Seeking Wonder Junkies

“Would like me to make you a birthday cake,” my three year-old niece, Emma, screamed as she climbed onto the kitchen stool. 

“Of course! What will you make me?” I asked as she looked through the kitchen drawer for supplies.

“Ummmm…how about a dragon cake!” she squealed louder. “Dragons are soooo cute! The cake can roar and the dragon can jump out of it,” she exclaimed, getting more animated as the ideas came. 

At three, Emma’s a wonder junkie. 

Emma reached for every color of food coloring and dumped them in the icing. “No!” someone yelled from the corner. “You don’t want all of those colors in there. Pick three.”

At three, Emma’s told how something is supposed to appear. 

Emma grabbed the plastic spatula of a thousand colors and dumped it on the cake, crumbling beneath her. What remained was a crater of color. 

She beamed. “Happy birthday, Christy! It’s a dragon! Rawrrrrr! Do you like it?” 

What’s not to like? 

(Dragons are fictional, right?)

We assign preconceived ideas of how something should be to tasks that are meant to be holistic. We assign random numbers to learning development. We say that a seven year-old must be doing a set of tasks and, if they are not, they are failing. We assign right and wrong values to art. We decide how a fictional character like a dragon should appear. 

In our efforts to standardize education, we’ve stopped behaving as wonder junkies. Somewhere along the journey, we have started behaving like correctional officers. Wonder does not need to be corrected. It needs to be cultivated and then, shared. 

I challenge you to bring back the wonder. Even in restrictive environments, there is room for wonder. There is room for making. We are all makers. But, only some of us recognize it. 

Recently, I took the wonder junkie challenge to my staff. Not only is it my first year at a private school, it’s my first year at this private school, and it’s the first year for my position at this school. It’s a year of firsts. So, it seemed perfect to introduce the idea of the makerspace. 

To get the climate ready for the idea, though, involves patience and willingness to explore for a year. During that first year: 

  1. Organize a focus group of students and staff who are excited about the idea of making (start with the passionate folks in order to generate momentum).
  2. Meet monthly with the focus group to establish the direction of the makerspace. For instance, will you have a classroom-based makerspace, a library makerspace, an after school makerspace, or several makerspaces around the school. We opted for several smaller makerspaces that each focus on a topic of interest (coding, wearables, recycling, etc.)
  3. Host monthly maker parties. I made this list for our school year. These should be both high tech and low tech activities to bring in a diverse crowd. Keep each party limited to two activities for easy management. I kept the parties to 45 minutes. However, I found that students came throughout the next few days to the space to finish; thereby encouraging the use of a makerspace
  4. Hold a kickoff party. We did this in the form of a Maker Night or a Maker Faire. We staged nearly ten booths plus a photo booth and invited all staff, students, and families. 
Create a space for wonder. Once you create that space and cultivate the climate, allow for it to shape itself. 

The kickoff party started with 8 booths:
  • 3D Printing
  • Google Cardboard
  • Cardboard Arcade Challenge
  • Upcycling
  • Raspberry Pi Tinkering
  • Makey Makey Challenge
  • Short Circuit Robots
  • 6 Word Memoir Stop Motion Animation
However, it evolved into so much more

Students found duct tape, LEDs, cardboard, C-Cell batteries, and cell phones to make talking robots

Students wrote their life in 6 words, drew it, and then animated it with stop motion
Students disassembled old electronics and created new inventions

They turned computer parts into jewelry

They used SketchUp to construct their own structures and then, 3D printed them

They made their own virtual reality tours with Cardboard Camera

They turned cardboard into fortune telling machines

They made messes – lots of them. And, it was okay.

They created without instruction – only ideas

They explored

They turned bananas into music

They set up stands made from recycled materials

They turned books into art kits
They had snacks (for extra encouragement)
Most importantly, they had fun

 It evolved into engagement and excitement. There were no rules of what something was supposed to be or not be. It was holistic. 

We are born to be makers. We are born to tinker and explore. However, we have been trained to follow a formula.  

Break the formula and get started. We are 9 months into our maker journey. We do not know where it will go or how long it will take and we’re okay with that. 

Check out the Spartan Maker page for a detailed account of our Maker Year. Need some more inspiration? Check out making over your library (presentation) and for all things maker. 

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