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?





The 4Cs Are About to Become the 5Ms of the 22nd Century

makeadifferenceThe pendulum in education swings.  The 4C’s seem to be where it’s at right now… creativity, collaboration, connection, and communication.  Getting kids to connect and create is important.  But what are we missing when we KEEP talking about 21st century learning? The 4M’s.  I think it’s where we are heading.  No, I hope it’s where we are heading.

Meaningful, mindful, moments, and making.

The chaos of beeping devices, shallow connections with no meaning, blinging flashy websites, and apps that make satisfaction instant are about to be exchanged for a slower pace.  Apps that are worksheets are being exchanged for apps that are about creating a message and telling a story. Deeper learning. Learning that’s built on deep relationships rather than shallow connections.

The empathy our world is craving?   The empathy we NEED to survive the future?  It’s in the meaning and the mindful moments that are coming.  The way we connect when we play, tinker, explore? Making is going to save us all.

I’m tired of people thinking gadgets will change education.  I get ticked off when I see “making” watered down to activities and kits.

The future?  It’s bright and meaningful and WITHIN our kids.  The little souls that come to our classrooms are filled with joy, deep joy.  Joy that’s tangible and released when we all slow down and are mindful of where we are, make meaning out of moments, and go for deeper connections rather than shallow clicks and simple sharing.

The PLN of the 21st century is becoming about promotion and collecting followers, we need to push past it and get back to deeper relationships… the kind where you share when you rise, and when you fall… hard. But more importantly than the sharing, it’s the relationships and the meaning in them.

Design thinking, maker mindset, and play are about to swing the pendulum away from short bursts in test scores and gaining points on a test.  At least I hope so.  Our kids deserve it, and to be honest, our future needs it.

Is it extra dreamy if I think there just might be a 5th “M” in there? Magic.  Learning, when it’s right, is so magical.  Not like unicorns and rainbows magic, but like, “Wow, that blew my mind” magic.  And couldn’t we ALL use a little of that?

Do I sound crazy? Angry at the education that is?  Over the top dreaming about the future?  Yes.  All of those things.  That’s just called passion and the 5 M’s are fertile soil for it to develop.  Meaning. Mindfulness. Moments. Making. Magic.



The Disconnect

I’ve started 3 blog posts in the past few weeks, but none of them made sense and I didn’t finish them. I’d start writing about one thing, then end up writing about another.   I’ve been spending my days focusing less on checking messages and more on being IN my day. Really IN it.  In the learning with teachers. Alongside kids while they figure things out.  In the evenings, I’m focusing on my daughter’s upcoming journey to high school, my own journey in research, and the precious time our little family has to spend together.

I find myself slipping away from Twitter, falling from the throes of needing to read every update on Facebook, and connecting with fewer people. I’ve always known it’s not about numbers of followers, but maybe got it wrong in other ways. Connecting is empowering. It’s awesome to share with other teachers.  I love helping people.  But the connections started to feel a bit more about giving, promoting, and branding than about deep thinking, sharing, and supporting each other. I don’t know if things changed, or if I changed.  In all honesty, it doesn’t matter.

I’m not a brand.  I’ve never tried to be one. It’s the reason I deleted Venspired. It’s the reason I don’t like selling my own stuff.  I don’t make it to sell.  I once dabbled in photography for about a year and it killed my love of it. I started to feel more like a brand and less like a person.  Creativity makes me feel alive. Mass production just to produce? It kills my soul.   That sounds dramatic, I know. But it’s all really the difference to me in eating a fresh peach picked from a tree in the sunshine… or eating a stale cracker. One is filled with so much joy, the other is just existing.

I’ve had so many moments lately… moments I’ve been IN, where I paused to think about how those tiny little moments are the big things.  Giant peach moments.  It’s almost like going under water, opening your eyes, and realizing there is a whole ‘nother world that you didn’t know existed.

Constructionism, making, play… it DELIGHTS me.  Not like, “oh, that shirt is cute.”  But like, “HOLY COW THOSE FIREWORKS BLEW MY MIND!”  So when it becomes about personal branding and commercialism, I feel like it’s taking something away from it all. Taking it away from the purpose I feel from inside.  It’s taking away the sweetness that DELIGHTS me.

I know it all doesn’t make total sense. And I’m okay with that. This is a totally unsponsored post that poured out of my head tonight. And that’s the great thing about unsponsored writing… it’s raw and real. And creativity? It needs that very thing to fuel it.


The Grain of the Wood

Power tools. Wood. Creating.  There was almost something therapeutic about it. Taking the raw wood, with it’s knots and imperfections and cutting it into strips.  Perfecting the strips and gluing them together and finally, cutting it all into a rectangular shape. Sanding away the rough spots, embracing the tiny places where the router had dug too deep, or where I had failed to guide it.

I love digital work as much as a bird loves a french fry. Photoshop. Illustrator. Movie making. Photo filtering. Typing out thoughts in a blog post. Poster creating.  I love a good visual.

But this project?  The tactile aspect of sanding wood. The lack of the “undo” button.  The woodchips that stick to your skin.  The way a knot can reshape your project or a change in the grain can add surprise beauty. All I made was a small rectangular cutting board. But it was more than that. It was a tactile reminder of creating with raw materials.  The importance of making sure our students get their work off of servers, beyond the iPad Camera Roll, out of the cloud, and into their hands.  Publishing books, displaying movies in a public setting, building prototypes with cardboard, 3d printing designs and testing them, lasercutting and wiring a light, dreaming up a new invention and creating it.

These things all take precious time. Like a two night woodworking class.  Time I definitely didn’t have to give up in my busy week.  But, time I made that turned out to be worth far more than I thought it would.  The balance of disconnecting digitally to reconnect with your own thoughts somehow. Making changes you and opens up new parts of yourself that you’ve forgotten about, or that you didn’t even know existed.

It’s why I’ll never be able to make a list of stuff to put in a makerspace.  That internal connection with creating can’t be simplified into a list. If you try to, you’ll miss out on everything that’s so wonderful about making in the first place. And I saw that in the grain of the wood tonight.  I’m just glad I made time to see it.



Feed Their Minds and Their Hearts

When you make broth, it’s easy to stir. So easy, you pour it from the can and nothing splashes. You gently stir it, barely getting a spoon dirty, and warm it on the burner.  When you eat broth? You’re barely filled up.  It’s like food, but not the satisfying kind.

When you cook a turkey dinner, you destroy the kitchen.  Specks of mashed potatoes on the wall.  Stuffing mixed and scraps of veggies cut up on the counter. It feels better when you have help.  Someone to add in their ingredients and cook a few of the dishes along with you. Green beans to snap and steam. A kitchen filled with different smells.  A meal served with something for everyone. Delicious… and afterward? Satisfaction. It tasted good, you’re full, and you need to step away and digest all the goodness.

At the end of the week, I looked around the classroom and saw piles of prototypes, giant pages with ideas and blueprints drawn across them, devices charging, LED lights in small piles that had been sorted based on brightness to become part of constellations. It felt like a turkey dinner had taken place. The cooks had returned all the tools to their bins, the ingredients back on the shelves.  Recipes were tucked away and the room fell silent.  I turned off the lights and headed out for the weekend, satisfied… and ready for a Saturday afternoon nap.

Last year, when the classroom space was new, we started with making broth.  I was pouring things onto the tables and kids were stirring.  It felt so good to get going, but we kept working toward a more satisfying meal.  It was a good way for us to learn to use the stove, navigate the kitchen, and begin to eat together.  But we were still just making broth together.  Our starting point.

Now, this? The turkey dinner?  The kids are doing the cooking. Their ideas. Their designs. Their spices in the mix.  And honestly, when I look around our messy kitchen and watch the cooks share their meals with each other, there is so much joy.   It’s not because of anything I added to the dish, it’s because we had the courage the courage to let them cook it up themselves and we navigated to elevate their thinking, to stoke the collaborative fires, to question their ingredients, and to support them in their struggles. We celebrated with them and reminded them of resilience when the time was right. Feeding their minds and feeding their hearts at the same time.

It feels like school, exactly the way it’s meant to be.  Regardless of the where, when, or how. Regardless of the name of the space or the title of the teacher.  It’s learning and not only does it fill the kids up, it fills up the teachers, too.