This is a guest blog by Irm Diorio. Diorio is the Associate Director of Decatur Makers, a local family-friendly makerspace in downtown Decatur, GA. After slogging through some time in corporate America, Irm was inspired to work with several small and startup education-based companies before finding the creative joy that is the maker movement.
Maybe it was Stan Lee, creator of so many iconic characters with maker skills in the Marvel Comics Universe, being grand marshal of the 2017 DragonCon parade.
Or maybe it was the crowds cheering our huge flying robot lantern and swarm of robot heads built by our members in the Atlanta BeltLine Lantern Parade. Or maybe it was a group of our younger members learning to build PCs by researching, getting hands-on experience and asking our community for help.
But somewhere along the line, it occurred to me that the value of makerspaces is in creating superheroes. A community of makers building and sharing together transforms education so that new skills can be learned and super powers can be realized on so many levels.
There are loads of studies that confirm making and tinkering are powerful and empowering ways for people of all ages to learn. Whether it’s programming, woodworking, electronics, 3D printing, paper-making, robotics, photography, textiles or other mediums, getting hands-on with a project, struggling to figure something out, making mistakes and learning from them teaches so much more than just the tangible, technical skills.
The feeling of successfully finishing a DIY project spills over to other areas of life, therefore developing creativity, confidence and fearlessness. Makers, through their hands-on education, are better equipped to tolerate risk and failure to become agents of change in their personal lives and in their community, using their powers for good.
However, the act of making isn’t what makerspaces are all about. The maker community’s greatest asset is our people and their depth and breadth of knowledge. Problem-solving and working together within a community—whether you have experience or not—brings the most value to hands-on education. Our membership joins us to learn new skills, share expertise and work together on making things from the useful and entrepreneurial to the fun and whimsical, honing the additional skills of collaboration, critical thinking, and communication.
We’ve also developed strong partnerships with many local organizations including public and private schools, arts organizations and businesses to bring making and its benefits to the surrounding communities. We engage with educators to reinforce classroom learning with co-curricular activities such as teaching soldering to a Decatur High School class that was learning about Euler circuits, and hosting a design engineering process workshop for students of the SMASH Academy to prototype and present their ideas to eradicate the infectious diseases they had been researching.
We’ve hosted several Family Nights at the High Museum of Art with hands-on activities like 3D printing demonstrations along with DIY fashion doll clothes designed to complement their exhibit of Iris van Herpen’s collection of 3D printed fashions. And we recently had a group from the national StartUp Bus competition stop by for a prototype build session and pitch feedback as they developed their new business ideas.
For kids, there is magic in play, and making is meaningful play. When younger makers come to our space, we clarify that it is different than school: there are no required subjects and there are no grades. Makerspaces are a “playground” to try anything they want, so they may uncover a new passion or skill they didn’t know they had.
Some kids can dive right in, like one of our middle school-aged members, who built a drone, an electric bike and a remote controlled electric skateboard, persevering through numerous iterations. Another pair of ninth grade members built and rebuilt a couple of a candy jars with wooden bases that slide out individual candies. Then, they even taught a group of younger kids how to build one.
But this prospect of choice can be overwhelming for some: “I love this place! How do I get started?” they ask. We encourage taking a class, starting with an Instructables build, or taking something apart, but gently nudge them be curious, ask questions, do research, take that skill or project even further and let them decide how to go from there.
Seeing a child’s a-ha! moment of “Wow, look what I did!” turn into the confidence of “Hey, I can figure that out” is inspiring. Dale Dougherty, founding editor and publisher of Make magazine and co-creator of Maker Faire, said, “It is the difference between a child who is directed to perform a task and one who is self-directed to figure out what to do. That kind of transformation, that kind of personal and social change, is what making is about.”
And this magical transformation isn’t just for kids. Curiosity is a gift for all ages, because education doesn’t end at graduation. The benefits of developing skills through making are the same for adults and even more important as a possible springboard to changing careers or sparking the entrepreneurial spirit by leveraging our resources to stimulate small local businesses; Several of our members are local prop builders for the Atlanta film industry, online store owners, and new business owners in varying arenas ranging from education to balsamic vinegars.
Makerspaces espouse discovery and exploration, and they are extremely valuable in creating a sense of community as a support system to share experience and expertise, learn new skills, and work together to build our super powers as we build things. “Making is about developing one’s full potential,” Dougherty said. Although he meant this for kids, we believe this is also true for adults.
In just a few short years, Decatur Makers, the makerspace in downtown Decatur that I belong to, grew from an idea into a valuable and wonderfully diverse community resource that directly addresses important educational needs, builds community and fosters economic opportunities for people of all ages, skill sets, and backgrounds.
We believe that all makerspaces truly better the larger communities we support on many levels. Makerspaces provide a place and community where students are encouraged to learn that they can do anything.
Education through making provides empowered knowledge, and knowledge is power—all superheroes know that.
All photos courtesy of Irm Diorio except lead photo by Russell Kaye.