The Language of Young Makers in Action.


We spent the first two weeks of this month bouncing between 4th-grade groups building Rube Goldberg machines and Kindergarten classes crafting balloon-powered cars.  There are striking similarities in these groups, especially for a teacher but the one that struck me the most this month was listening to the language of creation. The words the kids used as they navigated the cycles of success and frustration that is making.

We know words and language matter. We know that the phrases we adopt are a reflection, both intentional and subconsciously, of who we are and want to be. Even to an inarticulate 5-year-old, words have nuance and innuendo, and whether we like it or not the words used within our sphere have an impact on both our actions and our mood.

The language in a kinder class is usually carefully crafted, modeled by experts that know, that to the young ears around them a job has a sense of ownership and work does not. But in a maker setting, the talk is coming from the kids more than the adults. It is not careful or expert.

The language of a 10-year-old is more complex of course, but it is built on the same structure. So, I wondered, what does making sound like across a 5 year span?

Below is a representative sample of what I heard:

“How do you do this?”

We gonna need mas tape?

“Do you wanna start here?

Okay, you do the tape and I get to put on the wheels.

Dude, Dude dude, Test it and see how far off the ramp…

Da wheel won’t turn and I think we gotta make it turn to work.

Hey guys, what if we…

How cum dos guys got blue tape?

You’re not even listening to…

Did you have a way to…

What can we use to…

How come that didn’t work?

What if we make that go faster?

Hey, how did you do that?

Look look the tape is sticking to my eyeball.

The language of maker education is full of questions.  Divergent questions, evaluative questions, reflective questions and certainly rhetorical questions as well. The bulk of the conversations I listened in on, over the last two weeks were dominated by the self-perpetuation of engaged curiosity.

I didn’t think to keep a tally at the time, but I would guess roughly half conversations I heard and more of the questions themselves where simply students thinking out loud. (More of that self-talk in the kinder classes certainly.) As an old classroom teacher, I only knew a student was thinking during class after I read their paper over the weekend. Now, that thinking is heard the chatter of the room. It offers me auditory verification of engagement and agency. It also serves as a reminder that most of the time, for most of us, thinking is integrated with doing.

-I imagine Rodin’s Thinker would have solved his problem by now if he would just get up and do something.2009-04-08

As I was tracking as many conversations as I could in busy classrooms of bustling kids, that continually interrupted my note taking with questions, I kept thinking back to all those quoted stats about how much curiosity and questioning die when children get into school.

I have been teaching too long to doubt the validity of those statistics whatever the numbers are, but I also have little doubt that the data did not come from classes that were busy building stuff.


1 thought on “The Language of Young Makers in Action.

  1. Thanks for this…
    I recently attended a lecture on the makerspace movement and found this really resonated with that! UK research project MakEY is producing some superb findings on young children’s thinking development, creativity and navigation in modern world!

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