“Maker Maven” is an apt name for this Tomball-based edtech business. If you’re not familiar with the maker movement, it’s one that’s poised to change how schools approach STEM education. As the name suggests, makerspaces are designed to help kids create and, in the process, discover a side of STEM subjects they might not encounter in traditional classrooms. A side that allows them to be creative and experience the real-world practicality of STEM concepts.
And as far as “maven” goes, you’d be hard pressed to find two people who are more of an expert in makerspaces than owners J’aime and Matt Garcia.
“Our heart and our passion is to expose educators and students to a different way of learning, to make sure they’re prepared for this STEM movement that is not only already here but is going to be a big part of our future,” says J’aime.
On any given day in a makerspace, students might create circuits, build and program robots, or design video games. Spaces for younger kids often combine elements of crafting, art, science, and technology, while high school makerspaces tend to provide more advanced coding and engineering-based activities.
“It’s a great way to get some buy in from those disengaged learners,” says Matt, “They know from grade one to grade twelve, they’re going to sit in a desk. They’re going to read a textbook. They’re going to be called on to answer questions… But putting these new tools and new concepts at their fingertips helps get the engagement back for some of those students who have already mentally checked out of school.”
Matt and J’aime have gotten used to hearing these kinds of testimonials from schools they’ve worked with. “We’ve helped a lot of schools change their mindsets on how students can learn,” J’aime says. “They see that change in the student, where before they weren’t grasping a concept but now, using different tools, they are.”
Even with the buzz and success stories surrounding makerspaces, many schools are still hesitant to implement them because of two main barriers. The first, predictably, is price. The second is time. With increasing pressure to perform on standardized tests, schools are hard-pressed to add new elements to their curriculum or to train teachers to use makerspaces. Maker Maven is committed to solving both problems.
“Equitable learning is important,” J’aime says. “So keeping that price point low allows different areas— especially when we’re talking Houston— an equal chance to invest.”
“They don’t need to start with the $2,000 3D printer or the fancy robots,” Matt says. “You can start with craft sticks and coffee filters.”
And while it’s easy to pay lip service to these ideas, Matt and J’aime back it up, frequently sharing free low or zero-technology challenges on their website and social media channels to encourage teachers to implement makerspace-style activities, even if they aren’t investing in Maker Maven’s products.
Their Make-and-Take program, which allows student to check out tech from the makerspace to bring home, was born out of their desire to help students in lower income areas benefit from the maker movement. “At your higher incomes schools, the fact is a lot of student have [things like] this,” says J’aime. “They get it for Christmas, they get it for birthdays. They get the newest technology. That’s not always the case in some of our lower incomes areas.”
“Being able to bring this into the home, have the family learn together, have the kids get the most out of it and take their findings back to school is really important for engaging with our lower income schools and families,” says Matt.
By providing their products in bundled kits, they’re able to keep costs down and act as an all-in-one resource for their schools. “We know we have to make it easy for our customers,” J’aime says. In addition to makerspace products, they offer both free and paid resources to help teachers use their new tech effectively as well as consulting and professional development services to lift the burden of training from the school districts.
And they’re not stopping with Houston. Matt and J’aime have managed to extend Maker Maven’s reach across at least fifteen states. Though their work focuses specifically on school-aged kids, the growth of Maker Maven and the maker movement in general is good news for all of us.
As the U.S. faces a shortage of qualified STEM workers that only promises to get worse, makerspaces offer students an opportunity to discover a passion for STEM subjects. According to a survey from Randstand data, many students avoid careers in STEM simply because they believe they’re boring.
Changing that perception isn’t easy. But with a commitment to reach and engage as many students as possible, Matt and J’aime are doing their part.