Learn by Making
For more than seven years, Tom Zimmerman has volunteered in San Jose, Calif., schools, engaging students in hands-on activities and
teaching science and technology. This summer,
Zimmerman was recognized as the first-ever
California Volunteer of the Year by Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver.
He called it a “fairytale day.”
Zimmerman is an IBM research scientist and a
frequent contributor to MAKE — his Hydrogen-Oxygen Rocket project is featured in this issue
(page 90). Much of what he’s written for the magazine originated as projects he developed for his
students: an electronic drum kit, a mini Mars rover,
and a digital microscope.
He created an Extreme Science after-school
program to provide 60 Latino high school students
with hands-on experience in science, technology,
engineering, and math (STEM). And he’s particularly proud of his efforts to introduce girls to power
tools. He also runs a summer camp, which this year
featured workshops on building wind turbines and a
geodesic dome. “I’m happy to have the opportunity
to share the joy of designing, building, and teaching,”
In Boston, Ed Baafi runs the Learn 2 Teach, Teach
2 Learn (L2T) program during spring and summer
at MIT and at the SouthEnd Technology Center and
its FabLab. The idea behind L2T is that the best way
to demonstrate that you’ve learned something is to
turn around and teach it to others.
“We pay high school students to learn, build, and
teach at over a dozen community centers,” says
Baafi. One group developed a solar device charger,
and another student, Mark Williams, has been
perfecting his electric violin, which we blogged on
makezine.com, to his great amazement.
A seventh-grade teacher explains why she came
to Maker Faire this year:
I try to incorporate some hands-on activities and
labs into the classroom. I am still dissatisfied with
the learning environment I am able to provide
to my kids. The “holy grail” for me is to facilitate
communities of independent learners, engaged
in projects, assignments, discussions, etc. that
BY DALE DOUGHERTY
motivate and challenge them. To this end, I’d like
to make more stuff, and to have my students be
Our communities are made up of makers like
Zimmerman and Baafi as well as teachers and
parents who see the importance of helping kids
But it’s become clear that making is missing
from schools and from the lives of even the
best students. “I have had freshman engineering
students who have never used power tools,” says
AnnMarie P. Thomas, an engineering professor at
the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.
How can we create more opportunities for kids
to make things? How do we create spaces inside
schools or out in the community that support self-directed, hands-on projects?
Making is a way to engage kids in learning. It’s not
work but a form of play. “There is a kind of magic in
play,” writes Stuart Brown in his new book, Play.
“It’s paradoxical that a little bit of ‘nonproductive’
activity can make one enormously more productive
and invigorated in other aspects of life.”
Making is a way to enjoy trying to do new things
(and often failing repeatedly) while learning more
than any written test can measure. “Allowing children to build with real tools,” says Thomas, “gives
them confidence and a skill set that they can build
on for years to come.”
This magazine will do its best to advocate for the
role of making in education. Makers themselves
are an untapped resource for schools, especially as
mentors. I know many makers who are exploring
ways to share what they know and love with kids
of all ages. Makers bring more than knowledge and
experience — they bring endless enthusiasm, which
they easily pass on.
If you’re interested in making and education, get
involved in your own community. Join me and others
at Make: Education ( makered.makezine.com) to
share ideas, stories, and techniques for helping
more kids learn by making.
Dale Dougherty is the editor and publisher of MAKE magazine.