Our workshop associate Karien Stroucken writes a guest blog on her recent trip to the Netherlands to participate in a teacher maker camp.

Making is not a subject, it is a process to learn something. Find the right question, the right prompt, and start making to solve problems. The barrier to entry is low, the possibilities are endless.”

In October 2015, I joined a large group of teachers, educators and innovators at the Waag Society, the Institute of Arts, Science and Technology in Amsterdam for Teacher Maker Camp: a four day education making hackathon fuelled by technology, design, arts and science.

The programme applied design processes, experimentation, team challenges, project-based learning and technology to solving problems by creating all kinds of brand new stuff in the classroom. We stepped out of our teaching role, and into the – sometimes insecure – position of being an ‘active learner’, with astounding results!

The big question we all explored was: ‘How can we make education better and prepare kids for their future by getting them involved in making things in the classroom – not just ‘random’ crafting, but Making with a capital M: self-motivated, challenging, while working as a group both with and without the latest technology?’

Activities & personal experience

Each morning we split up into small groups and were given interesting (but near impossible) timed challenges such as ‘make a magic machine’, the ‘marshmallow challenge’ or the ‘spaghetti challenge’. In the afternoons each group worked on its own project. My group created a ‘care tree’ to help people become aware of and manage their own stress levels. Connected to interactive clothing, it radiated ambient light, or played music, meditation and nature sounds, depending on one’s stress levels or the amount of time one has spent alone (which can itself be a cause and symptom of wider social anxiety).

Using a Bare Conductive touch board, conductive paint, the shop-bot, to make a wooden tree and a digital sewing machine for the embroidery designs and for embedding the sensors in the clothing we used interactive LED lights, self build arduinos and conductive thread, all with a tingling result.

Everybody got stuck in with whatever aspect they enjoyed most. The entire project was chosen and shaped by the group as a whole, while the end-product radiated evidence of each individual member’s curiosity, creativity and motivation.

So how can all this experience and these new skills be translated into the classroom?

One of the ongoing debates was how to create a framework for making in the classroom. Inventor and professor Eibert Draisma’s students taught us the need for a small framework that offers a possibility to go very deep and contains a broad range of solutions, such as ‘design something that suggests it’s alive, and use an Arduino’, which became a liberating approach for me.

According to Astrid Poot lecturer, writer, maker and Creative Director Youth and Family projects, in order to create you need: Wonder (something beautiful, unexpected); Design (a problem, challenge and solution) and a Promise (something useful that you learn). Bring all that together and you get some awesome creations!

An important milestone of the session was the CineKid Festival, in which children are in charge and given the opportunity to play freely with technological applications. CineKids’ main advice for engaging kids is also a warning to any passive tech-media hungry individual: don’t be fooled into thinking that because you know how to use tech, you know anything about how or why it works. – Get curious about the systems that lie behind it and you can reclaim power about how you (or any of us) spend time with our gadgets.

“Don’t let yourself be excluded, technology is made by 2% of the population but used by 100% of them. By giving kids an understanding of the systems that lie behind the black box that technology often is, they can make free choices.”

In the end…

The main feeling I left with at the end of this flurry of fabrication, is that I have lost my ‘fear of freedom’. With access to materials (even a minimal amount), enough time set aside, a clear context and framework, and plenty of available help, there’s a lot of opportunity to give students space to invent, make and solve.

Given these freedoms – and, just as importantly, the specific constraints – human curiosity and creativity can ignite in ways that keep you working for days on end, forgetting to eat, sleep or even breathe. Although I’m relieved to finish (after all, everyone needs their food, sleep and oxygen!), a deeper part of me is eager to return, to exploit the realms of my imagination, the ingenuity of the group and the opportunity to make something the world has never seen.

I think that’s the sort of challenge that might get anyone’s students inspired – I recommend you try it for yourself!

Karien Stroucken
Workshop Associate, Institute of Imagination

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