Harvard Educational Review
  1. Winter 2014 Issue »


    The Maker Movement in Education: Designing, Creating, and Learning Across Contexts

    The process of making useful objects was an everyday activity in both schools and homes throughout the twentieth century. Whether sewing a garment, building a birdhouse, or constructing a model airplane, children and youth—often with the mentorship and guidance of adults—had plentiful opportunities to learn through the process of physical creation. With ever-increasing access to digital forms of technology, the pedagogical landscape has shifted in the past two decades, with the focus on instructing young people in communicating, researching, and creating via interactive computing. While this shift offers exciting possibilities for the field of education, many educators both inside and outside of schools have revisited making as a valuable site for teaching and learning. This return does not exclude modern advancements in technology, however; rather, these educators are bridging physical processes of construction and making with digital media.

    The learning that occurs through the experience of making and the learning that occurs through instruction in new media share an unexpected pedagogical kinship. As Groff (2013) points out, we are reaching a period where it is just as easy for young people to produce . . . multimodal, multimedia content as to consume it” (p. 23). Similarly, the phenomenon that some have termed the “maker movement,” which describes the wave of interest in constructing and sharing personal inventions and creative artifacts, reconfigures the learner as a producer rather than a consumer. Makers—operating in schools and museums, in libraries and community centers, in homes and specially designed makerspaces—contend that the process of imagining, creating, refining, and sharing a custom artifact offers a unique form of both collaborative and self-directed learning for youth and adults alike.

    In this symposium, we present three articles that we hope will catalyze a useful conversation about the resurgence of making in schools and community-based organizations. In the introductory essay, Erica Rosenfeld Halverson and Kimberly M. Sheridan discuss the burgeoning maker movement and the increasing public attention given to activities that involve, include, or encourage making. They consider the possibilities of construction-oriented learning for schooling and education reform and pose questions to scholars to further explore learning processes through the frames of making, makerspaces, and makers.

    In light of this framing, the symposium also includes two empirical pieces. In “Learning in the Making: A Comparative Case Study of Three Makerspaces,” Halverson and colleagues highlight the key characteristics of three makerspaces, identifying differences and commonalities among these environments and describing the unique ways these contexts simultaneously offer self-directed learning, collaborative support, and community membership. In “Electronic Textiles as Disruptive Designs: Supporting and Challenging Maker Activities in Schools,” Yasmin Kafai, Deborah Fields, and Kristin Searle study a set of workshops in which students experience the process of making e-textiles. They consider three “disruptions” in students’ perceptions of themselves and of their works: increased exposure to the production of technology, the necessity of attending to aesthetics in making, and increased interest among female students in participating in computer-based activities and courses.

    In this symposium, as in the field at large, there are elements of research on making that feel both old and new in their contributions to learning theories and contexts. The research presented here reflects the Harvard Educational Review’s ongoing interest in constructionism, a theory first developed by Seymour Papert in the late 1980s regarding science education and computer technology. Constructionism weds a Piagetian framing of the learner as knowledge-builder with Deweyan processes of learning through hands-on, experiential, and inquiry-based activities. In connecting their perspective to Dewey’s constructivism, Papert and Harel (1991) explain that

    constructionism . . . shares constructivism’s connotation of learning as “building knowledge structures” irrespective of the circumstances of the learning, [but] adds the idea that this happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity, whether it’s a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe. (p. 1)

    This theoretical lens has spurred a vast amount of research on engaging students in problem-based learning as well as learning via computer technology. Therefore, we see great value in new scholarship on various forms of making, such as the work presented in this symposium as well as by research hubs such as Project Zero, the MIT Media Lab, and Stanford University’s FabLab@School network and by leaders in museum education, such as the Exploratorium and New York Hall of Science. These scholars have been at the forefront of designing, testing, and writing about making and learning in the twenty-first century.

    We encourage our readers to use this symposium as a springboard for understanding and exploring the many questions, opportunities, and challenges that are increasingly salient as the maker movement gains traction in educational contexts. We echo Halverson and Sheridan’s call to education scholars to broaden our general understanding of makers, making, and makerspaces through more in-depth empirical research. We also note that making has recently been linked in public discourse to a variety of outcomes related to art, science, career trajectories, and college pathways. Here contributing authors begin to explore the particular nature of the learning that happens through making; however, we remain curious about whether and how this learning is tied to particular outcomes within content areas such as language arts or math, and the weight that these causal links hold for fund raising, policy making, and institutionalization.

    We also recognize the complexities of maker identities and issues of representation related to race, class, and gender. For instance, in Kafai and colleagues’ article, we see how young people negotiate their maker identities in relation to deeply entrenched expectations of gender performativity. We note, too, that for many people from various class backgrounds and communities of color, making continues to be part of everyday life. Do-it-yourself activities are not necessarily a hobby but informal ways of knowing, thinking, doing, and surviving. As such, we hope to hear voices of scholars, teachers, and learners offering their critiques and insights into representations of makers.

    Finally, and most broadly, we wonder how the maker movement will address issues of equity and access in coming years. We invite scholars, educators, and students to offer additional perspectives and insights on this topic as it informs processes of teaching and learning writ large.


    Groff, J. S. (2013). Expanding our “frames” of mind for education and the arts. Harvard Educational Review, 83(1), 15–39.

    Papert, S., & Harel, I. (1991). Preface. In I. Harel & S. Papert (Eds.), Constructionism: Research reports and essays, 1985–1990 (pp. 1). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.
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    Winter 2014 Issue


    Toward a Relational Perspective on Young Black and Latino Males
    The Contextual Patterns of Disclosure as Coping
    David J. Knight
    The Kinesiology of Race
    The Maker Movement in Education
    Learning in the Making
    A Comparative Case Study of Three Makerspaces
    Electronic Textiles as Disruptive Designs
    Supporting and Challenging Maker Activities in Schools
    The Maker Movement in Education: Designing, Creating, and Learning Across Contexts

    Book Notes

    How College Works
    Daniel F. Chambliss and Christopher G. Takacs

    The States of Child Care
    Sara Gable

    Call 1-800-513-0763 to order this issue.