Last year, on June 18, President Obama hosted the first-ever White House Maker Faire and challenged “every company, every college, every community, every citizen [to] join us as we lift up makers and builders and doers across the country.” On June 12-18, 2015, the White House will celebrate a Week of Making, including a National Maker Faire in Washington D.C.
All over America, makers young and old are using 21st-century tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and open-source electronics to design and build things that are personally meaningful to them. Today, we are challenging a broad range of stakeholders – including school leaders, K-12 teachers, skilled volunteers, and companies – to ensure that all of our children have access to these opportunities.
The Obama Administration believes that making can also play an important role in education and life-long learning. Making can motivate and inspire young people to excel in STEM subjects and prepare students for careers in design, advanced manufacturing, and entrepreneurship. Making can help students acquire 21st-century skills such as teamwork and problem-solving, and address the “summer learning loss” faced by disadvantaged students without access to enrichment activities outside of school.
Making also has the potential to increase student engagement, which is critical for academic success. Survey data reveals that two-thirds of high school students report being bored every day. We can and must do better, and in 2011, a team of 15 teens from a low-income school in West Philly showed us what’s possible when learning becomes fun and inspiring instead of boring. To compete for the $10 million Automotive X Prize, the West Philly team built a 160 mpg hybrid kit car, which has outperformed other fuel-efficient cars built by professional engineers and graduate students from Ivy League universities. In a region with a high school drop-out rate of over 50 percent, every single member of the team graduated.
The Administration is committed to doing its part. For example, the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers are teaming up to bring making and tinkering activities to 25 communities in California, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The Corporation for National and Community Service and companies have partnered with the Maker Education Initiative to bring exciting educational opportunities to over 143,000 youth and families in 24 states.
But we will need what President Obama calls an “all hands on deck” effort to broaden student participation in making, tinkering and invention. For example:
Although the new technology that is fueling the maker movement gets a lot of attention, more important are the values, dispositions and skills that making fosters, such as creativity, imagination, problem-solving, perseverance, self-efficacy, teamwork, and “hard fun.” As Steve Jobs observed, describing the impact that having access to a Heathkit (a do-it-yourself electronics kit) had on him, “Things became much more clear that they were the results of human creation not these magical things that just appeared in one's environment that one had no knowledge of their interiors. It gave a tremendous level of self-confidence that through exploration and learning one could understand seemingly very complex things in one's environment.”
If you want to get involved, tell a story, or share an idea, please send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Working together, we can create a nation of makers and a brighter future for our children.
Tom Kalil is the Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Roberto Rodriguez is the Deputy Assistant for the President for Education Policy.