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A “Making” Manifesto

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A “Making” Manifesto

The surprise isn’t that students love to make things; it’s that education needed to be reminded of this.  By Kristina Holzweiss

In more than 20 years of teaching, I never thought that I would win a national award because of SLIME. You’re probably picturing the ooey, gooey green stuff that kids buy at the local toy store. Or even better, what they might make at home using a recipe their parents found on Pinterest. I’m not talking about that slime. I’m talking about SLIME: the acronym for “Students on Long Island Maker Expo.” An extension of my library makerspace, SLIME brought 400 students, educators, families, and community members from 32 school districts together last May for a day of celebration and making. What began as an idea with a catchy name has evolved into what will be an annual event, and a hope for the future of education.

Ever since I was young, I have always been fascinated by how things work. I especially loved the segment on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood called Picture Picture, which brought viewers behind the scenes at a factory. Today, all of my favorite television shows reveal transformations: pieces of cloth turned into exquisite designs on Project Runway; bottles of ink turned into permanent works of art on flesh on Inkmaster; and trips to the local hardware store eventually turning into remodeled homes on HGTV. I am by no means a mechanic (my husband is), but I do appreciate a beautiful piece of engineering. Throughout my education, science was not my forte; it seemed too theoretical and lacking in real-world application for me. Today, however, I can say that I am comfortable in the world of science. I enjoy learning about new technologies, Web tools, and apps, and my mental gears whir as I learn exciting ways to apply new resources and strategies in the classroom. This “new” world of making is the world for me.

Maker’s Surge in Popularity

The growing interest in “making”—as evidenced by everything from the new line of “Make Market” products sold at Michaels to Etsy online shops and even HGTV programming—is not a resurgence of the typical summer camp arts-and-crafts workshops. Making as a human endeavor is not new. Since humans began walking the earth, manipulating resources has been integral to our survival; and when the hunt was over, the time we spent making weapons and tools was filled by painting on cave walls.

Today, most of us have forgotten our roots as an agricultural society. We withdraw cash from the ATM, pick up food at the drive-through at McDonald’s, and stop at 7-Eleven for a gallon of milk on our way home from work. We plug in, turn on, and zone out. Students in the classroom often tune out as well because they don’t have the opportunity to actively participate in their learning. As passive learners, many don’t engage with the curriculum academically, emotionally, or physically. Over a century ago, John Dewey believed that learning should involve practical skills relevant to our lives. In The School and Society: Being Three Lectures (1899), Dewey wrote that schools needed “to become the child’s habitat, where he learns through directed learning, instead of being a place to learn lessons having an abstract and remote reference to some possible living to be done in the future.” Dr. Maria Montessori—a contemporary of Dewey’s—advocated for this concept by arguing that students should be given the freedom to construct their own knowledge through unstructured play, collaboration, and communication. And yet Montessori’s teachings weren’t accepted in the United States until about 50 years later. Today we are concerned with the growth mindset and how children’s attitudes and feelings about themselves affect their learning.

Attitude Shift

We have all heard students ask (and may have even asked ourselves), “Why do we need to know this?” In classrooms across the nation, how much has teaching changed in the last hundred years? How far has assessment come, for that matter, from the civil service exams of ancient China? When will our students stop asking us why they need to learn, and instead ask us how they can learn more?

“Getting our hands dirty” shouldn’t carry a negative connotation. And yet in an effort to ensure that students are college and career ready, the emphasis remains on academia rather than physical activities. Service occupations such as hairdressers, mechanics, and chefs can’t be outsourced to other countries. We will always have basic needs, and those people skilled enough to help us meet those needs may or may not choose to pursue higher education. On the flipside, many careers requiring the most advanced degrees can be physically demanding, such as a heart surgeon who spends eight hours in an operating room, or a scientist studying the environmental effects of global warming in Alaska. We need to offer our students the resources and time to experience hands-on learning where they can apply knowledge in order to solve practical problems in real-world circumstances.

Making is universal. It is not bound by culture, political affiliation, religious beliefs, gender, age, socioeconomic background, language, ability, or environment. Pablo Picasso once said “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist when he grows up.” As long as there are children who want to create and learn through hands-on activities, there will always be a need for “making” opportunities such as SLIME.

Kristina Holzweiss is the librarian at Bay Shore Middle School in Bay Shore, New York. School Library Journal and Scholastic Library Publishing recently named her 2015 School Librarian of the Year. 

 

Image: Media Bakery

 

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