Read what our guest blogger Jose Antonio da Silva has to say about his experience with the Maker Movement.In a recent plenary for a Braz-TESOL local chapter event, Gisele Santos told us that we teachers were all makers. She was right: we really are. We are always planning lessons and creating materials for our classes. Our students, however, are in many occasions very passive participants in the learning process. We do try to get them involved, but we approach content with abstractions that require them to think without necessarily involving one of the most powerful tools they have: their hands. Having that in perspective, maybe we should rethink what we do in class and try to design activities that make use of brain/hand coordination more often and use the required language as a tool to accomplish making tasks.
One specific event was what made me ponder about the role of making in a language class and what it entails as a pedagogical practice. Just last week, I had the privilege of being a member of a group of educators invited to a makers’ workshop with Glauco Paiva. This event was sponsored by the American Embassy and had teachers from several institutions. My invitation was a maker kit: a brown bag with a package of white plastic straws and connecting pieces. The task was to create an object and send a picture to the organizers when I was done. In the beginning, I was a bit paralyzed but it did not take long for the child/maker in me to awake. A little clumsily, I started fiddling with the pieces and in my mind there were lots of possibilities: a Gaudi style cathedral, our national congress building, and so on.
Once the enthusiasm and the deluge of ideas receded, I had to deal with the constraints presented by the task, my limited designing skills, and the material I had in front of me. One may say constraints are a drawback, but on the contrary, they are the springboard of ingenuity. Limitations help bring to life the engineer in each one of us. Therefore, asking our students to make something with limited resources challenges their creativity and inspires them to strive for innovative solutions. So, as I played around with my maker kit, I first came up with spider. As my imagination ran wild, I saw how that spider was a metaphor for how this tinkering with my hands had taken over my digital life. I decided to capture that insight (see picture below). Some of my limitations did not allow me to snatch the full scope of this spider crawling over my laptop. I felt like a child and imagining myself telling this story about a spider. That is what making does, it starts with our hands and brain working together, but then it triggers other creative processes that are so important for learners young or old.
After examining my crawler for a while, I decided it was not good enough and said to myself that I could make something else: a bandstand. I dismantled the spider, got some scissors and cut every straw in two halves, put pieces together and got my bandstand with a swing in the center and little boy swinging. I was a bit disappointed because my boy would not stand upright, but it was clear to me what it was. At that moment I realized I could tell a whole story about that place, that character in the swing and the whole city around it. So, it was making with storytelling.
I know my designing skills are poor and the final product is crude. However, I also know that when it comes to making is the reflection that takes place afterwards that matters. Therefore, after playing I thought about what such an activity could to my students. Giving them an opportunity for using their hands to create something might prove to be a golden opportunity to exercise their minds, hands, and hearts. I could visualize the kind of language they could use while putting pieces together (conditionals, imperatives) and I could also see the stories they would tell about their final product. It would probably be an endless story because they would keep improving design, process, and the final product in their minds.