New Learning Times

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by Kate Meersschaert

April 21, 2014

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MakerState gives kids real-world skills that enable their success in school, college, and career. MakerState kids learn by doing, by creating, designing, experimenting, building... making. (From MakerState site)

STEAMing-up Learning
Steeped in the tenets of game and mastery-based learning, MakerState provides immersive, project-based, after-school STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts & math) learning labs for young people (ages 5-18), educators and parents. The program describes this goal as encouraging a "maker ethos" and one that fosters STEAM learning throughout their lives: "Our makers respond when challenged to think outside the box, to think creatively and critically, to collaborate with their peers, to problem solve, to innovate and even invent solutions to challenges they see around them." In addition to "learning labs" and workshops, the program offers adult STEAM experts the chance to act as paid "Maker Fellows" and lead workshops in their communities. Beyond participation, young learners are given the opportunity to "level up" and earn badges as they move through a sequence of project-based opportunities that are aligned with both the MakerState curriculum and the Common Core. These virtual (and physical "MakerBand") badges are awarded based on 30 proficiencies and six mastery levels. These include: engineer, author, programmer, designer, artist, and entrepreneur. Mastery might include exploring a range of 21st century concepts from "flexible manufacturing" to "sequential logic design."

Modern Journeymen & Women
Beyond maker learning opportunities, young people engaged with the program are expected to act as apprentices, "journeyers," and "makers." MakerState believes that through experience with these three roles, "meta-learning" will help foster "...creative questioning, deep inquiry and research, evidence-based planning, and self-guided project design towards mastery in every subject they encounter across the curriculum." Beyond just the MakerState curriculum and ecosystem, the program organizes these masteries and proficiencies to influence learner performance and behavior in more formalized, traditional settings. To foster this relevance to formalized education, the program also partners with area schools to help train educators to include a maker curriculum in their classroom.

Exclusive NLT Interview with Maker State Founder, Stephen Gilman:

What inspired you to start MakerState?
I believe that all kids are inherently makers: discoverers, builders, hackers, creators. But then we get ahold of them in schools and to comply with the latest mandated standard, model or performance measurement, we lay aside their opportunities to wonder, to invent, to collaborate and to change their worlds. I'm not pointing the finger here. I came into my first classroom in Harlem in 2000 and taught five different courses with kids who'd never really had much of anything expected of them. They were brilliant, creative and wanted to be challenged but our school, our system, wasn't designed to bring the best out of them. I was privileged to be able to start an Outward Bound high school a few years later--we built the whole school and all the learning experiences and culture around experiential learning. I saw that kids responded to this at such great levels of engagement and learning. Then I became an after-school programmer and increasingly got into maker-learning and creating maker spaces for kids. I got to the point where I wanted to do maker learning programming full time so I started MakerState.

How does your experience with organic farming influence your work with MakerState?
[I don't really farm but I think I can sort of address this question. :-] I keep bees, brew ale, and make pottery. I also love to create games with my seven year old and I've written a novel about a 1702 conspiracy to control the Atlantic slave trade. I came to the teaching the same way I came to the Maker Movement really. I realized one day that I didn't have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of all of history to teach history, I just needed to have a passion and growing skill set in inspiring kids with hands-on learning experiences in history. Same thing with "becoming a maker." I used to think that I needed to be a C++ or Java programmer or engineer or circuit board builder to be "a maker." And then I realized that it didn't really matter what I "made" as long as I had a passion and a desire to learn how to do something. These two realizations completely informed my approach with MakerState: I want to awaken the life-long learner and maker in every kid. So how do we ignite and foster that maker inside each of our kids that will lead them to mastery in school, fulfillment in their chosen college majors, and successful in their purpose-driven careers? That's MakerState mission.

What learning outcomes do you hope will be most significant for participants?
MakerState labs are all about two things really: engagement and mastery. We've created a curriculum in which kids are building robots and programming machines, making movies, and creating real-world products with 3D printers--having fun in hands-on learning experiences from the first moment they enter the lab each day. But if we stopped there, I'd be the first one to call that simply, "enrichment." MakerState takes that a great leap further by applying what we've known for decades about constructive, experiential, real-world challenge-based learning. Our makers walk out of lab every day with a critical concept in science or math or writing that they understand and have applied. We've stepped them through a skill and they've demonstrated their learning and mastery in that skill by creating an actual product or model or artifact of learning. And our curriculum and labs are infused with badge-based game design dynamics that add intrinsic motivations and rewards for self-agency in the learning process. Our makers are learning real-world skills and actually becoming engineers, scientists, designers, programmers, writers and social entrepreneurs.

How have educators embraced the program? Is it seen as an antidote to what is missing from the current ed system?
Teachers just get what we do. This is also true with administrators, parents, business owners. They see that the kids are excited and engaged and they also see that the kids are learning actual skills. It kind of sells itself. I think really, we all wanted to learn this way. And I think teachers and parents share a common motivator that really touches their core--kids deserve to be inspired and to have amazing opportunities to create and say "I made this!" and maybe even change the world with an idea or a product or movement. I think fundamentally that teachers come to the job with the same essential motivation: To connect kids with their potential. And that's one of the big questions we have at MakerState: Why ask a 10 year old girl from the South Bronx or any community to wait until she's 20 to maybe, possibly begin learning the skills to build, to shape, to change her world? We're putting those opportunities in front of her today.

Is Maker State tied-up with ed reform in any way? If so how?
MakerState is a mash-up a few pretty amazing dynamics: First, the Maker Movement has showed us that we're all makers. Second, the great history of progressive education has shown us all the essential research, best practices and success that we can have when we put kids at the center of mastery-based learning experiences. And finally, we as Americans and world citizens face challenges so immense--climate change, transportation, energy, biomedicine, food insecurity--that it is only through a completely re-imagined way of learning and being that we can save ourselves and realize the great opportunities that lay before us. Our generation won't solve the problems we face--we created many of them! And we can't even begin to define many of the rest. But we can be part of offering the skills and tools our kids will need to solve those problems for us and live amazing, fulfilling lives along the way.

How does the program help train people to fill 21st century professions? How does this differ from training offered by traditional schools?
Companies like Google, Microsoft and NASA know the jobs they'll need to fill in the next 10 and even 20 years but have said that our schools are not supplying the graduates with the skills necessary to fill these jobs. Nine out of 10 of the 30 fastest growing careers in this same period will require deep STEM-based skills (science, tech, engineering, math). MakerState is taking on this learning challenge in two significant ways: 1) Our labs teach and reinforce 21st Century Skills in critical thinking, collaboration, and creative problem solving, and 2) we level makers up game-style in real-world masteries in six areas: engineering, programming, "wordsmithing," design, public art and social entrepreneurship. Our makers leave the lab every day with a new skill in one of these masteries. As they progress through each badge-mastery series, they are increasingly able to combine these advanced skills to innovate in solving real world challenges. And just as important, our makers are learning self-agency and gaining the confidence that will lead them toward purpose-driven, fulfilling lives.

Why "maker", why now?
The Maker Movement is nearly 10 years old and we are just now seeing it's amazing potential in education. We've known for centuries that experiential, constructive, challenge-based projects offer kids the deepest, most productive learning. At MakerState we say that, "making is learning." Watch a room full of makers engage in complex STEAM projects from the first moment of lab and see the actual products and artifacts they create as they demonstrate mastery to earn a badge in each lab and you'll see the power of making in education. We may be biased but we think hands-on, STEAM-powered learning is the future of American education.

What do you hope the program will accomplish over the next year?
MakerState will build on its early success to become the model for maker learning nationwide in the next year. In the spirit of the Maker Movement itself, we are committed to constant innovation across our curriculum and in our maker spaces every day. Sharing this maker learning with schools and communities and collaborating with them to spread this maker learning movement is our goal. We believe every kid is a maker. Giving kids the skills and confidence to be change makers in their world is our mission.

Image: From the MakerState Facebook page