MAKER MOVEMENT: EMPOWERING INNOVATION                                        

Maker Movement: Empowering Innovation

Diana Teel

Lamar University

Maker Movement: Empowering Innovation

The maker movement is a phenomenon that has swept across the globe. Makerspaces have changed the way educators approach teaching and redefined the way students of all ages learn. There are fourteen times as many makerspaces now as there were in 2006 (Lou & Peek, 2016) and that number has continued to steadily increase (Linnik, 2016). Makerspaces originally began in communities, both locally and internationally (Burke, 2014), but have now arrived at the doorsteps of educational institutions and are being welcomed in with open arms (Davis, 2016). Myer (2017) noted that schools worldwide have transformed their learning spaces into informal maker environments where students can tinker and invent. “According to data pulled from the latest national Speak Up Survey from Project Tomorrow, a full 31 percent of schools already have a makerspace of some sort, and another 23 percent have plans to implement one” (as cited in Nagel, 2018, para. 1). Why have so many school districts embraced the maker movement? An issue many educators have experienced is that students today do not know how to persevere in the face of failure. When some students are confronted with a challenging problem, they tend to see that challenge as too big to overcome, which experts concluded is due to a fixed mindset (Steier and Young, 2016). School makerspaces give students a safe environment to shift their mindset by providing a hands-on, creative space for students to experiment, discover, explore, and fail as they work together to conquer obstacles. The following literature review will look at the research of published books and credible articles that shed light on what makerspaces are and the philosophies that have informed the maker movement. It will investigate how makerspaces provide the ideal environment for students to develop the skills and mindset needed to be successful in today’s educational setting as well as tomorrow’s workplace. It will also examine the problems that can arise in school makerspaces, the lessons learned from experienced makers and assess how to measure makerspace success.

Why Makerspaces

        Makerspaces are learning environments that allow students to cultivate new skills, pursue challenges, and prepare for the futures they will create (Maker Media, 2013). These spaces are designed to support each student’s full capacity for creativity, confidence, and collaboration (Steier & Young, 2016). The maker movement is based on well-established philosophies of learning that offer a learner-centered approach to education and allows students to learn at their own pace, in their own way, without needing to turn to the teacher for step-by-step directions (Gohl, 2017). Makerspaces create an experience that fosters a maker mindset, a growth mindset, that inspires students to believe that makers can learn to do anything (Maker Media, 2013).

The Power of Mindset

Dweck (2010) established the growth mindset and the fixed mindset as the two mindsets people believe about themselves and has identified the characteristics students with each mindset portray. Students with a fixed mindset value appearing smart above everything else and tend to pursue tasks that will prove to others how intelligent they are while avoiding tasks that they view as difficult (Dweck, 2007). According to Dweck (2009) instead of embracing challenges and learning from them, fixed mindset students often try to hide their shortcomings. Students with a fixed mindset do not handle mistakes easily because they feel it calls their intelligence into question, believing if they have to put in any effort they are dumb, causing them to quickly become pessimistic when they do not experience immediate success. Students with a growth mindset are described by Dweck (2010) as confident they can conquer any challenge in front of them and instead of giving up when faced with a new challenge, they use any resource available to try to overcome it. Growth mindset students view difficult tasks as a chance to learn and grow (Tough, 2012) as well as an opportunity to develop their talents (Laursen, 2015). Dweck (2009) discovered that students with a growth mindset consistently outperform their fixed mindset peers. Which mindset a person will possess is established early on in life according to Dweck (2010), but are not permanent. Students’ mindsets can be changed and if they are changed, it can inspire resilience within that student (Yeager & Dweck, 2012). Educators can promote a growth mindset in several various ways, including teaching students openly about the two mindsets (Dweck, 2010). Laursen (2015) challenged teachers to personally model growth mindset strategies when faced with obstacles so when students are later confronted with similar difficulties they can use the strategies they witnessed earlier. The valuable characteristics encouraged by makerspaces is the development of a maker mindset and a toleration for risk and failure (Fleming, 2015).

The maker mindset. A makerspace is more than a space itself, it is a mindset that can and should be taught (Gerstein, 2014) which is the consensus amongst the literature explored for this review. According to Dougherty (2016), when people make things that they can hold in their hands and share with others, they are proud of what they have done and have enjoyed the learning process that comes with making, both its frustrations and rewards. Dweck’s growth mindset has a direct connection to the maker mindset because making develops what was once called a ‘can-do’ mindset that encourages people to act, take control of their lives, and establish their own capabilities (Dougherty, 2013). A natural part of problem-solving is failing (Gohl, 2017), but fear of failure is a natural part of human nature. Heraper (2017) declared failure as just a step towards success, stating that the greatest innovations are not created on the first try. The path to success is paved with failures and the maker mindset believes that it is not win-or-lose, but instead win-or-learn (Apodaca, 2017). Experts agreed that the most successful students are the ones equipped with the vital soft skills of grit, perseverance, tenacity, self-control, work with others, and problem solve (Laursen, 2015). School makerspaces have the power to equip students with those soft skills to move from a fixed mindset to a maker mindset that encourages students to believe they can do anything they set their mind to, without fear of failure (Steier & Young, 2016).

Preparing students for the futures they create. The maker mindset has the potential to encourage students not just to seek out jobs in STEM or similar fields, but to create their own careers and industries, depending on their interests and the needs of their society (Peppler & Bender, 2013). A research study conducted by Small (2014) found that students who are engaged in innovative activities were curious, inventive and inspired - they wanted to solve real problems that could assist others (as cited in Moorefield-Lang). Essentially, the empowering nature of the maker movement can help prepare youth for a future we cannot yet imagine (Davee, Regalla & Chang, 2015) and equip students with the most critical characteristic needed to be successful in their future: the mindset to persevere, even in the face of failure (Duckworth, 2013). Education should prepare students for life (Moorefield-Lang, 2014), which is what makerspaces do by giving students the potential to change the world (Doughtery, 2016) and arming students with the 21st-century skills future workplaces will require from them (Busch, 2017).

A Learner-Centered Approach

The maker movement is brimming with the promise of a new kind of learning that is individualized and student-centered (Fleming, 2015). Martinez and Stager (2013) stated that makerspaces puts the learner at the center of their own educational process and creates opportunities that students may never have experienced themselves. This learning approach recognizes that no two students will learn the same concepts at the same rate (S. Kurti, D. Kurti, & Fleming, 2014) and that in some ways the maker movement is a fundamental, primary reaction against one-size-fits-all education designed for aggregated instruction (Heraper, 2017). While creating and exploring in makerspaces, students are encouraged to take control over their

own learning, empowering them to shift from inactive users of information and products to

active creators and innovators (Dougherty, 2016). According to Fleming (2015) students taking ownership of their own learning is at the very core of the maker movement and school makerspaces provide the ideal environment to bring learning theories and practice together.

Maker education philosophies. ​Most literature in this review discussed the theories

and principles that make up the foundation of the maker movement. Some researchers point to Dewey’s constructivism philosophy which perceives learning as an intimate venture that requires the student, not the teacher, to initiate the learning process (Kurti et al, 2014) as the foundation of the maker movement. Martinez and Stager (2013) pointed to Seymour Papert as maker movement’s father and his constructionism philosophy that learning happens through the act of creating something that can be shared as the theory that most greatly resonates within the maker movement, stating that constructionism pushes constructivism a step further towards action. Halverson and Sheridan (2014) tie constructionism and constructivism together stating that constructivism outline learning as the product of experimentation, inquiry, and play, which are defining features of constructionism. Despite the differences of opinions regarding the foundation that the maker movement is built upon, all literature in this review agreed that the power of making empowers students and that maker education calls into play the instinctive human inclination to make things using our own hands and intellect (Doughtery, 2013).

The maker movement and education.​ When students are actively engaged and invested

in what they are doing is when powerful, meaningful learning takes place (Martinez & Stager, 2013). This kind of personal learning is a fundamental pillar of the maker movement and is the distinction between a student who is instructed to perform a task and one who is allowed to figure out what to do on their own (Gerstein, 2014). According to Heraper (2017), the opportunity to explore in a school makerspace is a vital tool in engaged learning and students who are allowed to play with their own ideas in makerspaces will learn without even realizing it has happened. The maker movement provides this type of hands-on engagement to students on all different academic levels and with all kinds of learning styles. Martinez and Stager (2013) expressed that when we honor all the learning styles our students possess, they feel safe to attack challenges in their own way, without fear of failure. Children who are allowed to learn in their own style find more meaning in what they are learning and can connect concepts across all subjects. The maker movement crosses the divide between formal and informal learning and forces educators to think about where and how learning can happen (Halverson & Sheridan, 2014). Using makerspaces in all educational contexts have been found to serve and align well with the required curriculum and state standards (Davee et al, 2015) because it allows students to learn the new concepts that are being taught by experiencing them first-hand. When students are allowed to learn through makerspaces, it provides them the safe environment to experience real-world discovery that can lead them to mastery of the subject’s concept (Fleming, 2016).

The Importance of the Makerspace Environment

A common misconception of the maker movement is that the most important thing is to fill the space with the newest technologies and gadgets - however, it is the feeling students have in the makerspace that is the most important (Kurti et al, 2014). Maker Media (2013) stated a makerspace is not defined by the collection of tools it has but instead by the making it enables. The latest and greatest technologies cannot replace the inspiration, which is activated by the culture of the space. A basic makerspace with a magnetic atmosphere of learning will succeed, while an equipment-rich space without the same essence is fated to fail (Heraper, 2017). The maker movement recognizes that students today need to learn in environments that are distinctive from the stuffy libraries and rows of classroom desks of past generations (Gohl, 2017).  The makerspace environment is intended to be a loud, messy place of active, hands-on learning (Apodaca, 2017) that accepts failure as a necessary step towards success. To create an atmosphere that normalizes failure makerspaces must be able to endure the sporadic broken item (Heraper, 2017) setting the tone of the space that it is ok to make mistakes.

 Makerspace Culture

School makerspaces create a culture of innovation for students to gain the skills needed to thrive in that type of innovative culture, which is the culture of today’s economy (Fleming 2015). Researchers point to several important principles that help create a flourishing makerspace culture. A successful school makerspace is a unique learning environment designed with the needs of the school and students it serves at the center (Fleming, 2015) so no two makerspaces should look the same (Moorefield-Lang, 2017). Creating a space that engages people from all generations is a defining element of the maker movement. Makerspaces invite cross-generational learning (Fleming, 2015) which can range from dads with expertise in auto repair, grandmas who are experts at sewing, or aunts and cousins who carve at home or in a woodshop ( Peppler & Bender, 2013). An essential part, and possibly the most important, of creating a thriving makerspace culture is that it is set up in an open, active learning environment (Meyer, 2017) and is conducive for the type of work that is done there (Paonessa & Orozco, 2016), similar to those found in school libraries.

        Library makerspaces. School libraries are steadily emerging as suitable locations for makerspaces (Peppler & Bender, 2013) and quite possibly what will stop libraries certain demise.  Libraries are in a fight to survive, where they need to embrace change or die (Moorefield-Lang, 2015), a fight all libraries are in worldwide. In Spain, Bjorner (2013) expressed libraries will be killed by their lack of imagination or their failure to be open to new ideas and experiences and Fleming (2015) built on that by saying if school libraries wish to remain significant today, then they should repurpose their area to include makerspaces. When school libraries implement makerspaces, it encourages students and patrons to use the library in a new way (Canino-Fluit, 2014). Libraries are ideal for dedicated makerspaces because all tools and supplies can be housed in one area (Davee et al, 2015) that is open to all students, in all grades attending that school (Martinez & Stager, 2013).

        Dealing with doubters. When designing and implementing a makerspace, especially a library makerspace, a difficulty faced is resistance to change since makerspaces go against the basic comfort zone of some librarians and unconvinced administrators (Apodaca, 2017). According to Burke (2014), educators who are implementing makerspaces in their school library must expect questions about why they are adding the makerspaces. Regardless of this struggle, Apodaca (2017) offered reassurance stating a goal of makerspaces is to keep the space relevant to the students it serves, and ruffling feathers is just an indicator that it is being done correctly. To convert doubters into makers, White (2011) suggested targeting the influencers in your school and passionately discuss what you are doing to spark interest. Passion combined with knowledge is a powerful tool that can be used to compel others to hear what is being said (White, 2011). Research showed that when school leaders are armed with sound information as to why makerspaces belong in the educational setting, co-workers and administration are more likely to buy into the maker movement (Meyer, 2017).

Assessing Makerspace Success

Schools who have embraced the maker movement are using makerspaces to provide opportunities for students to learn new skills through hands-on making that is personalized and unique to each student (Linnik, 2016), and are now looking for ways to measure how makerspaces impact students. It is the consensus amongst the literature reviewed that the traditional evaluation and assessment methods schools use to indicate student growth will not work when measuring student growth in makerspaces due to the nature of these spaces. Makerspaces by design are hands-on, active learning environments for self-directed learning and are not just another room where preplanned, step-by-step instruction is delivered to the masses, then identically assessed (Chuter, 2016). The impact makerspaces have on student achievement will most likely never be accurately shown on a standardized test (Busch, 2017) because school makerspaces are unique learning atmospheres and therefore should be assessed using unique methods (Fleming, 2016).

Measuring Mindset

 An issue many schools are struggling with is that students today do not know how to persevere in the face of failure due to a fixed mindset (Steier & Young, 2016). The maker movement is solving this problem with school makerspaces that provide students a safe environment to learn how to confront challenges head-on and cultivate a maker or growth mindset (Doughtery, 2016). The development of a maker mindset and the personal, soft skills characterized by that mindset, such as grit, collaboration, creativity and problem-solving, are critical outcomes of the maker movement and the way it is assessed should show student growth and how they have evolved over time (Chang, 2018).

Assessing soft skills is not easy. The researchers in this literature review agree that while the soft skills and mindset are important for students, both in academic and lifelong success, measuring social and emotional skills is not an easy task (Adams, 2014). While working in makerspaces students may experience success, failure, adventure, risks, uncertainty… etc. and gain from that experience grit, perseverance, patience, compassion… etc. which makes the outcome nearly impossible to predict and that much harder to measure (Gerstein, 2014). According to Duckworth and Yeager (2015), the expectation to accurately measure not just the cognitive ability of a student, but also the growth of their mindset, is a new request, one that there is still too little research on and warn the educational community to proceed with caution using such variable measurements in high-stakes school settings. Some school districts have recognized that standardized tests cannot be the sole measurement of student success and are developing a new accountability system that also measures school climate and culture, as well as the hard to assess student qualities such as motivation, self-control, compassion and a growth mindset (Adams, 2014).

Mindset surveys. According to Steier and Young’s (2016) action research study regarding the growth mindset and makerspaces, the impact makerspaces have on students mindsets can be measured through surveys and questionnaires given at the beginning and end of the school year, and can be monitored throughout the year. Duckworth (2013) created a grit scale just for students but cautioned that it is undetermined whether the scale is a valid gauge of before-and-after change due to any activity, such as makerspaces. Literature regarding using surveys to measure the change in students mindset is extremely limited with some researchers recommending against using the currently available personal growth assessments (Duckworth & Yeager, 2015).

Feedback Frenzy

        The impact makerspaces have on students can be measured in multiple ways and according to the literature reviewed, educators should use several different methods to measure student growth (Busch, 2017) for a more complete picture. Teachers need to focus on the entire learning journey students go through while creating in makerspaces as being more important than the final project, this way they can see the student’s thought process, what challenges they had to overcome, and propose how to extend student thinking further (Chuter, 2016). Simply walking around the makerspaces to see how students are interacting with the tools and experience firsthand the approaches students are taking to solve problems is a natural first step when assessing makerspaces (K-12 Blueprint, 2017), which can be a good starting point for crucial conversations between students and teachers to share feedback (Chuter, 2016).

Reflective writing, ePortfolios, and documentation. Tasking students to document their thoughts, progress, questions, and challenges in a journal or digitally in an ePortfolio gives insight to the student and the educator on the obstacles, dead-ends, and successes experienced during the making process and provide an opportunity for reflection and growth (Fontichiaro, 2018). Design journals put an emphasize on the problem-solving process, promote a growth mindset and are the ideal place for students to keep notes on what they are making, instructions on how to use makerspace tools and ideas for future projects (Chuter, 2016). School makerspaces that encourage students to use documentation tools such as physical notebooks or digital platforms like blogs, ePortfolios, or websites yield more depth into the thinking of their students and allows students to share their process, experience and goals from their own perspective (Chuter, 2016). According to Fontichiaro (2018), having artifacts and observation notes provide evidence to school administrators and decision-makers of the impact makerspaces have on student growth.


The purpose of this literature review regarding the maker movement was to shed light on what school makerspaces are and how these active, hands-on spaces are the ideal environment for students to develop a growth mindset that inspires students to believe that they can do anything (Maker Media, 2013). An issue many schools are struggling with is that students today do not know how to persevere in the face of failure due to a fixed mindset (Steier & Young, 2016). Makerspaces give students the opportunity to develop a growth mindset and the soft skills characterized by that mindset (Chang, 2018). Dweck (2009) found that students with a growth mindset academically outperform students with a fixed mindset.

All literature reviewed concluded that the soft skills and mindset play a vital role in the success of students, both for their academics and their future careers, but despite this conclusion research regarding an effective way to measure the impact makerspaces have on student mindsets is severely lacking. Due to the limited research and gaps of information on how to assess students mindset, it is justified to propose the research question: do the strategies and skills students develop in school makerspaces foster a growth mindset in students?



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