All these stories

The following post was originally written on the FCS Makerspace Blog on my last day at Friends’ Central. 

As I look around the makerspace on my last day as a teacher at FCS, I am struck by all of the stories I see around me:



the trash can that speaks up on behalf of beginners


the tangible equations that turned into roller coasters


the teachers that were learners in afternoon workshops


the Significant Objects that took students to Maker Faire

…and for a moment I think about how important it is that each of these stories be handed down to the next cohort of students and teachers who work and learn in the makerspace. There are hundreds of decisions and stories and moments captured in objects all around. The space itself is a snapshot of years of thinking and care. Won’t something be lost if these objects are stripped of their stories and nuance?

The answer: that’s the wrong question to ask.  Continue reading

Compulsive, complicit

In the last few months I designed and completed a small-scale, qualitative research study on what teenagers think of social media and how they feel about their usage of it. Spoiler alert: it’s not a particularly rosy picture. (See the title of this post for a hint about their behavior and about our role in it.)

Rather than writing up my findings, I present them in the style of a podcast. I do this for two reasons:

  1. Listeners need to hear these messages from the kids themselves. Their words, not filtered by my pen and stripped of their intonations and pauses, need to be felt directly. Their voices matter.
  2. You can’t skim or multi-task when listening to an audio story. You can’t read the first sentence of every paragraph and think you get the big idea. You need to listen. And I hope you do — because their voices matter.


To hear the initial interview with “Max,” as described above, listen here:

4 years in 2 minutes

For the last 4 years, my professional life has been immersed in student-driven, interdisciplinary, and project-based learning experiences in the makerspace. This winter, Josh and I condensed our best thinking and our favorite projects into a 2-minute interactive video.

Viewing suggestion: Watch once all the way through. Watch again and click on the pulsing bullseyes for more information about what you are seeing. Click here to check out the video (opens in a new tab).

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 11.05.18 AM

Click here for a non-interactive version of the video on YouTube.

Teach a man to fish…

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

We’ve all heard that one before, but I have some questions: who is teaching the man? And how? (And, just to be clear, it’s not just men who need to eat and are capable of fishing, right?)

I spent the MLK Day of Service last weekend helping pack 500 bagged lunches for hungry people in Philadelphia. In the metaphor of the proverb, that was a whole lot of fish. (To give credit to the facilitators of the day’s activities, there was as much time spent building bridges between communities and examining privilege and difference as anything else. The sandwiches were a catalyst and a useful byproduct.) But as I thought ahead to the more worthwhile goal of teaching 500 people to fish, I saw that that too comes up short, even metaphorically:  Continue reading

Quakers & makers

I watch the maker movement’s entrance into education from an uncommon vantage point: I teach and run a makerspace at an independent Quaker school. As an independent school we navigate our own path around state-mandated curricula and tests; as teachers at a Quaker school we are politically and ethically engaged educators, steeped in values of community, equality, and deep respect for the individual; and in our makerspace teachers and students share their projects and experiences as case studies for other schools to consider. When students left campus and summertime settled in last year, I realized that my perspective lets me see something pretty surprising: I’ve found that the characteristics that are radical about maker communities and Quaker communities are also the very things that make them similar.  Continue reading

An epistemology of hugs

This blog post comes with an activity: please stop reading, step away from the screen, and go hug someone.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.


…Did you do it yet? No? I told you I’d wait. Go ahead.


Okay, welcome back. So, what did you learn about that person by giving him or her a hug? That your friendship wasn’t quite as close as you thought? Or that life is short and we ought to express affection for one another more often? Or maybe that you need to buy your friend a new stick of deodorant?

Or maybe this: I think that when you give someone a hug, you learn how tall they really are.

Think of it this way: if I tell you that I am 6’2″, you can do some interesting things with that information:

  • (6 * 12) + 2 = I am 72 inches tall
  • (10 * 12) = basketball hoops are 120 inches off the ground
  • (102 – 72) + (the diameter of a basketball) – (the length of my arm) = how high I would need to jump in order to dunk

Or maybe you could calculate my wingspan and measure how many of me it would take, fingertip to fingertip, to wrap around the world. Or stacked head to toe, how many of me it’d take to reach the moon.

But if you give me a hug, you’ll learn how tall I am in a different way: where your arms reach as we connect, if you need to stand on your toes, or if your head fits above or below my shoulder when we touch. It’s all too easy to dismiss the value of embodied knowledge; how many of you skipped the activity and figured you could piece it together if you just kept reading? You can do lots of things with the knowledge that I am 72″ tall, but you come to know it in a different way when you relate to it more personally.

And that’s the thesis of learning through making. I teach in a makerspace because I want to invite students to interact more intimately with their own developing understanding. I want students to know what it feels like to wrap their arms around an idea.

Not so much a blueprint as a recipe

In my five years of teaching computer science, addressing the gender gap has been my biggest struggle. When I was first hired to teach two high school elective computer science classes, there was a grand total of four students registered. In the years since, the computer science program has grown, reaching all 7th and 8th grade students and now approaching full enrollment in the two high school classes. Yet that first year with 25% female representation was the closest to gender parity the high school electives have ever seen.

The gender gap in computer science is an international and well-documented problem. Last year many major tech companies released demographic information about their workforces and it was confirmed, again, that women and minorities are problematically underrepresented in technical jobs. By releasing this data the companies were taking steps to address the issue, and one key factor in addressing the issue involves examining the companies’ applicant pools. But then a closer look at the demographics of the applicant pools shows that the demographics of graduates with advanced degrees in computer science are just as skewed. And so then we can look at undergraduate programs, and next to high school programs. And there I was, with never more than 2 girls in a high school computer science class at a time, feeling like a contributor to a problem that I had meant all along to address.

Well, it looks as if things will be changing next year: of the 20 students signed up to take the Computer Science 1 elective, 12 of them are female. The class somehow overshot gender parity, and I’m delighted.
Continue reading