Right now, at the MIT Media Lab, RISD the d.school: Institute of Design at Stanford, and NYU’s ITP program, graduate students are tinkering, designing and making at the edges of technology with tools that we can only imagine, as well as tools that we have had at our sides for ages. Here in New York City, children at places like Beam Center and the Makery are working to understand component parts of technology –circuitry, sodoring, programming, robotics– in combination with a multitude of design techniques to “make” their way to innovative implemenation of powerful ideas. Taken together, there is widespread agreement that makers represent an important future direction for education — a perfect combination of tools for scientific and design innovation and 21st century skills like collaboration, flexibility and creativity.
Since our inception, Blue School‘s DNA has been infused with the spirit of making. Three of our founders (Chris Wink, Matt Goldman, and Phil Stanton, the founding Blue Men) used a variety of materials and big ideas to build Blue Man Group, and a show that comments critically and creatively on our society. Then, as now, we understand that children need to own and make their ideas real using the academic, social and technical skills we teach in school. In many ways, Blue School assigns a 21st century exclamation point to the education research that informs our work, as well as shoots off a question mark about what is next and how we can keep getting better.
A lot is going on with our makers at Blue School right now, and we are building the scaffolding for more to come.
Next week, our second graders will be learning to fly (almost). Working with a visiting faculty member from Beam Center (who is a tinkerer, woodworker, artist, and robot-maker in his own right), our seven and eight year olds will build a glider together. Their idea to build a glider emerged from studying birds and looking at DaVinci’s observations, designs, and artistry. In kindergarten, children are building houses, vehicles and hotels to redesign our neighborhood which is still struggling to recover after Sandy (yes, more than six months later). They are using tubing, soil, wood, and other materials at various scales. In first grade, children have built a classroom-sized wooden Rube Goldberg machine, and are working diligently to add, take away, and explore to see how things move, fall down, and stand up.
They are scientists and tinkerers, asking questions, failing and trying again. They discuss how machines can have an impact on the world.
And, what’s next? We are bringing the practice of making to a new level at Blue School by working to codify a sequence of specific skills and experiences children need to be innovators and makers in the era of digital technology. If we aim to graduate 21st century inventors, engineers, and creatives, then school must be a laboratory where children can test out and experience those roles now. Thanks to conversations with people like our esteemed Advisory Board member John Maeda, president of RISD, Jon Santiago at HTINK, Mike Fischthal at Pixel Academy, Brian Cohen at Beam Center, and Deb Windsor at Construction Kids, and influences from books like Design.Make.Play and MakeSpace, we hope to make the conversation around integrating and teaching 21st century skills broader, louder and more visible by developing maker spaces and experiences at Blue School that give our children access to the same types of thinking that is happening at the graduate level.