Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Our Maker Mindset

There is no greater joy than watching children create something. Whether the creating is done solo or in a group, thinking is visible. You can see the “wheels turning”. Hands-on work requires trial and error. If something doesn’t work, a child doesn’t stop working, but instead tries something else without prompting.

Making is a natural gift we each possess. We are all makers, talented in different ways.

I love telling stories of my own boys, so here is one of their making adventures.

On a weekend day, I decided it was time to clean the garage. I enlisted my boys to help in the project. They were not thrilled with the thought of cleaning the garage, so I told them after they helped me move “stuff”, they could play. We cleared out as much “stuff” as we could, piling it into our driveway, so I could rearrange and clean up shelves and sweep the entire garage. While I did that, my boys “discovered” the cardboard.

Our cardboard recycling pile was quite large at that time. A few big boxes from my Amazon Dash purchases of paper towels and toilet paper had accumulated. As I worked, I saw my boys gather these boxes in a pile and start talking. I didn’t hear the conversation, just saw it in action. All of a sudden, my oldest had his legs in two boxes, the other two helping him “suit up”. I kept working, not interfering or guiding, and let the making take place.

While I worked, so did they. They planned, talked, gathered, and worked. A few times, the two youngest would veer off to hit some golf balls into the yard while my oldest worked, cutting and taping. “Mom, do we have more duct tape?” I found another roll in the garage and off they went again.

While I steadily cleaned and organized the garage, the boys worked on their creation as well. Engaged. Trial and error. No tears, but diligence in solving a problem.

Before I knew it, I heard the laughter and squeals. I turned around to find my son had transformed into a cardboard robot. Nothing fancy. Pure pride shining through. Each boy had to try on the robot suit, and when it didn’t quite fit my youngest, they made adjustments to make it work. “Mom, look at us! We are robots!” Of course, I had to take their picture!

Watching them work on this one project made me reflect on our maker mindset. My boys “make” all of the time, whether it is a game or a storyline they are acting out, they are making. There might not always be an end product to put on the refrigerator or hang in the hallway, but their projects are always worth attention. Making flows through their veins, and as their mother and as an educator, it is my duty to not only encourage their making, but foster it.

At home, my boys’ making is free to their will usually. They make what they want, design it from what they can find, and problem-solve their way through any issues that arise. This is a wonderful way for my kids to discover the possibilities, find their own solutions, and create their own projects.

A couple of years ago at our school, we created a really cool Makerspace. It was a team effort, starting from gutting our old computer lab to building a flexible space for collaboration. We put in materials from all around the school, purchased some cool tools, gadgets, and materials, and kids started making. To begin, it was a novelty. Today, it is something much different.

Each day, I spend time in the Makerspace with kids. It is the best way to start my day. I talk with kids, work with kids, make with kids, and listen to kids as they create and collaborate on their projects. It is awesome to share about the transformation that took place, and now even more exciting to share about our student makerspace team and the awesome curriculum ties we are building. Why? Because now it is not just about a space. It is a mindset we are instilling within the culture of our school.

Yes, it is great to say, “We have a Makerspace in our elementary school.” But it is even better to share how the concept of this space is now infiltrating our instruction, becoming a part of our learning culture, and a mindset that is found in our students and adults in the school. What is even better than that is when parents and community members drop off materials and say, “I know your kids can create something with this.” We all see the possibilities. We come together, pull together our resources so we empower the maker within our children.

Making is a mindset, not a space. It is our job to ensure our students have the opportunities and time to make. Play and making should not escape our schools. Too often in recent years, it has. We need to bring it back. It is within these experiences embedded in play, making, trial and error, problem-solving, and critical thinking that kids build relevance and rigor into the curriculum. So much of what we teach today can and should be done through the element of “doing”. Kids need to experience it if we want them to not only remember it, but transfer the knowledge and apply it to something new. These are life skills, not fluff done a few times per year.

As a leader, it is my duty to empower those around me. I want to empower them to try new things, problem-solving and taking risks. Making supports this. I want to empower my students to create and think through their own solutions. I model and am part of the culture of this. That is why I open the makerspace every morning. When a leader values making by modeling and engaging with it in the daily routine, the rest of the school culture takes note, building from this and taking it to new heights. If a leader not only believes it is important, but models the way, then the culture of the maker mindset will set in.

However, a leader cannot do it alone. I know our makerspace did not come together because of me. The team pulled this together. We had discussions, shared ideas, and now that the makerspace is a daily part of our school, the team is modeling the way for others, sharing resources and co-teaching with other classes to bring making into their classrooms. It is a team effort. Making is a mindset. Not just a space used every once in awhile.

Our job as educators is to ensure our kids have the opportunities to grow for their future. There is a maker in all of us. It needs fostered and developed so that we apply the skills and knowledge we learn to something new. Making is not about a space we create in our school with cool tools and gadgets. It is a mindset we instill in what we do to help our students AND our adults build for the future.

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