Inside the Maker Classrooms of Friends’ School Boulder

Friends.Maker.1Steve de Beer, Head of School at Friends’ School Boulder, contributes this post describing his school’s innovative, year-long focus on making in the 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms. For a hands-on taste of making in education, stop by the Friends’ School booth at the Boulder Mini Maker Faire, Jan 31-Feb 1! (Early bird tickets end on the 24th!)

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Who remembers Tinker Toys?  Me! Me!  Who spent part of their childhood inventing new machines with Erector Sets?  This guy!  Who used to make tunnels and cities and imaginary worlds (complete with imaginary knights and dragons) out of moving boxes and junk? Right here, me and my siblings!

What did these kinds of toys have in common – what do they still have in common? They were all designed to inspire the young me to be a maker instead of a consumer. They encouraged me to create.

When Friends’ School’s founders dreamed up a new school, open-ended play and imaginative creations were always part of the plan. In recent weeks, our 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms have gone back to our founding roots to become ‘makers’.

Inspired by the viral video, Caine’s Arcade, Diane Bramble and Tyler Voorhees’ students have invented, designed, created, built, tested, re-built, and made the most wonderful arcade game inventions. And they have done it all with old boxes and found materials (and perhaps a little tape to help things stick together!)

It is hard to describe the passion and engagement that has been found in these classrooms over the last couple of weeks. Not only with the children. At Back To School night, the teachers challenged parents to make their own arcade games and it was hard for some parents to leave the building after everyone else had gone home!

Friends Head of School, Steve de Beer, brutalizes moles with a mallet.

Friends Head of School, Steve de Beer, brutalizes moles with a mallet.

Students have created all manner of arcade games from cardboard and found objects, including Whack-A-Mole type games, games where you have to get the ball down chutes, and many more. And upon completing the games, players receive tickets to claim prizes. If you are interested in seeing these creations in action, and playing our students’ arcade games, you may come to our Gathering today (Friday Sept. 19th) at 12:40 p.m. in the Great Room. They will be up after school for a brief spell, as well.

The teachers know how good these kinds of activities are for developing brains. The process is vitally important to a holistic education, allowing kids to practice the “21st century skills” of problem-solving, teamwork, collaboration, creativity, and so on.

Following the success of the Caine’s arcade video and other initiatives, a whole maker movement has been born. Across the country, including right here in Boulder County, maker fairs are gaining in popularity. Our school librarian deana harragarra waters has been following the maker movement for quite a while now.

deana shared with me that she is a quilter and descended from a long line of makers, the Kiowa and Otoe people: “My tribal people used creativity to shape our traditions and culture, so I’m always interested in creativity, collaborative learning environments, sharing materials and learning new skills. In our Friends’ School library there is digital production of content, robotics, coding activities, use of Google sketch up, all maker activities embracing science, technology, engineering, and arts.”

The maker movement certainly embraces technology as well as good old-fashioned cardboard and tape. It has the potential to turn more and more people into makers instead of just consumers. As has been reported in Time Magazine, we “know from history that when you give makers the right tools and inspiration, they have the potential to change the world. The maker movement….is the umbrella term for independent inventors, designers and tinkerers.

“Makers tap into an American admiration for self-reliance and combine that with open-source learning, contemporary design and powerful personal technology. The creations, born in cluttered local workshops and bedroom offices, stir the imaginations of consumers numbed by generic, mass-produced….merchandise.” (Bajarin, T. Why The Maker Movement Is Important To America’s Future, Time Magazine, 19 May, 2014)

Our students, teachers and parents all understand how much open-ended projects like those in our Friends’ School classrooms foster creativity, play, and imagination in kids everywhere. And that is to be celebrated. Then, now and forever.

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Steve de Beer is Head of School at Friends’ School Boulder. For more information about Making at Friends’ and more, drop Steve at note sdebeer@friendsschoolboulder.org, or get in touch with Melanie Leggett, Director of Admissions: mleggett@friendsschoolboulder.org.

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