Last night, I participated in my first #makered discussion on Twitter. (I am new to Twitter. I fear I am already addicted. But that’s another story.) I loved it! Some things discussed that have been knocking around my brain today while I binge watched Season 3 of The Wire: diversity in maker education, and maker ed being part of the curriculum/classroom instruction.
I work in an independent school with a very healthy library budget, so what I can say regarding diversity is, right off the bat, limited in a key way. Just want to acknowledge that right off the bat. I can’t buy everything the kids want me to buy, but I am able to do a lot, and I have a lot of support from administration. We were also lucky to get an alumni gift that really helped to buy materials to establish the makerspace this year. So, when I am talking about diversity within my environment, I am more talking about different kids, with different strengths and different interests, coming into the space and doing different things.
One thing that surprised me a little at the start of things getting busy in the makerspace, which really shouldn’t have but I am just being honest here, was how incredibly sharp some of these kids are with picking up new things, or with coming up with new ideas. I suppose that, as a librarian, I’ve mostly been exposed to the “book smart” aspect of intelligence: kids who are big readers, or kids who are adept at research, or kids who ask really deep questions. (And my background is academia, and that has always been my comfort zone.) The makerspace has revealed to me a whole host of different kinds of intelligence, in a variety of kids. Some of them fit the “book smart” category, and some don’t. I’ve always seen that all of them are bright in different ways, and I have loved connecting with the wide range of kids that come to the library. It’s just that the makerspace has given me an opportunity to really see that brightness up close, to see these kids shine. It was an early day in having the space when a 5th grade girl essentially taught me the basics of electronic circuitry and was trying (patiently) to get me to see something in my mind, and I was thinking, “oh my god, this child is a GENIUS!” Because she is smart in exactly all the ways I am not smart! I am a terrible spatial thinker. With anything visual/crafty, I have to look at the instructions about a million times, and I’m still likely to have to take it apart and redo after the first time. This kid could just whip out something that would take me an entire day to even wrap my mind around.
As the year progressed, I (in my mind) pretty much declared almost every kid who came into the makerspace a genius. And I am not exaggerating (well, maybe just a little, but only a little) or joking or making light; it really was that the kids who were coming there were tapping into their greatest strengths. And they were not all the same strengths: one kid completely blew me away with his artistic ability; one with his capacity to come up with ideas for machines; one with her ability to pick up the logic of coding; etc. It wasn’t like all of them were tech geniuses or something. Sometimes the kid who is best at coming up with the concept is less equipped to bring it to life, but then another kid is the reverse. When they come together and help each other, it’s extremely cool.
And another thing that was interesting: kids seemed a bit more willing to step out of their own comfort zones when it was another kid saying, “I know how to do that; I can help you,” than when I was the one offering to help. If we want to talk about gender diversity, I think this was the biggest help in breaking those barriers; boys helping boys sew; girls helping boys with coding. I think that was as much the specific group of kids as anything, and there was some teasing that had to be dealt with, but on the whole, I was impressed with how the kids worked through it.
Now, those kids may or may not shine in the “regular” classroom. They may or may not be actual geniuses (statistically, it’s unlikely that all of them are! but they are!). What I do know is that, ideally, the classroom is a place where those areas where they shine are revealed and built upon. I know that, in my own educational history, there wasn’t much room for that. This seems to be changing. So I am all for maker education finding its way into the regular curriculum. BUT:
I think it’s important that we don’t shove it into one department.
I think it’s important that we don’t take it out of the library; it needs to be everywhere.
I think we need to retain the kid-driven aspect. The moment you start telling someone that they have to make X, and do it Y way, I worry that it just takes the spirit out of it. If a kid (and I can relate to this!) wants instructions to follow, by all means, that is great! I would be nowhere in the world of making things if I couldn’t first follow some very specific instructions; my brain just needs that. But some kids don’t need that. And even if you can’t always let them loose to follow their passions, we need to at least always have a place (like the library!) where the materials and the space are available for kids to tinker and play with what they want to tinker/play with.
I guess that’s all for now. I was a kid who took great comfort in book learning, and the idea of project-based learning and real-life application and so forth makes part of me nervous. Because I wouldn’t necessarily be good at it! But that, to me, is what I keep coming back to as a reason that it is important: it would have stretched me. It stretches me now. It wouldn’t mean that there was no place for my strengths: making encompasses EVERYTHING in my mind; there is a place for everyone, room for everyone to shine. Room for everyone to GROW.