I had the pleasure this week of watching many of our lower school boys at play in our new Makerspace. Fourth grade boys, knowing that this was their week to spend early morning recess time tinkering, ran for the door at 7:25 AM, throwing on the lights, grabbing supplies, and switching on the wind tunnel. They created a haphazard assortment of flying “clouds”, flying saucers, and parachutes. Some used small tools to take apart printers, CD players, and slide projectors. “Wow!” was a word often heard. I stayed very much in the background as an observer and occasional assistant with the saw or glue gun. The boys knew exactly what they wanted to do, or knew nothing about what they might do, but all were willing to just play with “stuff” and see what happened.
“This space is for you,” Mrs. Ward and I told our Makerspace club this week. The boys can feel free to explore their ideas with guidance from us only when asked. We stood back and watched the boys begin projects that they will explore, or perhaps abandon for new ones, over the next six weeks. It was difficult to determine the exact source of all their enthusiasm, however I suspect that much of it comes from the freedom of a limited rules, no specific expectations type of school experience. The boys naturally began to collaborate and set their own “rules”. We will enjoy watching their free-form creations evolve into more involved projects over the next few weeks.
In both examples of our new Makerspace, boys are given the freedom to create without a playbook. There is no “kit” and no directions to follow. This can be both freeing and terrifying, but either way, it is really good for the brain- and soul. Dr. Webster shared an article from Atlantic Monthly magazine this Friday with teachers. I have included the link below. In the article, an argument is made about the value of “play” for children. This is where they practice and learn to navigate future obstacles in their lives. I recently read the book, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown. I recommend the book, not only for what it tells us about how children develop, but for what it tells us about the life-long benefits of play. I encourage each of you to stop by our new Makerspace and “play” when you are around the lower school.
As we develop our Makerspace concept for the school, we will be expanding the possibilities of more involved innovating through our science and technology departments. I wrote about the summer learning our science teachers experienced at the workshop “Constructing Modern Knowledge”. Below is a link to an NPR article about a wonderful man and real “thinker” who passed away in August. His work was much touted at the workshop. Many had personal experiences with him at MIT. He is Seymour Papert, an early promoter of the “maker movement” and personal acquaintance of the famous child development theorist, Jean Piaget. Seymour believed that “children actively construct knowledge based on their experiences.” He believed in giving them the tools and freedom to explore their own ideas. Long before computers were affordable for the masses, he foresaw a day when every child would have access to computers thereby transforming education forever. There is a video link to a round table discussion about Papert’s contributions. I found it interesting as they talk about how too often computers in today’s world are used for us to consume knowledge created by others, whereas the beauty of the machines is their ability for children to construct and create new worlds of knowledge. That should be our own lower school emphasis with technology- less user, more maker. Enjoy, and learn from Seymour Papert’s brilliance!
Throughout the year, I will keep you informed of how we integrate the ideas presented here throughout the lower school. I hope you are inspired to create a little makerspace in your own homes. I will be attending the enormous Maker Faire in NYC on October 1st. Look for ideas gathered there to be shared with your sons this fall. What they choose to do with those ideas should be entertaining and hopefully will have no limits!