The Talking Stick Blog

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Maker Exploratorium: Ideas, Inspiration, and Symbiotic Learning

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Ideas, Inspiration, and Symbiotic Learning

September 30 and October 7, 2014

In the Talking Stick Maker Exploratorium homeschool program, we are investigating what makes us tick. We are exploring our own learning styles, hearing about what works for others, and imagining ways to overcome potential obstacles to our project-based learning.

I love the internet and am fascinated by how I can stumble upon obscure bits of useful information without really trying. I don't have any idea how I came to it, but finding Professor Olav Eikeland's unfinished draft from Akershus University College in Norway written in 2009, exemplifies this point. When I read his description of symbiotic learning it immediately resonated with me: "an entangled, interwoven relationship from which all involved partners benefit."

Yes! I thought, that is what group learning is all about and why it is so important. I spend much of my time tinkering and making in some manner or other. I tinker with words, with recipes at dinner time, with camera exposures and angles; I rearrange my furniture, my thinking, my priorities in an effort to make something. But making and tinkering in a group brings very different rewards than I can achieve on my own. I like the business of being entangled in the thinking and doing of others, especially young people whose ideas do not have the added adult filters that tells us that's not practical, that won't work.

Sitting around the table in the Maker room with the rest of my program members, I am always fascinated by the constant flow of ideas back and forth as we work on projects. Someone offers a suggestion, someone else is reminded of a project they want to get back to. One person comes up with a seed of an idea and others add to it until the room is filled with sparks and plans. An image comes to mind of the multicolored flashing lights in the new climbable brain exhibit that recently opened at the Franklin Institute. The two story exhibit demonstrates how our synapses constantly fire up with new ideas and connections. As I sat with my Maker group I could almost see the plethora of synapses firing inside our heads. We are all working on our own individual projects which are made richer by the presence and input of our peers. Symbiotic indeed.

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As a facilitator at Talking Stick, I am not there to bestow knowledge upon my students. I created the ME Challenge that I described in my earlier blog post, to work as the backbone of our program, but it is not a structure that I teach and they complete. I am an active participant. Paige and I will complete our own ME Challenges along with the young people in the program. Next Tuesday I will have the opportunity to model trepidation along with excitement when I announce to the group what I have chosen for my long term skill building challenge: I have committed to learning three songs on the piano and playing them for the group at the end of the year. I do not currently play the piano and I am well past the age when most people begin such a skill, but I have always wanted to learn. There are several very accomplished pianists in our group, so I will have mentors readily available. I will embody and model my own expectations for the group. When I present my challenge plan to them, I will look forward to hearing their feedback and ideas. Perhaps I will inspire another person to come up with their long term challenge. Hopefully Professor Eikeland's words will ring true and we will become “an entangled, interwoven relationship from which all involved partners benefit."

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Sharing our individual skills and projects is the core of our group learning experience. Last week C demonstrated his skill for Zumba. He has been learning Zumba on his own for a while now and chose to demonstrate his abilities as one of his skill builders for his ME Challenge. He did a wonderful job and everyone had the opportunity to try it. When I am at my local YMCA, I often pass by the Zumba class but have never been brave enough to try it. I appreciated C explaining the different types of Zumba and giving me the change to try it in such a friendly open atmosphere, leaving me much more open to the idea of trying a class at the YMCA in the future.

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In the Maker Exploratorium, we are exploring our learning styles. How do we begin projects? How can we mentor each other and collaborate? What is the learning method that works best for each of us? How can we improve upon it? Where do ideas come from? Where do we start? We know we want to make something, but sometimes we aren't sure what exactly we want to make. Maybe a material interests us: perhaps we find ourselves drawn to acrylic paint or we would like to learn to use the sewing machine but don't know what we want to make. We all have times when we just have to get our hands on something and see what it brings. Play a bit. Sometimes nothing happens and we move on, try something else. Other times we become inspired.

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Last week we got our creativity flowing by working with invention cards. These cards show actual patents but do not give an explanation of what the invention is so it is up to each person to look at the card and imagine their own plan for the diagram shown. These are always imaginative and fun. We came up with many inventions including a mechanical ice cream cone that kept the ice cream from melting, a piano that makes hot chocolate as it plays tunes, and a portable fabric dome that can protect you when the weather turns bad.

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For the rest of our time we concentrated on our own individual projects. Plans included sewing, writing, world-building, foam sculpture, embroidery, mask masking, clothing design, hot air balloon building, felt work, and sketching. And of course, as we worked, we shared our ideas and thoughts with each other in our symbiotic environment.

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For more pictures of our program, click on the Flickr icon Talking-Stick-Social-Media-Icons_Flickr48  at the bottom of the page.

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