What is the purpose of today’s library? Is it “just another dusty bookshelf” (Graves)? Or maybe just another “warehouse—a place to go to get things” (Foote)? Or are “today’s libraries incubators, collaboratories, the modern equivalent of the seventeenth-century coffeehouse: part information market, part knowledge warehouse, with some workshop thrown in for good measure” (Colegrove)? My favorite definition of what today’s libraries are is simple. Literacy. But “[not] just print literacy; we are about ‘understanding the world we live in’ literacy” (Foote). This is great, and exactly what we need. We need a place where we can come and understand the world, not a place to come check out a book. Colleen Graves, a school librarian at Lamar Middle School in Flower Mound, Texas says that “at [her] school, students now see the library as a place where they not only belong, but a place where they can become a cutting-edge leader.” In a world where everything and everybody are constantly being judged and compared, having an environment free of comparison, free of judgement, free to be who you are and passionately seek after what you love, this has the potential to dramatically shift education into 21st century learning.
Graves makes a vital point when discussing successful workshops in their school’s library makerspace.
The key to successful workshops was letting the teens choose what workshops we would hold.
This is a great way to engage timid or quiet students. An example Graves used in her article was a student who stepped up to lead a Minecraft workshop during their one of their “Mayker Monday” events. The student’s teachers were so surprised he “volunteered to lead others” that they came to the library to ask if the student really was leading the workshop. If that’s not enough proof that makerspaces work, then I’m not sure what else is. Reaching out to these “quite and reserved” students has always been a challenge in school. But if we present opportunities where these students can lead their peers in something they love doing, there’s no telling where the possibilities might lead. Graves followed up with saying that this “quite and reserved” student “felt ownership in the library and felt like it was not only a safe place, but also a place where he could grow.”
Makerspaces are great, but as Tod Colegrove said, they have “been happening for thousands of years.” We just lost touch of what a library is for, or we failed to stay current with our advancing, tech-society. We need to think bigger. What if we had schools that were makerspaces? Woah. There is a school in Los Angeles that is disrupting education. A lot of people are uncomfortable with A School Day That’s All About Play (especially parents), but at the PlayMaker School, they are doing just that, playing.
This school is really pushing the boundaries of education, and it’s wonderful. Another great read that dives into a little more detail on this school is A School That Ditches All The Rules, But Not the Rigor. Ted Wakeman, an educator at the PlayMaker School in LA, was drawn to the playmaker approach because he “grew disillusioned with how students were forced to learn.” His views are aligned up perfectly with the PlayMaker School:
When we talk about the area of a trapezoid or when King Tut died…, might these things be important to a small sliver of the population? Sure, but data in the 21st century, I can look on my phone and in 20 seconds get the answer to pretty much anything. So shouldn’t we be teaching broader skill sets, encouraging curiosity, creative thinking?
This nails it for me. I remember in middle school, high school, and even college—I was that kid that asked, “Why do I need to know this?” I didn’t care about when the fourth battle of the Revolutionary War started. I didn’t care about the Pythagorean theorem. Memorizing that did nothing more than get me a higher test score on my school’s standardized test. I didn’t really learn anything except that I needed to plug this number into here and that number into there. A quick Google search leads straight to a Wikipedia page that tells me the theorem is a2 + b2 = c2. Wakeman is right. We can find basically anything we want on the internet. So why are we teaching these monotonous, memorizing-based facts? Shouldn’t we be teaching 21st century skills, like navigation literacy? In a previous article I wrote, Navigating the Web 2.0 for Social Learning, I quoted John Seely Brown in his article Learning, Working & Playing in the Digital Age. Hepredicts that navigation will be a new form of literacy in the 21st century:
What I want to suggest, though, is that the new literacy, the one beyond just text and image, is one of information navigation. I believe that the real literacy of tomorrow will have more to do with being able to be your own private, personal reference librarian, one that knows how to navigate through the incredible, confusing, complex information spaces and feel comfortable and located in doing that. So navigation will be a new form of literacy if not the main form of literacy for the 21st century.
Everyone knows the saying, “Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” The PlayMaker School in LA understands this. They aren’t concerned about their kids memorizing meaningless facts and numbers. They are concerned that their students are learning how to learn.
Barseghian, Tina (2014 July). A School That Ditches All the Rules, But Not the Rigor
Barseghian, Tina (2014 July). A School Day That’s All About Play
Colegrove, Tod. (2013, March). Editorial Board Thoughts: Libraries as Makerspace?
Foote, Carolyn. (2013, September) Making Space for Makerspaces
Graves, Colleen (2014, March) Teen Experts Guide Makerspace