Maker Matters

It was time for a new digital storytelling workshop and the kids were coming in to get settled before starting time.  This was our first workshop outside of Kansas City’s urban core.  This particular workshop was being held in a middle class, suburban/rural community.  Access to digital devices, wifi and cool apps is normally a big barrier in the neighborhoods where we offer our workshops.  In this case, the kids who showed up were digitally savvy and in some cases economically privileged.  One young man brought an expensive laptop and popped open a fairly sophisticated audio editing application.  He was working on a music video.  Others were talking about cool apps and using the lingo from the world of wifi wonders.

Immediately I began second-guessing my plans for opening the workshop—to have the kids create their own flip books and thaumatropes to demonstrate how rapidly moving single image frames create the illusion of movement.  It usually is a great way to drive home the fundamentals of frames and frame-rates for animation.  Surely these kids were too sophisticated to start with such a childish activity.  How could I adjust for these kids who seemed obviously too mature for that!?!

It was too late to make dramatic changes at this point, so I plowed ahead with having the kids cut out and create the spinning thaumatropes and the flip books.

I was astonished at the result.  They leaped into the exercise with the energy of Santa’s little workshop elves.  They reveled in a flurry of activities: cutting—shaping—stringing—fastening. They took great delight in seeing their crafted objects come to life.  These were toys that were centuries old, yet they still somehow fascinated today’s savvy digikids.

I was embarrassed that I had overlooked one of the most fundamental drivers of our KCdigiKids program—we create makers.   Sure, we focus on making them digital story makers, but it’s still all about makers.  Making stuff matters!  We give kids the opportunity to imagine, to create—to produce.  Nothing locks in learning like making a concept active and tangible.  There’s a reason we call our learning sessions “workshops” and not “classes”—we get kids actively engaged in creating something they can share with pride to others.

Our KCdigiKids workshops are fun!  They need to be.  Whether it’s flip books or video game apps, we are teaching kids to be makers in a world that is constantly changing its technology.  Today these projects may seem like just a fun way to amuse kids, but it’s how we prepare them for tomorrow that really matters.  Our ever-changing technology will dramatically alter what skills and knowledge these kids will need when they grow up.  Our job as educational makers is to be certain they are ready to flourish in that world.