Jennifer Wyld
Making connections while making connections

Before starting grad school to better understand learning, I was involved with Montessori for more than 20 years, mostly at the elementary and middle school levels. The things I appreciate most about Montessori are the same reasons I am so excited about the maker movement, and the Mobile MEGAShare, organized by the Mobile Learning Network, reminded me why I first got interested in this movement.

Teacher educator Laura Briggs named creativity, teamwork, collaboration and critical thinking as inherent to the make experience she offers in her summer and school year programs. With this in mind, the materials can be anything from cardboard to computers — they are just a medium for the expression of the qualities that offer youth (or adults) the chance to fully explore and express their ideas.

One thing that is unique about make is the endless possibilities it offers with materials and activities. And the tools just keep getting better, less expensive and more user friendly. Montessori is full of opportunities for learners to work collaboratively and cooperatively, follow their interests, think deeply and critically, have hands-on experiences, act from and on their internal motivation, act and think creatively, and more! You can see why I draw so many connections between the two.

Maker education expert Sylvia Martinez brought up the idea of building bridges between make and educators. There is much research on education that supports this type of learning, although that is not always obvious when you look at what is still happening in most classrooms. Hands-on learning, activities with real-world applications, giving learners greater agency, collaborative settings, and interest-driven learning — all of these positively impact learning. Make is a way to bring these experiences into learning settings, both formal and informal.

Make is also a way to " "bring STEM to life," " another issue impacting education and our world at large. If make offered nothing else, addressing the lack of STEM literacy, which seems to be an increasing problem, would justify finding ways to bring the movement into schools.

One more interesting observation is that schools often seem overly focused on having students all do the same thing and then assuming it means they are all learning the same thing. There seems to be a lot of evidence that this is not true, so let's try something different! (This might a positive aspect of standardized tests — let's take the message that what we are doing does not work for most children and youth and head in a new direction)

Another quality of the maker movement we talked about with Sylvia was that it offers more realistic ways to " "do" " science and STEM. Many schools offer only a linear way to approach these subjects, while make lets you tinker around and to try something new, using the best information you have and the team around you to move forward. It also lets you make something that matters, to you, to others, to the world.

Youth are often inspired to want to change the world and solve its problems. Make can give them the tools and mindset to do so. Maria Montessori also recognized this power and potential of children and youth, seeing them as our greatest resource for creating a more peaceful, just world. If make can help bring this to fruition, sign me up!

Jennifer Wyld is a Ph.D. candidate in free-choice learning in the Science and Math Education program at Oregon State University. She is interested in alternative education and learning environments, particularly those involving Make, Montessori and environmental education.