Pittsburgh’s Pioneering Maker Program Goes Coast to Coast
It began as an ambitious effort to outfit 10 Pittsburgh schools with maker spaces. This year that number could increase exponentially, as the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh converts a local project into a national phenomenon.
It began as an ambitious effort to outfit 10 Pittsburgh schools with maker spaces.
This year that number could increase exponentially, as the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh converts a local project into a national phenomenon.
In 2015, the museum partnered with Kickstarter to help local schools crowd-fund for a maker space. Schools in the area had long been enthusiastic about maker education but felt they lacked the funding and support to launch programming. Museum staff guided 10 schools in developing projects tailored to their needs and capacities.
Ultimately, the campaigns raised more than $100,000. Some have already cut the ribbons on their new spaces and others are forging ahead with the process.
At Burgettstown Area Elementary Center, an old science lab is now home to a colorful assortment of beanbag chairs, workspaces, and making materials. The low-tech (clothespins and Legos) shares shelves with the high-tech (circuity and robotics kits).
Lincoln Elementary School is working to build an outdoor maker space. There the students have been tinkering, designing, and brainstorming before the space even opens. From the beginning, the students themselves deliberated about the features and designs they wanted in their new hangout. The consensus: the space would include a treehouse, something involving water, and a community garden. Making their big dreams a reality has been tough—and the task has turned into a fun design challenge for architecture students at Carnegie Mellon University.
Staff members at the children’s museum pondered how to scale the initiative beyond Pittsburgh. Making—learning through building, designing, and generally messing around with all sorts of materials—has fans across the country. So the museum wanted to expand a version of the local pilot to schools elsewhere.
This school year, the museum has teamed up with the nonprofit Maker Ed and Google to support schools across the country. Their Making Spaces program establishes “hubs” in 10 cities—from Bethesda, Maryland., in the east to Redwood City, Calif., in the west. The hubs can be school districts, museums, or other organizations.
In turn, each hub is paired with 10 schools in its own region. The local hubs provide professional development and crowd-funding advice to the participating schools so they can start their own maker programming.
The children’s museum and Maker Ed will be there in the background all year providing support and acting as hubs for schools in their own cities. Google has pledged $1 million to the project.
In recent years, making has developed from a cult hobby into a learning approach embraced by mainstream educators. Studies lending credence to the idea that making can equal learning are accumulating. Many researchers believe making prepares kids for a world and a workforce in which innovation, interdisciplinary thinking, and tech savvy are increasingly valued.
As a result, maker spaces are cropping up at plenty of schools. However, the same schools that lack the funding for robust art and science instruction lack the resources to launch a maker program. Efforts like Making Spaces are attempts to even the playing field. With the school year in full force, we will begin to see how they turn out.