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Dear Colleague Letter: Enabling the Future of Making to Catalyze New Approaches in STEM Learning and Innovation


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has contributed substantially to the development of the US Maker Movement and the exploration of Making as a pathway to innovations and learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). NSF’s strategic fundamental research investments enabled many of the innovations underlying 3-D printing, computer-aided design, geometric modeling and computer-integrated systems. NSF has made a series of investments in the systematic discovery of new knowledge about learning through Making in diverse formal and informal settings including fab lab classrooms, television and interactive web media, undergraduate engineering, and the first-ever World Maker Faire.

Today, a growing number of people engage in STEM practices and learning through various forms of Making. The Maker approach encourages people to understand how things work, to experiment, invent and redesign things through multiple iterations, to democratize and understand processes of engineering, science, and innovation, and to commercialize new products by developing and testing prototypes quickly and in a cost-effective manner. Making frequently takes place in social contexts, often called Maker spaces, where collaborators, mentors, advisors, and others can be found. These emerging ideas are pointing the way to how the STEM research and education community can both benefit from and contribute to the Maker Movement, improving U.S. innovation and STEM workforce development.

NSF, with its strengths in fundamental science, engineering, and education research, citizen science, and the integration of research and education activities, is uniquely positioned to leverage the burgeoning Maker Movement and the large network of Maker spaces. Making has the potential to:catalyze new possibilities for formal and informal STEM learning, stimulate innovative design thinking, increase retention and broaden participation in STEM, empower citizen engineers, and enable new ways of STEM learning and design thinking that will enrich the U.S. innovation ecosystem.

Building on NSF's early investments in Making, the purpose of this Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) is to encourage EAGER proposals to conduct exploratory work in its early stages on untested, but potentially transformative, research ideas or approaches that advance the frontier of knowledge with respect to STEM learning and design thinking. Specifically, NSF challenges and encourages the community to submit innovative proposals for fundamental research or the integration of research and education that:
•Elucidate the processes and potential benefits of learning, e.g. design thinking, in the Maker context;
•Leverage Making to develop and test its role in improving the effectiveness of formal and informal learning pathways for increasing retention and broadening participation in STEM for students and faculty;
•Explore new ideas and models of formal and informal STEM learning by leveraging existing knowledge in Making;
•Investigate and test effectiveness of new approaches to design and innovation enabled by Maker spaces and practices;
•Enable new tools and knowledge for design and prototyping across all disciplines that can significantly increase Making capabilities; and
•Further the understanding of innovation processes from prototypes through their transition to products that have greater societal and economic impact through enhanced marketability and large-scale market adoption.

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