Five ways the Maker Movement can help catalyze a manufacturing renaissance

[This past week I had a chance to spend some time at the Pittsburgh TechShop for a Remake Learning meeting around Innovative Professional Development. For over 30 years I’ve preached the value of creative production. It’s exciting to see how places like Pittsburgh are becoming an ecosystem for Makers. Just this week Carnegie Mellon University received over $250 million in federal funds and other grants to establish a Robotics Center. I work with a number of projects that focus on Making, including the Makeathon developed by Birdbrain Technologies and the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, California. In this Brookings Institute report you’ll hear about many great examples how schools and cities are creating a new Industrial Revolution around Making. The article highlights a local educational example, Elizabeth Forward’s Dream Factory, a middle-school inter-disciplinary program that combines computational thinking, art, and technology. ]

Amid the hoopla of celebrating a deal to save 800 jobs at a Carrier Corp. factory in Indiana last month, President-elect Donald Trump promised to usher in a “new industrial revolution“—one that sounded as much like a social awakening as a manufacturing one.

How will the nation achieve that renaissance, though? If past is prologue, the Trump administration will lean on high-profile tweets and one-off job-retention deals combined with moves to renegotiate some trade deals to give U.S. workers a leg up.

And maybe those gestures will help.

However, there is another way to think about touching off an industrial revival in America that brings back economic growth, opportunity, and decent jobs for blue-collar workers.

That approach would embrace the Maker Movement as a deeply American source of decentralized creativity for rebuilding America’s thinning manufacturing ecosystems.

An authentic social movement of hackers and tinkerers, the Maker Movement has grown increasingly consequential in recent years as a new generation of designers and entrepreneurs has employed online tools, 3-D printing, and other new technologies to “democratize” manufacturing and reinvigorate small-batch production and sales.

A designer works on a restaurant sign at TechShop in the South of Market neighborhood in San Francisco, California April 24, 2014. In the shadow of Internet monoliths, it's easy to forget that Silicon Valley got its start from hard-scrabble tinkerers building radios, microchips and other devices. Now, a proliferation of high-tech but affordable manufacturing tools and new sources of funding are empowering a generation of handy entrepreneurs and laying the foundation for a hardware renaissance. A growing focus on hardware and the so-called "Maker movement" is sweeping northern California and, in a smaller way, Europe and other countries. Renewed interest in tinkering with objects - versus apps or software - is attracting more money from investors and fostering a growing number of workshops, where aspiring inventors can get their hands on computerized milling machines and other high-end tools. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) - RTR3NZ5D

A designer works on a restaurant sign at TechShop in the South of Market neighborhood in San Francisco, California. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

The makers’ locally-grown enterprises are expanding beyond their artisanal and hobbyist roots to create true business value. The movement has emerged as a significant source of experiential learning and skills-building, as well as creativity for the nation’s innovation-driven manufacturing sector.

More broadly, there is momentum on the ground, both in large cities and small ones, located in both red and blue America, and there is much success to share.

Two years ago, 100 mayors signed a Mayors Maker Challenge to bolster making in their communities, and now, the just-published book “Maker City: A Practical Guide to Reinventing Our Cities” reports how these strategies are working across the nation. Long to short, the story here is that the Maker Movement isn’t just about reviving manufacturing in cities (though it is doing that). In addition, the movement is proving that anyone can be a maker and that genuine progress on the nation’s most pressing problems can be made from the bottom up by do-it-yourselfers, entrepreneurs, committed artisans, students, and civic leaders through what our colleague Bruce Katz calls “new localism.” That’s both empowering and a quintessentially American story, one that de Tocqueville would immediately recognize, and that Donald Trump might even like.

And so it’s time for the nation—and especially its local business leaders, mayors, hobbyists, organizers, universities, and community colleges—to embrace the do-it-yourself spirit of the makers and start hacking the new industrial revolution one town at a time.

Ideally, the incoming Trump administration will see fit to foster this authentically American, red-blue movement with, for example, modest competitive grants to support local maker activity and expand interactions between makers and larger-scale commercial manufacturers. Federal cash, tax credits, and convening capacity could all make a huge difference to cash-strapped networks of civic entrepreneurs.

But even without such support, local leaders should take matters into their own hands and come together—city by city, community by community—to help build a new industrial resurgence that links local ingenuity to genuine economic development.

To help with that, here are five ideas for getting started:

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Teaching Computer Programming Through Making

[I serve on the Board of the Neighborhood Learning Alliance (NLA), a non-profit in Pittsburgh, that serves African-American and lower-income families in the region. We have developed a program called the Tech Warriors that trains high school and middle school students to work with younger children on STEM-related projects, similar to what is described in the Mindshift article below. It’s important to use technology as a hook. Coding and computational thinking are tools for success. Google Pittsburgh has helped NLA in a variety of meaningful ways. It’s great to see their efforts in Oakland, California.]


Making computer programming a part of the K-12 curriculum is becoming  a rallying call in the United States. But just because you teach a subject doesn’t mean you get kids interested in it. So the real challenge is how to get kids, who might not necessarily be into computers, to pursue a career in coding?

Google and MIT’s Media Lab are trying to answer that question at Code Next,  an after-school program located in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland. Coding programs put on by tech companies are often in a Google office or held at a local school. But Code Next is a storefront space in a shopping center next to the Fruitvale BART Station. The idea is to capture high school students from this working-class neighborhood.

Valeria Fornes, 14, says that, until now, the extent of her computer skills has been helping her dad troubleshoot his smartphone. She goes to a high school a few miles up the street.

“The most fun thing I’ve made is using the 3-D printer and I made a game,” Fornes said.

By game, Valeria means a board game. The one she made had little pieces that fit inside the board. It took a few tries to make those pieces fit, she said, but she figured it out. What does making a board game have to do with coding computers?

“Everything’s just a big puzzle,” Fornes said. “Like if something doesn’t work, you have to rearrange almost everything.”

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Building A Tinkering Mindset In Young Students Through Making

[For my entire educational career I’ve seen how important it is for students to be able to tinker, build, create, design, and play. In this Mindshift article Alice Baggett outlines some of the advantages in K-3. She continues the work done by Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez who have helped to fuel a new generation of makers with their book Invent to Learn and workshops around the country. Here in Pittsburgh the Children’s Museum and other organizations have carried the Maker movement forward under the umbrella of the Remake Learning Network.]


Photos by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Excerpted from The Invent to Learn Guide to Making in the K–3 Classroom: Why, How, and Wow! by veteran teacher Alice Baggett, published in 2016 by Constructing Modern Knowledge Press. This book is the third of a line of “Invent to Learn Guides,” published as companions to Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom.

By Alice Baggett

The most important thing you can do to set up your tinkering space for primary students has nothing to do with the space. Of course you’ll need space for your students to work in, but the physical space for tinkering matters much less than the mental space that you create for young makers.

To be effective tinkerers, students need to achieve a state of mind in which they are primed to play and make joyful discoveries.

Young kids who are playing don’t worry about making mistakes. They’re just playing, and the idea that they could make a mistake—that there’s a wrong way to play—doesn’t enter into their consciousness. It’s this freedom that enables the creation of elaborate pretend games and castles built from playground bits. Replicating a sense of play in the classroom is vital to creating a tinkering mindset for children.

One of the most powerful things you can do to set the philosophical tone in your makerspace is to hammer home the idea that taking risks, trying new things, and making mistakes are not only acceptable actions—they’re desirable actions. That’s what you’re hoping for! But telling a group of little kids that it’s okay to make mistakes is not an effective way to deliver your message. The droning voice of the teachers in the Peanuts cartoons springs to mind! To get kids to internalize your message and truly take it to heart, you have to show them in a wide variety of ways what you really mean.

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