You could not have a more vivid demonstration of what I wrote about in my last column–the compelling appeal of DIY–do it yourself–than the robotics competition in which my 4th grade son is taking part right now. Around me I see an incredibly dynamic expression of tinkering involving every variety of young person: East Asian kids, South Asian kids, Caucasian kids, African American kids. Every brand of New Jersey family is here fiddling with robots, reprogramming, experimenting, and having a blast. Sure, there’s competition in the air (and pulse-pounding music). Yes, there are proud (and anxious) parents with cameras. But mostly there’s experimentation, experimentation, and more experimentation.
Robotics now is the soapbox derby, under-the-car-hood jiggling kids once did with their dads and uncles. It’s making, exploring, testing, trying, pure John Dewey learning by doing–and terrific fun. My sons play sports, so I go to quite a few baseball and basketball games. There, too, are families and friends, but it’s nothing like this. The sports events seem anxious–a cross between fear of failure and unrealistic hope–young people trying on fantasies of being professionals. But not here. This is more about imagination and effort than imaginary ESPN moments.
Many libraries already have robotics and Lego clubs and maker events. Those should be just the start of the programs we offer. We need to recognize how much young people want to build, to experiment, to master, and to compete. To that we can add the books, magazines, websites about these and similar projects and build a culture that connects reading and learning to making and competing. It should not be quiet books verses loud competitions. We need to create a flow, a circle: of ideas, information, and creation. Get the robotics team to write up their experiences to post on a school website and get a reading group to do research for the robotics team.
And here’s a news flash I just have to add:
Lee Berger, with whom I wrote The Skull in the Rock, is showing what his vision of “live science” really means. Lee is getting kids outside to become explorers, to be involved in discovery—a kind of worldwide science + scouting adventure—the robotics DIY spirit taken yet one step further. Now anyone can be an observer as Berger’s team works to recover ancient hominid fossils in a cave outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, via the Rising Star Expedition blog and twitter updates. Whether it’s kids making, or scientists sharing, this is the moment when science, history, archaeology, paleontology, and physics are all about knowledge taking shape in our hands, in front of our eyes. What a thrill.
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