In about ten days, I’m turning 40. I’m not sharing this so that you’ll send me birthday cards or ginormous bouquets of flowers. I’m sharing this because it’s liberating. Like, how did I get here? I’ve always wondered what “Over the Hill” means or is – I surely never imagined I’d actually be here. I get it now. I’m here, in it. I can see the hill and the coaster is about to crest. It’s the moments we wait for, the part where we put our hands up and scream, “Let go.”
The reality is, as the track has been clicking toward the top, I’ve been gripping the bar and bracing myself to prepare. And probably missed some good moments along the way. I won’t make that mistake any longer.
I spent years polishing presentations with messages that didn’t truly matter to me. Sharing about learning tools that I knew how to use and enjoyed, but not that WERE my joy. I’ve always loved learning, but I also love sharing and sharing is more fun when you know the message is one others want to hear.
I poured time into jumping through hoops, collecting achievements like there was going to be some sort of gold star behavior chart on my headstone. *For the record, though morbid, I’m totally okay if my headstone glitters, but not for achievement stars.
I adjusted myself, over and over, to fit. To fit the testing culture. To water down my teaching to fill some niche that was needed by someone somewhere. So that I could feel needed and full. But it only makes you feel more empty in the long run.
I longed to be with people who got me, on a personal and professional level, and understood that my heart and my passion were about making the world better and in the process making myself better… not better than the competition, just better for the dream. Those people? I have and I love them all.
I took some chances, some that didn’t work out. At all. But then they did. They always worked out in the end.
Every click of the track. Polishing my message. Only sharing what I was pleased with. Only creating things I was comfortable with. Throwing away the art I hated – when I should have been hanging those pieces up. Hiding 90 percent of the things I felt like only I would understand. I was shining my ideas with varnish when I should have been scraping and sanding away the things that just don’t matter.
It doesn’t matter if anyone else understands, not everyone ever will.
There are people, around you, that care. Always. Don’t just be ready to support them, but also be ready to let them support you.
I’d rather have 3 seconds of genuine conversation than 8 hours of pre-packaged promotional blah.
When I say a “makerspace in a box” that I see for sale, “kills a part of my soul,” people chuckle. But I’m not joking. It literally makes a little part of my heart whimper with “ick.” An ick that takes me RIGHT back to elementary school when I felt the same way. And I’m 95% sure that as I crest the top of the hill and put my hands up, I’ll continue to understand that listening to those little inside voices is what it’s all about.
The lightheartedness in which I write this seriousness? It’s me. I miss my grandparents, all of whom I just lost within the past 4 years. I hate seeing the vice of incurable and devastating chronic illness squeeze on my parents, but at the same time, they continue to smile and live life, because in that respect, there is no choice. These things are all daily, second by second reminders that the clock ticks regularly and that we don’t get second chances. Sobering, but liberating to remember.
And I guess, that’s what happens at the top of the hill. You throw your hands up and let go. Well, there are also wrinkles, old age pain conversations with my husband, and raising a teenager… but for this moment, today, I’m just going to enjoy this ride.
Learning. Creating. Connecting.
And the occasional scream.
It’s been a great couple of days. Stepping away from our learning space, to a different learning space at SxSWEdu. Participating in a panel with people who inspire me (Thanks Manuel and Rebecca for the true honor of sitting with you all!) . And one line that I keep thinking about, “Nobody owns making in your school. Nobody can. And that’s what makes it great.” I keep going back to. I think six thousand things a day that I never share or act on. But this one ? I keep going back to it. In our schools, there are experts that “own math,” and “own social studies.” Owning their subjects like we own cars and houses. I despise the term “edu-rockstar” and when people talk Twitter follower counts, I’d rather climb under a table and hide. But, a conversation with another educator who share a passion for the magic in the classroom? I can never, ever get enough of that. Making just can’t be reduced to one person or thing. It’s built on the work of great people like Gary Stager, Sylvia Martinez, Seymour Papert… and many more.
The idea that we don’t have classrooms with a sage on the stage anymore is not new. But, it’s still taking so much, too much time, to catch on. Because we go to conferences where too many are still, well, the sage on the stage. Being the sage or being IN it. Daily. Up to your nose in cardboard and covered in alligator clip wires, and loving it. There’s too much of one person being the golden apple of the “thing” and the buzzwords. The buzzwords.
You know that scene in Dirty Dancing where Baby gets put into a corner. That’s how I feel about making. You cannot put making in a corner. You just can’t. You can’t reduce all that is beautiful about raw human creativity into a pile of buzzwords and things. The energy people have when their genuine excitement of kids creating and making the world better is almost indescribable, uncategorizable, and unsellable, non-packageable. It’s made from a variety of passions, things, and mixes. It’s not processed. It can’t be because the mix is exactly the thing that makes it what it is. It’s as authentic as authentic gets.
We are not apples. Apples only produce more apples. We are a fruit salad. Bananas. Pears. Oranges. Grapefruit. Hybrid mixes of yet to be invented Pineoranges. A beautiful, colorful mix of unmatchable joy. You are the Scratch guy? Great. You’re the edu-startup girl? Awesome. You’re the one who wrote the book on design thinking? I want to hear about it and mostly hear how your fiasco in your classroom turned out to be amazing because you hung in there. Because no matter WHAT you are passionate about, if it’s promoting learning and empowering a kid or another teacher to change the world, I’m there.
Just don’t feed me processed applesauce. And don’t you dare put making in the corner.
Largest Nameplates Ever!
You know what I *love* after a good presentation? That feeling that I have just pushed myself to reflect SO deeply that I have learned just as much from sharing as I would from being on the receiving end. So while Twitter, Facebook, and writing blog posts have long been favorites of mine, I’ve had this idea rolling around in my head. What if, once a month or so, I have a short Google Hangout broadcast via Google Hangouts on Air to YouTube and shared the link with those interested? What if? So I am.
On March 4… a Saturday morning… at 9am Central, I’m going to host a little web broadcast all about Beebots and Beginning Coding. I’ll probably be drinking coffee, might have crazy messy morning hair and my dog might even make an appearance if she pulls her typical move of trying to drink out of my coffee cup. It will be just a conversation from me to you, that I’m going to lead and share my own experiences. Just one teacher to another. Because this stuff is everything I believe in and if I can help even ONE teacher bring robotics and coding into the classroom, my Saturday morning was well spent.
Maybe you’re that ONE teacher? If you think you might be, please sign up.
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If kids are making, there will be a mess. This post it not about keeping tables shiny or keeping masking tape rolls symmetrically organized. I’ll write another post someday about how I like to organize my Sharpies in ROYGBIV fashion by shade (not even kidding). This is about the day to day. The real life of making.
Pruning: Just like the dead branches that get removed at the orchard, you’ll need to carve out some time to prune the shelves. Well loved cardboard pieces might need to be recycled. Fresh organization for donated items will always be a struggle. Having stuff readily accessible for kids is far easier when it’s in visible bins that kids can see and even better, put back themselves.
Storage for Projects in Progress: The kids that don’t finish need a place to store their project. The thing about kids is they like to store ALL of their supplies– scissors, bottles of glue, rolls of duct tape. Have a plan for where things will be kept and what can be stored. Ziploc baggies have saved my life, are reusable, and easy to hang from clothespins or put in a bin by classroom. We also use plastic bins that kids write their names on with dry erase.
Cord organization: The cords will take over. Every gadget, device, and thing that plugs in has a loose cord of some type. Solution? Plastic Shoe organizer that hangs on the wall. The pockets are big enough to hold multiple cords. It’s visible and accessible. Even better? If someone borrows one to leave the space, a name on a Post-it can go right in the pocket to mark where it gets put back.
Can for cardboard scraps: Big pieces. Small pieces. In between pieces. Those tiny scraps are great for quick projects. Have a giant can for kids to dig into. But when it overflows… prune. Prune. Prune. If the mess is too out of hand, kids can’t see what’s there and it won’t get used anyway.
Clean Up Kit: A bucket with a dustpan or three. Brooms. Clorox wipes. Paper towels. Keep this in the same spot so kids know where to go for cleanup.
Permanent spot for glue guns. We might move our furniture a lot, but the glue guns needs a permanent spot in the elementary setting. It’s just too dangerous to move them from table to table with cords dangling. Having a glue gun station is great because kids know where to find it, adults can assist, and the teacher can oversee the entire process.
Shelving to Display Work: Kids love to share what they’ve made… and that means putting it where others can see it. Having shelves that kids can put their own work display is the best way to go. Let them decide what to display, how to display it, and even add a nameplate with a title. Be sure to display all kinds of creations– some in progress, some beautifully finished, and some that show struggle. Celebrate the process. Celebrate the learning.
Clean Up Process: End of a class or end of a session? Power Pick Up. I learned this term at Stanford’s Design Thinking workshop last summer. 3 minutes of intense everyone helping clean up. It’s a great way to “reset” the space. And it’s all about collaboration and teamwork. Plus a YouTube Mission Impossible theme song makes this intense and fun at the same time.
I chuckle when I think of photos that show a “makerspace” and it’s totally empty. Less funny is the fact that many of these things were totally underestimated by me when I was making plans. Creativity is a wonderful, exhilarating, glorious thing. But, it’s also messy. It’s okay to be messy. But the mess has to be reigned in. Somehow, someway. It’s about finding the boundaries that work for your students. And, it’s not about you really. Afterall, it’s about learning and it’s their journey. They will come up with some great solutions for organization and they will be able to tell you right away what the problem areas are.
The mess? It will exist, and it will foster the feelings of forgoing perfection for less-than perfect work that is more about the process than the product. And that? It makes every single cardboard scrap I find totally worth it.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately. It’s probably why I haven’t blogged. I’ve had tons of thoughts rolling back in forth inside my mind about creativity, about learning, and about making. I think it’s awesome that schools are revamping lab spaces and making unique learning environments, but it all leaves me thinking, what’s next for all these spaces and all this equipment pouring it’s way into empty rooms throughout the country… and world?
Kids are becoming fluent with technology skills. Software changes on a daily basis means knowing “how to use” a particular tool is more about fluency than that tool. Teach them skills such as import, export, what a .jpeg is, copy and paste, dragging and dropping and many programs can become second nature to them. Kids will ALWAYS need the instruction – it matters. But, the time spent on it? It’s changing. It’s a great thing, empowering even. It will open the door to much more past technology skills and makerspaces…
- Strategies like design thinking and team-building start to matter even more. Providing direction and stirring the learning pot keeps the atmosphere fresh and keeps the thinking vibrant.
- Connection to real human problems means connection to real humans. Empathy is on it’s way into schools through unique learning spaces where learning is about digging deep within ourselves to understand and help others.
- Deeper learning, the kind with raw struggle, becomes the very thing that is necessary with a mix of skills and a need for applying it in the most authentic ways.
- Time becomes even more important. It takes far more time to create and develop an idea than it does to learn a few basic skills of software. Time well spent. But also, time spent differently than many are accustomed to.
- Fake-ification of learning, a term I just absolutely made up to refer to how we provide kids pretend problems about pretend things and insult them with low level thinking across our school campuses in America. It is not enough. It never was. Solving problems about Walt’s apple cart just aren’t the same as BUILDING an apple cart for your school’s garden. One is a simple problem to solve, the other is a problem with no simple answer.
When I feel like things in my head get stagnate, I start looking at other industries. In every industry, no matter what, design encourages digging deeper, thinking more, collaborating at bigger levels… and most of all? It’s about the heart and soul of problem solving. The kind with real struggle. Real problems, real world, real creativity. Beyond the makerspace, and beyond all of our wildest imaginations… the place where kids will lead us. If we are listening.