The Transylvania Times -

Everyday Education: Sparkling Creativity And Critical Thinking - Rosman, NC


October 30, 2017

Courtesy Photo

Students at T.C. Henderson use the media center for more than reading. The School of Science and Technology also provides play and instruction for pre-engineering and design, to inspire and teach higher-order problem solving skills. (Courtesy photo by Elizabeth Ballard)

Where would we be without creative people? What would happen to our nation, our world, if there were no more inventors? What if we standardize tested our way into stagnation and mediocrity? These are questions teachers ponder as they watch their students' creative sparks wither as children learn just how important the one right answer can be to their grades and to their futures.

One way schools are countering this trend is by embracing the maker movement. Maker spaces and maker activities are areas and opportunities for kids to tap into their creative sides as they solve problems and design items for fun and utility - or as they simply learn to look more carefully at the world around them.

Tapping into a child's creative side is a continuous and intentional process for Transylvania County School educators. As an example, let's look at the continuum from T.C. Henderson Elementary to Rosman Middle School to Rosman High School. It's important to note that students from these three schools benefit from the continuity of two master teachers who nurture and follow their progress through the grade levels: Elementary and middle school art teacher Elizabeth Ballard and middle school/high school library media coordinator Sarah Justice.

At T.C. Henderson, Ballard, with the support from the school's part-time media coordinator and classroom teachers, invests time in challenging students to use the school's two 3D printers to create mini-versions of useful items that they brainstorm are needed by themselves or others. They designed cupholders and door stops for a wheelchair-bound classmate after talking with her about her struggles. They designed shelves to fit under their desks for their ChromeBooks and hooks for their supply baskets that attach to their desks.

Ballard challenges them to look closely. What is the difference in a table and a desk? What are their purposes? How can they make them better? She also asks them to draw a house. Most children draw a square and a triangle. You know-the rudimentary stick figure house. Then she asks them, "Is this what your house looks like?" Once they have this discussion, she tasks them with sketching out their house again. "Look closer. What do you see? What do you really see?"

Teaching older elementary children to code leads them into middle school maker projects. Elemen-tary kids work with mechanical toys such as makey-makeys where they can do things like program bananas to play music or create their own video games. As they move into middle school, they may join Justice as part of the robotics team, creating and programming Legos to run cars, operate a Lego factory, or navigate Lego-created roads and streams in regional and statewide competitions.

The media center allows more expansive maker opportunities and freedom to create beyond teacher-directed tasks. There's a sewing machine for making items for Operation Christmas Child boxes or repairing an unexpected rip. There are puzzles, crayons and paints, scissors and paper, and even an old-fashioned typewriter for funny Valentines.

And a bee hive! Justice received a Bee Cause grant last spring and added a beehive to the library. The bees had entry and egress in the media center wall; students could watch bees working in their hive through a closed plexiglass window box. Unfortunately the hive collapsed this summer, but the hive post mortem was a critical thinking experience for everyone, one that resulted in few definitive answers.

Rosman middle and high school students commemorate International Dot Day too. It's a celebration based on a Peter Reynolds children's book that encourages kids of all ages to find a variety of ways to use dots to make artwork, videos, and other products. They create and collaborate with others in the school and across the world to "leave their mark!"

Courtesy Photo

Bee hives and other interactive stations are the hallmark of modern media centers which integrate learning across the whole school. Along with history and literature, students work out science, technology, art, and design in spaces once designed to hold mainly books and desktop computers. (Courtesy photo by Sarah Justice)

So why are Ballard, Justice and their colleagues investing so much time and energy into these maker activities? What about reading, writing, math and test scores? Yes, these basics are important, absolutely essential skills for our children's success. But without the opportunity to tap into our children's future creativity and problem-solving abilities, our nation loses its ability to move forward.

What if we no longer nurture inventors, composers, artists, engineers, research scientists? What happens to our future? Creativity, critical thinking and collaboration are essential to a better world. Standardized test scores serve an immediate purpose; the longer term requires a broader curriculum, one that educates the whole child. The maker movement offers Transylvania County School students a smorgasbord of possibilities, a glimpse of their futures and a way to get there.

(Frances Bryant Bradburn is the 1:1 Teaching and Learning Consultant as part of a Golden LEAF Foundation grant to the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University.)


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