I Missed This Maker Space . . . Until a Student Helped Me See It

John Spencer's TEDx Talk
Why, yes, I am talking about AT&T Ballpark

I’m passionate about seeing kids make stuff. This why I’m offering a free, short course this June called A Beginner’s Guide to Design Thinking. Spaces are limited, so sign up now if you’re interested.

Last week, I spoke at a TEDx event hosted by the Upper Perkiomen School District. It was an unforgettable experience and I was honored to be a part of it. Once the video is edited, I’ll share my talk on this blog.

So, one of the things I loved about the event was the STEM-related, maker projects they showcased. Students demonstrated their apps and games they had created. We got the chance to tour a design space with 3D printers, CNC routers, and, more importantly, a group of empowered students who were owning the creative process.

I found myself gushing about this space — about how cool it was to see kids going through the design process actually testing out prototypes. I remember, at one point, saying to a student volunteer, “Don’t you wish more of school was like this?”

He shook his head. “Not really. It’s not really my thing.”

“But you get to make stuff.”

“I get to make stuff all the time. Have you ever been a part of a theater production?” he asked. “It’s called a production for a reason.”

That’s when it hit me. I had missed it. Here I was, ready to give a talk about creativity and I had failed to recognize a place where creativity thrived on a regular basis.  After all, this event, hosted by a high school, wasn’t crafted in a STEM lab and shipped out to the world. Instead, it was being run by the visual arts, theater, and media departments.

The students who managed the lighting, the stage direction, the green room and the program were all seasoned theater veterans. And, while the TEDx event was astonishing, the amazing thing is that the agency and ownership they felt in this event is something they pull off multiple times a year with their musicals. The creative videography and editing that will ultimately lead to high-polished videos are all the result of media arts students who have learned the craft of multimedia design.

As I talked to the students who had essentially run so much of the TEDx event, I was struck by the fact that this process fit into the design thinking cycle. The empathy, research, ideating, planning, prototyping, and testing that we see in a STEM lab are all an aspect of what great theater programs do year in and year out.

I had missed this, though, because the product didn’t look like my traditional view of a product. It’s easy for me to see a maker mindset in an art class, but I never took theater and I’ve never been in a play or a musical. This bias shaped my view of that space.

None of this is meant to discredit the STEM labs. Those are amazing places where great things are happening. But it has me wondering if we are missing the maker movements and design thinking that happens in the fine arts and visual arts departments. We miss the magic of live theater or of documentaries and short films because they aren’t as foreign to us as a 3D printer.

So, it has me thinking that if we want to promote creativity in schools, we might do well by celebrating the maker spaces that currently exist in many high schools.

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

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