It's all theirs


by Erin Riley -

It’s too easy in a creative work environment, to be overly concerned about the end product.  We may have a vision in our minds of what we would like students to produce and even how they might get there; however, when we predetermine what that project will become by restricting process and regimenting our environment for an indistinguishable experience, we are not allowing room for the development of an important skill: asserting one’s individuality and creativity through the practice of solving problems.  As we set up guidelines and pose problems for projects, we cannot lose sight of the fact that this is their work, not ours, and the over-management of creative work by the teacher is analogous to Paolo Freire’s critique of models that describes students as containers into which teachers deposit knowledge.  A rote kind of making happens while bypassing all of the process, exploration and individual decision-making that is built in.  Students will make amazing things and discoveries in our spaces if we can help them build skills, cultivate the spirit of exploration, and allow room to create unique solutions to the problems posed.

Establishing age-appropriate maker skills through design, construction, and programming allows students to gain confidence and the facility to achieve independence in the makers’ space.  They can access this knowledge and build on it, personalize it, and apply it to new situations and problems.  The skill set for making is wide and crosses curriculum divisions and STEM and humanities disciplines.  While mold-making might be taking place in a middle school art studio, sewing could be happen in a lower school social studies unit, while programming languages may be used to model forms in an upper school geometry course. Coordinating school-wide design software and programming languages while encouraging communication between departments about curriculum can help support the development of makers’ skills school-wide.

Setting aside time for play and exploration when introducing new materials and processes further supports independence in making.  The power of discovery through mess making and tinkering is magical and sparks interest and imagination while cultivating a knowledge base. Equally important is reflection by helping to solidify the learning.  Sketchbooks, notebooks and journals and electronically, blogs or webpages are a great place for recording discoveries and reflections.

Celebrating ingenuity and encouraging creative solutions sends the message that all students can be artists, engineers, and inventors in the maker space.  Support of individuality while students’ gain a maker skill set and embrace exploration in their problem solving will provide the foundation for students to feel successful.  The role of the teacher changes from the individual “depositor” of information to a partner in learning.  Paulo Friere describes this partnership where teacher and students grow together: The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach.  The maker space becomes a dynamic environment where everyone learns from each other, and an individual’s unique ideas are valued.  


Image: student pour paint exploration in sketchbook and wood construction with pour paint




Christa Flores's picture

Dear Erin, Thank you for this post. It resonates with me a lot. Especially after a back to school night where I find myself defending these ideas with passion. It is good to be reminded that best practice is too often, commen sense.