Building a Nation of Makers

From June 17 through 23, our nation celebrates the National Week of Making. This week recognizes that makers, builders and doers – of all ages and backgrounds – always have had a vital role in pushing our country to develop creative solutions to some of our most pressing challenges.

As President Barack Obama has noted, during this week, “We celebrate the tinkerers and dreamers whose talent and drive have brought new ideas to life, and we recommit to cultivating the next generation of problem solvers.”

The term “making” refers to both traditional outlets for creativity such as metalworking, woodworking and drawing, as well as to digital fabrication made possible by computer design tools, robotics, laser cutters, 3D printers and other tools. When the president hosted the first-ever Maker Faire in 2014 to launch the Nation of Makers initiative, he set our country on a path toward ensuring that more students, entrepreneurs and all Americans have access to these new technologies that are enabling our people to design, build and manufacture just about anything.

“Making” can play an important role in ensuring that school is a relevant and engaging experience for our children – one that inspires them to become life-long learners. Making can:

Empower students to solve real-world problems;

Motivate and inspire young people to excel in science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) and the arts, and prepare students for careers in design, advanced manufacturing and entrepreneurship;

Foster a “maker mindset” – dispositions and skills such as curiosity, collaborative problem-solving and confidence that are vital to the modern innovation economy; and

Increase student engagement, which is critical for academic success. The High School Survey of Student Engagement found that two-thirds of students surveyed said they were bored in school every day. Researchers over many years have found that when students learn through doing, they are more likely to be excited about school.

In 2011, a team of 15 teens from a low-income school in West Philadelphia showed what’s possible when our young people are challenged to solve real-world problems. The team built a 160 mpg hybrid vehicle that has outperformed fuel-efficient cars created by professional engineers and Ivy League graduate students and entered it in the $10 million Automotive X Prize.

In a city where over 50 percent of the students drop out, every single member of the team graduated. Inspired in part by that experience, the teacher who led the team launched a public school focused on students learning through solving hands-on, real-world problems.

We have to make sure that all our students have access to these kinds of challenging and hands-on activities. Although much of the focus has been on the new technology that is fueling the maker movement, even more important are the values, dispositions and skills that it fosters, such as creativity, imagination, problem-solving, perseverance, self-efficacy, teamwork and “hard fun.”

That’s why, today, the Department of Education is issuing a call to action to give every student opportunities to use these advanced tools and leverage the act of making for real learning. Achieving this goal will require creating “makerspaces” in schools and after-school programs and recruiting talented mentors for our students. We need everyone’s help to make this possible.

To read the rest of this article, published in US News and World Report, please click here.