Equity through the Centralization and Mobilization of Maker Learning

Ryan Imbriale, Executive Director of Innovative Learning, Baltimore County Public Schools and Nick Schiner, Team Leader of the Office of Innovative Learning Projects, Baltimore County Public Schools
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Ryan Imbriale, Executive Director of Innovative Learning, Baltimore County Public Schools

Educational technology’s greatest power lies in its ability to help create an authentic, 21st Century learning experience. Through increasingly open access and rapidly declining prices of advanced tools and materials, the Maker Movement, with its focus on design and creation, is building momentum within schools around the globe. While Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses have typically filled this role for some students’ schooling experiences, the Maker Movement has brought these previously walled off learning experiences to the general K-12 student population. While this has helped educators to bring maker learning opportunities into schools around the globe, these endeavors can still, at times, be difficult to implement and potentially cost prohibitive.

With fixed school budgets and the need to oftentimes focus funds on traditional expenses—especially in large, socioeconomically diverse districts—school administrators can be risk averse when it comes to purchases that involve robotics equipment, 3D printers, and Computer Numeric Control (CNC) routers. Unless specifically being utilized in a CTE program, equipment availability and use can vary. When combined with potential lack of awareness and capacity amongst administrations and faculties, it is likely a large divide will develop between schools with fully established maker learning programs and those without. To combat this, the centralization of purchasing to establish a district wide repository and the formation of district wide programmatic structures can help to alleviate difficulties in providing access to maker learning solutions, establishing a level of equity that would otherwise be nearly impossible to attain.

 ​Schools can utilize the tools from the centralized repository when needed, on a rotating basis, or as a “try-before-you-buy” model 

By purchasing equipment at the district level and creating processes for moving materials between schools, budgets can be maximized and barriers for individual schools removed while still providing the level of access necessary for students to engage in maker learning. For example, a school needing temporary access to a laser cutter would be able to utilize the equipment for a brief period, at no cost. This approach allows for one laser cutter to be used by multiple schools, eliminating the need for those schools that don’t require regular access to the equipment to make an expensive purchase. Schools can utilize the tools from the centralized repository when needed, on a rotating basis, or as a “try-before-you-buy” model in which they evaluate equipment for potential future purchases.

No Risk, No CostNick Schiner, Team Leader of the Office of Innovative Learning Projects, Baltimore County Public Schools

By providing administrators with the opportunity to identify solutions that work for their stakeholders in a no risk/no cost, these options greatly reduce the risk of schools expending funds on maker learning equipment that might get little or no use after the initial excitement fades, allowing for administrators to divert funds to the appropriate tools. Administrators can even leverage the centralized repository model to provide innovative learning experiences that do not impact their operating budgets. As schools borrow equipment, tracking and surveying methods can be employed to identify trends that inform school support solutions as well as future larger-scale initiatives.

While the transfer of equipment can be as simple as maker tool availability, this may not help to address gaps in a school staff’s knowledgebase surrounding maker learning. To complement a centralized lending library and support the use of these tools, programs should be developed to both professionally develop classroom teachers as well as provide consistent, direct instruction to students. Making available comprehensive technology and instructional training is a critical element to supporting the Maker Movement, empowering teachers to learn new skills and tools to embed them meaningfully within instruction.

To truly reach every student and provide an equitable experience, districts can allocate central office resource teachers to embed making within the curriculum and travel amongst a district’s schools to deliver innovative learning experiences that introduce maker tools and career fields across K-12 schools, particularly at the elementary level where this type of access is atypical. These experiences serve to provide equitable access to innovative technologies in meaningful experiences while also serving as inspiration to school administrators and faculties to leverage the tools available from the district and potentially invest available funds.

A Sustainable Movement

As more jobs are automated daily, creativity and problem-solving skills will be the traits most in demand. Access to the tools and learning experiences that allow for making is critical as we prepare students to thrive in a global society. The Maker Movement, despite its Do It Yourself manifesto and organic grassroots growth at the school level, will only truly be democratized and equitable in districts that create sustainable systemic supports. By centralizing purchasing and establishing mobile, district-wide maker learning experiences, all students will have the opportunity to engage in truly authentic, 21st Century learning experiences.

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