The ‘Glee’ Club for Geeks – it’s the Maker Movement – can it change the way we Learn?

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The Maker movement has recently exploded on the world and I think I understand why.  Maker is a term to describe anyone who just loves to build things and create interesting gadgets of all kinds.  The Maker Culture is a technology based extension of DIY backyard hobbyists (think Red Green) – where mechatronics, electronics, robotics, software thinking is paired with artistic integration of metal, wood and other materials, arts and crafts.  And some good news, both genders are taking interest.  Makers emphasize learning through doing in an informal interactive community environment called hacker spaces where knowledge can be shared while making these interactive works of art.  

Schools, Libraries and Universities are scrambling to create maker spaces and give quick ‘how-to’ workshops – in Ottawa a few of them are: Ottawa Public Library’s Image Space, Art-Engine’s Mod Lab, True Innovators Community Makerspaces The demand for maker spaces and workshops is ballooning as the wave of interest grows. High Schools and Universities are providing workshops and robotic starter kits to speed the learning process.  Parents are directing their children to these spaces as both boys and girls find great enjoyment in participating and learning at their pace.  

I have to confess, I am a geek and love engineering, I get a great kick out of building things that do something interesting and useful.  In the 80’s I bought a book and put it on my shelf that showed me how to build a robot.  It was about 1000 pages long and I needed to find items and learn things that the author just could not convey in enough simplicity for me to understand the steps easily.   It was a ‘how to’ book that I told myself I would get around to doing some time when I had the time.  The learning curve would require thousands of hours and I never got down to building it.  Lucky for our children now the internet and the rise of software and hardware platforms, shared code and open systems have made it a lot easier to chase your creative constructive MAKER passions.

So why now have literally millions of people suddenly decided to become makers?  I think we all have huge creativity inside us.  The barrier has been the complexity of actually making something that is even remotely resembles what you imagined in your head.

To date the time between starting a project and the first fun and rewarding feedback are so far apart people are not drawn into the first step of starting.  What would happen if in less than eight hours a teenager could get a simple kit that would allow them to turn lights down, send email to their parents telling them when the back door gets opened, start the BBQ from a mobile App from a bit of cheap hardware they built assembled and a simple APP they tinkered with to it get working?  The opportunities are endless once the first learning steps are understood and in maker spaces there are people right beside you that can help you past obstacles - top-40-arduino-projects-of-the-web.

The frustration level with trying to get something to work and failing at it is a vivid memory of mine. I think we all experience this.  Until recently very few of us get to experience the joy of creativity that comes from building a quirky bird feeder that actually keeps squirrels out, door alarm that triggers the internet to notify me, electronic jewelry that lights up to your mood or making a goofy puppet robot that keeps the dog company with your voice while you are away. This enjoyment has been left to designers and engineers with many years of experience working in companies like mine.

So what happened that caused the massive shift in children and adults driven to build physical devices again versus enjoying a pre-packaged experience like video games.  Several trajectories have come together. These shift our learning back to interaction and play where incremental positive feedback as you learn, community support and the ability to build something cool is fuelling creative exploration of our physical world again.  

It just got a lot easier to build, adjust and refine ideas into things that work, without needing a smart friend.

(1) Open source software platforms (arduino) allow beginners to easily program and talk to ‘things’ (motors, lights, displays, sensors and other electronics that do things for us) and enable people to share the code they built

(2) Desktop 3D printers like Makerbot’s print cheap 3D parts so you can try and iterate until something works

(3) Low cost tiny wireless radios, components, sensors and software environments allow us to easily talk to other devices and connect to people and computers thru the internet of things (IoT).

Now if you have an idea, you just go ahead and make it.  The contraption you create may not look great but it does what you want it to and building the prototype is the first most important step in developing a product that other people would want to have.  Every design company in the world follows this process.

So why care if our children get away from video games and have the option to create interesting and engaging ‘art of the mind’ that does something of interest to them? One answer is we need our children to grow up and create highly valued products and services that will bring new value and help maintain and improve our communities. Statistics show that our 16 to 25 year old youth with access to new technologies will come up with the next big ideas and will collaborate to create the next generation of jobs and wealth for our communities.  Canada is small so we need to focus on as many chances as possible.  The wave of machine supported living is upon us and we need to engage in innovative thinking in an entertaining way.  With this comes the learning and understanding of the opportunities that abound so we can explore the things that may turn out to be high value.   What then is the process involved to arrive at a high value opportunity?

To create something spectacular, consider a three step process.  

(1) Dream up an idea that solves a need, and provides value and usefulness to others as well

(2) Try to find a solution and see what works and fails, keep learning, doing and failing at it until you find something that interested people want

(3) Then go on to share this spectacular solution by finding a way to reproduce the value (Product Commercialization) so others can experience it too  

The design process used to take years to get to step 3. With the internet and other key building blocks as enablers this is not the case anymore. The first two steps (1) try and (2) fail & learn have in the past been the longest to get through and it limits the number of people willing to take the time necessary to sort out a simple effective solution.

Now the learning experience can be much more engaging with small successes along the way. I think we will see an exponentially larger group of males and females willing to engage and create physical solutions in the next 5 years.  I believe this is what is now fuelling with the Maker Movement.  Simple first steps, engaging fun and its quick to ‘try - fail – pivot’ lean design which leads to successful iterations allowing you to explore an idea, learn, test, evolve and arrive at the ‘ahah’ moment where you see a problem clearly and find a great solution.

What is the Maker Movement doing for the current education system?

1)    Maker Learning Environment:

-    It is creating a whole new generation of people interested in robotics, design process and electronics

-    Easier access to new low cost class room ready programmable platforms for robotics like C.A.R.L

-    Collaborative spaces and transfer of knowledge mashing, blending and meshing of ideas into new things

-    Maker mindset to create stuff collaboratively and to absorb and share knowledge with others

-    RadioShack, recently announced their reentry in to the “Do it Yourself” market

2)    Get Involved – How to Get started

-    Work with the local school to bring the interaction and fun of Maker into the tech class at school

-    Get your child and/or yourself out to workshops being offered around town to learn things

-    Get involved and engage your teenagers in their high schools and universities in the Maker activities at Carleton, Algonquin and Ottawa U.  The learning can reach right into the grade schools which is where it will start in time

-    Attend workshops in one of the Maker Spaces around town to figure out what’s going on and what options you have and go meet people who can connect you to maker activities of interest to you

3)    Instead of waiting to get hired, build your future - Create Viable Products and then Companies

-    There are many imaginative ideas that can be worked on and transformed into viable and marketable products

-    We now live in a time where you can do your own R&D to get to a prototype and get the market interested

-    If you need help to get to market there are options for investor pitching, business mentors like Invest Ottawa to understand what market to go after and professional software and product design and engineering companies that can help you design and commercialize and go on to steer you to the appropriate manufacturers and suppliers locally and around the globe

Most Importantly please come back from the cottage for a weekend and attend the 4th annual Ottawa Mini Maker Maker Faireheld Aug. Saturday-Sunday 16-17, 2014 @ Museum of Science/Tech. This once a year family friendly event brings together enthusiasts across the spectrum of art and technology and it’s Free! Last year’s event attracted 4,000 people and this year’s will be even bigger and is now accepting applications for exhibitors(and its free to exhibit)! So, we encourage you to come out and visit the Design 1st interactive booth that will be demonstrating live how to connect, learn and build and to take your idea to market!

And if you’re interested in learning more about Maker Faire, check-out the 2014 Maker coolest projects our colleagues saw at this year’s San Francisco Maker Faire – the flagship event where Maker started in 2006. This Faire featured a giant 25ft tall Fire breathing Octopus called El Pulpo Mecanico, a Robo-Tar product that lets beginners play the guitar by picking out cords mechanically, mind controlled interactive games, sandwich meat printing 3D printers and many more cool projects!

Whatever way you wish to participate, remember if you like creating things through doing you’re a maker! The movement is growing across the globe and creating a learning revolution with vast implications on education and how we learn. So get involved today.  If you want to learn more about Ottawa Maker news, resources and events send us an email with subject line ‘ADD ME TO THE 2014 MAKER EMAIL LIST’ then send email to


About Design 1st:

Kevin Bailey is President at Design 1st where his team provides turnkey new product design from a napkin sketch to product or they can be a flexible extension of your in-house product development team. Their program management and senior design, engineering and commercialization team will provide value at every step.

Kevin’s team can be reached at (613) 235-1004 ext. 234 or For more information on product design, engineering and product commercialization services visit: 

For information on placing a sponsored article on, please contact Terry Tyo at 613-238-1818, ext. 268

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