The Art and Science of Making: What Students Do to Create and Invent

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A few weeks ago, some of our young people reminded us that making is a mindset that can occur any time, any place.  On a snow day, a group of kids were co-opted by a local teenage video “maker” into creating and publishing a fabulous YouTube video, “Call Me Maybe, Josh Davis.” This video represented the inherent passion and joy that surfaces when young makers get together and intersect talents, skills, and interests in a collaborative venture. They learned from and with each other. They sparked ideas and inventive thinking. They showed our community what happens when kids exercise their spontaneous and creative genius, use technology tools in powerful ways to communicate, and leave their mark upon an authentic audience.

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We also see inventive potential when our elementary children construct their own cardboard arcade games for their school carnival, test bending moment using chairs, tables, and Unifix cube bridges, and create engineering solutions to design challenges pitched to them. It’s in the creative genius of our teenagers who’ve built their own 3-D printer, designed quad-copters and musical instruments, produced their own studio music and made document camera projectors for less than $100 dollars.

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Navigating Lego Simple Machines at Meriwether Lewis Elementary

Making things is a natural learning state for humans. It offers a different way to see the world through the practical lenses of finding solutions to problems, conundrums, and perplexities embedded in daily life. Making opportunities stretch analytical, creative, and integrative thinking. Making creates multi-dimensional, hands-to-mind and mind-to-hands processing that engages together the mathematical and language centers of the brain.

Making offers integrated learning opportunities–the best of any century learning. We see it in the collaborative efforts of Destination Imagination teams to design-build solutions to challenges. We see it in the gardens created and nurtured as part of a school’s own “grow local” effort for their school cafeteria.

Measuring, Mixing, and Making Muffins at Red Hill Elementary

Measuring, Mixing, and Making Muffins at Red Hill Elementary

Making is not just about math, science, engineering and technology.

A focus on STEM content knowledge is great if we want our children to become the next generation of skilled technicians and workers.  But, for us, the hacker/maker movement is about creating the next generation of entrepreneurs, creators and inventors.  That’s what adding the “A” to STEM gets at–a necessary injection of the creative Arts into STEM as STEAM.

Monticello High Music Industry Class Writes Lyrics and Records Music

Monticello High Music Industry Class Writes Lyrics and Records Music

We believe whether it’s the advanced manufacturing spillover influence from the University of Virginia’s engineering school into our elementary school digital fabrication labs or our year-round Irish-influenced Coder Dojos where kids make games in MIT’s free Scratch programming language  create websites with HTML, or work with Java, our children are moving back through these experiences to the natural learning that’s fueled America’s inventors, patent-makers, backyard mechanics, studio artists, NASA engineers, and skyscraper designers and builders.

A number of our Albemarle schools have prototyped maker spaces in libraries, redesigned computer labs, hallway niches, and converted classrooms. We see the results in the energized work of young people to create, design, invent, engineer, and make.

WAHS physics students build a wind tunnel in a flipped classroom environment

WAHS physics students build a wind tunnel in a flipped classroom environment

 Next year we will open Design 2015 teacher-developed maker space projects in a number of schools. We want our children to learn to use manual tools, but also so much more, In today’s environment, digital tools (in most cases) are very necessary design tools in early stages of “making” — drawing or programming to make something else do something.  Consider the tools, materials, skills, and knowledge necessary to make something new that will meet a human need or want. How many people do we know with the skills to do “maker” work today – despite the idea that America’s economic future rests in the hands of designers, inventors, builders, engineers, and makers from artists to auto mechanics?

We see the connectivity of our partnership with the national MakerCorps summer project as an opportunity to work with children through a different kind of interactive professional development for teachers who will partner in this hands-on maker experience, using a variety of traditional and contemporary technologies. The MakerCorps offers us an opportunity to draw young people, high school graduates and local college students into a real-deal maker program where they will serve as mentors for both our children and the teachers with whom they will interact. This work will engage young learners in the same way that these MESA Academy students engaged in designing, making, and sharing their interdisciplinary work – integrating the arts, sciences, technologies, and mathematics with engineering principles.

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We are at a turning point in human history, a rising tide of a culture of participation in global networks that open doors of which we humans have never dreamed. Remember, “making”, at its core, is about “teaching” kids to view the world (not just school) in a completely different way — it’s about empowerment and ownership of destiny— wondering is great but realizing that one has the power to “make something happen” is a powerful, powerful thing.

summer Coder Dojo

summer Coder Dojo

 Many of us talk about what’s wrong with the world (our work, our culture, etc.)—we chat about the need to change and wonder about something better—but very, very few of us actually do much of anything about it.  We tinker around the edges at best.  We are mostly admirers of problems and not solvers of them.  Public schools, very much by design, often perpetuate that.

So, moving kids from compliant listeners to curious learners is an awesome goal, but the ultimate goal must be to move learners from dreamers ….  to doers …. then, later in life, to change makers. Our nation, state, and local community depend upon it.

But, to make our own dream a reality — we’ll need to move ourselves and other adults along that continuum as well. That’s no small challenge. We educators, have much to consider and make happen.

Chad Ratliff and Pam Moran co-authored this post previously published at makered.org

 

Learning about Scratch by Eileen – and Albemarle’s Coder Dojos

The following post contains background on the Coder Dojo program underway in Albemarle County Public Schools and a guest post by Scratch programming enthusiast Eileen who attends Broadus Wood Elementary. If you would like to know more about our plans for our new round of Coder Dojo sessions or to volunteer to help, click here. Eileen’s page also has a link where you can download Scratch for free and see her original post as well.

By Eileen- a Broadus Wood student:

If you want to make your creations come to life, then Scratch is the website for you. You can make hundreds of different characters, and make them walk, talk and move in any kind of way. You don’t have to make characters, you can also make Movies,animated pictures,games, and puzzles! Scratch is an around-the-globe website, so anybody can play it! The cool thing about it is, if you like your creation, you can publish it online so the whole world can see it. You have to download this site, but its free, so there’s really nothing to it. It only takes a few seconds to download this site, so don’t plan anything ahead of time. I highly recommend Scratch, it is a fun, educational website. I am excited to hear about your creations, and if you can, post your creations on this blog, so I can see what you have created! Scratch is a fun website, and I hope you can get it.

Coder Dojos of Albemarle County Public Schools

summer Coder Dojo

This summer, Albemarle learners, ages 7 – 18, participated in our four-day Coder Dojo Academy where they learned basic to advanced programming skills.  The Coder Dojo movement began in Ireland and rapidly spread around the world. Albemarle County Public Schools is one of the first divisions in the United States to sponsor Coder Dojos for our young people.

We were surprised at the significant interest this summer from our families because we rolled the invite out towards the end of the summer and knew many children were already in activities or on vacation. We hoped to attract interest from 40-50 kids, but ended up with 900 on a waiting list, and expanded up our AHS program and served 200. The kids were amazing, coming in with little to no programming knowledge to knowing more than some of our teacher-facilitators. The Dojo is designed so that kids learn from the teachers as they have questions and often from each other in this multi-age setting. I watched elementary children teaching middle schoolers how to make Scratch games and high schoolers taking the time to help younger children with HTML so they could design, create, and publish web pages.

The purpose of the Coder Dojo movement is to provide young people with opportunities to experience computer programming as fun and something they can learn to do. Kids at the camp used a variety of languages to build more and less sophisticated projects. One parent of a high schooler said to me recently, “his participation in the Coder Dojo changed his life. He’s really interested in continuing to pursue computer programming now that he’s back in school and he spends time teaching himself what he needs to do.”  Some elementary children felt the same way, too.

Melissa Techman, librarian at Broadus Elementary, sent me the link to the blog post written by Eileen, which I’ve guest-posted with her parents’ and her permission. Thank you, Eileen, for helping me share how Scratch which was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) can turn kids who like to play computer games into kids who make computer games!