Seven Things That Happen When Kids Embrace a Maker Mindset

John Spencer is someone I have connected with and followed for years. I have become a huge fan of his work, and I am proud to have been a part of his book “Empower” with AJ Juliani. He now has a Makerspace Master Course available.  Here are some of the details:

The Makerspace Master Course

John Spencer has designed a week-long Makerspace Mastermind Course. He has spent the last two months interviewing experts throughout the maker movement with the goal of creating a self-paced course for anyone who wants to design a makerspace. The result is a framework you can use to design your own makerspace in a week.

  • Easy-to-follow lessons? YES
  • Instructional videos? YES
  • Curated resources? YES
  • A set of five complete makerspace projects, unit plans, and resources you can use from day one? YES
  • Supportive community of fellow teacher-makers? YES
  • Unlimited access to personal coaching with a design thinking coach? YES

The course costs $125 but you can get it for the price of $99 if you use coupon code “George” when you are checking out.

If you are more interested in learning about John and his thoughts on education, and in particular makerspaces, below is a post of his on “Seven Things That Happen When Kids Embrace a Maker Mindset”.  I also encourage you to read his excellent blog, “The Creative Classroom“.


I once taught an eighth-grade student who had written four novels online, despite the fact that she had only been learning English for three years. She spent her free time in class looking up how to set up lead magnets and create funnels for an email list. She read blog posts about how to create more suspense in a plot and how to use action rather than description to develop characters.

She had a maker mindset.

I once had a student who taught himself how to code by playing around with Scratch when he was in the sixth grade. With the help of a teacher who mentored him along the way, he was the first child in his family to graduate high school. And now, he’s working on a master’s degree in engineering.

He had a maker mindset.

But I also taught students with immense talent who never pursued their dreams because they were waiting for an invitation that never came. They were compliant and well-behaved, but they weren’t self-starters. They were adept at the art of filling out packets but they didn’t know how to solve problems or design products. So, they continued for years, waiting for an offer that never materialized.

The Old Formula is Failing

Not long ago, you could follow a formula. Work hard, study hard, go to college, and climb the corporate ladder.


It wasn’t about choice or passion or interests. It was about compliance. It was about putting in your time so that you could make it in the world. And it worked — not for everybody and not all the time — but for enough people that society embraced it.

We live in an era where robotics and artificial intelligence will replace many of our current jobs. Global connectivity will continue to allow companies to outsource labor to other countries.

The corporate ladder is gone and in its place, is a complex maze.


Our current students will enter a workforce where instability is the new normal and where they will have to be self-directed, original, and creative in order to navigate this maze.

The Hidden Opportunity

This is a terrifying reality.

And yet . . .

There is a hidden opportunity in all of it. True, the rules of have changed. But that also means students can rewrite the rules.

People often say, “We need to prepare students for jobs that don’t even exist right now?” But who do you think will be creating those jobs? Who will be dreaming up new possibilities? Who will be building a future we could never imagine?

This is why we want students innovating right now:

Not every student will create the next Google or Pixar or Lyft. Some students will be engineers or artists or accountants. Some will work in technology, others in traditional corporate spaces and still others in social or civic spaces. But no matter how diverse their industries will be, our students will all someday face a common reality. They will need to have a maker mindset.

Dale Dougherty, one of the founders of the maker movement, puts it this way:

Makers give it a try; they take things apart; and they try to do things that even the manufacturer did not think of doing. Whether it is figuring out what you can do with a 3D printer or an autonomous drone aircraft, makers are exploring what these things can do and they are learning as well. Out of that process emerge new ideas, which may lead to real-world applications or new business ventures. Making is a source of innovation.

Isn’t that what we want for our students?


Seven Things That Happen When Kids Embrace a Maker Mindset

  1. They engage in iterative thinking: When students engage in rapid prototyping, they realize that mistakes are a part of the learning process. They learn to distinguish between fail-ure (permanent) and fail-ing (temporary). As they revise and improve, they begin to design products that are better than they initially imagined. This is iterative thinking. It’s the idea that we should constantly test, tweak, and improve our work until we succeed.
  2. They become problem-solvers: Every creative work, whether it’s a documentary or an engineering challenge, is a series of problems. When students embrace a maker mindset, they learn how to look at a problem from multiple angles and generate strategies for solving it. Over time, they become critical thinking problem-solvers who embrace big challenges.
  3. They learn to think divergently: Divergent thinking is all about looking at things from a unique lens. When students think divergently, they are able to connect seemingly disconnected ideas. They find new and unusual uses for common items. They learn to ask, “What if?” Some of the best maker projects involve creative constraint, where students must work within tight parameters to create something new. I used to do MacGyver-style projects in our classroom makerspace. Here, they had five items and had to design a a product or solve a specific problem. At first, they struggled with the process, but over time they learned to find new applications for everyday items. They were thinking divergently.
  4. They take creative risks: When students embrace a maker mindset, they begin to take creative risks. It might involve launching their work to an authentic audience or it might mean trying out something new even if they are worried that it might not work.
  5. They begin to own the creative process: When students embrace a maker mindset, they own the entire creative process from the initial concept through the ideation, into the prototyping, revision, and launch process. The more they experience this ownership, the more likely they will be to define themselves as makers and designers. And when this happens, they take this maker mindset outside of school as they initiate their own projects at home.
  6. They become systems thinkers: Being a maker requires people to navigate systems. These might be digital platforms, physical products, or human systems. But it goes beyond navigation. The more they develop a maker mindset, the better they are at designing their own systems for their creative work.
  7. They grow more empathetic: The best design begins with a sense of empathy. Students might interview a group of people or set up a needs assessment and this pushes them to think about others and to see things from a new perspective. As they work through the design process, they gain a deeper sense of understanding of what others think and feel. This is vital for the creative economy, where companies need products to fit the needs of their customers. But it goes beyond this. When students learn to be empathetic, they learn what it means to serve others. They become better people.

So, how do we actually make this a reality in our schools?


We Need Makerspaces

If we want students to develop this maker mindset, we need to design spaces where making can thrive. You might be thinking, “If making can happen anywhere, do we need a special space for it?”

But makerspaces aren’t designed to limit creativity to one space. Rather, they are spaces that open up new worlds and inspire new possibilities. As students develop the maker mindset, they take these ideas home with them and transform their own worlds.

I love the way Dale Dougherty puts it:

We must try to bring this kind of magic into schools, hard as it may be. I have been focusing on the importance of creating a space where kids have the opportunity to make—a place where some tools, materials, and enough expertise can get them started. These places, called makerspaces, share some aspects of the shop class, home economics class, the art studio, and science labs. In effect, a makerspace is a physical mash-up of different places that allows makers and projects to integrate these different kinds of skills.

In other words, a makerspace is all about vintage innovation – connecting to a tradition of making and also pushing innovation. It’s not about STEM or STEAM. It’s interdisciplinary and connective. It’s the powerful moment when students learn to think like designers, builders, problem-solvers, and tinkerers. When this happens, you realize that making is magic.

It changes lives.

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