How to incorporate the Maker Movement and Design Thinking into the Classroom

The Maker Movement and the concept of design thinking as teaching strategies, are  slowly becoming more common in classrooms. Learning by doing or "making" is not exactly a new phenomenon, but these buzzwords have only recently entered the mainstream educational system. So, what are they and how can they be implemented in your classroom.

Design thinking and the Maker Movement are fundamentally linked to experiential learning tactics such as inquiry-based learning and learning outside of the classroom. They exist on the basis of the “constructivist paradigm”, that we learn through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. 


STEM Educational Activities

What is design thinking?

Popularised by the Stanford Design School. Design thinking, in a nutshell, is a human-centric process for creative problem-solving. The Design Thinking approach harbours creativity and nurtures innovation. It can be used to turn traditional academic topics into creative hands-on projects, and is not limited to STEM subjects. It is the same process used by some of the world’s largest companies. Employees at Apple, Google, Samsung and IBM use design thinking to drive innovation and foster creativity.

Design Thinking in the Classroom

The great value in design thinking is that it can be used throughout the curriculum, it is not specifically for design subjects. Design thinking goes hand in hand with STEAM education and can be used across the social sciences to encourage out of the box thinking. Students begin with a specific problem in mind and work through the process to solve them. The framework is designed to promote creative confidence and connect classroom learning with real world problems.

 There are generally five stages to the design thinking process:

  • Empathise - Students gather data to discover what the problem is. Through this empathetic research they gain a deeper personal understanding of the problem and exactly who they are designing for.

  • Define - Collect all the data that has been gathered. Analyse the observations and identify the core problems that need to be solved.
  • Ideat - Begin generating ideas to address the problem.

  • Prototype - Finally begin making their solution, learning from failures and feedback as they go.

  • Test - The solution is presented where they receive further feedback to refine their solution.

While the process can be linear it isn't uncommon to skip backwards in the process as more is learnt. Students may end up making several revisions of a solution for a single problem. This is why it fits perfectly with the maker movement, and the idea of failing to learn.


What is the Maker Movement?

The Maker Movement encourages students to learn, fail and share as they innovate. Derived from design thinking, it thrives in the creation of new objects or software as well as altering existing ones. Bringing this into the classroom allows students to explore their inner creativity, individuality and problem-centric thinking. The combination of skills used to make something and the critical thinking and problem solving that comes with it creates the perfect opportunity for learning.


Why should I bring the Maker Movement into the classroom?

As new technology continues to change the job market it is almost impossible to predict the occupation learners will find themselves in once they leave school. Effective teaching strategies must take this unpredictable landscape into account. Conventional teaching focuses on repetition and memorisation to educate students and is beneficial for sharing new knowledge and teaching students who learn best by listening. However, conventional teaching doesn't encourage students to develop critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills, which the Maker Movement does. On average a person will change jobs over 10 times during their career. This is a huge change from just 50 years ago and the figure is projected to continue rising. As a result, it is becoming more important to develop skills of flexibility to adapt to these rapid changes in our environment. The ability to continue learning, failing and persevering are all characteristics of the maker movement and design thinking. These skills will be increasingly important in supporting learners into an unpredictable future.

With the movement towards STEAM  and STEM education, The Maker Movement and Design Thinking are teaching techniques that fully incorporate this cross-subject approach to education.


Hands-on activities on an International STEM trip
Hands-on activities on an International STEM trip

How to implement the Maker Movement in your classroom

1. Start Small
Create small experiments that allow your class to practice design thinking and the maker movement with a predefined beginning and end to maintain some level of control.

2. Don’t apply an end-to-end process
Once you have introduced the concept you have to trust that the process will work and go with the flow. With unpredictable paths and unpredictable outcomes, the teacher's role develops as a ‘facilitator of learning’. Teachers must work and fail with students to nurture creative confidence in the classroom. Not defining outcomes may seem daunting at first, but you might be surprised by your class’s creativity and end result.

3. Create a supportive and safe learning environment
The Maker Movement is characterised by a love for ‘tinkering’ a form of playful learning by doing and failing.  Making mistakes is an integral part of the maker movement. For this to be truly successful students must not be afraid to try new things even if it might not work. Failure is necessary for success and they need to know that mistakes happen and that’s ok!

4. Have fun!
Bringing design and maker thinking into the classroom starts with the teacher taking steps to nurture their students can-do maker mindset. This is as hands-on for the students as it is for the teacher. Teachers must embrace the uncomfortable and start making, failing, and learning alongside students. The maker movement is based upon a love of making things and above all, should inspire enjoyment of this – so make it fun!

Using design thinking and the maker movement on a school trip

Both teaching strategies are based on solving real world problems, team building and inspiring creative thinking. All of these skills are extensively called upon in our school trips. We’ve highlighted 2 school trips that have exceptional maker movement and design thinking orientated curriculums. The activities on these school trips develop real-world transferable skills that will inspire your students and give them a lasting platform for success.

Space Camp Huntsville

Students work in teams to complete mission scenarios requiring dynamic problem solving and hands on activities. Students construct and launch their own model rocket, design and construct a futuristic Martian colony and launch simulated missions to the International Space Station. Extensive feedback is provided throughout the activities to guide the students to achieve success.

Learn More about school trips to Space Camp Huntsville

Rocket Building on a school trip to NASA
Rocket Building

Digital Media Academy Stanford University ( the birthplace of the Stanford Design School)

The Digital Media Academy has been delivering STEM education under the principles of experiential learning, design thinking and the maker movement since 1999. It also happens to have been founded at the home of design thinking, Stanford University. Students can choose from 25 programs along 6 different career paths. Courses are  in coding, robotics, music production, filmmaking & photography, 3D modelling and game design.

Using project-based learning, students programme their robots to do laps around the campus or develop films and creative images of their surroundings. Students are encouraged to showcase their final projects at the end of camp.

“We believe that the best learning happens while creating. We focus on cultivating the most important traits from our students: creativity, empathy, and the ability to solve problems by immersing them in a high-energy, hands-on, collaborative learning experience.”
Digital Media Academy.

Future Focussed Teaching  Strategies 

Although relatively new strategies in education, both the maker movement and design thinking have been proven as successful drivers of creativity and innovation by companies such as Apple, Google and Samsung. Both strategies are based on problem solving skills, empathy, teamwork and inspiring creative confidence, skills that are becoming increasingly important in tomorrow’s global world. 

Bringing these teaching techniques into your classroom will help inspire your learners, and create tomorrow’s global citizens.  

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