Alexandria Online

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Innovation and Renaissance

The idea of a universe made of atoms governed by the laws of physics is as old as writing; however, at least in the Western tradition, it took a little detour during the dark ages. Interest declined, books disappeared or were destroyed, people forgot.

A few manuscripts of Lucretius' Dē Rērum Naturā were found, studied and copied and the Renaissance began, according to Stephen Greenblatt in his book, The Swerve. It was a rebirth of something old in a new context.

Karen Ann Tomlinson points out that her description of differentiated instruction, an idea that has burgeoned in the educational field recently, closely resembles some of the practices that could be observed in one room schoolhouses in rural parts of America in the early part of the 20th Century.

If the world were covered with ash and after hundreds of years my little library of Greek and Latin classics were discovered, someone would need desperately to know what was in those books. And when others started reading them and talking about them they would have new ideas.

Fab labs and maker spaces have their roots in timeless classroom practices. Kindergarten classrooms have been maker spaces for generations. My child's kindergarten classroom was carved out of a comfy old house, and every nook and cranny was filled with building supplies, works in progress, masks, costumes, props and sets for the play. It was sacred space. At the end of the year, the children built an 8 foot tall Native American chief from cardboard boxes and left him in the middle of the room, lights out, chairs on tables, as the guardian spirit of the space.

Science labs, computer labs and art rooms have also served this function for years. They are sanctuaries, where young tinkerers, artists, scientists, and just kids with ideas have spent time in their days letting their imaginations flower. Or at least they offer that potential.

If the maker movement is going to be more than just another educational fad, we need to connect it to its historical roots in the school room. Look back at your own education and try to remember those spaces: the musty old art room in the basement, the biology lab with the weird stuff growing under glass and the bunsen burners, the 6th grade teacher who grew banana trees and dedicated one corner of his room to our extensive leaf collections, the 2nd grade teacher with the piano and the puppet theater.

When, from time to time, this Director of Technology grows weary of budgets, vendors, putting out fires and surviving in the shark pool of management, he goes to visit his friend's visual arts studio. Everyone is making something new in the space that he has created. It's a physical space and it's a space in the minds of the people who come there. I have never seen a kid off task in that room -- even when David isn't there. The maker space is in the mind; it is a way more than a place.

Look around your school. You have had maker spaces all along. But do you have maker mind?

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