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Abstract

In this essay, Erica Halverson and Kimberly Sheridan provide the context for research on the maker movement as they consider the emerging role of making in education. The authors describe the theoretical roots of the movement and draw connections to related research on formal and informal education. They present points of tension between making and formal education practices as they come into contact with one another, exploring whether the newness attributed to the maker movement is really all that new and reflecting on its potential pedagogical impacts on teaching and learning.
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Harvard Educational Review Vol. 84 No. 4 Winter 2014
Copyright © by the President and Fellows of Harvard College
The Maker Movement in Education
ERICA ROSENFELD HALVERSON
University of Wisconsin–Madison
KIMBERLY M. SHERIDAN
George Mason University
In this essay, Erica Halverson and Kimberly Sheridan provide the context for research
on the maker movement as they consider the emerging role of making in education.
The authors describe the theoretical roots of the movement and draw connections to
related research on formal and informal education. They present points of tension
between making and formal education practices as they come into contact with one
another, exploring whether the newness attributed to the maker movement is really
all that new and reflecting on its potential pedagogical impacts on teaching and
learning.
The maker movement has garnered a lot of recent attention in the popular
imagination. This year, at the first ever White House Maker Faire, President
Obama declared, “I am calling on people across the country to join us in
sparking creativity and encouraging invention in their communities” (White
House, 2014).
Tens of thousands of kids, adults, and families are drawn to the exciting
new technologies, expert marketing, and strong word of mouth that charac-
terize this movement. Maker culture has become a way to express creative and
communal drive, and this excitement has led to an explosion of makerspaces
around the United States (and the world) across a range of instructional envi-
ronments, including libraries, museums, independent nonprofit and for-profit
organizations, K–12 schools, and institutions of higher education.
1
Some
spaces focus on the emergence of new technologies for designing, building,
and manufacturing, while others value the return to face-to-face, garage-style
work that the maker movement engenders. Across these perspectives, there is
growing enthusiasm for the potential for new technologies and old forms of
communication to transform the educational landscape.
In this essay we describe activities and features of the maker movement
and, more significantly, the emerging role the maker movement is playing
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(and could play) in education. We begin by introducing the maker movement
broadly and describing its theoretical roots and connections to prior research
in formal and informal education. We then describe three components of the
maker movement—making as a set of activities, makerspaces as communities of
practice, and makers as identities—each of which inspires different theoreti-
cal and empirical approaches, research questions, and areas of study reflected
in the two empirical pieces on the maker movement presented in this issue:
Sheridan and colleagues’ (2014) empirical account of a range of makerspaces as
communities of practice that afford engagement with both activities and iden-
tities and Kafai, Fields, and Searle’s (2014) study of how people learn through
making as a set of activities, with a focus on how the maker identity intersects
with issues of gender.
Defining the Maker Movement
Before we discuss theoretical roots and approaches to research associated with
making and education, it is important to begin with a common frame of refer-
ence for understanding the maker movement. While people have been “mak-
ing things” forever (scholars and practitioners who speak about making often
reference ancient practices such as cave paintings to describe our human need
to make), the maker movement as it is currently constructed has gained par-
ticular traction over the past five years. The maker movement refers broadly to
the growing number of people who are engaged in the creative production of
artifacts in their daily lives and who find physical and digital forums to share
their processes and products with others. Popular press books reflect this
diversity of practices in their varied definitions of the making phenomenon.
For instance, Chris Anderson (2012), former editor-in-chief of Wired maga-
zine, defines the movement as “a new industrial revolution.” He distinguishes
between the maker movement and tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs of
prior eras by referencing three key characteristics: the use of digital desktop
tools, a cultural norm of sharing designs and collaborating online, and the
use of common design standards to facilitate sharing and fast iteration. Mark
Hatch (2014), CEO and cofounder of TechShop, one of the first and most suc-
cessful makerspaces, proposes a “Maker Movement Manifesto” that describes
makers’ activities and mind-sets organized around nine key ideas: make, share,
give, learn, tool up (i.e., secure access to necessary tools), play, participate,
support, and change. Like Anderson, Hatch highlights the importance of
the construction of physical objects as a feature of the maker movement that
makes it distinct from the earlier computational and Internet revolutions.
Dale Dougherty, recently named a White House “Champion of Change,”
is often credited with popularizing the maker movement through his com-
pany Maker Media. Maker Media publishes MAKE magazine and hosts three
annual world Maker Faires and more than fifty annual, local “mini–Maker
Faires.” These independently produced daylong events combine the features
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The Maker Movement in Education
erica rosenfeld halverson and kimberly m. sheridan
of science, renaissance, and craft fairs, including live demonstrations, show-
case booths, product sales, and opportunities for attendees to create their own
projects. The Maker Education Initiative also offers a free “Makerspace Play-
book” to help people interested in building their own makerspaces.
2
Dougherty (2012) asserts that the term maker is universal and core to human
identity, “describ[ing] each one of us, no matter how we live our lives or what
our goals might be” (p. 11). Thus, he defines the maker movement more in
terms of the people who associate with the ethos of making than in terms of
how or where making happens. In his view, the movement evolves to encom-
pass the identities and practices of those who align with it.
Dougherty, Hatch, Anderson, and others emphasize the democratizing
nature of making through cheap hardware, easy access to digital fabrication,
and shared software and designs. They note the growing availability (based on
both quantity and price) of powerful computational and fabrication tools for
everyday people, coupled with a renewed interest in local goals and resources
as a happy confluence: “The real power of this revolution is its democratiz-
ing effects. Now, almost anyone can innovate. Now almost anyone can make.
Now, with the tools available at a makerspace, anyone can change the world”
(Hatch, 2014, p. 10). At the same time, the maker movement has been crit-
icized for maintaining a “white male nerd dominance” (Grenzfurthner &
Schneider, n.d.) that has characterized hacker, tinkerer, and robotics cultures.
In a 2013 keynote address at Stanford’s FabLearn Conference on digital fabri-
cation in education, Leah Buechley (2013) described the MAKE organization
as being focused on a narrow range of maker activities (primarily robotics,
electronics, and vehicles) and an even narrower range of makers, with 85 per-
cent of its magazine covers featuring white boys and men.
Despite these critiques, a growing range and number of makerspaces are
generating a more diverse and complex picture of the maker landscape. While
the maker movement may have initially emerged from independent organiza-
tions such as TechShop (Hatch, 2014) and Sector67 (Sheridan et al., 2014),
it has since spread to museums, libraries, schools, community colleges, home
schooling groups, afterschool clubs, and institutions of higher education.
Making and Education
Progressive educators and researchers have been talking for decades about
the role of making in learning. Martinez and Stager (2013) credit Seymour
Papert as “the father of the maker movement” (p. 17), implying that con-
structionism is the theory of learning that undergirds the maker movement’s
focus on problem solving and digital and physical fabrication. Papert’s the-
ory of constructionism places embodied, production-based experiences at the
core of how people learn (Harel & Papert, 1991). While constructionism has
roots in Deweyan constructivism, which frames learning as the product of play,
experimentation, and authentic inquiry, the distinguishing feature of con-
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structionism is “learning by constructing knowledge through the act of mak-
ing something shareable” (Martinez & Stager, 2013, p. 21). Specific tools and
programs that have been used in both formal and informal learning spaces
are instantiations of Papert’s constructionism, including the Logo program-
ming language (Papert, 1980), LEGO Mindstorms kits (Resnick, Ocko, & Pap-
ert, 1988), the Scratch programming language (Resnick et al., 2009), and the
Computer Clubhouse programs (Kafai, Peppler, & Chapman, 2009). Addition-
ally, educational approaches such as project-based science (e.g., Schneider,
Krajcik, Marx, & Soloway, 2002) and problem-based learning (e.g., Schwartz,
Mennin, & Webb, 2001) emphasize learning through making.
Just as progressive educators have been talking for decades about learning
as the creation of meaningful artifacts, artists and arts educators have long
histories of supporting learning in the making across a variety of art forms
and media. Though studio art classrooms have long embraced a learning-by-
doing perspective, there has been little scholarship that meaningfully incorpo-
rates the history of artistic practices into the constructionist frame. In a recent
review of the role of digital media in arts education, Peppler (2010) asserts
that, “despite the theory’s explicit ties to the arts and design, constructionism
has not heavily influenced the existing work on the arts and arts education”
(p. 7). We argue that art making is fundamentally a representational domain
and therefore resonates with a constructionist perspective on learning (Hal-
verson & Sheridan, 2014). Research on making in education embraces the
constructionist frame of progressive education while stretching further our
understanding of how making things that matter can be a successful lever in
formal environments, especially when it includes the tools of artistic practice.
Learning in making is, emphatically, not interchangeable with schooling.
Learning through making reaches across the divide between formal and infor-
mal learning, pushing us to think more expansively about where and how
learning happens. In this way we can talk about the who, what, and how of
learning without getting hung up on the rules and constraints that govern dif-
ferent settings. This blurring of boundaries is evident in events such as Maker
Faires, where participants ranging from adult makerspace members to kids
participating in robotics clubs come together to share what they have created.
In the upcoming sections we will describe how the maker movement is coming
to influence the education enterprise, and discuss some tensions that emerge
when these learning experiences cross the formal/informal divide.
How the Maker Movement Is Influencing Education
The influence of the maker movement can be seen across a broad range
of spaces and places under the education umbrella. One strand of the ini-
tial focus on making and learning originated in higher education settings.
FabLabs were created by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) profes-
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erica rosenfeld halverson and kimberly m. sheridan
sor Neil Gershenfeld (2005) as pedagogical environments that would allow
everyday people to solve their own problems by producing (rather than pur-
chasing or outsourcing) the tools they need. Today the Fab Foundation pro-
vides support for the creation of new FabLabs around the world, training for
new labs, the development of local networks, and international support. Paulo
Blikstein’s FabLab@School project is a corollary to the FabLab network that
adapts this model for K–12 settings worldwide. In these spaces, participants
work at the intersection of the digital and the physical, using digital tools to
generate designs that can then be built with in-house fabrication tools such
as 3-D printers. As a result, FabLabs place the learning focus on principles of
engineering, robotics, and design.
Concurrently, informal learning environments such as public libraries,
museums, and independent nonprofits have expanded the notion of what
gets made in makerspaces to include projects that range from making books
to wearable electronics. These organizations have galvanized the energy of
adult-oriented hacker- and makerspaces into learning experiences with an eye
toward young people and families. As Kafai, Fields, and Searle (2014) discuss
in more detail, informal learning settings are playing an important role in
diversifying the maker movement by making tools, materials, and processes
more readily available to people who may not initially self-identify as mak-
ers. In many museums, the focus on maker culture is a natural extension of a
long-standing emphasis on learning-by-doing in art and science. For example,
Makeshop at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and the New York Hall of
Science (2013) have both leveraged their interest in authentic participation in
STEM and art practices into the creation of museum-based makerspaces. For
libraries, the shift may be more fundamental. Resnick (2014) describes librar-
ies’ incorporation of making as requiring a new understanding of what librar-
ies are for, from seeing “the library as a warehouse of information . . . [to] a
community workshop, a hub filled with the tools of the knowledge economy”
(n.p.). Examples of how a free, open-access space can be transformed into
a place for doing include the Chattanooga Library (Resnick, 2014) and the
Maker Lab at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library (Knight, 2013).
The trend of remaking learning spaces in higher education and informal
learning settings has generated inevitable questions in the formal context:
What is the role of making in school? How can I put a makerspace in my
school? Most of the current models for how to integrate making into K–12
schools emerge from the theoretical ideas in progressive education outlined
above. West-Puckett (2014) describes how educators can design classrooms as
makerspaces by focusing on student interest and by understanding learning
as integrated and connected through projects rather than as an isolated set of
skills. And while school-based makerspaces will likely include the newest tech-
nological toys, such as 3-D printers and laser cutters, the focus in design for
learning is not on tools but on the process and the product. In order to pro-
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mote the spread of making in schools, several practitioner projects offer how-
to manuals and support systems for those who want to think about the design
of an education-focused makerspace.
These efforts are still nascent and, to be sure, run up against a range of
structural challenges, including questions of access, scale, and staffing. But
perhaps the greatest challenge to embracing the maker movement in K–12
schools, especially in our current accountability environment, is the need to
standardize, to define “what works” for learning through making. This is true
at the level of the individual student (e.g., Does making really bolster stu-
dents’ STEM competencies?) as well as at the institutional level (e.g., Who is in
charge of the space? What should students do there? Should making supple-
ment current curricula or replace it?) Many educators and researchers have
raised the question of whether learning through making is a fad, just another
way to reconstruct the same challenges we face in our comprehensive, het-
erogeneous, public school system. In fact, as the maker movement enters the
conversation about best practices for teaching and learning, progressive edu-
cation researchers, institutions, and even those within the maker movement
are raising objections to this trend.
The Maker Movement, Formal Schooling, and Progressive Education
Perhaps the greatest fear on the part of those deeply invested in the maker
movement is that attempts to institutionalize making—through schools, after-
school programs, etc.—will quash the emergence, creativity, innovation, and
entrepreneurial spirit that are hallmarks of the “maker revolution” (Dough-
erty, 2012). In our view, the question of whether institutionalization will kill
the essence of the maker movement depends on the extent to which it is char-
acterized by its democratizing potential. Although there are those who see the
maker movement as fundamentally democratizing (Anderson, 2012; Hatch,
2014), we have also seen how identities of participation have already been
constrained by early adopter voices. We believe that the great promise of the
maker movement in education is to democratize access to the discourses of
power that accompany becoming a producer of artifacts, especially when those
artifacts use twenty-first-century technologies. This is in line with Blikstein’s
(2013) call for FabLabs to serve as Freirian opportunities for empowerment
and consciousness raising.
However, democratization may only be accomplished if we move beyond
conceptualizing making exclusively as a series of activities that can help
improve K–12 students’ formal schooling knowledge. If we believe that mak-
ing activities and maker identities are crucial for empowerment, then it is, in
part, our job to set up situations whereby all learners have the opportunity to
engage. Libraries in particular hold promise for democratization, given their
history as free, embedded community resources open to all. Learning through
making, most notably with digital technologies, has the potential to help us
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erica rosenfeld halverson and kimberly m. sheridan
reach institutional and policy goals for STEM learning for a range of students.
This vision of democratization mirrors Peppler’s (2010) description of the
digital media arts as a way to bridge the participation gap in technology use
among kids of varying socioeconomic statuses. Understanding the relation-
ship among activities, communities, and identities in the context of our insti-
tutional landscape is the current grand challenge, and the maker movement
is central to new institutional perspectives on learning.
Making, Makerspaces, and Makers—Pillars for Analysis
To facilitate progress toward merging a powerful wave of authentic and engag-
ing practice with the institutions set up to democratize access to learning pro-
cesses including public schools, libraries, and federal and state policy units, we
propose the consideration of three components of the maker movement when
framing research questions, design decisions, and policy making: making as a
set of activities, makerspaces as communities of practice, and makers as identities
of participation. We describe each of the three components below and high-
light what kinds of research questions, designs, and institutional practices are
enabled and constrained from each perspective.
Making refers to a set of activities that can be designed with a variety of
learning goals in mind. Making can happen in a variety of places that may be
labeled “makerspaces” as well as in classrooms, museums, libraries, studios,
homes, or garages. This approach is the closest to other constructivist- and
constructionist-based design work that focuses on engaging participants in
learning content and process. Work from this perspective engages the intersec-
tion of computer science, design, art, and engineering. This research has also
demonstrated how making activities result in participants learning principles
of engineering, circuitry, design, and computer programming (e.g., Jacobs &
Buechley, 2013; Kafai, Peppler, & Chapman, 2009; Resnick et al., 2009; Sheri-
dan, Clark, & Williams, 2013). As education researchers, we are good at asking
the questions “What is learned here?” and “How does this learning translate to
the disciplines and domains that we care about in K–12 education?” And while
this line of research has not mapped directly onto the standardized metrics
currently in place to measure adequate student progress in public schools, it is
possible to envision a world in which the learning outcomes measured in these
studies will be valued in institutionalized learning settings. As a result, we see
strong connections between the making approach and what we recognize as
the values of the institutions of formal schooling, such as all students dem-
onstrating mastery of core competencies. In this way, making activities can
affirm school-based approaches to teaching and learning. Kafai, Fields, and
Searle (2014) demonstrate that making can also challenge our understand-
ing of what counts as a legitimate learning activity. They describe e-textiles as
a “disruptive” making activity that brings both “hard” and “soft” skills to the
maker ecology, opening up our understanding of what counts as making.
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Makerspaces are the communities of practice constructed in a physical place
set aside for a group of people to use as a core part of their practice. While
making activities are a part of the community, they do not fully constitute
it. Our research suggests that communities of practice emerge around mak-
erspaces as members co-participate in a range of activities, including taking
walks, playing board games, caring for resident pets, and attending Maker
Faires and community events unrelated to making. Sheridan and colleagues
(2014), offer a case study perspective on three unique makerspaces that cap-
tures a range of places that we would characterize by this name: a stand-alone
membership organization, a community space, and a drop-in space located
within a museum. This line of research supports the many organizations and
individuals who are interested in creating makerspaces but lack the concep-
tual tools to understand what can be learned there, how it can be learned, and
what is constrained and afforded through participation.
In these spaces, learning happens as a consequence of individuals begin-
ning as legitimate peripheral participants and moving toward becoming full
participants. But learning is not guaranteed; nor is it regulated. This is crucial
from an institutional perspective that takes the education of all kids as a core
part of the mission of schooling. A makerspace approach values individuals
moving in and out of a space freely. As a result, the unit of analysis is not nec-
essarily individual learners over time but, rather, what happens in the space
and how to design the space to enable distributed expertise and open configu-
rations of learning.
Makers describes the identities of participation (Wenger, 1998) that people
take on within the maker movement. The New York Hall of Science (2013)
report “Making Meaning (M2)” explores the question “What makes a maker?”
using profiles of young makers as a means to explicate what identities of par-
ticipation look like. While Dougherty (2012) asserts that everyone is a maker,
it is not clear that individuals and groups automatically take on identities of
participation within the maker landscape. Some participants in making activi-
ties may not consider themselves makers and therefore self-select out of public
conversations. This is especially important given the critiques raised by Buech-
ley (2013) and others about the white male dominance that is often asserted
in public constructions of the maker identity. Kafai, Fields, and Searle (2014)
describe how maker identities are made available through the use of technolo-
gies like e-textiles, which “open doors to students traditionally excluded from
technical domains” (p. 535). Specifically, they focus on how the aesthetic com-
ponent of making affords students the opportunity to bring personal identity
into the typically technocratic work of schooling.
The two articles in this symposium begin to explore the maker movement by
empirically addressing each of the three components of our framework—mak-
ing as learning activities, makerspaces as communities of practice and designed
learning environments, and makers as identities of participation that afford new
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erica rosenfeld halverson and kimberly m. sheridan
forms of interaction between self and learning. We are encouraged that these
pieces begin the research conversation on the maker movement with subtlety,
rather than simply asking whether making is “good” or “bad” for learners and
instructional environments. The maker movement stretches across the for-
mal/informal instructional divide, creating an opportunity in research and
in practice to understand learning and schooling as related but independent
concepts. With this work, we propose to change the conversation from being
about the design of schooling as informing learning to, instead, the design for
learning as informing schooling. Bringing the maker movement into the edu-
cation conversation has the potential to transform how we understand “what
counts” as learning, as a learner, and as a learning environment. An expanded
sense of what counts may legitimate a broader range of identities, practices,
and environments—a bold step toward equity in education.
Notes
1. The makerspace.com directory currently lists more than 100 makerspaces worldwide,
while hackerspaces.org lists more than 1,000 hackerspaces.
2. See http://makerspace.com.
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Before the COVID-19 pandemic, some teacher education programs started maker education initiatives to integrate the tools, practices, and mindset of the maker movement into their curricula. These efforts came to a grinding halt at the beginning of the pandemic due to the sudden transition to emergency remote teaching (ERT). Post-ERT, educators have been exploring strategies for students to recover from the interruptions of their learning gains and maker education seems to be on the backburner compared to other priorities. However, maker education is still meaningful post-pandemic because it promotes creativity, collaboration, problem-solving, and resilience using hands-on projects. Envisioning teacher education programs in 2025, all teacher educators will have developed the competencies necessary to apply and implement the practices of maker education within their subject areas. Furthermore, all preservice and in-service teachers should have the literacy, fluency, and toolsets to engage with maker education, as well as develop a maker mindset. In other words, maker education should be infused into every aspect of teacher education. Detailed vision and suggestions for implementation are discussed.
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Electronic textiles are a part of the increasingly popular maker movement that champions existing do-it-yourself activities. As making activities broaden from Maker Faires and fabrication spaces in children's museums, science centers, and community organizations to school classrooms, they provide new opportunities for learning while challenging many current conventions of schooling. In this article, authors Yasmin Kafai, Deborah Fields, and Kristin Searle consider one disruptive area of making: electronic textiles. The authors examine high school students' experiences making e-textile designs across three workshops that took place over the course of a school year and discuss individual students' experiences making e-textiles in the context of broader findings regarding themes of transparency, aesthetics, and gender They also examine the role of e-textiles as both an opportunity for and challenge in, breaking down traditional barriers to computing.
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In this chapter, we review research on how people learn disciplinary knowledge and practice in the arts. Learning in the arts is distinct from the other subjects discussed in this handbook (math, science, history, and literacy) for three core reasons. First, the arts are centrally a representational domain and learning in the arts involves becoming increasingly aware of how representational choices communicate meaning to different audiences (Halverson, 2013). Second, form and meaning are deeply integrated in the arts; artistic representations are saturated with meaning, and subtle variations in aspects such as line quality, tone, inflection, and tempo are considered consequential to that meaning. Third, work in the arts often involves explicitly exploring and examining identity and culture, because artistic cognition is intertwined with both. We argue that these three distinctive features of arts learning have potential implications for our understanding of learning more generally. There is a long history of research in arts education (for reviews, see Deasy, 2002; Fiske, 2000; Gadsden, 2008). However, this chapter is the first review of what we know about learning in the arts from a learning sciences perspective. We consider four complementary questions: What do we know about the arts within educational contexts? What do we know about learning in and through the arts? What are the features of designed learning environments for the arts? How can an arts-based perspective contribute to the learning sciences?
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Through a comparative case study, Sheridan and colleagues explore how makerspaces may function as learning environments. Drawing on field observations, interviews, and analysis of artifacts, videos, and other documents, the authors describe features of three makerspaces and how participants learn and develop through complex design and making practices. They describe how the makerspaces help individuals identify problems, build models, learn and apply skills, revise ideas, and share new knowledge with others. The authors conclude with a discussion of the implications of their findings for this emergent field.
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"Wired" magazine editor and bestselling author Anderson takes readers to the front lines of a new industrial revolution as today's entrepreneurs, using open source design and 3-D printing, bring manufacturing to the desktop.
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The combination of computational design and digital fabrication offers many exciting possibilities for art, design, and creative expression. We seek to make computational design accessible by developing tools that allow novices to use programming and digital fabrication to produce personal and functional objects. In this paper, we describe our development of Codeable Objects, a preliminary computational-design programing tool developed to work in conjunction with digital-fabrication machines. We also present our evaluation of the tool based on a set of user studies in which people built computationally generated crafts, clothing, and accessories. These studies illuminated the viability (and challenges) of engaging novice programmers through design and digital fabrication, and provide a platform for future work in developing programming tools to support personal expression.