This past weekend was my first ever Maker Faire, a quirky event that brought together fabulous “makers” who shared their creations, everything from life-size versions of Master Chief to robot petting zoos, with us eager attendees.
So often we categorize the world into two kinds, sectioning ourselves off as “mechanical” versus “creative,” “left” versus “right,” “philanthropy” versus “profit,” and pretty much any other black-and-white dichotomy imaginable. As if a journey to another world, Maker Faire brought to light how beautiful and interconnected human creativity is, and how those “two kinds” are pretty flexible definitions. The dichotomy that makers challenge is an unfortunate thing, especially when reality has proven that the two “sides” seem to work together quite well.
Maker Faire also sends an important message of how we as people are going to energize the bright minds of young makers of the future, because every maker seemed to have their own spin on the subject. Many agreed that all the best things in the world involve collaboration, and although the differences in mindset may seem slight, the real impact comes down to who we entrust to provide the solutions to our problems.
Tom Vander Ark’s article, “Ten Conversations with Edupreneurs,” covering the recent NewSchools Summit in San Francisco describes ten conversations in education: college, talent, writing, adaptive, social, badges, boards, international, faith and media. Some very bright ideas about topics to concentrate on for the future, but the question remains, who then acts?
At Maker Faire, there is a sense of rugged entrepreneurship, where each of the makers becomes an actor for their own idea. In addition to having great ideas, makers make, and this makes all the difference. The host of the NewSchools Summit conference, New Schools Venture Fund, seems to imply through their funding and support that educational innovation must take place under the realm of philanthropy, as in one individual or group providing a charitable service to another individual or group. This non-profit firm also targets improvement in public education alone. And this seems to be the norm for many in the cry against educational cuts (not quite justified in Bill Cosby’s opinion).
But why must education be always relegated to philanthropy?
“Making” as Self-Education
As many makers at the Faire have communicated through their actions, “education” doesn’t just take place in the traditional classroom, and some of the great lessons (i.e. leadership) can come from different experiences. Indeed, some of the greatest learning experiences come from the act of making itself. One of my favorites at Maker Faire was a rather amazing combination of bananas and music. That invention by itself combines a great deal of knowledge about physics, biology and other fascinating tidbits of information, as can be seen below.
In addition, many services are provided beautifully without the need for charity, and mutual exchanges like internships and apprenticeships provide an arguably stronger win-win for both parties while strengthening the ties of a community. Although many makers at Maker Faire were affiliated with public or non-for-profit entities, each maker is driven to present their product or service to us attendees. They must show results, growth, unique qualities, and passion.
What is needed in education is a new mentality to adapt to this maker-based movement, moving beyond the idea of “education as philanthropy” to “education as a service.” The real change will take place when students and parents can be seen as customers instead of constituents, just like we at Maker Faire are active participants and not just passive audience members.
A New Conversation
In this way, Ark’s ten conversations (quoted below) might be directed as follows:
First of all:
How to dramatically boost college completion? …institutions must identify and meet developmental needs fast, provide intrusive advising, and get students into the right degree program early.
The increase towards college readiness is surely a path to achievement, especially in today’s economy when a degree guarantees nothing and young graduates are saddled with debt. The assumption that college is the right path for everyone assumes that every desired career path requires a college degree, when it is clear that this simply isn’t the case. For some reason, we as a society hold certain careers higher than others, and submit these values onto our children. But when the careers of today didn’t exist just years ago, one must wonder as to who those creators of the future will be.
How to place 10,000 smart professionals into school districts? …inject young talent from America’s top business and law schools into school district bureaucracies…
The focus on certain types of professionals as goals gives kids a specific outlook on desired careers. Instead of toiling away at the glory law career only to realize that the dream was a big fake, couldn’t we portray more realistic portrayals of careers? Couldn’t we bring opportunities for kids to explore those careers and ideas, daresay through job shadows and apprenticeships? Instead of creating standards for talent, couldn’t we offer options instead? Instead of pushing people together, couldn’t we create the right conditions for synergy to take place? One great group doing this at Maker Faire was The Crucible, who hold industrial arts classes and workshops in a variety of subjects like welding and blacksmithing.
How to get kids to write more? GlobalWrites brings integrating performance arts and tech into schools — I love the idea! …[and] how essay-scoring engines support more writing on state tests and in classrooms.
Again, why the focus on specific talents? Not that writing isn’t important, rather that the problems of illiteracy are a symptom of the way we teach. As Canadian humanities professor Janice Fiamengo explains, watering down of content is likewise a symptom of a greater problem in perspective. The progressive pedagogy that has become so rampant, especially at the university level, refuses to criticize students when they mess up. But instead of empowering children by raising their self-esteem, today’s young adults are, as Fiamengo describes, simply unteachable because they refuse any type of criticism. Instead of encasing our children in a bubble, we ought to be letting them play in the mud (all of them!).
How to individualize instruction? Engaging and adaptive content is a big part of the answer…
Self-directed education is immediately individualistic. At Maker Faire, it’s near impossible to meet everyone. But you get ideas, explore, and just keep going. Sometimes you get lost, but it’s all right because you can always ask questions. As a student of Udacity, a company that offers free hands-on computer science courses, I have to agree with my fellow students that Udacity differentiates itself by offering its students the opportunity to practice programming as well as learn it in theory, basing its courses around exciting goals like “CS373: Programming a Robotic Car” and “CS101: Building a Search Engine.” Most exciting, these courses are short and exciting, so if students find that computer science isn’t their dream career, they can get some introductory skills and find where their skills and passions lie through trial and error.
…a network of schools that are fully mobile, social, personalized and localized…
Education is definitely a social experience, but it’s important to realize that breaking from the path requires courage and also brings followers to a new movement. The number of homeschoolers is on the rise by a whopping 75% since 1999, and as the article describes, the switch seems to be backed by empirical results of superiority. Whether or not homeschooling is “the solution” for the masses, societal movements like “National School Choice Week” and “Opt Out of School Lunch!” speak to the level of discontent with the current system, and the desire to explore new opportunities and perhaps even a return to the old as well.
Again, the question of “who” comes in, and the opportunities for people from differing ideologies and beliefs to come together become more numerous. For example, companies like the pink-shirted Intel folks helping kids (and not-so-kids like myself) learn about the amazing phenomena in seemingly ordinary environments through Maker Faire. Companies can be makers too! You know what I mean. Obviously, corporations are not people.
…badges (and other achievement recognition and data visualization strategies) …are how most schools will work in 2020.
Most importantly, education in 2020 will hopefully not be a one-size-fits-all policy like it is for most people today. The importance of rewards and discipline are key for mastering anything from algebra to handwriting. When these individualized solutions come to play, they will have to prove their worth. But humans are unpredictable, and we respond to incentives in strange ways. One recent study described the strange incentive system within internet piracy laws, and how piracy in music via BitTorrent has actually led to an increase in music sales.
Hammond’s findings suggest that piracy itself acts as a form of advertising similar to radio play and media campaigns, where more downloads result in a moderate increase in sales…Another unique finding reported in the paper is that popular artists profit more from piracy than less established acts (torrentfreak)
When designing incentives in the educational solutions for the future, understanding these strange phenomena and how to harness them will be the ultimate challenge. At Maker Faire, we embrace the strange-ness of people, creating an event that invites us and inspires us to do great things rather than punishing us for “messing up” (quite a subjective term at today’s schools, but punishable nonetheless).
How to create strong charter school boards that create great schools…the potential of a recognition system for good boards and networks that support good boards.
As explained before, charter schools and other movements are just the beginning of the wave of school choice and of educational choice in general (schools = education? An assumption too many policymakers and bigwigs make about kids and parents). New Orleans has been tried and tested, and passed with flying colors as it scrapped its educational system post-Katrina and embraced a wave of charter schools that demolished its terrible pre-Katrina record of 66% of schools rated “academically unacceptable”. The movement for greater levels of school choice continue to resist against the established order, and the uncertain future remains in the distance. But the taste of choice and freedom has certainly prompted the movement to continue and grow, resulting in inspirational films like “Waiting for Superman,” “The Experiment,” and “The Cartel” (one I was personally involved in marketing!). This inspirational factor will be a tough one to defeat for sure.
How to leverage the philanthropic lessons learned? …seeking lessons, strategies and tools from the US charter networks to deploy in urban India.
One of the greatest gifts of online education has been the aspect of international collaboration. But although this educational movement there has come a twin force. Along with the greater incorporation of technology in education, there has come a great wave of community-based and community-oriented solutions. The school choice movement has involved concerned people on the inside and outside of the school system, looking to make their community a better place. Just look at New Orleans.
How to engage faith congregations to help all of God’s children get a good education? …support for public education with urban churches…
Again, the aspect of community requires a solution that comes from that community. Believers and non-believers of all stripes and colors come together when we have things in common. Maker Faire was an excellent example of this. All sorts of people, young and old and dressed in whatever they wanted, coming together for this family-friendly event that allowed for each person to get out from it what they wanted. Obviously there were some weird stares, some crying babies, and long lines. By the end we were all exhausted, but then again that’s life, and that’s learning.
How to market student-centered reforms? …the benefits of engaging media…
When we as a society put trust in our fellow man, in those parents to take care and make decisions on behalf of their kids, we make a very big decision. It seems risky, but one of the main reasons to have a media in the first place is to help make the hard choices. To finish up, it is as Jefferson described,
The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. Thomas Jefferson 1787
Educational coverage needs to keep track of these advances and responsibly communicate. It’s a challenging feat but the Internet helps quite a bit with this. People like me can go and post anything anytime, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it (right now at least). People are creating all sorts of amazing things for one another, through piracy and bananas, and social media has to be doing some sort of good if we can all share our experiences and inspire one another.
But anyways… did you go to Maker Faire? Did you see the bananas and love them as much as I did? Let me know!