Yesterday I had the privilege of leading a workshop at North Pitt High School on making and MakerEd with 40 or so media coordinators from Pitt County Schools. The district media coordinator has provided real leadership and inspiration for transitioning the county’s media centers from quiet, solitary, read-only spaces to learning commons where students are making, sharing, collaborating, connecting, and contributing using a variety of digital and tactile tools and materials. North Pitt media coordinator Laura Mangum is also leading the charge locally, integrating small-scale spaces for 3D printing and video production, demonstrating how school media centers can refashion themselves for making despite limited space and funding.
During the morning session, media coordinators shared their own interests and maker know-how, leading pop-up maker space activities like crocheting, snap circuitry, and stop motion animation. After lunch, the media coordinators were still making, figuring out parallel and simple circuits, asking for another demo on how to drop a stitch, and playing with timing and frame speed in their animations. If my work with making has taught me one thing, it’s that once you get folks started, it’s nearly impossible to get them to stop. That’s engagement, and that’s where the conversation about school reform should focus.
As folks continued to stitch, I moved us into a conversation about making, why making is receiving so much attention these days, and how making builds both personal and communal agency. We watched Dale Doughtery’s TED talk about making as an American ideal, we enacted a call-and-response reading of Mark Hatch’s Maker Manifesto, and we looked at how and where making is happening in classrooms and in extracurricular or third spaces in schools. I was excited to share some of the great tactile and digital projects my colleagues Danielle Lewis at Centennial Campus Middle School and Jennifer Smyth at Hertford County Early College have been working on with their students and share the ways making and a writing-as-making approach to college-level writing informs my work in first-year composition.
We talked about Jenkins’ notions of participatory culture and the literacies necessary to participate in maker spaces. Then I had coordinators reflect on the literacies that they activated to participate, make, learn, and share in the morning maker-spaces. We made connections to Common Core State standards, AASL Learning Standards, Mozilla Web literacy maps, and various disciplinary literacies. We discussed Kalantz and Cope’s Knowledge Building Processes and talked about how making can be paired with more traditional schooling practices to build knowledge through recursively doing, analyzing, conceptualizing, and applying.
Next, we talked maker space design, and I introduced the group to the Connected Learning (CL) framework, using the learning and design principles as guides for thinking through locally-responsive model building. The design principles of production-centered, openly networked, and academically-oriented prompt us to consider the ways we use networks, both local and digital, to support student making and create learning pathways that port powerful learning from informal to academic spaces. We discussed the importance of productive peer culture, having young people take ownership of maker spaces, and I cited both the You Media Project in the Chicago Public Library and the Artlab+ at the Hirshorn in Washington DC as exemplar programs in this respect, both of which I’ve had the opportunity to visit and learn from over the last couple of years. And we thought through ways to engage youth and adult partners from local communities to support cross-generational learning that enables young people to level-up with more experienced mentors.
Finally, we read and discussed Mitch Resnick’s piece on the MIT Lifelong Kindergarten, sketching out visions of serious play and interrogating the restrictive notions of “college and career-readiness” that are often touted in schools but bear little resemblance to our most innovative academic, professional, and civic institutions. We took the idea of Frobel’s gifts as a starting point for thinking about the tools, materials, and resources that can feed our youth makers, and I implored folks to work first from their own interests and passions. As I reminded them, we have to bring our own unique maker moxies to school with us and flaunt them unabashedly, demonstrating what it means to be “hot” in places that have conditioned us to “be cool.”
The media coordinators’ response to the workshop was enthusiastic, and I am looking forward to ways Tar River Writing Project can continue to work with the district to support their plunge into MakerEd. Several of the coordinators expressed interest in attending the TRWP MakerSpace Design Institute we’re hosting this summer, and I’ve already received several emails asking for more information about the maker projects and resources I shared. We are all finding the MakerEd Resource Library extremely valuable in this work, and I’m continually humbled by the power of making to create community and remake the world around us into a more equitable and humane place– one stitch, one frame, one educator, one connection at a time.