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April 3, 2016
by: Ted Hamm

A Parent Maker Night Primer

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Dear Parents, Students, Staff, and Friends:

Residencies offer the opportunity for our students and staff to interact with professionals. In the past we have had artists in residence, like Mark Denning at ESAA, and we have had professionals serve as long-term consultants on projects, like our Walk on Water project or City Design project in IDEAS engineering and Mosaic social studies courses respectively . We even hire teachers who are working as professional artists outside of school; you may have seen Stuart’s work at local exhibitions or heard one of Drew’s bands at a local music festival. In order to prepare students for the professional world, we believe it is essential that our schools incorporate professional perspectives to continue to foster creative and innovative thinking through authentic, real world projects.

We are excited to be starting a residency with Erica Halverson this coming week, and even more excited that this residency is an opportunity to bring parents into the experience of working with a professional in education. Erica is a professor at the University of Wisconsin - Madison and she studies “making” and the maker movement, among many things. At the John Michael Kohler Arts Center on Tuesday, April 5th from 6:30 - 8:00 pm, Erica will help all of us become makers. The parent event on Tuesday night is part of a larger series of events including a community conversation with local organizations interested in creating makerspaces, and staff training on how to best embed making into student learning. We are excited to be able to share our learning and development with our community.

If we take a moment to think about it, most of us will realize that we are already people who make things. We have to make things to survive, to express our ideas, and to solve problems. The thing is, we don’t always look around to understand the factors that go into what we are making and why. For me, the concept of making is intriguing on many levels. As a parent, I want to understand how I can get my kids to turn off of the TV and engage in making at home. They have mounds of legos, a circuit board, and even kids tools for building. As a parent, how do I effectively engage them in making so they are learning while playing at home. As a long time community member, I also want to explore how we as a community can create public maker spaces for our kids. We are community with all of the pieces in place. If we can bring the right people together under Erica’s guidance, we can create a space such as one Erica helped build in Madison called The Bubbler. Lastly, as a set of schools, we have embedded making into the heart of student learning. We challenge students to solve problems through making and to express ideas through making. We do this because we see increased engagement from our students in their own learning which leads to better retention and deeper understanding.

The maker movement in the educational setting encourages us to pay attention to how interactions with environments and people nurture what we create. I encourage you to read more about Erica and the maker movement in this article. More importantly, I encourage you to join us for the experience that Erica has prepared for us and the great conversations that will follow on Tuesday night.

Last year, we conducted a few small focus groups to better ascertain how we can best engage parents in our instructional model. The message was very clear, engage parents the same way you engage students, through thoughtful events that are socially engaging. The Parent Maker Night on Tuesday is one of our first of what will be many nights such as this. Parents will be engaging in a game jam, which will ask parents to work in small teams to create a playable game by the end of the evening. We will then debrief the process we used and the thinking involved in the game making.

The best way to understand what our kids go through in our schools is to experience learning in the same way they do. As parents, you are invited, but I also want you to feel comfortable inviting friends who are curious about our educational approach and might benefit from experiencing it first hand. Please RSVP if you do plan on attending.



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