The Maker Mind: Taking a Closer Look at the Way Makers’ Minds Work

Does exposure to maker-oriented activities foster the development of a "maker mind" in young people? Artists and designers from the Flux Foundation develop educational experiences for kids, such as these elementary school students from Park Day School, to do just that. Photo by Flickr/Flux Foundation.

Does exposure to maker-oriented activities foster the development of a “maker mind” in young people? Artists and designers from the Flux Foundation develop educational experiences for kids, such as these elementary school students from Park Day School, to do just that. Photo by Brooke Buchanan.

At Project Zero, one of the things we’re interested in is understanding cognition—or in other words—how the mind works. In fact, long time PZ researcher Howard Gardner is famous for investigating, identifying, and naming various kinds of “minds.” The disciplined mind, the creating mind, the synthesizing mind, the respectful mind, and the ethical mind are all part of the cognitive suite Gardner calls the Five Minds for the Future. Despite the care Gardner has taken in articulating the most essential minds for the 21st century, we wonder if—perhaps—yet another mind can be added to the mix: the Maker Mind.

During our September 2012 visit to the Bay Area our colleagues at the Abundance Foundation arranged for us to have lunch with Jess Hobbs and Catie Magee, two artists who play leadership roles in the Flux Foundation, an Oakland-based not-for-profit organization that “engages people in designing and building large-scale public art as a catalyst for education, collaboration, and empowerment.” Amongst some of their large-scale sculptures have been huge productions such as “Temple of Flux,” a commissioned sculptural work installed—and later burned to the ground—at the 2010 Burning Man Festival. Flux also runs a collaborative community based education initiative known as TweetHaus “a public art + ecology project focused on citizen science, interactive learning and collaboration [that] fosters community through the design, construction and installation of bird habitats and public pathways in urban environments.”

Catie Magee (left) and Jess Hobbs (center) explain their process to AbD researcher Jessica Ross (right) inside  Flux Foundation's workspace at American Steel Studios.

Catie Magee (left) and Jess Hobbs (center) explain their process to AbD researcher Jessica Ross (right) inside Flux Foundation’s workspace at American Steel Studios.

When Jess and Catie spoke about the transformative power of participating in maker-oriented projects, they frequently refereed to what they called the “maker mind.” When pushed to describe the maker mind, Jess offered the following:

I think it’s the ability to see beyond yourself and what can be accomplished [that] kind of pushes you into this really amazing space that you let go of some of the tenets of, you know, your logic mind going, “this is who you are, this is what you do, this is what you can achieve.” Then you’re pushed into this maker mind.… which has this ability to kind of combine your logic mind and your creative mind to drive you into seeing beyond the rules you’ve already imposed upon yourself. And when people get pushed into this space, things loosen up.

When Jess invokes the idea of the maker mind, she’s referring to the dispositions, habits of mind, and overall cognitive capacities that are correlated (or potentially correlated) with the mental processes of makers. This is exciting stuff for us! But before we get carried away, it’s important to take a step back to think for a moment and ask ourselves a few questions: If there is such a thing as a “maker mind,” what might be the full range of cognitive capacities that are associated with such a mind? And… How might we develop empirical studies to help us best understand and most clearly articulate how maker minds work?

While we’re asking ourselves these questions, we’re also curious to know what you think. Do you likewise believe there may be such a thing as the “maker mind?” If so, what do you feel are some of the dispositions, habits of mind, and cognitive characteristics associated with such a mind? How might you design a study to observe such difficult to see cognitive structures?

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About Edward P. Clapp

Edward is a senior research manager and a member of the core research team working on the Agency by Design initiative at Project Zero, an educational research center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). Edward’s current research interests include creativity and innovation, maker-centered education, design thinking, and contemporary approaches to arts teaching and learning. In addition to his work as an educational researcher, Edward is a lecturer on education at HGSE. Web: http://scholar.harvard.edu/edwardclapp Social: @edwardpclapp

9 thoughts on “The Maker Mind: Taking a Closer Look at the Way Makers’ Minds Work

  1. Ive noticed with myself and others around me that people work in two ways- they either work out the details, the small stuff, and let it build into the big stuff, or dream the dream and then figure out the operational stuff after. Often when these two types of ppl work together, there are clashes. I believe maker mind is more associated the second one. Would you agree?

    • Hmm… I’m not so sure it’s an either or situation. Perhaps it’s more of a a both/and scenario… and maybe there is a third approach: the just mucking about approach where someone is tinkering with no real direction and then they stumble upon something that clicks, and then another, and then another… We have not explored this concept in our research yet, but it is absolutely something that we will consider going forward. Thanks!

      • I agree that there is more than one way for maker minds to work. I teach architecture and I have seen all three types of makers in my classroom. As an artist and maker myself, I know I often work in two of the three ways you have described and sometimes it is a combination of the two. I am not a planner and executer, but I often plan how to start and then play. Or I just begin by being interested in how a material can be manipulated and play with it and reiterate until I am either finished or pleased.

  2. My thoughts are more in the line of the connection with the emotion that makes our “maker mind” work. 1, the empathy that leads the impulse to add value to any situation and be driven by the willingness of helping, improving, etc… or 2, just the impulse of surviving that make our body act and get connected with our “maker mind” to do things as needed… I like the idea of the makers mind being connected to the body!

    I’ve been working with early childhood (1-5) looking for acts of wisdom, innovation, spontaneous actions to add value, to design, to do prototypes before going straight to the objects…. and I always wonder what is that that leads some 2, 3 or 4 years old to act and not the others.

    We work promoting a culture of thinking using PZ frameworks. What we see is amazing, but AbD is simply getting us even more inspired and wondering so many new things…. we are looking forward to be learning more very soon 🙂

    • Thanks for your post. Concerning your first points, it’s really interesting to see your connection between making and empathy as well as making and the body. A lot of what we are reading about design thinking connects to the notion of human centered design. This is usually described as considering the needs of other users throughout the design process, but empathy certainly plays a role in that. On a different note, some of the psychological literature that we are reading about agency makes deep connections between having a sense of agency and proprioception—having a cognitive understanding of the body’s physical movements in time and space. We’re not sure where all this falls in our understanding of the maker mind yet, but we would love to hear more of your thoughts on the matter.

      It’s so wonderful to hear that you’ve been working with PZ frameworks in the past—and extra-extra wonderful to hear your enthusiasm for the AbD project. Keep the commentary coming!

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