@nickweinberg There’s been a lot of debate about what it takes for kids to effectively compete in the 21st century. Angela Duckworth and Paul Tough (author of How Children Succeed) talk about the importance of character and grit. Others such as Carol Dweck focus on the importance of a growth mindset, which imbues kids with the motivation and productivity necessary for success.
When I first started Sparklelab, not a lot of people understood what kind of community we were and what we were trying to achieve. So I invited a group of parents and educators for a brown bag lunch and I asked them what were the two most important attitudes or dispositions they wished their kids would develop in school settings or in non-formal education spaces such as Sparklelab. The top two answers were curiosity and creativity.
It is interesting to note that Duckworth, Tough, Dweck and the parents I met with did not cite hard skills or content knowledge as the key to success – rather, they focused on attitudes and dispositions they wished kids would have, which range from empathy to leadership, from passion and creativity to collaboration.
I’ve worked with kids for quite a while now, mostly in non-formal education settings. And I love it. Afterschool programs, maker spaces, summer camps – these are places where I as an educator have the luxury of working with kids using an ecological approach to youth development. Yes, we code. And we learn about circuits, too. And we design games and create toys that light up and move. We learn about character development, the importance of storytelling, and how to produce films. But we also learn to play fair. To be kind. To try and understand each other’s points of view. We learn that leadership has many faces and can take many different forms: sometimes it is take-charge and assertive, other times quiet encouragement. We learn to work with kids of all ages – from 5 to 33! And what’s beautiful is that everyone contributes something, sees something in a way no other person does – and as such our community is enriched. We learn that it’s okay to fail and that things are usually way better the second time around anyway. And we learn to be human. To celebrate each others’ awesomeness and put up with each others’ shortcomings – believing in the kindness of one another because we’re a team.
I know that with all the fanfare of maker spaces and STEM, so much importance is placed on knowledge and skills that are easy to measure through tests – that translate to entrance in elite universities, well-paid jobs, etc. But I think it is also important for such spaces to be places where kids can develop a sense of self, have fun, goof around, and be exhilarated by possibility and feel empowered that they, too, can make things possible.