Making for Making Sake? or STEAM for 21st Century Job Skills?


by Christa Flores -

Making for Making Sake?

or STEAM for 21st Century "Job Skills?"  

by C. Flores and P. Benfield




                                                                                                                                     - Kropotkin




Thank You Sylvia Martinez of Invent to Learn for this Conversation

According to Educational Philosopher Gert Biesta, professor of educational theory and policy at the University of Luxembourg, “Education debate tends to be based on a truth about the nature and destiny of the human being, a truth about what the child is and what the child must become.” Is anyone else daunted by this task? Some of us feel we are at a precipice in education that is fueled by a growing interest in MakerEd, and with this shift has come a lot of questions. Lets start with a recent question offered by Sylvia Martinez to our MakerEd community through her blog on November 20th. In this, Sylvia asks, “Should schools embrace Making because it develops job skills?” Paulo also addressed this in his keynote speech at FabLearn in a slide title “jobs versus powerful ideas.” “Making for making sake!” should be our mantra!

Or should it...and who gets to be part of that conversation, because like it or not, it will determine who gets hired to “teach” making at your schools and it will drive other funding issues as well. Can we dream about such an educational climate without first addressing how our current economic or political models support the adapting philosophies of MakerEd? I turn to my colleagues for answers, especially that of new STEAM Director (aka Maker in Residence) at the St. Gabriel’s School in Austin Texas, Patrick Benfield to help me map the landscape for our schools. For further inspiration, I have been learning how to speak Tiny Dutch words to stay informed by the Netherlands.

Arjan van der Miej, Per-Iver Kloen and Jelmer Evers, are a few of the educational pioneers in the Netherlands (some of whom presented at this year’s FabLearn) artfully connecting ideas in educational philosophy, with the whimsical optimism of making to answer some of the above questions. Arjan will tell you, he is not a revolutionary, but an evolutionary. He finds hope in redefining education for the future because he is engaging his students in the discourse. Together they are figuring out what MakerEd is, and how MakerEd fits into our society’s value systems. If this is a process of evolution, says Arjan, (inspired by Paulo’s description at his keynote speech at FabLearn), we are working together in a global network (thanks to social media, FabLearn and dedicated nonprofits) to code the DNA of MakerEd. When asked, “Now What?” regarding the future landscape of MakerEd, Jelmer Evers, replies in Twitter brevity, “Uniqueness, to come into the world.” It seems as though the possible future of MakerEd is presented to us like a potential period of punctuated evolution then, not unlike the Cambrian event, just add some LEDs to the menagerie.

Now Back to Sylvia...

I first responded to Sylvia’s blog question via Twitter (see feed below). Now I feel that her question deserves a formal conversation, as I had an itch regarding the use of the concept or term “job skills.”


Informed by the historical emphasis on STEM due to global competition in the 1950's to the present, I wanted to return to Sylvia’s point that the STEM crisis is misdefined. Using Sylvia’s reference, I dug into the IEEE (Institute for Electronics and Electronic Engineers) Spectrum Forecasters survey a bit more. The survey was taken of members and outside engineers and it asked questions such as those related to “the shortage of STEM students in the pipeline.” I found this quote interesting:

To the point that we should teach the STEM fields because they have enjoyed a reputation for being secure or well-paying jobs to pursue, well, that gets even more complicated. The career centered prestige of STEM fields resonates as strongly with upper middle class families sending their kids to private schools, as it does for low income families who can't hedge their bets with their child’s education. For these populations, marketable or “job skills” is not a dirty word. In their culture, it is noble and not to be discussed as if just economically driven and not intrinsically rewarding enough. Call it a sign of a system you disagree with, and then move on, or change it.

So, if the STEM pipeline does not have a true shortage, and job skills for uncertain markets are not what should motivate us, then is this really a conversation about a shortage of inclusivity in STEM? If having a STEM career means you have a purposeful life and feel empowered to make the world a better place, then should our focus be to make the population of employable problem solvers even more diverse? If so, lets describe this needed “unfair advantage” so we can all understand what that means?

In the end, all this discourse and tweeting and questioning is a privilege. I do not get paid a living wage to be a Fellow, I get paid to teach science. In STEAM focused or Maker classrooms we do take the white coats off (sometimes) and get dirty making more technology mastering, math and science loving, empowered outsiders. I am grateful for my work and for those of you still reading. Happy Thanksgiving (Met Dankbaarheid) M.Ed. folks. Lets start Coding Together!



Works Cited

  1. Biesta, Gert (Nov. 2014) “Freeing Teaching from Learning: Opening Up Existential Possibilities in Educational Relationships” Studies in Philosophy and Education.
  2. Blickstein, Paulo (Oct 24, 2014) “I Have Guts Too” FabLearn 2014 Opening Keynote. Stanford University.
  3. Bouza, Tereasa (November 26, 2014) “Initiatives seek to tap into children's creativity” Fox News Latino Link:
  4. Charette, Robert N. (August 2013) “The STEM Crisis Is a Myth Forget the dire predictions of a looming shortfall of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians”
  5. Erickson, F., Kneller, George F. (Nov 2002) “Comment: Culture, Rigor, and Science in Educational Research” EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER vol. 31 no. 8 21-24
  6. Fountain, Henry (OCTOBER 31, 2014) “Putting Art in STEM” New York Times
  7. Fukuyama, Francis (Sep. - Oct., 1998) “Women and the Evolution of World Politics” Foreign Affairs Vol. 77, No. 5, Published by: Council on Foreign Relations
  8. Kumaga, Jean (September 2013) “Is There a Shortage of STEM Students and STEM professionals?”
  9. Kropotkin, Petr Alekseevich, and Paul Avrich. The Conquest of Bread. New York: New York UP, 1972. Print.
  10. Spectrum Forecasters STEM Survey Report: Third Quarter 2013 by Advanced Technology for Humanity
  11. Selvage, Jennifer (Novenber 2014) “Pushing Women and People of Color Out of Science Before We Go In” Huffington Post Blog




















Anonymous's picture

Thanks Christa, it's nice to have a continuing conversation beyond the limits of Twitter!

I also worry that the focus on STEM is uncritical of what we call STEM in school. It feels like we are teaching to a narrow band of abilities and skills, while ignoring kids who don't think in these traditional ways. While I'm all for reaching out to make sure that ALL kids get good science and math experiences, I think that essentially we are looking for that extra 1% of kids who can cope with traditional STEM.

I'd rather expand the net - someone said, probably Papert, that's it's not up to us to make kids love math but make a math that kids love. The problem is that sounds like lowering standards.

It's a bit like celebrating the success of the Titanic in getting some of its passengers across the ocean, "oh, we only lost some of them, we'll do better next time. We need passengers who are better swimmers, we can make better lifeboats, we can give them cold weather emergency gear, etc." All the while ignoring the fact that we crash Titanics full of kids into massive icebergs of irrelevant STEM curriculum every year.


Christa Flores's picture

I agree Sylvia, not getting your school to examine what STEM or STEAM is for your school is a critical piece that makes this so complicated. Some school's view a strong STEM program as a robust science program and separate math and non-applied technology program. I think REAL science and Making and ART and all that, has more to offer in the way fo allowing kids to "fall in love with math/science". Even good science programs taught by dedicated and talented teachers do what you say "celebrate the success of the Titanic" because they have good test scores. I think that the value in holding onto Science and Math (and the Technology to inform those disciplines), is a facet of who we are as humans and works beyond arguements around global competition or economics. We explore. We question. We try to predict and control and make things better. We do science, so lets help kids do it too. 

The next issue is how to "sell" making to schools. The language we choose to craft arguements matters. We have to take into account the audience, which is status quo. If it takes using status quo code to communicate, is there harm being done? I dont know.