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        Maker Movement: Transforming Ideas into Action | MacArthur Fellows Program

        This lesson introduces students to Maker Movement and DIY culture through the work and stories of MacArthur Fellowship award recipients, and helps students explore the role that innovation and collaboration can play in solving everyday problems.

        This resource is part of the MacArthur Fellows Program Collection.

        Lesson Summary

        In this lesson, students will learn about the Maker Movement and DIY culture through the work and stories of MacArthur Fellowship award recipients and the role that innovation and collaboration can play in solving everyday problems. Using the NOVA: The Design Process Collection as a guide, they will participate in strategies for generating ideas, refining their work, and mapping a plan of action for implementing projects. Through this lesson they will experience the process behind innovation and have the opportunity to join the maker revolution.

        Time Allotment

        90-120 minutes + Assignments (Two to three class periods)

        Learning Objectives

        Students will:

        • Understand the Maker movement and DIY and the role of innovation in solving problems
        • Discuss how MacArthur Fellowship recipients have adapted the maker and DIY approaches in their work
        • Apply design thinking strategies to the development of innovative solutions to everyday problems
        • Evaluate the work of their project group and peers
        • Design their own project and participate in a Maker Faire
        • Demonstrate their understanding of the Maker Movement and the design thinking process through journaling and/or an expository essay

        Prep for Teachers

        Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

        • Familiarize yourself with the MacArthur Fellows Program Overview and interview videos and the NOVA: The Design Process videos
        • Print out student handouts
        • Prepare the multimedia projector for Learning Activities 1, 2, & 3
        • Arrange desks or tables in the classroom so students can form groups


        Media Resources:

        • The MacArthur Fellows Program Overview video
          MacArthur Fellows interview videos for use with the lesson plan Learning Activity 2 (Select two or three)
          • Amir Abo-Shaeer: Physics teacher inspiring and preparing public high school students for careers in science and mathematics through an innovative curriculum that integrates applied physics, engineering, and robotics.
          • Will Allen: Urban farmer who is transforming the cultivation, production, and delivery of healthy foods to underserved, urban populations.
          • Claire Chase: Arts entrepreneur forging a new model for the commissioning, recording, and live performance of classical music and opening new avenues of artistic expression for the 21st-century musician.
          • Rick Lowe: Public Artist reinventing community revitalization as an art form by transforming a long-neglected neighborhood in Houston into a visionary amalgam of arts venue, community-support center, and historic preservation initiative.
          • Alex Truesdell: An adaptive designer and fabricator constructing low-tech, affordable, and customized tools and furniture that enable children with disabilities to participate actively in their homes, schools, and communities.




        • Videos for Extension Activities and for additional lesson plan support, as needed:
          • Jad Abumrad: Radio Host and Producer engaging a new generation of listeners with audio explorations of scientific and philosophical questions that evoke a sense of adventure and recreate the thrill of discovery
          • Nicholas Benson: Stone Carver preserving the legacy of a centuries-old artistic tradition and expanding the art of hand letter carving with the beauty and craftsmanship of his own designs
          • Mark Bradford: Mixed-media artist who incorporates ephemera and found objects from urban environments into works on canvas that are rich in texture and visual complexity
          • Matthew Carter: Type Designer crafting letterforms of unequaled elegance and precision for a range of applications and media that span the migration of text from the printed page to computer screens
          • Jorge Pardo: Installation Artist challenging the distinction between fine art and design, as well as the constraints of museum and gallery spaces, with visually seductive works at the intersection of painting, sculpture, and architecture
          • Shwetak Patel: Sensor Technologist and Computer Scientist inventing low-cost, easy-to-deploy sensor systems that leverage existing infrastructures to enable users to track household energy consumption and to make the buildings we live in more responsive to our needs
          • Benoit Rolland: Stringed-Instrument Bow Maker, experimenting with new designs and materials to create violin, viola, and cello bows that rival the quality of prized 19th-century bows and meet the artistic demands of today’s musicians
          • Elizabeth Turk: Sculptor transforming her signature medium of marble, a traditionally monumental and prone-to-fracture material, into intricate, seemingly weightless works of art
          • Heidi Williams: Economist unraveling the forces that hinder or spur medical innovation through empirically based studies that are informing public policy

        Student Handouts:

        Equipment and Supplies:

        • Computers with Internet access
        • LCD projector
        • Speakers
        • White butcher paper/kraft paper (7 sheets per groups of 3-5 students)
        • Sticky notes (enough for about 15 per student) or small squares of paper and tape
        • Markers
        • Whiteboard/blackboard, markers/chalk
        • Pen and writing paper

        Web Sites:


        Entrepreneur: A person who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise

        Innovation: A new idea, device, or method; the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods

        Maker Movement: A community of independent inventors, designers, and tinkerers—from computer hackers to traditional crafts people—who combine open-source learning, manual skills, and contemporary computer design to develop innovative solutions to a wide range of large and small challenges

        Open source: Originally referred to any computer program whose source code is made freely available for use or modification, this term has expanded to include the sharing of information among members of maker communities.

        Prototype: A first or early example that is used as a model for what comes later

        Adapted from Mirriam-Webster Dictionary

        Introductory Activity

        Introductory Activity: What is the Maker Movement? (10 minutes)

        1. Explain:

          The Maker Movement is a global community of independent inventors, designers and tinkerers from computer hackers to traditional crafts people. Makers are coming together at Maker Faires, in school-based Maker Labs, and on the internet to combine open-source learning, manual skills, contemporary computer design, and new technology like 3-D printers to develop innovative solutions to a wide range of large and small challenges.

          Adapted from Why the Maker Movement Is Important to America’s Future, by Tim Bajarin. Time, May 19, 2014.

        2. Discuss:
          • Ask students for examples of Maker or Do-It-Yourself (DIY) culture. (Examples: Recording and releasing music and films/videos online, making models and robots, designing and making clothes/knitwear/jewelry, “hacking” common objects to make them into something new like transforming a CD case into a hologram projector for your smart phone.
          • Are you a Maker? Have you every invented something, made an app, built something from scratch?
          • Was it successful the first time or did you need to “tinker” with it?
          • How did it feel when you finished? What did you learn?

        Learning Activities

        Learning Activity 1: Meet the Makers (20 minutes)

        1. Explain that the class will learn about The MacArthur Fellowship Program and view interviews with award recipients who are also solving everyday problems in innovative ways.
        2. Meet the MacArthur Fellows: Introduce the MacArthur Fellows Program Overview by distributing copies or asking for volunteers to read it out loud. Play the The MacArthur Fellows Program Overview video and follow with a brief reflection and discussion.
        3. Distribute Handout 1: Meet the MacArthur Fellows to each student and review the note-taking activity. Play the interviews with MacArthur Fellows Amir Abo-Shaeer (STEM to STEAM Teacher) and Alex Truesdell (Adaptive designer and open-source advocate).
        4. Supplement the lesson with one or more of the following interviews, as needed:
        5. Review the students’ notes and follow with a class discussion, using the prompts below as needed:
          • What projects are the Fellows working on? What problems are they trying to solve?
          • What inspired or motivated them to take on their work?
          • What types of resources are they using for their projects? Are these resources that they already had access to? Why is that significant?
          • How does their work relate to our discussion about Maker and DIY culture?
          • What role does collaboration play in their work? How are they sharing their solutions?
          • How are they using maker culture to help others?

        Learning Activity 2: Making space for ideas (30-40 minutes)

        PART 1

        1. Ask and discuss: What is innovation?
        2. Explain:

          We are going to explore the process of innovation and how we can generate it by making space for big thinking, brainstorming, trial and error, and collaboration. New ideas and solutions come when we give ourselves time to share thoughts and make mistakes.

          Collaboration and failure are critical to solving problems. At companies like Google, staff and engineers used 20% of their time each week to bounce around and nurture new ideas. Most of those projects and plans never left the brainstorming stage but a few did, including Gmail, Google Transit, Google Talk, and Google Ads, among others.

          Giving our brain time to think big can help us solve problems of all sizes and create entirely new ideas. Today we are going to learn how to make space for ideas so we can brainstorm effectively.

        3. Play the video NOVA: The Design Process - Generating Ideas.
        4. Explain to the students that, like the MacArthur Fellows and the students in the video, they will be thinking up ideas that can help solve problems and help others.
        5. Divide the students into small groups and give each a stack of sticky notes and a sheet of butcher paper to hang on the wall.
        6. Ask them to think about everyday problems they would like to solve (problems that impact their own lives, their school, and their community). Give them three minutes to brainstorm as many problems as they can and write them on the sticky notes. Each time they write down an idea, they should call it out. Their suggestion might spark an idea for partners. (Remind students that this process is not a competition, it is collaboration. Great innovation comes from sharing our skills, talents and ideas.)
        7. When they finish brainstorming, ask groups to look at their responses to find connections or similarities. Have them organize their ideas by moving the notes into categories.
        8. Once the notes are organized, have groups reflect on their responses and select a problem they want to focus on.
        9. Reconvene the class and each group share the problem it is working on. (If more than one group is working on the same problem, that’s great! Remind the class that this is a collaborative not competitive project, and each group will be able to look at the problem from a different perspective.)

        PART 2

        1. Distribute a second sheet of butcher paper to each group (and more sticky notes, if needed) and have them write the problem they are focusing on at the top of the paper. Give the groups three minutes to think about and respond to the following question: What resources do we have that can help solve or improve this problem? Each member of the group will write the skills, materials, ideas, talents, etc. available to her/him on a sticky note and call it out before sticking it to the butcher paper.
        2. Have the groups review and refine their responses again and organize them into categories, before sharing their results with the class.
        3. Distribute a third sheet of butcher paper to each group and have students write “Outcomes” at the top of this paper.
        4. Give the groups 5 to 10 minutes to think about: 1) How they can use the collective resources they identified to address their problem and 2) What outcomes they can achieve with these resources.
        5. After the groups discuss the questions, they should move the resources they want to use onto the “Outcomes” sheet and write their agreed outcomes directly on the butcher paper. (There can be more than one possible outcome.)

        PART 3

        1. Have the groups pair up to collaborate on refining their work. When each group shares their Problem, Tools, and Outcomes, their peers should give constructive feedback. (Teacher Tip: While the partner group is giving feedback, the presenters should take notes but not respond until the group has completed its questions and comments.) The following Peer-Review model can be used to guide the feedback process:

          Peer Feedback:

          1. Ask clarifying questions – Ask any questions that help to understand the presentation, not leading questions or suggestions framed as questions
          2. Give warm feedback – Offer feedback that details the successful, effective, or interesting aspects of the presentation
          3. Give cool feedback – Offer constructive feedback that identifies what can be improved, refined, or edited out

          Presenter Response:

          • The presenting group should respond to feedback using their notes for reference
          • The two groups should then collaborate on ideas for refining each project
        2. Reconvene the class and have each group share the results of their brainstorm.

        Learning Activity 3: Strategy Mapping (20-30 minutes)

        1. Play the video NOVA: The Design Process - Strategy Mapping.
        2. Explain to the students that they will be building their own strategy maps, and ask them to organize the room so the tables form large work surfaces.
        3. Reconvene the groups from Activity 2 and distribute a large piece of butcher paper to each group. Have them arrange the butcher paper horizontally on the desk.
        4. Each group should review the “Outcome” they want to focus on and write it down on a sticky note.
        5. Next, the team should define who will benefit from this outcome: Who does this innovation serve? This is known as the “end user.” The group should write down the end user on a different color sticky note.
        6. The end user sticky note should be placed in the right half of the canvas, and the outcome sticky note roughly in the center.
        7. Ask the groups to consider: “What are all of the activities and resources we will need in order to achieve our outcome for the community/end users?” Have students select a new color for activities and resources and add those sticky-notes to the map.

        Activities and resources may include:

          • Collecting raw materials
          • Collecting data/information
          • Finding work and storage space
          • Designing
          • Making/producing
          • Testing
          • Refining
          • Marketing materials (posters, brochures, etc)
          • Websites and social media
          • Brochures
        1. Ask the groups, “When you look at the activities on your map, who on our team will be responsible for doing these things?” Next ask: “Who can help us achieve our Outcomes?” (Examples could include: researchers, volunteers, community organizations, teachers, university departments, etc.) Select a new color for people and add your team members and supporters to the map.
        2. Once the groups finish, have them partner with a different group and use the Peer-Review model to refine their strategy map.

        Culminating Activity

        Culminating Activity: From plan to prototype (10 minutes + Assignment)

        Option 1: (Additional class time may be needed)

        Explain that the groups will implement their plan of action and present their results (to the class or as part of a school community Makers’ Faire). In addition to completing the project, each student should keep a Maker Journal documenting the following:

        • Each phase of the project
        • Challenges the group faced
        • Problem-solving strategies they used
        • What was most surprising
        • How their actual outcome compares with their expected outcome
        • Lessons learned

        Option 2:

        Have each student write an expository essay illustrating her/his understanding of the Maker Movement and the function of innovation. Using the following prompts to guide the writing process:

        • Describe the Problem > Resources > Outcomes > Strategies that your group designed.
        • How would your group’s innovation improve your community?
        • How can your personal resources contribute to a successful outcome?
        • Identify one challenge you experienced during the activity. What strategies did you use to address it?
        • Compare the experience of brainstorming your project with the MacArthur Fellows’ stories. What parallels can you draw?
        • How could you use these creative strategies for your own projects in the future?

        Facilitator Tip: The following educator resources offer additional Design Thinking ideas and activities:

        Extension Activities

        1. Making and Sharing:

          Have students follow their interests and launch their own maker projects.

          • Students can research maker communities that offer resources and guidance in areas such as learning to build robotics, producing their own album, self-publishing a book of poetry, designing and launching an app or website, inventing/designing a gadget, using old technology like wood carving, metal work, knitting, paper-making in a new way.
          • Students should use the strategy mapping tools from the lesson and completed projects can be featured in a Maker Faire at school or one of the hundreds of Maker Faires across the country.
          • Resources:
            • Maker Faire: Festivals of invention, creativity, and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement:
            • Maker Media: A global platform for connecting Makers with each other
            • Make: DIY Projects and Ideas for Makers
            • GeekMom® and GeekDad® are parenting, technology, and culture blogs staffed by a diverse team of contributors, working together on a shared platform to inform, educate, and entertain parents everywhere who have a geeky nature and want to raise their kids the same way.
            • LifeHack: A source for advice, resource, tip or trick that will help get things done more efficiently and effectively.
            • Sylvia’s Super Awesome Maker Show: Sylvia started making and tinkering when she was 7, and after visiting a nearby Maker Faire, she and her dad were inspired to create a Web show about making things. Her videos show kids and adults that making things can be fun, easy and more rewarding than just buying something.
            • Ravelry: a place for knitters, crocheters, designers, spinners, weavers and dyers to keep track of their yarn, tools, project and pattern information, and look to others for ideas and inspiration.
        2. Patent Pending:

          In her interview, 2015 MacArthur Fellow Heidi Williams discusses her work in health care and the unexpected role that patent regulation plays in innovation. Have students research the U.S. Patent process and examine current issues and legal challenges related to patents in this age of invention. If possible, have them participate in the process of submitting a patent application.


        3. STEM to STEAM: Examine the role that the arts play in STEM fields. View interviews with MacArthur Fellows and learn how their work in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is powered by creative thinking.


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