The Maker-Mindset is a powerful catalyst for learning. Here's how to foster it in your students.

How to boost resilience and independent learning by fostering the 'maker-mindset'
Most teachers have probably come across occasional student who is a maker. There was a girl in my year 8 English class who made the most adorable jewellery out of tiny, perfect, sculpted baked goods and sweets ('Get thee to Etsy!' I may or may not have cried, 'get thee to Etsy!). There was a boy in my year 10 media class who saved up his pocket money for years to buy a video-capable DSLR camera and was teaching himself to make films. He has an incredible, artistic eye. A girl in year 7 wrote pitch-perfect sci-fi genre prose.

All of these makers have really important traits in common - they are highly motivated, resilient and independent learners (all things we desperately want students to be), but these traits are a product of something deeper and more powerful - the maker-mindset.

The maker-mindset is a way of looking at the world that includes an awareness that you have the capacity, the access to tools and learning and most importantly the right to manipulate your environment. It's the ability to recognise that if the thing/idea that you want doesn't exist, or you don't have access to it, you can respond by trying to make it yourself. If you don't know how, you learn, and there is a joy in knowing that even if the thing you make isn't perfect, you've learned a heck of a lot along the way.

So, out of the maker-mindset comes these desirable traits - motivation, resilience and independence. Instead of just being surprised and delighted when a naturally occurring maker-student appears in your cohort, why not try to foster the maker-mindset in all of your students?


There are thousands of amazing tools out there for the maker-student, so this isn't about that. This is about awakening the maker-mindset in the first place.

1. Recognise the barriers to the maker-mindset that we either unconsciously place in front of students, or don't see and therefore don't lift. 

The biggest barrier of all is that kids don't necessarily grow up thinking that they can create. We think we're drilling 'creativity is valuable' into kids from a young age, but the 'school creativity' of art projects and skits doesn't automatically translate into the creativity of making a 'real thing', that exists in the 'real world'. Think about it. For many students, the origins of things are kind of shrouded in mystery. If they think about where things come from at all, they'll be filtered through their own experiences (of course). So, robots come from Taiwan, lip balm comes from Boots, computer games come from big companies, or grown ups with high tech equipment and knitwear come from the shopping centre. But all of those things can come from the hands of a kid, too. None of it is unattainable, but many kids need some help making that leap.

So, how do you, as a teacher, fix this? Well, you can tell them. But, when has telling a kid anything ever worked? Showing them is better. If you're a maker, make stuff and share the process with your students.  If you aren't, show them videos about kids talking about things they have made. Get your naturally-occurring maker students to share what they're doing. Remember, it doesn't always occur to students that they can make stuff, too.

I used to get students coming to me saying they wanted to be film directors or computer programmers and wanting to know if they should do a degree at university. I would ask them if they have a smartphone with a camera on it, and a computer. Because really, that's all you need to start the process of making and learning, and making again.

Why wait until you're at university, or you have a better camera, or you have a budget for fancy equipment, to make all of your dumb beginner mistakes? Get them out of the way now.

2. Help kids find resources. 

Once you have a kid wanting to make things, teach them the tools to find the resources they need - maybe it's a tutorial, maybe it's a community of makers, maybe it's other students or teachers who know things they don't. Most importantly, don't assume kids know how to google. Teach googling. I once spent two weeks not teaching my students how to use Photoshop (here's how that went).

Make sure they know that the internet has everything they need on it.

I also used to use Scoop.it to curate resources that I thought were interesting and useful to my maker kids. Here's a page I put together with some resources about game design. Even better, you can get the kids themselves to curate resources! Here's a post I wrote about content curation in the classroom.

Another possible barrier is access to materials and personalised expertise. I was lucky, as you'll read in the elf-ears story below, and my maker parents were able to buy materials for me. Sometimes it's possible to take advantage of economies of scale and run a little workshop so kids can try stuff without having to invest in kit. Even if this isn't possible, don't forget about your colleagues - students might not know that Ms Smith codes apps in her spare time, or Mr Ahmed is an awesome knitter. This tiny, throwaway bit of information could connect a nascent maker with a valuable resource. This tiny bit of information could change a kid's life.

3. Validate your makers.

Making stuff means practice, and learning, and failing. Help students redefine success when it comes to making. A successful project does not necessarily mean a successful thing. A successful project is a project that you learn from so you can get better.  If students 'fail', they're less likely to try again. But if they succeed? Making begets making. Make sure they know what success looks like.

Sometimes experts make craft and engineering look easy, but even master makers go through iteration after iteration, refining, learning, failing and trying again to make the products of their imagination real. As teachers, we have the opportunity to help kids see the narrative behind the final product so they don't get discouraged. Matthew Syed, author of Bounce and Black Box Thinking, speaks eloquently of this process of learning, training and refinement. I saw him speak and he shared an anecdote about James Dyson, inventor of the famous vacuum cleaners. Dyson hoovers are cool, it's a great idea and they've made him a lot of money. But he also designed thousands of versions before he got it to work.

Thanks for sticking with me through this post. As a reward, I will tell you a maker story about myself when I was sixteen.

When I was a kid, I lived in books. I wanted them to be real, so I tried to make them real - whenever I could. I would bully my friends into attending book-world themed parties, with non-optional dressing up, and book-world accurate food and entertainment. Sorry, not sorry, friends.

One year, I threw a Lord of the Rings themed party. I was an inveterate maker, so I sewed myself a costume (elf, natch) and made some extra costumes for my non-maker friends. The problem was that the latex elf ears I found at the costume shop were comedy garbage, so I did what any normal sixteen year old kid would do, and made them myself.

Obviously, I didn't get it right the first time. I spent three months casting my own ears (yes, there are pictures, and no, I'm not sharing), sculpting ear tips and dying, pouring and painting latex. Annoyingly, I found out later they used gelatin in the films (to get that cool translucent peach fuzz effect), which was a consequence of NOT ENOUGH GOOGLING on my part.

It was a funny way to spend the summer. But guess what? I got cool elf ears that exactly fit my existing, human ears. I wore them to school one day, and a boy I'd known since I was four noticed them during French class and leapt out of his chair screaming 'Are those your EARS!?' and created all sorts of havoc so by all accounts the project was a success. Sorry about that, Mrs Critelli.

tl;dr: Make sure students know they can make stuff. Give them the tools they need to find and use appropriate resources. Make sure that they know that a successful project ≠ a successful product - it's the process that matters. 

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