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Making it: The hands-on movement that impacts our economy, education and culture

Learning about technology is not limited to just coding.

Omkar Govil, a 9-year old from San Jose, has developed the O Watch, a kit for kids to design and code their own 3-D printable smartwatch.

Sasha Jaffarove started "Making" — the art of do-it-yourself creating, crafting, hacking or tinkering — as a fifth grader. Creatively combining her love of robotics and cave exploration helped her discover that she could effectively learn on her own while exploring her interests. Even as Sasha struggled to overcome anxiety about tests, she came to see herself as a competent learner in school through hands-on opportunities. By ninth grade, she had built Cave Mapper, a robot that uses lasers to plot the size of a cave.

Omkar Govil, a 9-year-old from San Jose, has developed the O Watch, a kit for kids to design and code their own 3-D printable smartwatches. To date, he has raised $18,000 on Kickstarter. Meanwhile, a father taught himself to use a 3-D printer to create a custom prosthetic hand for his son, made possible by an online community called E-nable that shared its knowledge, 3-D designs and expertise.

Makers like Sasha, Omar and that inventive dad will build our future, which is why the White House celebrated the National Week of Making last month; the European Union hosted its own Maker Week earlier this summer.

The White House

Making is on the rise, shaping a movement that impacts our economy, education and culture. This movement, ignited by enthusiasts who have a passion for creating, combines physical and digital skills to design and build using electronics, 3-D printers and other new tools. It encourages everyone to see themselves as producers, not just consumers. It fosters collaborative problem-solving and the sharing of creative work openly with others.

The most important aspect of the Makers movement is not technology — and learning about technology is not limited to coding. It is the wide range of people, young and old, who are developing their talents and discovering new ways to solve interesting, everyday problems. Not only does this allow them to express creative freedom, it teaches the foundational skills for the jobs of the future — jobs that will require more agility and creativity.

Making encourages everyone to see themselves as producers, not just consumers.

According to research, nothing activates a child's brain like making and play. And, if given the opportunity, children will gravitate toward play that builds STEM skills. Research shows that given 15 minutes of free play, 4- and 5-year-olds will spend a third of this time engaged in spatial, mathematical and architectural activities. This type of play — especially with building blocks — helps children discover and develop key principles in math and geometry.

Schools and universities are also recognizing the value of making. Engaging kids in making results in a higher interest in STEM occupations, but making is also a gateway to exploration, problem solving and innovation. Last fall, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, opened a seven-story makers space called Think[box], free for students and the community to use as an open innovation lab.

As part of its ongoing efforts to spur interest in STEM careers, AT&T is supporting Maker Camp, a program that engages kids in hands-on learning both in person and online, with adult makers assisting. Campers learn to solder, make their own traffic lights and transform different energy sources into helpful IoT solutions or even wearable applications. General Electric is inviting makers to contribute project ideas that could shape the future of lighting. The Department of Energy wants to connect makers with National Labs to help address problems in areas such as clean energy.

Sasha’s making has continued to bring her success. She was part of a group (one of the youngest in history) that sent a science experiment to the International Space Station. This year, she entered the Santa Cruz County Science and Engineering Fair and won first place in the senior division and a medal from the Office of Naval Research.

Our country needs more maker spaces for students like Sasha, particularly in schools and libraries, to help them become the active learners, explorers and experimenters they need to be for the jobs of tomorrow. By engaging with science, technology and art in meaningful ways, they will become the creators, coders and makers we need to build our future.

Dale Dougherty is the founder and executive chairman of Maker Media, which launched Make: magazine in 2005, and Maker Faire, which held its first event in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006. Dougherty forges strategic partnerships in support of maker education and global, cultural and economic initiatives. His vision and mission continue to be the guiding force for the family of brands. Reach him @dalepd.

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