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The Makerspace is the 21st century classroom

What will be the occupations of the future? 
The work world is changing at a dizzying pace – with many secure occupations, among them bookkeeping and travel agents, currently in danger of extinction. Concepts such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, Internet of Things and data mining signal the need for a fundamental conceptual change in Man vs Machine relations and abilities. The Internet is no longer just an endless source of knowledge that cuts across geographic, language and cultural boundaries, but rather a smart network that combines knowledge, calculation abilities and conclusion and insight capabilities - of both humans and autonomous machines. 

Learning dedicated exclusively to the acquisition of knowledge is no longer sufficient for today’s pupils and separate subjects can and should be combined to create multi-disciplinary learning processes. The main challenge today is in fact developing the ability to ask questions and providing access to meta-skills, first and foremost the ability to learn how to learn and acquiring tools to address real-life problems, even in unfamiliar areas.  

Pedagogic Innovation is the Name of the Game
Even world-renowned experts cannot confidently predict the effect technological changes will have on our daily life in all areas, among them – employment, social life and urbanism. At this point in time there is huge potential to change the role of teachers, schools and pupils. The education system is a primary arena for creating fundamental and significant change in learning and socialization processes. This is where the Z generation is exposed to today’s complex and intricate reality and the system charged with preparing pupils for tomorrow’s employment market. 

“Making” is the underlying concept of a new culture based on creating projects that combine 21st-century skills. The “makers” are no longer just the technology-loving geeks or artistic creators attracted to DIY. So what distinguishes pupils from Makers? What are in fact the skills that pupils need in this age? 

Soft Skills Drive Progress
If you think of well-known entrepreneurs, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg probably come to mind - role models usually described as revolutionary and singular trailblazers, as soloist entrepreneurs. Today we know that entrepreneurship and innovative endeavors are deeply-rooted in teamwork and collaboration. Work processes in industry take place in work teams comprised of developers, designers, content people and product managers, all working together in iterations on the development of innovative products and services in a variety of content worlds.     

Multi-disciplinary undertakings and peer learning are now the building blocks of research units and innovative laboratories that have become integral parts of leading institutions and universities such as Harvard and MIT. Numerous studies have shown that real learning takes place by doing and through experiencing trial and error processes. In light of the accelerated pace of change, teaching agile skills, among them rapid prototyping, is vital for dealing with the challenges we face. 
Project based learning (PBL) is fertile ground for teamwork, peer learning and multi-disciplinary learning processes. This methodology presents pupils with frequent situations in which they must operate in unknown areas. Pupils must initiate and explore new content worlds on their own, and perhaps most importantly – contend with fear of failure and acquire the ability to learn from mistakes. How do we strengthen pupils’ sense of competency in their ability to create? What helps them develop a sense of responsibility for their learning? 

Radical Change or the Current Curriculum
A group of 12th grade pupils from the city of Netanya worked on its matriculation exam project in the mechatronics track last year. In contrast to standard matriculation exams, they would be evaluated on a unique project, in this case building a musical instrument for pupils with disabilities from another school. They were accompanied by two XLN instructors – an industrial designer and an electronic engineer, and closely assisted by the subject coordinator.  

The pupils went through all the product development stages – from choosing the idea to final execution. They used Arduino laser cutter technology to design the musical instruments and programmed the playing keys. As part of the matriculation exam they presented their project to the evaluators who faced a challenge: evaluating the pupils in keeping with accepted measures in the education system. The pupils did not demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the required material for the matriculation exam, however in terms of their initiative and creativity and the project’s educational value – their work was significant and impressive. Think about this for a minute – what grade would you give these pupils? What measures would you use to evaluate the project? 
This is an excellent example of the existing tension in education in the 21st century – can such undertakings exist alongside the existing curriculum or is a radical change needed in schools structure and pedagogic contents? 

The School for Future Professions, established by Dror Educational Centers (Drornet) in kibbutz Ravid near the Sea of Galilee, is planned to represent a new model, a radical change in the education world. The aim is to create a meeting place of industry and pedagogy, “to develop the world of education, employment and economy in the Galilee” in their words, while forging a significant partnership between area youth from varied backgrounds. The subjects that will be studied are not found in the familiar curriculum. Instead, they address real life challenges, among them – life-enhancing products, agriculture of the future and urban planning. 

The Teacher as Guide
Remember Robin Williams in the Dead Poets Society, or Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds? The image of the highly motivated charismatic teacher has been showcased by Hollywood in many films. The image is usually that of a non-conventional teacher, the kind that does not follow in the tradition of the conservative and old-fashioned system. The 21st century offers a significant opportunity to redefine the teacher’s role. Teachers are no longer the sole source of knowledge to which the pupils look up to, but rather guides that accompany them, helping them ask the right questions and acquire investigation and project management skills.  

In the unique XLN project in cooperation with Danor (the Association for Education Advancement in memory of Shai Danor), junior high schools are selected to participate in a 3D modeling and printing program. As part of the program, the teachers participate in comprehensive XLN training, where they learn to use 3D modeling and printing software for teaching purposes. The teachers then integrate the technology into their lesson plans, creating a different learning experience for their pupils who experience a trial and error process, as well as teamwork and individual work and in-depth feedback about the entire process. The range of outputs is vast and fascinating: from modeling letters in a foreign language, through designing an historical building to demonstrating mathematical principles using printed games.  

The Classroom as a Hybrid Laboratory
Makerspace is an innovative learning space, a hybrid between the traditional artisan workshop and innovative laboratories with cutting edge technologies. Carpentry tools, sewing machines and manual lathes meet 3D printers, laser cutting machines, CNC and Arduino based sensors. The hybridization characterizing the projects, along with thee variety of tools requires an innovative learning environment featuring modular furniture and areas for “dirty” work alongside quiet and clean areas for thinking and contemplation. Work processes are also addressed, facilitated by sticky notes, inspiration boards, thinking maps and displays of the pupil’s outputs. 

Pupils no longer specialize in one skill, instead developing an array of skills – for using tools and for ways of thinking in characterizing and solving problems. One of the leading methods used is Design Thinking which covers the full range of steps involved in problem solving – from a sketch to the completed product, taking into consideration usability and ergonomics, creativity, originality and the aesthetic dimension. 

So what will schools look like in 10 or 20 years, and how will learning take place? While it appears to be too early to know for sure, Makerspaces and pedagogies that integrate Making will undoubtedly be a vital part of this future. 

Established in 2011, XLN is the first and leading entity in Israel that sets up and operates Makerspaces. We have since set up a network of 3D laboratories in Israel and the US. Two projects that grew out of our laboratories are TOM that develops solutions for individuals with disabilities throughout the world, and the highly successful project by Danit Peleg who designed the first 3D printed dresses in the world. Our current focus is on using Makerspaces as platforms for innovation in the education and health systems. We are involved in planning, accompanying and establishing innovative learning centers, and in developing content and training programs for teachers and center managers in varied Making content worlds and adapting them to the learning needs of the 21st century. 

Roni Arkush | Director of Activities 
XLN - Israel