This past weekend, I attended the Maker Faire, held in the San Francisco Bay Area. Here, techies, engineers, artists, DIY-ers, and curious people of all ages convene to take part in an event that blends today’s high-tech tools with the enduring values of creativity, inventiveness, and hard work. If you’re into hands-on learning, it’s a great place to be!

I first attended the Maker Faire a couple years ago, primarily out of curiosity. Quite simply, I wanted to know what the buzz was all about… after all, tens of thousands of people don’t just randomly show up at a fairgrounds for nothing! And now, I’m pretty hooked. Not only do I enjoy attending, I get inspired to get creative and learn some new skills while I’m there.

Below, I’ve described three observations I’ve made while engaging with maker culture. Maybe you can relate, or maybe you have your own story to tell!

Three lessons I’ve learned (or had reinforced) by maker culture

1. Learning can be fun and practical.

There’s nothing quite like watching kids and teens get excited about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). I’m also inspired by those who apply their tech savvy, design style, and sense of humor to their endeavors. The results are often surprising and enlightening.

What’s more, I’ve observed that most makers want to help others like you and me to use our own ingenuity and abilities, and have some fun while we’re at it. If you’ve ever wanted to design a environmentally friendly garden, make a computer-controlled lamp, or “upcycle” boxes, bottles, furniture, tools, or empty containers to make something new and useful… you can learn how to do it.

Takeaway point: The process of discovery and doing kindles (or re-kindles) the joy of learning. When you adopt an experimental attitude, and allow yourself to have fun through the learning process, you’ll be re-energized! Trying out something new can also prompt you to think creatively about what you do on a regular basis, thereby bringing a sense of discovery back into the everyday.

2. Creativity can be a community experience.

Some aspects of the learning process take place on a personal, individual level. But it’s also inspiring (and exciting) to share what you’ve learned, make connections with others who share your passions, and use your individual skills to make something together.

You can see this spirit among the high schoolers who compete in robotics contests, a team of friends who create an interactive light display, or an entire community that’s contributing to a public art project. It also appears in the maker clubs popping up on on college campuses, which bring together students from a variety of disciplines to make, create, innovate, and learn from one another.

Takeaway point: Find a community of like-minded makers and doers! Embrace your interests, and seek out others who share them. Join a class or community group. Who knows: you might even meet someone at your local hardware store, public library, rec center, or hobby shop. Or, take it a step further: if you’re able and inclined, offer to be a faculty adviser for your own school’s maker club.

3. Getting “hands on” can be empowering.

Some people come quite naturally to the use (and creation) of technology and tech tools. For others, the thought of successfully using a soldering iron, building a robot, or programming a line of code seems like a pipe dream.

But within maker culture, there’s a pervasive, positive message about creativity and problem solving that encourages you to jump in and do, with very few boundaries or barriers. Want to do it? You can! Don’t know how? You can learn!

Of course, the process of learning and doing takes time, hard work, and commitment. But when you have confidence, the formidable roadblock of fear moves out of the way.

Takeaway point: Grab a tool and go for it. Don’t be afraid of picking up that hammer, leather punch, or soldering iron. Decide what you want to do, and conduct your background research. Sign up for a seminar; watch a how-to video; ask a friend to show you how it’s done. Then, go do it… and be encouraged not only by what you’re learning, but what you’re producing!

How to bring the maker spirit onto your campus

Some disciplines are, by their nature, more “hands on.” Certainly, if you teach in the STEM fields, your students probably have more opportunities to engage in building and hands-on experimentation. But hands-on learning isn’t just limited to STEM majors.

Want to create opportunities for hands-on learning at your school? Here are a few ideas:

  • Think about how you can design your in-class lessons as active-learning opportunities. Consider the flipped-classroom model, which provides space for students to collaborate, think critically, and problem-solve in the classroom, while listening to lectures or conducting preliminary research at home or on the go.
  • As mentioned above, many colleges (and K-12 schools) have makerspaces and maker clubs, which encourage students to try their hands at skills they might not have otherwise adopted. If your school doesn’t offer these opportunities, consider how you might bring them to your campus.
  • Foster the “DIY” attitude within your students. Encourage them to explore their passions, build their skills, and open up their ways of looking at the world. Support their desire for learning, and ignite their curiosity.


How do you bring hands-on learning into your own courses? Share in the comments.