In my previous article on this subject, I wrote about the Maker Movement and its importance to the educational realm. The Maker Movement is also nicknamed the Do-It-Yourself (D.I.Y.) Movement, because it empowers individuals to design, manufacture, and create their own objects, ultimately improving creativity in many fields. In a way, the tools used in this movement are taking us back to a time when every person was a craftsperson — except now, we have much cooler gadgets than a wood chisel. And while many of us do not realize it yet, this hands-on approach is something that is missing from our very digital, holographic world.
The 3D printer is one of the biggest revolutionary tools in the Maker world and has inspired a push toward the do-it-yourself sensibility. Still, though the cost of 3D printers is coming down, they are still prohibitively expensive for many schools and what’s more, when turning a classroom into a makerspace, it would be silly to limit ourselves to one technology. In this article, we discuss five tools that are not 3D printers that schools can use to help students embrace this movement inside the classroom.
1. Desktop Laser Cutter
Inspired by the desktop 3D printer, a whole line of desktop devices have been created. While they are not exactly all affordable, the price-point will soon decrease due to the popularization of such devices. Next to the 3D printer, the desktop laser cutter, often paired with software like Adobe Illustrator and AutoCAD, is one of the most popular tools due to the simplicity of use.
Desktop laser cutters take line drawings done through Illustrator and turn them into a map for the laser to follow. Laser cutters use a very strong, highly focused laser beam that either cuts or etches materials like wood and acrylic plastic. This opens up a whole new realm of possible projects that students can create utilizing the precision that laser cutters allow. By showing students how to use software like Illustrator in combination with physical tools like the laser cutter, they are more able form a bridge of understanding that links the digital to the physical. For some laser project inspiration, here are some ideas.
2. Conductive Thread
This next one is not as popular as some other Maker movement tools — but it should be! Conductive thread, also called conductive textile, is a fabric that can conduct electricity. Threads function as thin wires that can be sewn into clothing seamlessly. This opens up a whole world of fun projects that can be fun and thought-provoking, thus helping kids become acquainted with technology and learn how to connect individual parts to the final product. Doing so takes an abstract concept (electricity) and turns it into a tangible form.
Some Makers have used conductive thread to make bookmarks connected to LEDs, which provide an easy way to read at night. Others have created wearable technology with light-up shirts or even jewelry with various applications. These are just a few examples of ways to use conductive thread in interesting ways. Imagine the possibilities that your students could come up with given the correct guidance and opportunities.
3. Open-Source Movement
Open-source applications are software programs in which the original creators make the design publicly accessible. This means that anybody can take that program and make their own additions, thus creating subsequent versions. It has been found that making programs publicly accessible allows the public to create better versions. The Maker Movement has really embraced this idea of open-source products.
Bringing this idea into the classroom, teachers can help students get started by learning code. Coding seems to be the language of the future, as does creating wearable devices like the Jawbone UP24 wristband or creating software for smartphones or computers. Even without the practical coding concepts to be taught, teaching kids about the open-source concept can really help get them accustomed to the idea that working together on projects and expanding upon individual skillsets can actually help projects become better overall. The open-source movement embraces collaboration in order to create a better, more useful product for the rest of the community.
Drones are one of the more popular Maker Movement tools. Though drones are most often associated with the military, they are really just small, flying robots (via propeller) that can be repurposed for any number of fun, educational activities (you can even hack an iPad as a controller). Many drones have been fitted with video cameras that are used for taping outdoor activities, obtaining random footage of the city, or even recording music videos. Companies like Amazon are planning on using drones as part of their package delivery service.
Drones are a fun and sophisticated way to introduce students to the Maker Movement and the technology that it offers. Here are 192 drone project ideas that your students can participate in. Or for a really fun challenge, assign your students the task of designing a new purpose for drones. Whether that is to food delivery or walking a dog, the opportunities for creativity are endless.
Microcontrollers are small computers that have programmable input and output elements. Using very simple coding (and borrowed code from the Internet), students can program microcontrollers to control LEDs, speakers, robots, and so on. This last category is a little more advanced, but it may be just the challenge a technologically savvy student is dying to embrace
The most well-known microcontroller is the Arduino, which consists of a community of people that provides kits that accompany the microcontroller. Members of the Maker Movement have used Arduinos to design self-lacing shoes, a remote control lawn mower, and even a flame-throwing jack-o-lantern. Introduce this to your students as a great entry point into a world of robots and advanced technology packaged into a fun kit. For tutorials, Arduino provides a great resource of tutorials.
Technology has advanced to the point where the general populace is now empowered to design and create our own goods. More than just putting together Ikea furniture, people are now building their own furniture at local tech shops, printing toys out on 3D printers, and connecting via the Internet to collaborate on music. The Internet has opened up a whole new world of creativity that was never available before, creating pockets of niche communities that are informative and proactive. The Maker Movement is powerful, and now more than ever, students have the opportunity to start early and contribute significantly to the world. This is the beginning of a new revolution and teachers are at the forefront.