Expanding the Maker Movement with STEM

shutterstock_287130371When Paul McCarthy’s son was born without fingers two years ago, McCarthy decided to find a solution on his own. He began to search for an inexpensive, functional prosthetic hand online and came across an internet video for a hand that could be made out of plastic by a three-dimensional printer, along with free instructions for how to print the hand out of plastic.

Now his son, Leon, can pick up his backpack, ride a bike, and carry a water bottle with his 3D-printed prosthetic hand. The design relies on wrist movement, so the hand can open, close, and grasp different objects. Leon and his dad can experiment with different designs and design new hands as he outgrows his current one.

Harnessing the Power of the Individual

The story of one person printing an affordable, functional prosthetic hand for his son illustrates the transformative nature of the maker movement. At its core, it is about empowering individuals to solve problems with the tools and resources that are available. If you have the creativity and drive, you as an individual can participate in the process to solve problems because the tools and resources are accessible.

This example is truly 21st century manufacturing, where individuals—rather than large companies—are empowered to solve problems by making technologies themselves. Unlike the historical model of manufacturing, where factories churned out millions of identical widgets to be purchased by consumers, the maker movement allows individuals to personalize and bypass the factory altogether.

Developing Creativity Begins in the Classroom

The creativity that drives this movement has to begin somewhere, and this is where STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education fits in. In order to develop a culture of makers, it is important to first develop students with the skills to create, evaluate, and analyze. At its core, effective STEM instruction teaches students to be makers and innovators

The successful STEM classroom duplicates what engineers and scientists do in the real world: ask questions and solve problems. This means equipping students to be engineers and scientists by allowing them to create hypotheses, design and build prototypes, test, analyze, and then use math to quantify their outcomes and communicate that information to peers. 

A Generation of STEM Makers

By training students with the STEM skills to identify problems, ask questions, and persevere toward a viable solution, teachers are equipping a generation to be innovators: teaching them to imagine what can be and developing the skills to help them get there. Innovation requires the ability to think and act, to discover or solve what is unknown. When students have these skills, they can demonstrate their creativity with purpose—the essence of the maker movement.