Hands-on, creativity activity defines the popular maker movement

“It’s DIY with a tech edge.”

Do you embrace a “do it yourself” philosophy at home or at work? If so, consider yourself part of a global movement — the maker movement.

“Maker,” according to an Adweek article written by Joan Voight is “the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers.”

A movement that recognizes tinkering as an element of invention and design is one I  whole heartedly support. Playing around with ideas, trying to improve the way things work, is personally satisfying. And, I believe, it can inspire us to do something more. Choose a new career. Start a small business. Develop a marketable product.

Voight’s Adweek article, Which Big Brands Are Courting the Maker Movement and Why – From Levis to Home Depot, suggests “makers” have the potential to “disrupt” traditional business models. If it seems a “far-fetched notion,” the author says we should consider “that’s probably what Budweiser thought about those pesky microbrewers a decade ago — before Bud started losing market share to them.”

I invited a group of faculty, who appear in Working Class: Dream & Do, to gather at the Gallery at Penn College and talk about the maker movement. Gallery director Penny Griffin Lutz enthusiastically agreed to moderate and Chris Leigh filmed the discussion, which is available for online viewing.

The Gallery at Penn College celebrates creativity and community

“The movement is for everyone. It’s about creativity.”

Penny described the movement as one focused “on learning and using practical skills … the invention and design of useful objects.” She said it is a “technology-based extension of the DIY culture, which includes robotics, electronics, and 3D printing, but it also includes traditional activities like woodworking and arts and crafts.”

“It’s DIY with a tech edge,” suggested Penny’s friend and art educator Andrea McDonough-Varner, who coordinates the art department at Williamsport Area High School. “The movement is for everyone. It’s about creativity.”

Penny Griffin Lutz introduces exhibiting artist at The Gallery at Penn College

Penny said that people involved in the movement may have inherited the desire to make things. “I think our parents and grandparents made things … and people want to get that back,” she said.

Bonding Opportunity

I know my own desire to create is fueled by memories of my grandmother’s sewing machine, tucked in a bedroom corner. From that small space, she made quilts, tablecloths, holiday decorations, apparel and dolls for her grandchildren. I still cherish and display many of those items in my home today.

The process of making something provides an excellent opportunity for children to bond with relatives, teachers, and their peers. Working together for a common purpose, learning to use tools, and perfecting techniques are experiences that contribute to growth and understanding … and eventually may lead to success in the workplace.

Andrea McDonough-Varner (center) visits the Gallery at Penn College

“I think it’s the way we need to think, and it’s the way we need to teach our children to think,” Andrea said. “The way traditional education might prepare our students for entering the real world may not be sufficient anymore. We need thinkers, we need designers. We need to give our students, our children, these tools, so that they know how they can participate in and mold their world.”

Tools and plenty of space – physical space and head space that provides room for ideas to ferment – are necessary elements of a successful maker space. Also required is a sense of community. A maker space is designed not for solitude, but for sharing.

“We need to give our students, our children, these tools, so that they know how they can participate in and mold their world.”

A few years ago, I turned a no-longer-needed bedroom into my own maker space. I tore down walls and added a glass door to bring in plenty of light. I added a large, empty work surface and space to store fabrics, paints, embellishments, paper, and tools. (These items once were packed in boxes and stacked on shelves in the basement bedroom that was more storage room than maker space.)

creativity in studio
Message of encouragement mixes with tools in my maker space.

Tinkering Space

Now, my space is perfectly suited to tinkering. It gives me freedom to start a project and let it sit unfinished for as long as I want. I don’t feel a need to get it right the first time. I can experiment, walk away from my mistakes and come back later with better ideas. And, I can share the space with family and friends who want to tinker too.

AshleyMy goddaughter, Ashley Mahaffey, is working there now on her senior project. Ashley is in the final semester of Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Industrial Design baccalaureate program. If you watch Working Class Dream & Do, you’ll see her at work in a design class. You will also see her as a child playing in a stream with her sister Molley and my nephews Quintin and Colin Helm. (I am proud to say that Quintin and Colin are both Penn College students today as well. Colin is even helping to film scenes for the next episode of Working Class!)

Ashley gets advice from Professor Tom Ask

Ashley’s faculty adviser Tom Ask, professor of industrial design at Penn College, also was part of our Maker Movement discussion. He, Penny and Andrea were joined by Penn College faculty Lauren Rhodes, mathematics, and Rob Wozniak, architectural technology.

Thanking Participants

Over the next several weeks, I will write more about the thoughts shared by the passionate educators who took part in our roundtable discussion. For now, I simply offer my sincere thanks to Penny, Andrea, Tom, Lauren and Rob for making it possible for us to share the Maker Movement Roundtable discussion at

“Chemistry, math, physics, are all great precursors to the maker movement.”

Next week’s blog will focus on the connection between traditional education and the maker movement. A point made by Tom Ask during the discussion was that “Chemistry, math, physics, are all great precursors to the maker movement. ”

“If makers are a spontaneous response to education, that’s a wonderful thing,” he added. “They’re saying, I learned all this stuff. I want to try it. I don’t want to try it with a teacher there, I don’t want to try it with somebody else. I just want to take some buddies and try it, see what happens, while nobody’s watching.”

Please come back next week, to read more insights from Tom, Lauren, Rob, Andrea and Penny.

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