Researching A School District's Integration Of The Maker Movement Into Its Middle And High School
Students and educators in the middle and high schools of a semi-rural school district are engaged in the extensive integration of Making and the Maker Movement their formal education setting.
The beginning of the 21st century saw the rise of Maker Spaces or informal community workshops where people of all ages engage in a variety of creative design and fabrication activities with materials and equipment that would otherwise be out of reach for the average person. The grass roots nature of the Maker movement reflects the general public's strong interest and engagement in informal science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning activities. Given its power to engage learners, K-12 educators and school leaders are considering how the Maker Movement might be integrated into formal school settings. Yet, integration is challenging because some of the very characteristics that make Maker spaces successful are problematic in formal education settings, such as voluntary versus compulsory participation, grades, and the structure of schooling into discrete content areas. Research that uncovers tangible ways to successfully integrate Making into schools has the potential to foster teacher and student learning, and to inspire students to strive toward STEM careers. This project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers program that supports projects that build understandings of best practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to engaging students in learning and developing interest in STEM, information and communications technology, computer science, and related STEM content and careers.
This research project uses case study methodology to articulate how the Elizabeth Forward School District (EFSD) integrates the Maker movement into its secondary schools. Serving a semi-rural community in the Pittsburgh area, EFSD has given the area's historic "maker" roots of heavy industry and manufacturing a 21st century twist. For example, since 2013 EFSD has used a variety of Making tools and approaches to promote a project-based curriculum that integrates art, technology education, and computer science at the middle school level. In its high school the district has used FAB Lab, which houses digital fabrication technology, such as laser cutters, 3D printers, and various 2D and 3D software applications. Using mixed methods (i.e., interviews, surveys, observations and student work), Year 1 of the project articulates and tracks EFSD's internal efforts and processes, and collaborations with various external partners. Year 2 of the project focuses on specific teacher and student outcomes while also making comparisons to historical data and to comparable districts that do not incorporate Making. Intellectually, the project is important because it examines the intersection of formal and informal learning environments. For example it explores how introducing Maker activities into formal STEM education impacts teacher practice, student engagement and learning, and community involvement. It also offers insight into whether and how the essence of Making is modified by its inclusion into formal settings. In practical terms, the research will offer other school districts a timely example of the rewards and challenges involved in Maker integration.