Facing the STEM Monster at Fablearn 2016

On October 14th-16th, Stanford held the 6th annual FabLearn conference on creativity and making in education. The FabLearn Conference, as their website describes, “aims to bring together award-winning academics and educators, learning sciences researchers, and policy-advisors to build a community interested in putting curiosity, innovation, and hands-on problem solving back into today’s schools.” FabLearn also supports an international cohort of educators, the FabLearn Fellows, who work to create open-source maker focused curriculum, and to contribute research about making and digital fabrication in education. Past Fellows are responsible for amazing work such as Meaningful Making: Projects and Inspirations for FabLabs and Makerspacesa book of inspirational ideas, assessment strategies, and recommended projects for maker educators.

The conference theme this year was Diversity in Making: People, Projects, & Powerful Ideas, and was kicked off Friday night by a panel featuring Edith Ackermann, Erica Rosenfeld Halverson and Richard Halverson and a keynote from Leah Buechley.

The night began with a hypothetical scenario. It’s the year 2026, the maker movement has failed, why?

In response, Erica Rosenfeld Halverson’s presented a fear faced by many educators working to integrate making into their learning environments – that the maker movement is in danger of becoming consumed by what Halverson calls “the STEM Monster.” Making, and maker education, she claimed, needs to be seen as something possible across many subjects, and as something that has value beyond its role in the STEM pipeline.


It is important, and something we repeat often at Maker Ed, to acknowledge the ways that making is possible in subjects well beyond science, technology, engineering and math. As much of the work presented at FabLearn and published by the FabLearn Fellows illustrates, making is valuable across disciplines (see this amazing history project by FabLearn Fellow Heather Allen Pang, published in Meaningful Making: Projects and Inspirations for FabLabs and Makerspaces).

According to Leah Beuchly however, STEM cannot be discounted and should not necessarily be cast in an entirely negative light. Rather, she emphasized in her FabLearn keynote the kinds of activities and process that fall under the STEM umbrella need to be expanded. In today’s social and economic system, Beuchley claims, STEM education is a key to certain kinds of success and power and by expanding what “counts” as STEM, we open up access to this power to a much wider, more diverse group of learners.

Watch Beuchley’s keynote, and the rest of the opening panel here, and explore all of the recorded presentations from Fablearn 2016 on their site.

We would love to hear your thoughts on the relationship between STEM and making! Do you fear the STEM Monster? Do you agree with Leah’s claim that expanding what we call STEM can help create a more diverse maker movement? Share your thoughts on social media using #FabLearn and #MakerEd. Be sure to tag Maker Ed (@MakerEdOrg)!







One response to “Facing the STEM Monster at Fablearn 2016”

  1. James Colbert Avatar
    James Colbert

    I am in the fortunate position that I teach in an open planned maker centred classroom. We have 66 students and have a fully functioning makerspace in the classroom where the students can work on maker projects of their choice. They range from Lego robotics, computer coding, cardboard construction, sewing and computer programming. We aim to embed the STEM and maker philosophies into our Literacy and Numeracy, but on top of this, we dedicate 12 hrs per fortnight in class time to maker activities and projects. We are an independent private school in Geelong, Australia and we’re well resourced, but our students are in the classrooms an hour before class starts, creating, collaborating, testing and redesigning awesome things. The maker movement and STEM ideology is alive and well in our school.

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