Creating Spaces for Kids to Make and Learn

The power of making lies not in what is made but rather in the making itself. When we value process over product, we create an environment that fosters creative thinking and learning.
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It was a moment of panic, the kind that gives rise to creative thinking and innovation. The Children's Creativity Museum (CCM) was hosting an iPad-based stop-motion clay animation booth for kids at the San Francisco Bay Area Maker Faire this year. Kids could shape clay into characters that they could then bring to life using table-mounted iPads and iStopMotion animation.

The only problem was that the iPads had run out of power. Eli Africa, one of our Educators, shifted gears and focused less on the iPad interface but rather on what the kids were doing: The kids were perfectly content having their clay characters come alive without the iPads. That technology "fail" underscored something quite powerful: It's not about what you make but the process of making -- and more precisely, the educational outcomes that come from the usage of technology -- that matters.

Maker Faire is a movement to have people share what they've made and what they've learned from what they've made, and there are now Maker Faire events all over the world. Startups show off their newest mobile apps; craftspeople display their artisanship like the "Old World" open-air markets; engineers and designers proudly demonstrate how their fire-breathing machines and other-worldly robots work; and all the while, educators peruse the exhibitors for the latest inspiration to make learning in their classrooms more fun. Makers Faire has successfully put making back in the public eye.

And making is not just a hobby. As Bruce Nussbaum points out in greater detail in his bestseller, Creative Intelligence, making is in many ways a reaction to a globalized economy that has failed the average person on Main Street. In an age of tailored experiences and made-to-order products, consumers are looking for the unique close to home or in online communities like Etsy, because they can't find exactly what they need in a market of mass-produced goods.

In the Industrial Era, making was about manufacturing goods for consumption. In an age of e-commerce, where anyone can pull up a YouTube video to learn about how to make virtually anything from home, making provides new value beyond the economic. Making has the power to inspire new ideas and to push the envelope of what is possible if we are thinking about the learning outcomes that might be achieved through making.

Case in point: Tom Durkin, another one of CCM's Educators, looked around the Makers Faire pavilion and was struck by the overwhelming number of offerings utilizing 3D printers. Many kids were churning out their own mugs and other custom-made items they created. However, it seemed like there wasn't much more that the kids were getting out of the experience of making beyond the satisfaction of having something to take home. Clearly, a learning opportunity was being missed.

In contrast, Tom was inspired by his conversations with an innovative collaborative of so-called "maker high schools" in the San Francisco Bay Area that effectively harness making to extend content learning. In such high schools, a classroom history lesson on Leonardo da Vinci is brought to life by students who use lasers, routing machines, and other tools to reproduce some of the Renaissance genius' designs. Our old school shop or woodworking class no longer has to be an elective; in fact, it can play a central role in bringing learning to life.

The power of making lies not in what is made but rather in the making itself. When we value process over product, we create an environment that fosters creative thinking and learning. There's less pressure to get it right and more emphasis on the trial and error and prototyping that are an essential part of creative problem-solving.

In the end, the Children's Creativity Museum walked away from Makers Faire -- Bay Area 2013 with an Editors' Choice Award for our booth. The measure of success did not come from what the kids were able to make or not make, nor from the technology or tools that they used, but rather from the subtle process of imagining, creating, and sharing the rich and original storylines behind their clay characters. They may not have churned out their own custom-made mug cast from a 3D printer, but they took away something more valuable: The experience of creating.

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