Review: “Making Makers” by AnnMarie Thomas
After reading “Invent to Learn” by Gary Stager and Sylvia Libow Martinez, I learned about LOTS of great makers and the kits they make/sell to encourage students to create and to learn. One of those kits is AnnMarie Thomas’s Squishy Circuits kit that uses salt dough (like Play-Doh™) for electronic wires. Last year, I bought a Squishy Circuits kit to try out, and though I don’t find suitable for our library’s makerspace, my young niece and nephew (ages 4 and 7) got endless enjoyment from it as they “made a party” on my living room table. So when I saw Dr. Thomas’s new book, “Making Makers,” about how to introduce the children in my life, whether they are my students or my relatives, to the maker movement, I was excited to read it.
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“Making Makers” is a slim book, only 145 pages. Each chapter focuses on a certain aspect of makers and the maker movement; that aspect is then demonstrated with anecdotes of funny, often dangerous, childhood escapades of prominent makers. As a primer to the larger maker movement, I think this book is an excellent place to start, and for educators, “Making Makers” may be a way to introduce faculty to the maker movement before reading “Invent to Learn.”
Dr. Thomas uses a narrative, laid-back style to tell the story of how the maker movement’s participants grew up. She has interviewed over 35 makers and engineers in addition to reflecting on her own experiences as a maker and a mother of 2 daughters. The result is a thorough, albeit not comprehensive, roll call of the “movers and shakers” of the maker movement. What I found most refreshing and completely AWESOME, however, is that her interviewees represent a wide variety of racial, ethnic, and social backgrounds. There is also a balanced number of male and female makers, though I didn’t count as I read. This fact is especially noteworthy after the recent discussion of diversity (or the lack thereof) in children’s and YA literature, and Leah Beuchley’s poignant speech at the Eyeo conference on how the de facto “voice” of the maker movement, MAKE:™ magazine, isn’t really as diverse as they and their Maker Education Initiative claim to be.
In light of Dr. Beuchley’s speech and the related school library discussion of diversity, it was nice to read a book published by Maker Media (MAKE:™ magazine’s parent company) that represented makers and people from so many different backgrounds and life experiences. We need more of those stories told, and I hope “Making Makers” is the start of a trend towards greater diversity in Maker Media’s products. I also hope this book begins to broaden the definition of “making” to replace the current perception that it only includes electronics, programming, and 3D printing.
Finally, I appreciated the constant tension that Dr. Thomas talks about in her reflections on raising 2 daughters to be makers. The line between performing dangerous stunt experiments with foolish risks, and excited engagement in a learning activity with acceptable risks is often a precarious line to walk. And it’s even more precarious for teachers. Parents have a large amount of control over the amount of risk they introduce to their child. As a teacher with 22-30 students in my care and potential lawsuits weighing on my mind, my comfort level with student risk-taking drops significantly.
Still, I get the sense from reading that it’s perfectly normal to feel the tension between those two places. Learning can, and should, be exciting and a little risky. When did we stop teaching like that, anyway? I’m just not sure our current education system and the wider society has caught up with those ideas yet. Still, Dr. Thomas’s empowering message to parents and teachers is this:
We don’t get to pick our children’s interests, but we do get to influence how broad an array of experiences they are exposed to….[And] we get to choose how we encourage the endeavors and interests that they choose for themselves. ~Dr. AnnMarie Thomas in Making Makers
All in all, if you’re a teacher or librarian interested in the maker movement, I think “Making Makers” is required reading, and well worth adding to your professional literature collection. If you’ve read it, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments.
Merry Christmas, and to my teacher readers, I hope you have a restful break!