Teaching Kids to Make (THATCamp Report)

kids on a playground merry-go-round

We’re at the point in our coverage of the recent the two recent THATCamps—Prime and LAC—that I don’t even have any good jokes to lead off with. George has provided you with links to many of the different collaborative documents that were created at the two camps, as well as personal reflections on what took place. Mark reported on the session that he led on building a better backchannel. And Heather provided the valuable perspective of a non-humanist attending her first THATCamp.

One of the things that I love about a THATCamp is the call to have more hack and less yak. You’re encouraged to come out of sessions having done or made something concrete. In some cases, what you make might be a list of ways to improve a backchannel or a collaboratively written set of notes about project management. In other cases, you might finish a session having built a WordPress theme from scratch. Whether you believe that digital humanities depends on building things or not, it can be tremendously exciting to feel as though you’ve completed a project (or several) in one day…especially compared to how slow progress can often feel when you are writing. (Of course, there’s our “Writer’s Boot Camp” series to help with that!)

If it’s possible to get a bunch of scholars, graduate students, and alt-ac people psyched about making, building, and learning, I’ve found myself wondering to what extent it might be possible to get my kids excited in a similar fashion. We’re a couple of weeks into summer vacation here, and we’re already casting about for additional science experiments to run that lure the kids away from the easier entertainment of fighting with one another. Trying to figure out how I can bring the hacking home with the Prof at the end of the day is one of the reasons that I led a session on THATCamp Junior.

I’ve written up the results of the session and our plans for the first THATCamp Junior project on my own website. Our goal is to get the kids making in a self-directed manner. We’ve opted to go with a movie project; the kids will script, film, act, and edit (with some help at the iMovie controls). The project will happen later this summer, and I’ll be excited to share the results.

As I prepare to teach again this coming year, I’m trying to think about how I can encourage self-directed making in the college classroom. In fact, such building by undergraduates is the subject of an electronic roundtable I’m co-leading at the next MLA Convention with Kathi Berens. Trying to bring a little bit of THATCamp to my students on a weekly basis is one of my goals.

In the meantime, however, I’m still thinking about how to help kids younger than 18 learn to make. As I’ve kicked this idea around, I’ve stumbled on some good leads: Jason has previously written about reaching students through letting them build stuff and about sending his son to game design camp. I spoke with Dan Cohen at THATCamp about doing projects from Make magazine with his kids. Eric Johnson shared links to a series of short documentaries made “Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student.”

I know that we’re not all parents (nor even uncles, aunts, godparents, or cousins) here. But we’re all teachers of one stripe or another, and I’m willing to bet we can learn from one another. What ways have you found to encourage kids of all ages to make and build? Please share your experiences with us in the comments!


Lead image: Kids playing at Edwin Pratt Park, 2002 / Seattle Municipal Archives / CC BY 2.0

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