"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin

Friday, April 22, 2011

DIY is authentic

Mark Frauenfelder in THE ATLANTIC :

Imagine a school where kids could do the following: clone jellyfish DNA; build gadgets to measure the electrical impulses of cockroach neurons; make robotic blackjack dealers; design machines that can distinguish between glass, plastic, and aluminum beverage containers and sort them into separate bins; and convert gasoline-burning cars to run on electric power.

No such school exists, but in August I went to Detroit and met the kids who did all these things, and more. They—along with 22,000 other people—had come from all over the United States and Canada to demo their creations at Maker Faire, a two-day festival of do-it-yourselfers, crafters, musicians, urban homesteaders, kit makers, scientists, engineers, and curious visitors who congregated to present projects, give performances, and swap ideas. Having attended eight Maker Faire events since 2006 (they’re put on by the same company that owns the magazine I edit), I’ve become convinced of two things about children and education: (1) making things is a terrific way to learn, and (2) schools are failing to teach kids to learn with their hands.

My son attended a technical high school and while he has a natural proclivity for physics, he struggled at first with chemistry. His chemistry teacher suggested that the problem may have been that he thinks with his hands. I don't know if that's true, but I know that the men in my family have an engineering-tinkering proclivity.

The challenge is to come up with some Language Arts DIY -- I mean beside the annual literary magazine and the increasingly irrelevant monthly newspaper, which are only semi-authentic as it is. They really only serve as a function of the school community without any direct outside use or application. But surely students can produce work of more general application. Perhaps they could develop a sustainability plan for the district, which would be a cross-disciplinary project with the Science Department. Or work with the police department and write a safety plan (although that may involve confidential matters which makes student participation impossible).

How about online wikis for the general community; job or recreation resources. Create study or discussion materials. Develop a One Book plan for the entire community. The municipal library may be able to steer students towards needs it or its patrons have.

But the point of these projects is not to look at them as something to earn Community Service points toward graduation. They each have literacy education value of their own. Remember, when our parents and teachers saw us acting out in frustration, they would tell us, "Use your words." Why not use our words to actually make stuff?

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