So, the conversation goes something like this…
“Dad, can you take us to the hardware store?”
“We need some PVC pipe”
“Since our last bow didn’t work, we want to make a better one.”
This has been my life story for the past few years. I’ve blogged about it before. PVC pipe, a PVC pipe cutter, PVC pipe glue, heat gun, tire valves to pressurize, valves to release pressure, string and more string, laser pointers, bolts to mount cameras, wire,… We are certainly keeping the local hardware store in business.
Somehow, my kids end up with the very things I won’t buy them… because they make them. In this case, a long bow (yes, they’ve made blow guns, paintball launchers, rocket launchers, camera stabilizers, and so much more). I haven’t given in to their pleading for one because we live in a neighborhood where the houses are fairly close to one another and things like arrows could be hazardous as well as make for difficult neighborly relationships. However, when my kids want to make things, I just can’t say no. Where do they get this passionate desire to make stuff? From their dad. I got it from my dad. He likely got it from his dad. However, I think that there’s an innate desire in all of us to make “cool” stuff… things that are meaningful and interesting to us… whatever those things might be. Makers are timeless.
However, tools of the trade have certainly changed. Electronics, the Internet and connected digital devices, ubiquitous devices that record video,… all bring about new possibilities for making and inventing things. The timelessness of inventing does indeed evolve.
As I entered the garage, the scene before me made this very real. Here it is. Do you notice something?
Watching a video on how to bend/mold the PVC pipe into the right shape for a long bow with a heat gun
All the typical tools are strewn about in typical kid fashion, yet the iPad sits amongst them all… another tool. I didn’t suggest that my son do this. He just does it. Naturally. His access to experts, experience, multimedia, and social connectivity open up a world to him that even I may not have experience with. In a sense, it’s a little bittersweet because he doesn’t need his dad working with him as much as he used to. But like a good dad, I admire him for growing up, becoming both responsible and independent.
Heating up the PVC pipe with a heat gun to make it moldable.
My younger son has now become HIS apprentice, working alongside his older brother making cool stuff. My wife is not always happy about all of this, as she has a different tolerance for danger. She wasn’t raised making things and using tools. That’s why having two parents with different experiences is so valuable to children, not to mention that dads often have a bent for higher risk and maybe just a tad more impulsiveness (sometimes without “using your head”
I love that my kids make things. They watch very little TV. They read. They read and watch (mostly YouTube) for the purpose of making things. My oldest son learned to play guitar on YouTube and still turns to YouTube to learn new riffs from his “experts”. My youngest son turns to the Internet (and often YouTube) for just about everything… what to look for in a new camera, how to program in Scratch, how to make a bottle rocket, and just about everything else that he is curious about knowing and making.
But here’s the thing. They go to school and largely sit in desks and listen to teachers who tell them things that they write down, parrot back, practice and have to remember. This model of “learning” worked for older generations because they didn’t have access to the fantastic tools that allow for much more learning independence and creativity. This. Has. Changed. However, in our institutions of mass production… mass education, it’s not always so easy. I admit that. Maybe that’s part of the problem, but it IS possible. It’s happening all over the world in schools and classrooms. In Gary Stager & Sylvia Martinez’s new book, Invent to Learn, they write:
The maker movement not only blurs the artificial boundaries between subject areas, it erases distinctions between art and science while most importantly obliterating the crippling practice of tracking students in academic pursuits or vocational training. There are now multiple pathways to learning what we have always taught and things to do that were unimaginable just a few years ago.”
I couldn’t agree more. In an article from MAKE Magazine, the reason suggested is one that I’ve been writing about here. It’s put this way:
The funny thing is that people have been doing this [DIY, Making] forever, but now it’s a movement. Why is that?
The answer is simple: the Internet. As the Internet has become more and more deeply embedded in our society, the ability for people with specific hobbies to connect with others who share their passions for DIY electronics, or felting Doctor Who characters, or building fire-breathing sculptures, has become easier and easier. Passionate makers find other passionate makers, they share, collaborate, create, and thrive. They come together in online and realspace communities, and big events, and show off what they’re doing. They realize there are enough people like them or enough people who like what they’re doing that perhaps they can build a small business around it, and they run crowdfunding campaigns. They succeed, and provide a model for the next maker to try something else. They show each other a path to tread.
This has become much more of a virtual, digital and social apprenticeship model of learning. Are schools today tapping into this vast weatlh of opportunity? Things like the flipped classroom try, but fall short in so many ways… not that this model doesn’t succeed in other ways. Maybe the flipped model of learning needs not only change the learning structure, but also the notion of expert and learning community.
In any event, my kids will continue to follow their passions and make things. I’m just saddened to see them more excited to come home to learn than they are to go to school and learn. Subjects that should be fascinating and truly engaging are often pure drudgery for them. One of the latest innovations, the digital textbook, just can’t look like this. Here’s to making.
The Long Bows