Making is more than technology.

The other week I had the pleasure of sharing what I have learnt about making from Agency by Design’s research into the Maker Movement, what is a Maker and Maker-Centered Learning at this years DigiCon 2017 conference.

Harvard Graduate School of Education runs the course Thinking and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom. For me this was an eye opening experience. I would not consider myself an expert in the Maker Movement, however quite apt about what it is and what it looks like in schools. Boy, was I wrong! Like many others, I too got caught up in the shinning new toys approach to making. Making is all about technologies, coding, robots, etc. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

When we look at making with this narrow view, we cut off many children’s ability to be a maker. When we paint making as technology only we pigeon hole makers as needing strong technology skills and knowledge. By doing this we are inadvertently stereotyping the identity of a maker as being good at technology. While technology is viewed as a tool and a teacher in the Maker-Centered classroom it is not the focus of Maker-Centered Learning, nor should it be for a MakerSpace. What I think we have forgotten with the hype around making and MakerSpaces is the learning and thinking that should be the core focus of your MakerSpace and the Maker Movement in your school.

Maker-Centered Learning is an approach to thinking and understanding how to foster various dispositions around making. According to Agency by Designs research into Maker-Centered Learning there are three common characteristics that they discovered through their work; Community, Process and Environment. Making is a social construct and as such should always focus on working within ones community and out. This means distributed collaboration should always happen in a making environment which in essence is why community is key for making. The understanding that community means sharing information, skills and learning and that the teaching and learning is evenly shared among all learners. The authority of the classroom is not focused on one person but many, especially not the teacher.  Process refers to being driven be curiosity and questioning why things are as they are. Understanding that learning is a process of ideas that should be rapidly prototyped over and over again. That’s why you will see many educators using innovation cycles like design thinking in its many iterations in making environments. We also see the process as interdisciplinary. The making experience may need different types of knowledge to solve the problem.  The process of making is flexible and is non-linear. It brings many things together to solve problems. There are loads of debates around do we need a MakerSpace? Shouldn’t all classrooms be a MakerSpace? Of course the answer is yes to both. Space is an important aspect of Maker-Centered Learning. Space helps nurture the different types of learning and teaching that is critical for making. Spaces need to be open, agile and highly flexible. They also need loads of storage! They are rich with all sorts of tools, materials and media.

The key thing to remember is that you don’t need sophisticated equipment nor do you need to spend loads of money to develop makers in your students. Remember it’s about the learning that occurs. When we focus on learning we see how we as educators can support and foster our students as makers. The type of teaching and learning varies in a Maker-Centered Learning environment. The notion of a teacher is very different.  A teacher can be a student, the community, the internet a tool or a material. Learners are highly encouraged to be resourceful with their learning and share and support each other. The authority as discussed early is very distributed. As you would expect the teaching focuses on self discovery. If students are not figuring things out for themselves through a process it’s not making. A Maker-Centered approach to teaching develops students understanding of collaboration, inspiration, evaluating, and re-directed authority. The learning is collaborative in nature, students are continually working together in formal and informal ways and understand that collaboration is an interdependent process. Sharing with one another allows students to be inspired and develop influence from their peers. Students engage deeply with each others work and draw inspiration from each others projects. Feedback on learning happens consistently and teachers provide processes which allow students to provide meaningful feedback on projects. As discussed many times giving up control in a Maker-Centered Classroom is key and probably the most difficult for teachers. As teachers in a Maker-Centered classroom we consistency push back on students questions and direct them to figure it out for themselves. Using other authorities in their community to help solve the problem. The one message which resonated with me most from my learning about making was the idea of ‘Learn Something, Teach Something’ I think this sums up very nicely what making is all about. You learn and share your new knowledge with others.


Agency by Design – Pedagogical Framework for Maker-Centered Learning.

This pedagogical framework is an excellent starting point to help shape your students as makers. The three maker capabilities are the corner stone of the  learning and teaching in a Maker-Centered Learning. Each shouldn’t be viewed in isolation but as a collective and equally as important as each other to form the basis of Maker-Centered Learning. This helps our students deeply engage and understand the purpose of their making and the impact it will have beyond their community.  As the name suggests students need to observe the world around them by examining closely objects or systems. They need to examine every detail and start to develop a sensitivity towards designed objects. Understanding design and being attuned to it is a core focus of this framework. Students need to become more aware of design and the understanding that design can be hacked, changed, developed, re-develop, pushed and refined. Design in this context allows students to see that object and/or system as an opportunity to be improved for others.   This gives our students permission to help shape the world around them for the better by engaging with existing design and understanding that they can create new innovative projects.

Exploring Complexity

How often do we allow our students to consider the complexity of their learning? 

This kinda reminds me of Shrek. The onion metaphor, just like orgres have many layers so do objects and systems.

Exploring complexity gives students the understanding that an object or system has depth. They go beyond what they initially observe and start to wonder about the objects or systems components. Why are things placed together? What relationships are formed by each component? How was it made? For whom was it made? Seeing objects or systems as complex helps students develop critical thinking by understanding the inherent relationships that are involved in an object or system.

Opportunities arise when students discover the potential to change something. After working through observing and studying the complexity of an object or system they can see how to improve and tinker with its design. The find ways to hack the system or object after building baseline knowledge of what the object or system is.

Making is more than technology and don’t lose sight of why making should be in all schools. Yes, technology is a part of it but the important skills our students need to thrive now and into the future are rooted in Maker-Centered Learning. Remember none of this is new. It goes back to the amazing work of Seymour Papert, John Dewey, Jean Paiget and Lev Vygotsky. It just happens that now the world is realising the critical importance of their work.

Technology is a big part of the cultural shift in education. The exponential rate of change in technology means that learning and schools have to tackle knowledge construction in new ways. The old way isn’t going to cut it for our students. Modern knowledge construction is needed and by starting with Maker-Centered Learning you will be preparing your students for an uncertain future where empathy will be king.

Listen to the Design and Play Podcast on Making is more than TECH.


Clapp, E., Ross, J., Ryan, J. and Tishman, S. (n.d.). Maker-centered learning.

Purchase the book.


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