Following last week's Maker Faire in New York City, the National Science Foundation sponsored a workshop on "Innovation, Education, and the Maker Movement" organized by MAKE founder Dale Dougherty, New York Hall of Science's Margaret Honey, and Tom Kalil from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Tom and I worked together at UC Berkeley many years ago on university initiatives for nanoscience, a domain he had previously brought to the White House when he worked with President Clinton. Now, Tom is actively involved in helping the US Government see the potential of the maker movement and DIY culture in the context of accelerated innovation, economic growth, and, most importantly, education around science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Tom is one of the good guys. O'Reilly Radar posted a transcript of Tom's talk from the "Innovation, Education, and the Maker Movement" conference. From Radar (image from MAKE):
Economically — we are seeing the early beginnings of a powerful Maker innovation ecosystem. New products and services will allow individuals to not only Design it Yourself, but Make it Yourself and Sell it Yourself. For example, Tech Shops are providing access to 21st century machine tools, in the same way that Kinkos gave millions of small and home-based business access to copying, printing, and shipping, and the combination of cloud computing and Software as a Service is enabling "lean startups" that can explore a new idea for the cost of ramen noodles.
Makers are also becoming successful entrepreneurs. Dale just wrote a compelling story about Andrew Archer — the 22-year-old founder of Detroit-based Robotics Redefined. As a teenager, Andrew started off entering robotics competitions and making printed circuit boards on the kitchen table. He is now building customized robots that transport inventory on the factory floors of auto companies. With more entrepreneurs like Andrew — we could see a bottom-up renaissance of American manufacturing…
As you know, President Obama has made science, technology, engineering and math a top priority, and in his inaugural address he honored and celebrated the "risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things."
In his November 2009 speech launching the Educate to Innovate campaign and public-private partnerships like National Lab Day, the President said:
Students will launch rockets, construct miniature windmills, and get their hands dirty. They'll have the chance to build and create — and maybe destroy just a little bit — to see the promise of being the makers of things, and not just the consumers of things.
So the President is a strong supporter of hands-on, project-based approaches to learning.
After all, we wouldn't teach kids how to play football by lecturing to them about football for years and years before allowing them to play. And if education is about the "lighting of a flame not the filling of a pail" — we should be putting the tools of discovery, invention and fabrication at the finger tips of every child — inside and outside of the classroom.