IMG_6435I always get giddy this time of year in anticipation of the East Bay Mini Maker Faire. It is an explosion of learning, creativity, inquiry, art, play, experimentation and FUN!

My interest is not only as a parent, but as an educator.  I work at the George Lucas Educational Foundation, and our mission is to help improve the learning process by sharing “what works” in education. Over the years I have seen a lot of solid and innovative practices that are transforming how our kids learn.  But the one that I am the most excited about is making.  Here are 5 reasons why.

  1. Making creates authentic experiences for learning.  Say my daughter decides she wants to build a go-kart. She has to use algebra and trigonometry to design the kart’s body, and physics to calculate the gear ratio for the drive-train. No algebra/trig or physics, no kart, right? So she not only has to learn, she has to apply the learning. And she’s motivated because she really wants to finish this go-kart.When it’s done, you can bet she is more likely to remember these principles than if she’d done it on a worksheet.  Plus, now she gets to ride around the neighborhood in a bitchin’ ride that she made herself!
  2. Making deepens social and emotional skills.  It teaches kids how to solve problems together — how to collaborate.  I talked to one educator whose 4th-graders did a unit on Transcontinental Railroad – they established an “East vs West” contest, with kids competing for the best train designs.  The teacher was struck how the kids were so much more interested in improving their designs so that the best one would win, rather than getting competitive and infighting against each other.
  3. Making is not just limited to science, tech, engineering or math (STEM).  Projects like the Transcontinental Railroad one above can bring humanities and social studies to life, too.
  4. Making teaches kids how to fail. That is not a typo. Learning how to fail — and pick yourself up, reflect, and make another attempt — is crucial skill for navigating our ever-shifting world. Making builds resilience via the process of prototyping – trying things out, testing, and redesigning which is SOO IMPORTANT so that kids don’t shut themselves down in the face of failure.I was visiting a maker camp over the summer that had this idea of  “marvelous mistakes.” It actually brought a tear to my eye to hear those kids talk so proudly about their mistakes, what they learned from them!
  5. Making is accessible to anyone. If you want to bring making to your kids, it’s pretty easy to get going. You don’t need a fancy lab or fancy tech though those are springing up around the country in the form of TechShops or Fab Labs.  The internet is chock full of resources, too, as well as online maker communities. All you really need is curiosity and the ability to let your child explore and try things out and fail a few times.

One thing we know for sure is that we have no idea of what the future will be like for our kids.  I have seen making change the lives of students in districts and schools and classrooms and after school and in summer camps around the country.  I have seen it turn lives around and build resilience, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication, problem-solving in kid from all social, economic, and geographical backgrounds.

So this is why I am so geeked about the East Bay Mini Maker Faire.  Hope you can make it!

Guest post by Betty Ray (follow me @EdutopiaBetty on Twitter)