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Three Ways to Inspire 21st-Century Global Makers

By Eduardo Caballero — June 24, 2019 5 min read
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Eduardo Caballero is the co-founder and co-executive director of Camp EDMO.

Maker education (“making”) is the process of using collaborative, multidisciplinary, project-based learning to support academic curiosity, personal expression, and social-emotional growth. At Camp EDMO, we love incorporating making into our STEAM and SEL-focused summer camps and after-school programs. Beyond reinforcing basic tenets of the “maker mindset,” such as embracing failure, using resources creatively, and creating community around learning, making provides the perfect way to combine multiple elements of the Framework for 21st Century Learning.

Here are three ways to incorporate a global angle into the maker projects in your school or out-of-school time program:

1. World Newsmaker Challenge. Use the news and current events to inspire creative maker challenges:


  • Step 1: Propose a maker challenge. Find a world problem for which you’d like the class or group to design a solution. If you work with younger students, you might need to do some of this legwork yourself. If you work with middle or high school students, make the research part of the lesson plan. Define the underlying issue and identify your resources and constraints. The more specific the issue and community, the better. For example, while crime is a worldwide problem, that’s too big and broad. However, an article about pickpocketing crime at the Olympics might inspire a design challenge to create a pickpocket-deterrent wallet or purse. Pollution is too broad, but designing a contraption that separates oil from water could be a great one if there’s an unfortunate oil spill off Fraser Island in Queensland, Australia. Young people can read international stories to get ideas about how to solve a local or global challenge that concerns them. Take, for instance, the boy who scares lions to keep his family’s livestock alive or the girls who invented a urine-powered motor to create electricity, or the toy maker who makes science toys out of trash to inspire children to live sustainably and reduce their consumption.
  • Step 2: Prototype ideas. Prototyping designs can be completely scaled to your budget and resources. You can design prototype wallets or water filters out of string, cardboard, straws, or duct tape. You can build a house or a car out of Popsicle sticks, straws, and aluminum foil, or you can build one out of plywood, PVC pipe, or metal. The beauty of maker projects is that they’re completely up to you, your time, and your resources. Do you have access to sewing machines and leather? A metal shop? 3D printers? Use those! An alternative to slow and expensive 3D printers are 3D paper printers like Silhouette Machines. You can create 3D prototypes for a fraction of the price and time. Want to get even craftier on a budget? These MakeDo construction snaps take cardboard building to the next level.

2. Global-Themed Maker Challenges. Here are some quick and easy maker projects focused on global challenges inspired by Makezine article “50+ Global Issues Makers Can Solve.” Click the 20-page list to get even more details for classroom or program inspiration. I’ve modified a few of the ideas to create kid-friendly challenges and added some questions that can help get the creative juices flowing:


  • Design a house for the urban poor: Lead a discussion about the issue of poverty. What are the elements of a house? What are their basic functions? What are the constraints you must take into consideration? What might your house need to include that might not be typical? Does it need to be portable? Does it need to be solar-powered?
  • Design an alternative-energy portable light: Where are communities that don’t have electricity? What are challenges of not having light at night? What are some constraints you need to take into account to make something portable? How comfortable is it to carry or attach to yourself?
  • Design a refrigerator or cooler: Why do you need to keep things cool? What are the dangers for people if they don’t have a way to keep things cool? What kind of materials insulate? What kind of things cool? How can you test the effectiveness of your cooling contraption?
  • Design a machine that tills soil: Why is tilling soil important to farmers? What are the elements we can judge our machines on? Speed of tilling? Amount of tilling? Ease of use?
  • Design a low-cost transportation vehicle: Lots of people around the world can’t afford cars. What are some modes of transportation other countries use? Design a wind-powered car. Design an electric car. Design a vehicle that helps a family carry water.

3. International Design Challenge Swap. Admittedly, this one takes more legwork and has a greater chance of failure but also the highest possibility of reward. And thanks to some great sites, it’s still pretty easy:


  • Option 1: Find an international maker fair. Make: and Nation of Makers has listings of international fairs and maker events around the world. Explore options with youths and decide which fair or event to attend to showcase projects that were created to solve local or global challenges.
  • Option 2: Reach out to a classroom or program in another part of the globe. Identify a problem in your community that needs a creative solution. Swap your challenge with a classroom or program halfway around the country or world—iEARN is a great tool to help you foster meaningful connections among students from different cultures. Guaranteed questions will come up about each other’s community. What resources are available? What are the weather conditions at certain times of year? What other geographic limitations or possibilities might there be? The fact that these are real-life problems creates instant buy-in to the projects. The curiosity will drive the learning, design, and connection between your students and those in another region or country.

Whether working with a shoestring budget or rolling in SMART boards, making is the perfect approach for inspiring global citizenship, cross-cultural understanding, and social-emotional intelligence in students here and around the world.

Follow Camp EDMO, Heather, and the Center for Global Educationon Twitter.

Photo credit: Ashley K. Collingwood

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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