The 'Maker Movement' Inspires Shift in STEM Curriculum

Science, technology, engineering and math curriculum is starting to shift from passive to active learning, and include app development.

by / July 22, 2013 0
Students learn STEM skills by making apps in a curriculum inspired by the maker movement.

We live in a world of mass-produced products and modern technology -- technology that has made it easy for an individual to create and distribute customized and unique items sans manufacturers. And this ability has created the maker movement -- "an evolution of millions of people who are taking big risks to start their own small businesses dedicated to creating and selling self-made products," according to the Huffington Post.

And this movement is starting to make headway in some science, technology, engineering and math curriculum.

A shift in education from passive to active learning is occuring, as shown by curriculum from the Digital Harbor Foundation, BatelleEd and Arizona State. The STEM Core curriculum emphasizes inquiry, projects and production around app development. And at the end of the process, students will have an app to market in app stores.

"We're more interested in saying, 'We want producers, we want makers, we want somebody who isn't just using a website to learn, but is making a website to learn," said Andrew Coy, executive director of the Digital Harbor Foundation.

That hasn't always been the mindset, though. For so long, education has been stuck in the 19th century Industrial Revolution style.

"You learn a bit, test a little bit, have a little break," said Paul Skiera, director of the Technology Based Learning and Research Center in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. "Go to your next period, learn a bit, test a little bit."

In this model, students didn't always get to apply what they were learning right away. But now education is starting to get out of the rut and into a new age of inquiry- and project-based learning. 

Getting out of the rut involves asking questions and solving problems that haven't been addressed before. Too often, education emphasizes the regurgitation of information rather than finding solutions, Coy said.

"All innovations and innovation economies rely on this ability to solve a currently unsolved problem, but so much in education revolves around solving questions that already have known answers," Coy said.

In the schools that plan to use STEM Core this fall, students will solve problems that are rarely addressed. Some of the schools already focus on STEM, so the curriculum fits into their existing class time. And other schools have flexible enough electives or technology credits to allow students to work on the curriculum.

They'll be using Corona SDK as a mobile development framework and Lua as the programming language. Once their apps are finished, they can be exported to the native iOS and Android platforms.

When students can identify a problem and create a solution, they invest more time and effort. And they gain confidence as they realize that they can do something they haven't done before.

"You really see kids take a vital interest in their output," Skiera said. "And anytime you can self-create — whether it's objects, whether its software or whether its newer experimentation — you have that identity, that ownership. You feel good about yourself because it is a reflection of your efforts."

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.