Innovation is rooted in play, and making is a universal language of learning, says MAKE magazine publisher.
A makeshift shark-powered forklift telescope and a flower propelled seaplane sound like nonsense until you actually see one take shape, twisting the final pipe cleaner into place around the building block, rubber band, glue stick figurine.
Those crafty concoctions just might get tossed into a dancing garbage can one day, but all is not lost if the act of making it ignited ideas that otherwise might not have challenged the status quo.
Those whacky creations were the result of hands-on maker sessions aimed at blending elements of play with acts of tactile creation. It’s something essential to human nature and innovation, according to Dale Dougherty, CEO and founder of Maker Media, which puts on the Maker Faire.
Since 2006, his series of events for do-it-yourself technology tinkerers has grown to 100 locations around the world in just a little over two years. Many of the makers and their creations are shared on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
“We live in an age where it is easier and more possible to take an idea you have and make something real out of it,” said Dougherty, who is also publisher of MAKE magazine. He is out front, leading what he and many hope will be a revolution in education and community engagement.
“Who knows where that leads you, whether long term that opens doors for you or whether that idea actually becomes a successful product in the world,” he said, after speaking with kindergarten through 12th grade educators gathered at Intel headquarters a few days prior to the world’s biggest Maker Faire, held in San Mateo, Calif. May 17-18.
While for generations Legos and tinker toys have helped kids explore their creativity, Dougherty points to new technologies that did not exist a few years ago. Tools like laser cutters, 3-D printers, electronic microcontrollers used to build robots and software for making moving objects are just some of the tools allowing people to create things in new ways. You’ll find these so-called maker shops and makers spaces popping up at Universities on down through elementary schools and community centers.
“[The maker movement] is going everywhere,” he said. “If it were shown on a map, we’d just see more dots being added.”
But he’d like to see more.
“Just how they’ve built recreation facilities for students, they could be making fabrication facilities for students,” he said. “We’d like to see that go all the way down to the elementary level. I’d like to see maker spaces in every school and library in America. That allows kids to have access to tools and materials, and give them the opportunity to take an idea and do something with it.”
He said that making is the universal language for learning, and the problems we have in education seem to be universal as well so he and a growing band of makers are trying to see how these things fit together.
Discovery of New Things
When asked what makes a maker, and whether they’re born or made, Doughrery didn’t hesitate.
“I’d say both because if you have the ability to make things but you don’t have access to people, mentors or tools and materials, you’ll never going to develop that [ability into a skill],” he said.
He said that some might say that music is inherent, but if we don’t develop it in lots of people, we might never discover true appreciation and understanding of it.
“We’re all makers. I don’t know where that comes from but it seems to be a very fundamental human quality. If we don’t develop it, we’ll lose it. That’s what I see happening today. We have the opportunity to develop this and gain the opportunities that come through making.”
Doughtery says making is rooted in play.
“Kids get this when their young when it’s all about blocks, Legos and things. For some reason they stop doing it. What I’ve discovered is that play is a source of innovation. When I see adults, techies if you will, get a new technology, they’re playing it. They want to discover. They’re curious about what it does but they’re also curious about what they can do with it. That dialog between what it does and what I can do is what creates innovation.”