Why Every School Needs A Garage: An Educon 2.6 Conversation Preview

This Saturday I have the privilege of presenting a conversation at Educon 2.6 held at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. This conference has been a staple every year for me and in my career. Each year I’ve attended Educon, I’ve come away feeling good about our profession of education and excited to share and integrate what I’ve learned in my classroom and throughout the school district. What I’ve always liked about Educon is that it’s focused on conversations, rather than presentations.

This year I am excited to present on the idea of “Developing Makerspaces That Count”. While this subject is very broad in it’s description, for me, it comes back to a single word we need to address every day in education: Trust. When we put trust in our students and our teachers, we see great things happen. However, this shift doesn’t happen overnight and takes time to build this culture.

We hear stories of how some of our greatest innovators in the past decade (namely, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates) rebelled against a system and developed products that changed the world. And while these three men make great stories and, in some cases, movies, I’m always left with the question, “What if they didn’t have to rebel against the system and their creativity was fostered in school?” What if their respective schools had maker spaces available to them? Would we be having the same conversations about them today?

While the hypothetical alternate universe is fun to imagine, their actual timeline suggests that we, as educators, need to promote, provoke, and integrate makerspaces for kids to explore, take risks, tinker, discover, fail, and try again.

As the current global economy shifts and changes almost weekly, we need to stay ahead of the game and quite frankly, the American education system has not. With continued focus on high stakes testing, silver-bullet reforms, and common curriculum, the American education system continues to fall behind other countries both creatively and on the innovation front. This is not to say that allowing students a place to play during the course of a school day is going to dramatically reform our educational system and move America back to the top, but it’s a start. It’s a start that will give students the chance during the course of a school day to engage in something they’re truly passionate about.

And what helps provoke this change is beginning to give students the freedom to explore throughout the course of the school day. Some schools have integrated Google’s 20% time philosophy into their school day. Suzie Boss explores this in her recent post at Edutopia. At Burlington high school and middle school, I helped create a student run genius bar. This space and course allowed students the chance to question, create, troubleshoot, and discover. At Groton-Dunstable High School we developed a tech task force. It’s the same concept I developed at Burlington and has greatly impacted all of our schools. In fact, one student was able to develop an android app that helped our tech team inventory our entire fleet of Google Chromebooks. Michelle Luhtala, Library Department Chair at New Canaan High School developed a culture of trust by putting the onus on the students to take responsibility for their learning and the devices by which they learn.

And, I’m certain I could continue to list great examples of innovative ways of creating makerspaces in education. But that’s why Educon is important. The purpose of my conversation is to collectively expand on these ideas and concepts and see if we can create new ideas that work and will count in the course catalog of a school.

Six years ago when the Science Leadership Academy launched the Educon conference the students and conference advisors were not only launching a great opportunity for educators to connect, but they were giving us a space to make, share, and listen. I’m looking forward to attending and presenting at Educon 2.6 and anticipate many conversations about how we can all make the greatest impact on teaching and learning.