Contributed by Laura Fleming
In the near future, over one million jobs will open up in science, engineering and mathematics, but only 200,000 graduates will have the skills to fill them. As a part of education reform for the future, President Obama has consistently called for improvements in STEM education as well as sparking and fostering innovation and growth needed to improve our schools and achieve better outcomes. Expanding STEM education means building partnerships with educators, businesses and community partners to support STEM education. It also means expanding STEM education opportunities for all students.
Many efforts are underway for how to best affect systemic change in order to achieve widespread and sustained transformation of STEM education. Amongst current STEM education reform efforts is the grassroots Maker Movement, which effectively merges both the STEM initiatives the President is championing as well as innovation efforts he has supported. The Maker Movement embodies opportunities for experimentation and innovation and is associated most often with STEM-related concepts and technology-based activities.
It is my belief that every child has the right to invent, tinker, create, innovate, make, and do. This belief is what drove my mission to establish a makerspace at New Milford High School. My makerspace has extracted out of classrooms STEM-related themes that only a small segment of our student population had experience with, while at the same time brought in new concepts that none of our students had exposure to.
The growing effort to establish makerspaces in schools has allowed us for us to democratize STEM-related concepts to all of our students, regardless of their proficiency level or social status. The makerspace should be indifferent to distinctions such as academic potential, social barriers and even levels of language development, and I have seen our makerspace successfully transcend all those standard differentiators of learners in my school. Our makerspace is about creating a genuine and committed culture of innovation, as well as about providing the foundation that the students need to be able to thrive and flourish in that kind of culture, one that is increasingly important in the economic life of our country.
As Gary Stager, one of the world’s leading experts and advocates for making in the classroom says, making inspires education reform. The maker movement is moving into classrooms so no matter what grade level, content area you are or what your area of expertise is, the maker movement has created opportunities for ALL educators to rethink traditional learning environments to include those that nurture creativity and innovation that will benefit our students both in school and beyond.
Our makerspace inspires innovation, passion, and personal motivation and interests, and has motivated students to pursue STEM subjects and careers. It also has provided opportunities for students to converge Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics with Art. Moving from STEM to STEAM has opened up a window of opportunities for our students and has allowed them to consider futures they might not have otherwise considered before. Our makerspace has also ignited the entrepreneurial spirit and through visits from expert makers, we have seen first-hand that makers can earn a living from their making. Our students are empowered to seek out jobs in STEM or creative fields, but they can also create their own jobs and industries depending on their interests.
Our makerspace has served as a unique learning environment that has served as inspiration for our students within and beyond school. The Maker Movement is a genuine revolution in education that for all those who have a stake in creating STEM solutions for schools should consider when instituting sysSTEMic change.
Laura has been an educator in the state of New Jersey for 17 years. She has been both a classroom teacher and media specialist in grades K-8 and currently as a Library Media Specialist for grades 9-12. Laura is a strong advocate of using New Media and Vanguard Techniques for Interactive and Transmedia (multi-platform) Storytelling. She is the author of Worlds of Making: Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace for Your School, part of the Corwin Connected Educators series.