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.

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.

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

 

Welcome to the 2012-13 School Year!

Welcome to the 2012-13 School Year. The first week in August can be bittersweet for educators and families as summer turns to the start of school. The first week in August, our Leadership Team of principals and department heads will meet together to ensure that all the“i’s are dotted and t’s crossed” as we finalize bus transportation plans, complete maintenance work so that facilities are ready for students, and prepare to welcome new educators to our schools during the New Teacher Academy.  As Assistant Superintendent Matt Haas wrote recently in our Leadership Blog, summer vacation isn’t always a long vacation for many educators – or our learners.

Educators at EDCampCville

I’ve had the good fortune to observe and connect with educators and students throughout the summer as learning opportunities continue in June, July, and August from the last day of school to this week. Teacher leaders from every school gathered for three days in June at the annual Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction (CAI) Institute to work on performance assessment tasks for each curricular area. As a lead-in activity to the CAI Institute,educators from across Central Virginia came to Sutherland Middle School for a day of sharing learning strategies and contemporary tech tools.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a similar activity occurred at Stone-Robinson Elementary, an edtech boot camp attended by about one hundred teachers teaching and learning with each other. Walking around, I noticed teachers learning to use interactive white board technologies, communication tools such as Skype, and specific applications to support math problem-solving, visible thinking, and writing.  Last week, I visited the University of Virginia Young Writers’ Workshop being held at Sweet Briar College and had the chance to observe a fourth grade teacher from one of our schools teaching writing to high school students from all over the world. At the end of this week, four of our middle schools will be fielding Science- Technology- Engineering- Mathematics teams to participate in the University of Virginia’s Can-Lead STEM grant to develop stronger instructional competencies in inquiry and project based learning at the middle school level. I also look forward to the Shannon Foundation Awards Ceremony where a number of local teachers will receive funding for innovative projects that will benefit children in our schools.

Our young people have also been busy this summer. We’ve had summer enrichment and summer tutoring programs occurring across schools from a middle school jazz band camp to a high school leadership academy that’s featured leaders from a variety of fields speaking to participants about beliefs, competencies, and dispositions demonstrated by successful leaders. Next week, about 200 learners across all levels will come together in our first summer Coding Academy an opportunity to learn computational thinking with teachers and community volunteers from the programming community. Earlier in the summer, artistically talented middle school students participated in the regional Governor’s Reflections Academy for the Visual Arts. The Office of Community Engagement co-sponsored with State Farm Insurance and the 100 Black Men of Central Virginia a math readiness  Academy, M-cubed. We are especially proud of the ten high school graduates from our summer program for students pursuing a high school diploma.

M-Cubed Program at Burley Middle

The 2012-13 school year will begin later in August with about 100 new teachers moving into classrooms across our schools. We will open our second high school academy at Monticello High. The Health and Medical Sciences Academy will offer its participants the chance to pursue a high school program of studies that can lead to post-secondary programs in a variety of fields in health and medicine including but not limited to biomedical engineering, nursing, or technical work. This new companion to the MESA academy at Albemarle High adds to our suite of customized options for secondary learners including CATEC, Murray High, and the Community Charter Middle School based at Burley.

We also have minor renovations to the Walton, Jouett, and Brownsville school libraries as we refurbish older facilities and create contemporary learning spaces. As with public libraries, the use of technologies that enhance and extend accessibility to library resources is critical in school libraries, too. Our librarians will be more important than ever in the coming decades as a result of the explosion of Internet and electronic resources available for use by learners. Teaching students how to find appropriate and credible resources presents the need for a different kind and level of curation by librarians.

Because of the success of pilot programs at Crozet and Cale Elementary Schools, we are expanding our digital fabrication technologies to reach more students through the elementary gifted program, allowing access to engineering processes and projects as learners design and create using software and 3-D printers.

Digital fabrication blueprints

Finally, we will open a new addition at Greer Elementary for preschool, kindergarten, and visual arts students. This new addition offers space for multi-age learning opportunities, inside and outside of the school. It’s exciting to see a facility that was designed with contemporary learners in mind, but at a reasonable cost to our community.

Quest Fest: Children sharing their research

Thank you to everyone who helps us offer our local young people the best educators we can find to work in our well-maintained school facilities. Nothing is more important to sustaining the future of the United States than a well-educated citizenry. While educators face challenges every day, I know from my experiences in our schools during winter, spring, summer, and fall that young people obtain an excellent education in this county from top-notch teachers. It was true for my son as he moved through elementary, middle, and high school here and I believe it’s true for the young people we serve today.

Quality doesn’t happen by chance. It happens because of the community support offered to our public schools from the business community, senior citizens, parent volunteers, and our School Board members. Thank you and we hope you will visit with us and consider volunteering in our great schools!