DIY

High School Makerspaces: Q&A with MAKE’s Dale Dougherty


Dale Dougherty, editor and publisher of MAKE magazine, has a mission—to bring a culture of making to America’s high schools. In Dale’s view, education nowadays is too concerned with memorizing facts. Students rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to CREATE anything with the knowledge they learn from textbooks, unless one counts interesting patterns on a scantron sheet as a creative venture. With funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Dale hopes to bring the tools and technology of makerspaces to 1,000 high schools over the next four years. Makerspace.com sums it up nicely by saying,   “By creating makerspaces in an educational context, students can have access to tools and equipment that they might not have otherwise; they can collaborate on projects that are driven by their own interests, and by doing so, develop the capacity and confidence to innovate.”   We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. We managed to tear Dale away from his busy schedule for an interview about the Makerspace program, his views on education and the importance of creativity.   RadioShack: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Dale. To start off, can you give us an overview of the Makerspace program? Dale Dougherty: The Makerspace program, which we got DARPA funding to launch, is really to develop tools and designs for establishing the practices of making in high school. There’s a general feeling that this is disappearing from the educational landscape. Shop classes are being closed in a lot of schools. Now, there’s all this new technology becoming available that is making it more affordable to make something, to design something on a computer, press a button and have it printed out on a 3-D printer. It’s really exciting, really motivating. We want to work with teachers to develop this capacity in schools and give more students the opportunity. I’m interested in this idea of “What can you DO with what you know?” not just “What do you know?” A lot of school today is just focused on absorbing a lot of content. What if we focus on what you’re able to build, what you’re able to make? It reinforces not only the content that you’re learning, but instills the desire to learn more and makes this clear connection that the more you learn, the more you can do.     RS: What piece of equipment would you like to see in every high school makerspace? DD: I would start with hand tools—wire cutters, screwdrivers, hammers and wrenches and work our way up to soldering irons and other things like that. If I wanted to give a sexy answer I’d say 3-D printers and laser cutters and those things too, but I think it’s important for us to understand it would be lovely to have all of that equipment in a high school makerspace, but it’s also important that we think about making them affordable for more and more kids to participate. We can make things even under the great constraint of limited tools and materials. Creativity is what we’re trying to develop here, not just the number of tools in the toolshed.   RS: How many makerspaces are in the works at the moment?  DD: Well, we’re working on a program to develop that. I don’t think there are a lot of them out there right now and that’s why we’re doing the program. There are perhaps some spaces out there that may not technically be considered makerspaces. There are a lot of shop classes out there, though fewer than we had a few years ago. They clearly have the potential to be a makerspace, but they may not be infused with new ideas about creating things. They embody a bit of an older mind-set. But I think there are places around. Sometimes in private schools and other places where they have good resources, they’ve been able to blend things like an artist studio with a bio lab, with almost like a garage and toolshed kind of thing and put them together into a creative space.   RS: Are there plans to bring makerspaces to low-income and urban areas or will only schools with plenty of resources be able to afford them? DD: We want both. I think the incentives are different and the methods are different. Wealthy neighborhoods have the resources, but sometimes in that segment I have to convince parents and teachers that making is superior to a lot of the academic programs that they’re doing. Some are thinking, “Oh my kid’s doing hands-on activities, they’re not going to do so well on their AP scores and that won’t get them into a four-year college.” There’s that mind-set you have to crack there. But clearly this can develop in middle-class and wealthy communities where parents and others take initiative and say, “We think this belongs.”   Obviously, we have issues in low-income communities that need to be addressed. We largely have to say that those need assistance. They often have trouble raising money from the community to create new things. Again, if we take the example of putting a 3-D printer in a low-income school, where’s that money going to come from? There’s such a limited budget framework these days that has to come from the outside. What I really believe is that getting those tools, and getting that mind-set inside those schools gives kids more of a new, modern fluency about making things that can really map to lots of creative projects for their school. The drama class could use the tools to create sets, a social studies class could be looking into how things are made. One of the important things that I like to point out is that a makerspace inside a school is like a library. It’s a resource that can be used by anyone in the school, and perhaps anyone in the community, to make things. That’s the direction I’m going.   RS: What maker skills do you think every high school student should learn? DD: I think there’s a wide range of skills. When you look across the DIY space, what’s interesting is that it’s so broad. We really try to encourage people to try all kinds of making. It could be programming and working with microcontrollers; it might be working with rockets; it might be working with fabrics and e-textiles. Experimentation is one of the things we’re trying to promote. If you do experiments, a number of them fail and you learn from that failure and say, “Gee, I could have done that differently.” It’s metacognitive skills that we’re trying to develop—a way of thinking, a way of doing that increases your confidence in your own abilities and in your capacity to learn. I’d like students to believe that anybody can do these things, not that only a few people are good at math or only a few people are good at programming. The goal is to reduce the barrier to those subjects and show that anybody can be good at them.   RS: Are there any plans with school districts to have a makerspace class that replaces a science credit or goes toward graduation requirements? DD: Right now I have a small set that I’m working with. Some are electives. Practical Arts is one of the classes that we have in California. We’re working on some ways to teach Make and math together. A lot of students aren’t good at math and don’t feel so good about it. Maybe if we teach it in a different context we can have a different result if we change their attitudes about what they can do and their own interest level in mathematics.   RS: What kinds of projects are going to be part of the high school Makerspace curriculum? DD: We’re still in development there. Our way of thinking is to map the student interest and to also map back to certain tools and technologies that are available. Obviously there are some things you can do in a school and some things that are more difficult and more expensive. Making musical instruments is a really fun area. You could start with some of the projects we’ve had in Make like a cigar box guitar or a cracker box amplifier. You could move into electronics with hacking Casio keyboards and doing something called circuit bending. Or, you could look at ways of building synthesizers with some basic electronics skills. If someone says they’re interested in music, there’s a whole world of interesting things you can make in music and you can even get into the science of sound. Robotics is another area. Building something that moves, something that you can program or give simple instructions to is another direction we’d like to follow.     RS: What advice do you have for students who want to learn maker skills, but who won’t have access to a makerspace at their schools? DD: Talk to your parents. Let them know that you need some help. You don’t necessarily need a makerspace. It helps, sure, but there are activities and programs in a lot of different environments—community centers and after-school programs, for example. Figure out what you’re interested in. If it’s music, say “Hey, I’d like to get into making some kind of music. Where can I go to learn that?” It might not be at school; it might be on Saturday morning at a neighborhood place. It’s kind of like how we sometimes have to look for an art teacher or a music teacher. You have to find alternatives to what might be available in school.     RS: Are there any plans to bring makerspaces to middle schools or even younger students? DD: Yes, but a lot of this is not about age level. It’s really about the context. I’ve seen 4th graders doing Arduino projects and college students picking up their first power tool. The sequence is a little more complex. What we want to do is just give people more options to make things. In some ways, when we’re in kindergarten, we have a lot more hands-on work. There’s more value placed on making things, even if it’s just simple crafts. I think that tends to go away as we get into middle school where we rely mostly on textbooks. I’d like to see schools, all age groups really, evaluated by the projects that are generated by students. What is the student work being produced? What do they actually get to do? What is the complexity of it? What are the tools and techniques they use? You can evaluate those things. We give young kids crayons and paper and ask them to draw and then, sometimes, we just STOP asking them to draw.   To learn more about the Makerspace program, check out Makerspace.com.   If we’ve learned anything from our interview with Dale, it’s the importance of creativity. We want to do our part to spark your creative spirit. Get your feet wet in the world of DIY with a cool MAKE hobby or project kit at your local RadioShack store or on our website here. Experiment, learn, create and be sure to show us your projects at RadioShackDIY.com. Good luck and happy making!

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7 Comments

  • David R. Rodriguez

    Greeting my friend,

    Long story short, this initative speaks to my heart. I don’t have a lot of spare time or money, However, let me ask, What can I do to help?

  • Dan Rosencrance

    Education has created a two-tier valuing system that places a lesser value on the non-college bound student. This denigrates a native intelligence that is not reflected in classroom performance.

    as well, males are more action-oriented creatures and the practice of sitting down and shutting up is valued in the classroom. Witness that Ritalin prescriptions are rarely written for female students. Maker programs should be a God-send for males.

  • Gary Webster

    I am extremely pleased to see that Radio Shack is extending it’s involvement in DIY and new technology for High School students and the experimenter in all of us.

    Thanks
    Gary

  • Mark Campidonica

    I think there are at least two levels of creative activity that are relevant to this discussion:

    A.] Creative Thinking. Computer software, and kits could work here, because they can use a lot of reusable components. Music, again for the same reason.

    B.] Hard Skills. The expensive level, because you usually have to use something up to learn. For example, sawing a board. Breadboard electronics are good, because often components such as resistors and capacitors can be reused. Cooking, woodworking, etc. are probamatic because the materials get consumed in the making.

    I would encourage writing, drawing and other planning skills be an integral part of this type of program.

  • http://www.meinportrait.com

    Thanks – Enjoyed this blog post, how can I make is so
    that I get an alert email whenever you make a fresh article?

  • Dave Dalton

    If your school doesn’t have a maker space or a woodshop, check your community for a hackerspace or community workshop.

    I run one of these is Kansas City called Hammerspace.

    Members enjoy access to a fully appointed makerspace that includes every resource from hand tools to 3d printers and CNC routers.

    Your city probably has such a space but they can be hard to locate.