Don’t get me wrong, I’m a hands-on kind of teacher; I always try to have relevant labs and activities in class. I do my share of projects. I have always had kids ask questions as they draw on prior knowledge – that’s how we learn. But this is different – it’s concurrent learning with a synergistic result.
As I write this I’m having a sort of epiphany. People who like to cook buy cookbooks and cooking magazines. People who exercise buy health magazines. It’s rarely the other way. People that hate to cook don't buy cookbooks. People that don't exercise don't buy exercise magazines. Maybe school is the same. Students that hate science don't want physics lessons. Teaching a physics lesson does not make someone interested in physics. Maybe doing physics however, makes one want to listen to a physics lesson.
I have talked to other teachers that have had the following experience; we introduce a project in class hoping it will engage the students and make the learning experience meaningful. The result is often that we must “force” the content. I don’t really know how to explain it other than it’s like trying to push a tennis ball into a glass Coke bottle – it’s a tough job. With the makerspace it has been just the opposite – it’s easy. Kids show up because they want to – they ask questions because they are interested.
Because they are interested they tell their parents. Because their parents love seeing their kids interested they volunteer to help. Because they love seeing their kids interested in school they say nice things about the school. People hear nice things about the school and they donate time and resources to help out.
Students that are normally disengaged want to be involved. They want to do something fun – no one wants to be left out. The question becomes, “Mr. Strickland, can I come in after school and do something?” Er, uhm…YES!
“Mr. Strickland, If I bring in some speakers will you help me figure out how to wire them up?”
“Mr. Strickland, we can help you build that Ruben’s Tube in Ag; we have time.”
I had a local businessman donate the time and materials to paint our rockets for us. That was generous but not the best part. One of the other students told me her dad would be more than happy to paint the next ones when we build again. Really? Seriously? I actually have adults competing to help out a teacher in a public school? People on social media are wondering when we are going to launch the rockets. Where is it taking place? We want to come out and watch… Folks, that just doesn’t happen except in story books and fairy tales.
How many times have we had discussions as educators wondering how to get the community involved in our schools? How often do we discuss how to engage our students? How often do we wonder how to get parents involved? How often do we wonder how to improve the culture in our school?
Do adults support athletics because they love sports, or because their kids are doing sports? Maybe kids hate PE class because they HAVE to participate. They love athletics because they WANT to participate.
Maybe the community is supporting my students because the students are doing physics? Maybe kids hate math/physics when they are FORCED to learn it. Maybe they like it when they WANT to learn it.
Is the makerspace successful simply because it is voluntary participation? It may require critical thinking, but you can quit anytime you want. Because you have the option to quit, it gives you the resolve to stay?
I’m not sure of any answers. I am thinking this might make for a really interesting action research project.
What are your thoughts? How do you make sense of this?