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Making mayhem: The perils of project-based learning

Some kids won’t ever be makers. A common belief among the maker crowd is that everyone is a maker. I want to believe this is true, and it’s my goal as an educator to try to prove it to all kids. I want every kid to experience that feeling you get when you create something. Some kids just don’t see the value in toiling away to create something that they can buy at the store for $10, especially when their version doesn’t look as nice and or work as well.

Kids aren’t as creative as everyone makes them out to be. I know this sounds like a terrible thing for a parent or educator to say, but it’s true. We’re told that kids are these magical little creatures that are just brimming with fantastic ideas, and that if we just give them the chance they will shine. The fact is that creativity is a skill that has to be taught, just like any other. Most kids have had their creativity stifled along the way, and so they must relearn this skill. Creativity can be taught and nurtured and refined, and we have to create environments in which this can happen. Just don’t be surprised when a group of kids fails to amaze you with their creativity. This is not to say that I am not often blown away by the ideas that kids come up with; I am. But I’m also frequently not blown away. I don’t find this discouraging; it just reinforces the idea that for me, teaching creativity is as important as teaching literacy.

I am a full-fledged supporter of the maker movement, but I know it’s not all fun and games. It’s messy, frustrating, and even depressing when it’s not going well. We can learn from each other and find out what works and what doesn’t, but there will always be challenges that lead us to question our approach.

Of course, if it were easy, then everyone would be doing it. And if we want kids to be motivated by their failed attempts, then we’d better be sure that they see us doing the same. Hats off to all those who fight the good fight.

Wes Terrell

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