The Connected Learning Summit 2018: Thoughts on Making

August 20, 2018
By Educator Innovator

David Cole brings together key insights and resources on maker education from the 2018 Connected Learning Summit. This text originally appeared in Make: Education, a monthly newsletter exploring the intersection of education and the maker movement. Sign up for more at

“There was a space where there was nothing, and then there was an object.”

That’s Kate Rosenbloom, Learning Design Director for – a non-profit in NYC that “empowers all students to use technology for good” – describing what it was like in 2012 to work with Maker Bot as one of the first learning organizations to bring 3D printers into New York City’s public schools.

I met Kate two weeks ago at the Connected Learning Summit 2018 at the MIT Media Lab where I had the chance to talk with an inspiring group of educators, researchers, and program developers about their early experiences with making and hands-on learning and their thoughts about what needs to happen next with the maker movement and education.

The three-day conference was a debut of sorts: #CLS2018 was created to bridge and amplify work started in 2005 by the MacArthur Foundation with its Digital Media and Learning initiative, which grew to include an annual DML conference, the formation of the Connected Learning Alliance, and a pair of complementary meetings in the Games+Learning+Society Conference and the Sandbox Summit.

The consolidation of these like-minded communities is timely, given the breadth and confluence of interests and practices these projects have championed over the last 13 years. Notably, it’s a timeframe that matches the launch and growth of the maker movement.

With session titles such as, “Constructionism in Context,” “Making in Schools: Envisioning and Sustaining Making in Learning,” “When Inquiry Meets Making: Demystifying Inquiry-Based Making Using Guided Inquiry Design,” “Changing Who Is Making: Broadening Participation in Maker Activities,” and “Maker-Centered Approach to Educator Professional Development,” it was an opportune time to check in with a few experts.

Asking the Experts

I managed to catch a handful of people and asked two questions: 1) What’s an origin story or foundational experience for you with making? 2) Where does maker education need to go now?

For lifelong crafter and Chair of the Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Division at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education Dr. Yasmin Kafai, it was handcrafts, from the traditions and curriculum at school in Germany, to the lineage of tailors in her family and her passionate interest as a young person in patternmaking and making her own clothes. Sana Jafri, a program officer with the Chicago Learning Exchange, had a similar experience watching her mother and grandmother sew.

Conference keynote speaker and educator extraordinaire Michelle King described her energetic attempts to assemble solar panels from scratch. Kate recalled her work in a cooperative dining hall in college, an act of collective making for others.

Jeff Evancho, founder of Studio Life After-School Programs, and Project Zero Program Specialist in Pittsburgh’s Quaker Valley School District and a metal artist and sculptor by training, surrounds himself with materials, from construction to gardening to his work as middle school arts teacher and arts advocate. Stephanie Chang, director of impact for Maker Ed, drew a straight line from her memories of play as a child and her appetite for hands-on experiences to her current role at Maker Ed. Dr. Amon Millner, assistant professor of computing and innovation at Olin College of Engineering and director of the Extending Access to STEM Empowerment (EASE) Lab, talked about re-use and what it meant to be young, unsupervised, and fascinated with things that were on their way to the trashcan – an old VCR, for example, with mechanisms to move things back and forth.

Each person talked passionately about having a hand in the transformation of materials and the creation of something new. Remarking on why there is such a resonant response to making, Yasmin commented, “When these movements take hold they fulfill a need, something people are searching for.”

Observations on what comes next for maker education reflected discussions that are unfolding in our communities, schools, and body politic about equity, access, scale, and the need to empower learners, not only with technology but with materials, traditions, and the skill-building that accompanies these encounters.

Yasmin on access: “Affordability is really important so these materials can become available to everyone.” Sana on communities and intergenerational learning: “Making can unite and bring people together with assets and experiences that connect families and learners with new opportunities that can advance kids’ learning and careers.” Kate picked up on this idea, commenting “As a society we’ve de-valued vocational education. We’ve pushed a lot of kids into four-year liberal arts degrees. Some people like hands-on, technical work, and we should be investing more in these vocational skills.”

Amon spoke to interest-driven experiences and getting educators to let the student lead the conversation: “If a young person can turn a smartphone into an augmented reality experience, and they feel that tells the story of their report better and it allows them to explore a new platform for creating and manipulating media, dealing with space, perspective, learning subject matter, like history, say…teachers might see students differently as creators.”

Stephanie commented that maker education “is building on so many different pieces of educational pedagogy… It is coming together in a way that makes a lot of sense for where we are today. My hope is that it can be a democratizing force. The gaps between the haves and haves-not are growing; hands-on, open-ended, student-centered work is absolutely the way forward.” Jeff spoke to the growth in the number of makerspaces and observed that “an arms-race is happening for space-making and stuff-getting” at the expense of “the why” and a values-based implementation that’s “individualized and personal based on context.”

Michelle chimed in on this note as well, picking up on the way in which way making and hands-on learning is thoroughly situated in physical materials, place, and people: “There’s an opportunity now to see the intersectionality of making; what does it mean to think about sustainability as part of our practice, how might we see ethics as part of our practice in making, how might we see our own identities as a source and inspiration for making.”

This summary doesn’t do justice to the range of detail each person generously shared for this column. We’ll be revisiting the comments, perhaps assembling some clips for an audio reel. Many thanks to all who contributed. For more details on the summit and some of the work of these remarkable educators are doing see the links below.

More Projects, Links, and Programs

If you’re interested in more from the event, the Connected Learning Summit website hosts a livestream archive. You’ll find Michelle Kings’s talk and an opening keynote with writer, comedian, commentator Baratunde Thurston in conversation with Joi Ito Director of the MIT Media Lab. And don’t miss the Ignite talks to hear what CLS attendees were excited to share. For more on the work of the Connected Learning Alliance see:

Jeff Evancho and Michelle King are leaders in Pittsburgh’s Remake Learning network. Read about Jeff’s work with creativity and “maker thinking” with Agency by Design, and watch another inspirational talk from Michelle, this one from TedxPittsburgh: “How to Make a Life.”

Amon Millner creates engaging environments and tools (Sparkfun’s PicoBoard, Modkit) and is a co-inventor of the Scratch programming language.

Yasmin Kafai has just released Stitching the Loop, a computer science and e-textile curriculum for high school students.

Kate Rosenbloom and her team use Mouse Create to manage the courses and activities they offer to their network.

Hear Sana Jafri talk about her work with the Chicago Learning Exchange.

See the extensive resource library Stephanie Chang and Maker Ed have created.

By David Cole
Originally Posted on the Make: Education Newsletter