The Conditions for Invention… Not Just a Room Full of Stuff

Irole1‘ve been searching for excellent articles on the implementation of makerspaces in schools.  My search has led me down many dead ends.  Lots of articles on the makerspace in the library.  Many articles on stuff and things to stock the spaces with.  What’s missing in the articles?  The heart of it all. This quote refocuses my attention on what I love about making and on what I think it offers schools and classrooms:

This quote from Seymour Papert: “The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.”  It says it all really.  We don’t need to spoon feed kids. We need to provide opportunities for them to explore, tinker, dream big, fail, bounce back, and repeat. Over and over.  The highs and lows of that will be a bit like a rollercoaster. Great learning really is.  A great classroom is built on the very thing that feeds those conditions…

Community.   Getting kids to help each other, rely on each other, be a team. The kind of community that has give and take and supports each other.  Community takes practice and constant work to build and generate, but it can happen at the youngest levels of learning.

Deep Thinking.  The grueling and exhilarating process of figure out what works from testing, trying again, and trying one more time. Improvements that come from experiences and ideas born out of collaboration.

Growth Mindset: We’re not just reaching for a grade, we’re reaching to improve ourselves.  Not understanding it today just means that you have some learning to do.  The only REAL way to experience growth is to experience REAL learning. Authentic learning is at the heart of growth mindset… or maybe growth mindset is the heart of authentic learning.  Either way, the two are connected.

Challenge:  School *needs* to be hard.  Kids crave challenge. They thrive on it.  It’s fun for them and it’s often like play.  When they overcome? Nothing beats that kind of joy and pride. Real experiences.

Creativity: When we talk so much about kits with instructions, we fence kids in. Yes, we need to help them understand the basics. But, the beauty in the open ended-ness of kids designing and inventing? It has to be at the forefront of it all.

When I think of these aspects and how they become threads that sew the makerspace into the school like the arteries that lead to a heart to make it beat, I get excited in thinking about what school can become. Those conditions for inventing? They have to be present, or the makerspace is just a room full of stuff.  A MakeyMakey might excite students for a day, or a week, but after that? The real work of challenging them, supporting them in growth, pushing their creative thinking, asking the right questions so they can dig deeper in their thinking, and fostering the sense of community…. that work begins. It’s hard. Grueling. And will make you question your own ability to really teach. And that’s when you’ll know something special is happening.  Because if you’re not willing to push your own limits, how can you expect your students to?






classcastle4I used to have a wall in my classroom where I had the game “Castleopoly” hanging on the wall. I won’t go into what I used the game for, so how wrong I now feel I was for focusing so very much on bribing my students to “do the right thing,” that’s another post for another day.   I woke up yesterday morning thinking about that game and I wondered, what if there were a maker version of Monopoly.  So I made one… Makeropoly.

And now I’m trying to figure out how it could be used for some creative fun.  A regular ol’ game of Monopoly is fun, but should this one be a traditional style Monopoly where players collect cards?  McDonald’s style Monopoly game where you try to complete your gameboard by trying out the items on the cards?  Instead of collecting properties, players try out the things they land on?  Should the items on the cards be actual things that are available for players to use in the space?

Maybe to get of “Jail” aka “Makerspace” you have to draw a “Makerspace” card and create something.

I’m creating “Creative Challenge Cards” and 8 “Tool Box” Cards. Those will be fun, quick challenges to build, create, and use Design Thinking in a fun way.

So why am I sharing this when it’s not even a fully developed idea?  Because I was hoping you would help.  I’ve created a Google Doc where we can crowdsource our ideas for this game. In return?  I’ll finish it up and package it as a printer friendly PDF and post it here for free use in your own school, home, or space…


That Time I Googled Laser Cutter

I can still remember the satisfaction of printing a card on a dot-matrix when I was 10.  And now?  We can design, create, and laser cut. Acrylic, wood, metal. Cut the pieces, assemble your art.  I had an idea for a hanging lamp and I wanted to see what I could find to help me figure out how I could possibly assemble it.  A quick Google Search led me down a rabbit hole of creativity I may never escape… The Laser Cutter.

I think I have overlooked it’s power and undervalued it’s possibilities.  I saw it as a fancy Exacto Knife and failed to recognize what it truly can do.  I apologize, Laser Cutter.  And all I can say now is, holy moly… possibilities indeed.

1.) Turn your drawing into an acrylic light up.

2.) Laser cut alphabet letters to use as stencils, stamps for clay, or even layer transparent plastic behind the wood and hang in the window for letters that let the sun shine through.

3.) Geometric patterns take on a whole new level of inspiration when you can design them and then cut them out of wood.  Create ornaments, window decor, or even a wooden book cover for a classroom journal.

4.) Create a monument to represent a famous individual or place. The London Skyline below is just one possibility for design. The thought that goes into planning, measuring, designing? It’s math, science, language arts, and problem solving all rolled into one.

5.) Value creativity in a whole new way.  When work comes out of the computer into a tangible product you can hold in your hand?  You’ve just shared your genius with the world… and you know you are important.  Shouldn’t all of our kids feel that?

Here are five pieces of work that inspired me, and I bet they will you, too.

Laser cut rocket by Instructables.

London Skyline from Inplas


Nike Quote on WeHeartIt

Steel Cut Swiss Cheese from The Laser Cutter Blog.

WOODOO from Andre Maat on Vimeo.

Probably Something Awesome

basicneedsYou know that feeling when you’re in a hot, stuffy elevator and you think, “Gosh, I just need some air.” It’s a terrible feeling. Stifling. Like you’re trapped and the walls feel small. It’s like being trapped in a box that is moving at a pace you cannot control. The doors open and you are so relieved that you can step off. Freedom. Fresh air, movement, and your own pace restored.

It’s just like learning. We’ve all been a student in the classroom that stifles us. I can remember it in Junior High. I watched the clock until my eyelids were heavy. Endless lectures about stuff I can no longer remember and long tests full of details that weren’t really about anything meaningful. Not my pace and the air always felt… stifling.

There are so many other ways to get from one floor to another… a fireman’s pole, a hot air balloon, a twisty slide, wings, or even giant suction cups on the side of the building.

It’s about possibilities. The kind we need more of in learning. What would happen if the doors opened, the box became filled with air and creativity? Probably something awesome.

But we’ll never know unless we try.


Why The Maker Movement Matters

creativityI get caught up in things. Informercials. New gadgets. New shades of Sharpie. Every kid I’ve ever taught has said, “You say EVERYTHING is your “favorite thing.” It’s true. Life? It’s my favorite. I grew up, but my internal excitement level has stayed at a five year old’s level. So, I’ll just preface this post with that. I will also say that I’ve held off on writing this. Long enough to figure out if this whole “maker movement” was another “thing I love,” or more. It’s more. So much more.

1.) The Maker Movement is not about acronyms. Life is not an acronym. I’m so tired of the debates on #STEM, #STEAM, and now #STREAM. Let’s just call learning what it is… building connections with the world. There, the whole alphabet? Covered. The Maker Movement isn’t labeling or assigning acronyms. It’s just organically, well, moving. Like learning does.

2.) The Maker Movement isn’t about certified experts or expensive keynotes. You don’t need to be an expert. You need to be willing to take a risk. In life? It’s impossible to know everything. It’s also pointless to try. In the Maker Movement? It’s about the pure-heartedness of neverending learning. The kind where you are invigorated, challenged, humbled, and curious over and over again.

3.) The Maker Movement is built on open collaboration. Make something. Share it. Borrow from others. It’s not about selling or buying. It’s about doing and thinking. It’s about putting our heads together to solve problems and create. It’s what is going to solve those “problems of tomorrow we can’t even imagine yet.” It’s not about sitting alone, trying to bubble in one right answer. Because life? it’s not about that either.

4.) Life is messy. Making embraces that mess and turns it into possibilities. Endless possibilities that unlock parts of the imagination that otherwise gather dust.

5.) Creativity matters in the Maker Movement. In every single thing I’ve done in education, all roads have led to one place: Creativity. It’s what ignites my passion for teaching, learning, and life. Take that away from me? And a part of my soul starts to die, wither, and wilt like a plant without water. The Maker Movement reminds me that creating is a fountain that we can all continue to drink from, that provides the energy that a full life requires.

6.) The Maker Movement is what gifted education has been waiting for, too.  Open ended inquiry, possibilities, creativity, imagination, and learning?  It’s the stuff my gifted edcuation class was built on. Yes, everyone will say, it’s the stuff ALL classrooms should be built on.  You are so right… if we made school more about this, we wouldn’t need labels, nor separate classrooms, we could focus on supporting needs of all students, in one awesome learning environment.  Magical. We could “make” learning right.  Pun intended.

10 years in a public school, 1 year in a private school, and 1 year in an independent school and what have I learned? Squelch creativity. Squelch learning. It doesn’t matter where you teach, lead, dream, or what your role is, the Maker Movement offers something amazing for your students, and for you. It’s about casting aside those plans you’ve made down to the minute and embracing larger goals. Let those goals unfold in the minds of your students and evolve into something better than what you imagined. Because really, everyday we are just a living, breathing iteration of ourselves from the day before. And that? It’s just about trying to improve. Let your students lead and you’ll see exactly what I am talking about. The Maker Movement matters because it’s about pure, authentic learning, problem solving, self-reflection, collaboration, creativity, and removes the limits from our bubble-tested curriculums and one-right-answer-lesson-plans.  It matters because learning matters.  And it’s time.

A Playlist of Things I Discovered Today

weareallmakers2Today I spent the day at the Independent Schools Association Southwest Technology Conference and was lucky enough to hear Sylvia Martinez, co-author of Invent to Learn, as keynote, followed by a day of making, creating, and thinking about my role as Innovation Coordinator.  I think it was the equivalent of a Super Bowl, if I were a pro-football player.    The theme was Maker Movement.  All I keep thinking is… we seriously are IN the most exciting time in education… RIGHT NOW.  This is what learning is made of.  It’s finally happening.

Sylvia reminded us, at the close of the keynote, “Making is not a shopping list or a special place… it’s a stance toward learning.”  That stance?  It’s what I’ve been waiting for in education, since I was a kid.

Even though it’s not about shopping, there are five things I enjoyed playing with today.  I loved them because I could immediately imagine them in the hands of learners… and that?  It’s exciting.

Cubelets: These little cubes snap together to make things. We made a robot that had a light sensor on it. The robot spun in circles and when the lights went out? The top lit up. These cubes offer learners a safe, exciting, and engaging way to explore, discover, and dream up inventions. And, best of all? There is a piece that allows you to attach Legos. That’s right, Legos.

WeDo Legos: Build Lego creations that move. Enough said.  Imagine these moving parts on a Lego Wall.

MakeDo: Cardboard construction kit. Build something, design something else. They even have a great little saw for cutting cardboard.  School needs more cardboard, NOT the kind that carry boxes of standardized tests, but the kind that carry possibilities and get filled with imagination.

Circuit Stickers: Create art that lights up, design a card that brightens someone else’s day, illuminate your soul with tiny LED’s, or just get these because you love making puns about lights. Paired with a roll of Copper tape, battery, and some creativity? Endless Possibilities.
: Explore programming and geometry by creating visuals with this awesome FREE program. Check out this gallery.

I know, I know, it’s not about the stuff.    You could have all the stuff in the world, but if you don’t take time to explore, discover, and play?  The stuff is useless.  So today? I played. And tonight? I’m reminded what it’s all about.  We could all use a little more playtime.