September 20, 2015

Making Makers: Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation

Making Makers: Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation

By AnnMarie Thomas, 2014

In her book, Making Makers: Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation, AnnMarie Thomas, an engineering professor at the University of St. Thomas, asks the big question “How do we empower children to become, and remain, makers?” (p. xi). To find out, Thomas interviewed dozens of adult makers to gain a better sense of what it was they experienced as young people that helped support them in becoming the makers they are today. Throughout the stories she tells, readers are introduced to an engineering professor that grinded his own telescope lenses over a 50 gallon drum in his childhood bedroom, a software developer who disassembled the air conditioner in her classroom when she was a preschooler, and a pipe organ designer who used to dig huge trenches in his parents back yard as a kid. Based on her conversations with so many unique makers, Thomas has identified eight attributes that she suggests are important to develop in younger makers: curiosity, playfulness, risk, responsibility, persistence, resourcefulness, generosity, and optimism. As she describes them,

  • Makers are curious. They are explorers. They pursue projects that they personally find interesting.
  • Makers are playful. They often work on projects that show a sense of whimsy.
  • Makers are willing to take on risk. They aren’t afraid to try things that haven’t been done before.
  • Makers take on responsibility. They enjoy taking on projects that can help others.
  • Makers are persistent. They don’t give up easily.
  • Makers are resourceful. They look for materials and inspiration in unlikely places.
  • Makers share—their knowledge, their tools, and their support.
  • Makers are optimistic. They believe that they can make a difference in the world. (p. 5)

After discussing each of these maker assets by telling the stories of the makers she’s interviewed, Thomas wraps up Making Makers with a chapter that offers advice to adults hoping to support young makers. Here, Thomas encourages her adult readers to share their passions with young people, to let children follow their own interests, to step back and let kids do the work, to teach the importance of safety and responsibility, and to let young makers get their hands, clothes, and bedrooms dirty. She also encourages maker moms, dads, and teachers to be comfortable not having all of the answers all of the time. “It’s OK to tell your kids, or your students, that you don’t know how to do something,” she writes. “In that moment, though, the most important thing is the next step. These moments of uncertainty are a chance to say ‘let’s figure it out together,’ and head to a library, a makerspace, a project sharing website, or a neighbor’s house” (pp. 129–130).

As the Agency by Design team writes up its research findings, it’s exciting to see how many of the attributes Thomas focuses on in Making Makers resonate with the general thinking skills we’ve heard the educators in our study discuss as outcomes of maker-centered learning experiences. What’s more, the theme of empowerment as it appears in Thomas’s book, dovetails nicely with the concept of agency that we talk about in our work. As she suggests, young people do indeed become empowered through making, but it is also our responsibility as adults to help empower young people to become effective and fulfilled makers.


–Edward, September 20, 2015