Reflections on the National Week of Making

making and education roundtable event at White House

Photo by James Minichello

The National Week of Making brought together a nation of makers to a series of celebratory events. I was so excited to get the chance to take part in these events as the Deputy Director of Maker Ed, and I want to take you on a journey through my experiences during this epic week!

It started on Thursday on Capitol Hill with a series of panels as part of the Congressional Maker Caucus, a bi-partisan group of members of Congress working to support and advocate for the maker community.  The panels covered topics on makerspaces, workforce development, making in the community and maker education. Hearing from maker educators (dressed to impress!) from around the country commenting on the unique value making brings to education and what allows the movement to flourish was inspiring.

Down the hall was the Capitol Hill Maker Faire, coordinated by IMLS. This Faire showcased a variety of educational institutions from museums to HBCUs to libraries and more (many of whom were partners of Maker Ed!) engaging with members of Congress. Just a usual “day in the life of a maker.”

On Friday, I felt proud to be sitting in the room representing Maker Ed at the Week of Making Kick off event at the White House. The day was filled with panels and discussions from leaders in the field, but by far, the most touching were the series of heartfelt presentations from youth makers showcasing their unbelievable (and many times untapped) potential. Among them were Aidan Robinson and his mentor Coby Unger, who met at a summer camp where kids design their own prosthetic devices. Together, they created a “swiss army knife” of  attachments for Aidan’s prosthetic arm, including a spoon and fork and a LEGO attachment. We also heard from Project H, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching youth to design and build their future with heart, hands, and hammers. A host of young girls from the program told us their story of empowerment through welding.

From there, we launched right into the National Maker Faire held at University of D.C. campus. This event ran Friday and Saturday and featured makers and educators from around the U.S. who braved the sweltering heat to share their love of making. It was a Faire like no other, jam-packed with everything from duct tape creations to 3D printers to a person wandering inside a gigantic orgami-like dinosaur costume made of cardboard!

The momentum continued on Sunday with an Afternoon of Making and Exploring Possibilities, a Maker Ed-led workshop at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Educators and superintendents from around the country gathered to hear from the Deputy Director of the USPTO and to make, while exploring debates around protecting your inventions. Many people commented that they had never seen so many superintendents together in one room learning through play!

Last, but certainly not least, was the White House Making and Education event, taking place on Monday. Maker Ed, Digital Promise and AASA partnered to collect letters from superintendents and school leaders who committed to bring making to their schools and districts, culminating in a roundtable discussion around making and education at the White House. The energy from being at the White House with these innovative leaders was palatable. I’m excited for what we will see in our schools across the country over the next year based on the spark of this discussion.

I was asked recently how long it takes to become a “recognized” makerspace. If you would ask any of the folks in DC that week, I’m sure that many (including myself) would never have imagined that we would go from humble beginnings (church basements, corners and carts) to sitting in the Executive Office Building at the White House. The momentum is growing and spaces are being recognized for their amazing commitments to youth in their communities. How long it takes is only limited by your own imagination.

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