The maker movement is advancing a grassroots renaissance in creativity and innovation. Fueled by ready access to personal fabrication systems, community makerspaces are springing up around the world. Makerspaces provide individuals with access to prototyping tools that facilitate innovation and invention:
In recent years, a growing number of Americans have gained access to technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, easy-to-use design software, and desktop machine tools. This, in combination with freely available information about how to use, modify, and build upon these technologies and the availability of crowd funding platforms, is enabling more Americans to design and build almost anything (The White House, 2014).
Despite this recent prominence, making is not a new phenomenon. A collaboration with the National Museum of American History has traced the roots of making to the beginnings of the nation. In fact, making is an important element of the nation’s character that played a key role in its current prosperity. Brooke Hindle, past director of the National Museum of American History, notes that making transformed the United States from a rural nation to a national technology leader. The underlying cause was Hindle suggests that the underlying cause was related to familiarity with machinery of all kinds:
Americans – particularly the farmers – lived daily with machines, and a small group of mechanics and artisans worked daily with gears and gear trains, cams, ratchets, escapements, bearings, cylinders, pistons, and valves – the basic elements of which the new machinery was constructed. (Brook Hindle, Emulation & Invention, page 4)
Three distinct eras that preceded the current age of making can be identified: (1) the electromechanical age, (2) the electronic age, and (3) the computer age:
Epochs of Innovation
|Era||Community of Users|
|1800 – 1840||Age of Discovery||Natural Philosophers|
|1840 – 1920||Electro-mechanical Age||The Mechanics|
|1920 – 1960||Electronic Age||The Technicians|
|1960 – 2000||Computer Age||The Coders|
|2000 –||Age of Making||The Makers|
Each age served as an incubator that gave rise to a community of users. A series of scientific discoveries at the beginning of the nineteenth century led to a series of inventions that transformed the world. Volta invented the battery in 1800. Shortly after, a Danish professor, Oersted, discovered that an electrical current flowing through a wire generates a magnetic field. An English scientist, Michael Faraday, and an American scientist, Joseph Henry, discovered that a magnetic field can generate an electrical current.
These two discoveries – (1) the ability to transform electricity into magnetism and (2) the ability to convert magnetism into electricity – led to a series of inventions on which today’s civilization is founded. Three great networks were established during the electromechanical age that followed: the telegraph network, the telephone network, and the electrical network. Each electromechanical network served as an incubator that led to the network that followed. This work led to the electronic age that began with invention of the vacuum tube. The vacuum tube and the transistor that followed made the computer age possible.
The current age of making draws upon all three eras that preceded it. Making involves mechanical skills that include expertise with computer assisted design (CAD) and 3D printing. It also involves electronic expertise that can be used to bring mechanical mechanism to life. Finally, it involves computer science, through use of microcontrollers that can be used to program and control the actions of electromechanical devices through use of actuators, motors, and sensors.
This introduction to maker education is organized around these areas of the expertise. In the first section, a series of labs provide an introduction to digital fabrication and computer assisted design. The second section provides an introduction to maker electronics. The final section provides an introduction to computers and microcontrollers such as the Arduino.