Making Time for Freedom
September 17 and 24, 2013
Between the end of Nature, Writing, and Literature and the beginning of Maker is an hour where the young people can eat and have free time. I love this hour for so many reasons, but mostly I love to see what the young people do with it. Some days there are wild games of imaginary (their word for it) with the whole group participating, and other days a few play that game and others wander the grounds around the picnic tables outside the Cope House. Our group found a pile of long sticks that Awbury used for making teepees. The young people quickly found other uses for them. On Tuesday they became at first, extraordinarily long walking sticks, then jousting poles, and then they became flags. On Thursday they expanded the activity by inventing a group game using the flags. Taking something (a stick, a sweat shirt) and being able to see it as something else is at the core of the Maker movement and learning in general. It is in our nature to make and play.
I have to fight my tendency to categorize activities as "learning" vs "play," that old concept ingrained in my brain from years of school where recess was the only free time of my choosing, and even then it came on an asphalt surface with no resources beyond a swing and seesaw. Break is over let's get back to work. At Talking Stick we work (ha! and play!) at losing the delineation between play and learning because we know they are one and the same. Peter Gray put it best in his recent article in Pathways to Family Wellness Magazine: "...the playful frame of mind is best for acquiring new ideas and skills and thinking creatively, and play is the natural vehicle through which children practice the skills and values of their culture and learn how to get along with others, solve problems, regulate their emotions and impulses, and generally take control of their lives." This thinking is at the core of all our programs at Talking Stick Learning Center. More information about Peter Gray can be found here and here.
This week in S.T.E.A.M. Maker we had a lot of fun filling out a survey of our interests, a list of possible maker activities largely borrowed from the DIY.org web site. We rated each activity from one (not my favorite) to five (I really want to do that!), and we noted the skills that we have that we are willing to share with others in our group, which will be the beginning of our peer to peer mentoring. What are our interests and how do we pick where we want to start? Everyone has many five ratings on their list to choose from. Sometimes it is hard to know where to begin. I went over some basic steps to planning a project including narrowing your focus, determining materials needed, planning possible steps, and considering other resources that might be needed.
Some of the young people loved to put their ideas down on paper with a list of the steps they will take to approach their projects. Others weren't sure where they wanted to start and enjoyed meandering through the Maker room looking for items of interest. Others just had a basic idea like "I want to burn things with a magnifying glass," as a starting point and were anxious to get into it. We will continue to discuss the variety of styles of learning and working in future Maker workshops, and continue encouraging young people to explore the methods that work best for them. This week projects included fashion designs, leather work, electronic take-aparts, origami, fire starting using a magnifying glass, designing a natural playground, sketching, model making, a cardboard suit of armor, sewing scarves and bags, and knitting.
On Thursday in celebration of the recent 194th birthday of Leon Foucault, we discussed his pendulum and how it helped people understand the rotation of the earth. (You can see a Foucault pendulum at the Franklin Institute.)
I wanted to build a paint pendulum that would create those wonderful Spirograph patterns mixing science and art. Although the pendulum did work and did indeed create a pattern, we could not get the bob to release the paint in a clean line instead of a series of drips. This gave the young people the opportunity to try different things to solve the problem. We tried lowering and raising the bob, adjusting the spout (an Elmer's glue cap hot glued to a plastic water bottle). The pendulum would be abandoned for a while and then someone would come up with another thing to try and then go back to their other project. I am sure we will be seeing the pendulum again.
In S.T.E.A.M. Maker and other Talking Stick programs, young people have the freedom to play and to create things of their own choosing while being able to observe and take part in the projects of others, creating a fun, collaborative environment. We have an easy flow to our day where we can choose to stay focused on one project or dabble in several projects, or become inspired to join others in different activities. As we discover our personal maker style, we are finding Awbury to be the perfect place to be. It allows us the open space to be free and move about and the beauty of nature for inspiration. And this fabulous fall weather brought added joy!
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