In April the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced a Week of Making which started on 6/12 and runs through 6/18. The Week is being held in part in celebration of the one-year anniversary of the first ever Maker Faire at the White House. During that first Faire President Obama said:
Maker-related events and activities can inspire more people to pursue careers in design, advanced manufacturing, and the related fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and possibly take their creations to the next level and become entrepreneurs.
I love the President’s statement because it focuses on the learning and not on what might be used to produce that learning. That’s where the work we do in libraries and with community partners comes in. We figure out what teens need support in, how to help teens learn what they need, and then connect them to that learning. At the Library where I work we try hard to make the hardware and software used to create making oriented learning experiences one of the last decisions we focus on. Even if we want to create a program that gives teens the chance to use 3D printers we don’t focus on the printer but on the skills that teens gain by the time they are ready to use the printer. For example, our Digital Media and Learning Program Manager is developing curriculum for library staff and teens to use that focuses on design thinking, prototype building, planning and decision making, leadership, collaboration, and presentation. Sure at the end of the series of programs teens will print a 3D object. But, it will take some time to get to that place, and while it might be really cool to use the 3D printer for the objects designed, the teens will have learned a great deal more before that point.
In some instances I think it’s hard for some library staff to articulate the gains that teens make as a result of the making programs we provide. And, as a result it ends up that we talk about the actual printing activity and the printer and not the skills learned and/or improved on. It certainly can be difficult to speak to the learning instead of the “coolness” of the making. But it can be done. For example, think about:
- The process teens will have to go through BEFORE actually making something – whether that’s making something with a 3D printer, a circuit board, a coding program or something else. What steps do they have to take? Do they have to have a goal in mind? In almost every case the answer to those two questions is “yes” which means that one of the benefits of making for teens is that they need to set a goal and plan a process by which they are going to reach that goal.
- The troubleshooting that teens will have to take part in as they begin to make something. Again, that could be making a website, a robot, a 3D object, a game, or something else. Is it likely that the teens will have to iterate over and over again as they discover problems and need to solve them as a part of the making process? Again, the answer is most likely, “yes.” That being the case then a key positive of making for teens is that they gain problem-solving skills and life skills by having to try and try again. Not to mention the persistence and perseverance skills gained.
- The support and help teens will need from others as a part of their making. Will teens need to talk to experts in coding or robots or 3D printing? Will they need to look something up in library resources in order to move forward? Will they have to ask friends and family members for help? I bet the answer to at least one of those questions is “yes” and that means that teens will learn to collaborate, do research, find out how to ask and answer questions, and learn how to interact with adults and peers.
The above are just three ways in which making can and does support the college and career readiness and life skills of teens. I bet you can think of many more. If you do struggle with helping others to understand why making is more than about the stuff of the making, start creating your own list of the benefits and start practicing talking with others about those benefits. And, as you begin making projects with teens, the benefits beyond the product will become clear pretty quickly. Highlight the learning that teens do every time you talk about your making programs.
BTW, a couple of resources that you might find useful when thinking about the why of making are: