poised to transform learning” in schools. Three years on, how is it actually impacting learning? In 2015 Zurich International School (ZIS) formed an action research committee. Using mixed methods, an extensive literature review, and a survey of 35 international schools, the following report shares some of its findings.
The maker concept emerges from the technology-driven “maker culture” associated with Dale Dougherty, editor of Make magazine and founder of the Maker Faires. Articles read by the committee value the social learning that happens within such interest-driven contexts, across all disciplines with connections to the constructivist learning theories of Dewey, Vygotsky, and Piaget. The idea of tinkering, and its iterative learning style, also encourages what Carol Dweck calls growth mindset.
Maker, rather than making, draws attention to the learner, rather than the product. Makerspace, hackerspace, tinkering, STEAM, and STEM are often associated with disciplines of engineering, computer science, and graphic design. We used an umbrella term “Maker Experience” to focus on the engagement, rather than the space itself.
The Maker Experience fuels a thirst for learning, building confidence while providing the opportunity to make connections with others. Kurti et. al (2014) conclude that maker education inspires deeper learning and promotes ownership of learning, claiming that it “fosters curiosity, tinkering, and iterative learning, which in turn leads to better thinking through better questioning.”
The committee identified many Maker Experiences offered to the students at ZIS. These experiential learning activities were found embedded within the curriculum, through play in class, lunchtime activities, and part of residential programs, but perhaps most significant was the choice of afterschool maker activities on offer, which were frequently oversubscribed. Students were seen to be persevering, creating something purposeful, or simply playing with “stuff,” often resulting in a shift in thinking. Opportunities within the local community were also discovered, with local Repair Cafés and public fabrication facilities.
Maker Experiences are both teacher-driven and self-initiated projects. One morning a large cardboard box appeared in the school foyer inscribed with the words “Broken Electronics Here.” One month later, robot sculptures were on sale. Such initiatives were contagious, generating further interest and excitement amongst peers and across genres and grades. Maker Experiences were seen in various spaces where groups gathered to share resources with self-proclaimed specialists, working together and creating. Students, teachers, and activity leaders were seen to take on such advisory roles, often meeting on their own time.
It is uncertain whether the high level of engagement currently seen was due to the interest of staff or students involved, but clearly to support and sustain its momentum is the goal. Students surveyed all acknowledged the social aspect of the experience. Novices were reaching out to their peers for help, inspiring and learning from one another.
Though not a school expectation, Grades 1–5 identified some timetabled freedom for personal endeavor called i-time. This provides students an opportunity to personalize their learning. In August, ZIS opened a collaborative studio to further support such creative ventures, widen interest, and enhance hands-on exploration. However, space, time, and supervision are identified as potential challenges.
The committee believes the concepts that underlie a Maker Experience—social constructionism, deepening conceptual understanding through a design/systems thinking approach, mastering skills, and developing habits of mind that nurture growth-mindsets—are in harmony with the 3C’s of the Common Ground Collaborative (CGC): Concept, Character, and Competence. Maker Experiences provide contexts that make learning meaningful and invite students to engage with problem solving.
This action research began by asking the question “How do Maker Experiences impact student learning?” While this report may be questioned over its bias, the interest and engagement in an organically homegrown Maker Experience has momentum here at ZIS. However, quantifying a value added is difficult, if not impossible, certainly with any hard metrics. According to Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, “Makerspaces feature low barriers to content access and high ceilings of opportunity and achievement” (West-Puckett).
We are all makers, and when we share, engage, reflect, and remake, we become masters. In the context of ZIS and its CGC framework, the Maker Movement promises critical thinkers, self-directed learners, and problem solvers who want to engage with the world around us and make a difference.
Gary Stager. “What’s the Maker Movement and Why Should I Care?” Winter 2014.
Kurti, R. Steven, Debby L. Kurti, and Laura Fleming. “The philosophy of educational makerspaces part 1 of making an educational makerspace.” Teacher Librarian 41.5 (2014): 8.
West-Puckett, Stephanie. “ReMaking Education: Designing Classroom Makerspaces for Transformative Learning.” Edutopia. George Lucas Educational Foundation, 13 Sept. 2013. Web. 18 May 2016.
“ReMaking Education: Designing Classroom Makerspaces for Transformative Learning.” Edutopia. N.p., 2013. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.

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10/22/2016 - abdallahb
I could not agree more with this article! I am leading the new Innovation\MakerSpace Lab at our school in Shenzhen China. The Board of Directors were very supportive our my proposal and provided the funding right away. We are gradually building our lab and developing the cross curricular program in our Design Technology class and with other subject teachers. We believe that Art plays an integral role in the MakerSpace lab environment. "Learn by doing" could not be more evident and real in this engaging and creative environment. Well done Makers!!!



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