Tie And Jeans

Trying to Avoid the Buzzword Sting – #dtk12 and #makered

There are a bunch of things to write about. This is today’s.

Marty Cantwell and Lindsey Own, two women I’m thrilled and privileged to have as Twitter colleagues  run the exciting whirlwind of #dtk12chat. That conversation pulls in so many voices, and spins off so many threads, that it dominates my feed for hours on Wednesday, even when I’m not actively following the tag.

So when I saw this prompt for Wednesday’s chat, I felt a bit of existential chill.

Design Thinking. Maker Ed. Genius Hour. Those are all “power words” in certain circles, and seeing them all laid out together on a fight card brings a foreboding cloud.

Mary’s right that these aren’t oppositional terms, and that there’s no reason for a substantive conversation about them to adopt an oppositional tone.


But they’re words of power, words that can provoke a response from an audience  maybe even trigger an action – words that might make things happen in schools, where things rarely do. When words carry that kind of power, they’re called into service more and more, buzzing into new conversations while they still might have some effect. These are words that bring out the eduhucksters.

Clearly, I’m in the thick of this. I grabbed a job title with one of them, and corralled it into a (thriving!) chat. But with those tasks accomplished, I’m hesitant about bringing them into polite conversation. Especially on Twitter, at the lightning pace of #dtk12chat, where 50 posts flash by while I’m trying to trim off a word.

I was only half joking when I called this a doctrinal fight. As the hucksters press forwards, churn books into TED Talks into PD series (all of which will drown out the educators doing the actual work), these words will become camps, will define allegiances  So I blanch, afraid that every time we use these words in big clumps brings closer the day we’re arguing about lemon vs parsley vs bulgar, instead of making something delicious. (Quiet down, stupid hunger. Blogging here).

So I’ll probably mute #dtk12chat this Wednesday, and try to avoid stumbling into conversations where I’m not helpful. But, here, for what counts as the record, is how I weave these giant terms together in my head. None of this is canonical  Whoever you are and wherever you are on the journey of make, all are welcome at this work bench as you are, to build and share something new.

Maker Ed, Maker Culture, is a mindset.

“…made by people no smarter than you.” There are many people who are much, much smarter than me, but the core of the Maker mindset is the assertion that being “smarter” does not make them ontologically distinct. Anyone has the ability and the right to build, remake, add to or hack their environment, tools, body, and push those changes into the wider world. In #makered, the 3D Printer /& Laser Cutter stuff is the literal smoke and mirrors that provide cover for those radical, transformative principles. We care about the fancy stuff those tools produce because they allow kids/new-Makers to produce materials that they had resigned to experiencing as consumers. CNC tools, soft circuits and code all allow create experiences that shatter ingrained notions of the possible. **

Design Thinking is a methodology.
The specific steps in the IDEA Design process provide a scaffold that supports almost any imaginative work. Plenty of work happens without explicitly calling out these steps. But as educators, design process is an essential tool to smash open old monolithic idols of unexamined creativity and privileged “innate” abilities, tools that democratize and demystify the creative process.

Genius Hour, 20% Time, is a tactic or technique for changing organizations.

I started thinking about 20% Time several years back, when struggling with what it means to teach in a world where the most powerful and widespread learning narratives are autodidactic fantasies. For educators, the operating principle of Genius Hour practices must echo the SF Brightworks mantra – “Everything is Interesting.” Given the right environment, with support, audience and external connection, a deep dive into any topic will produce a universe of ideas, linkages and complication. The Genius Hour practice serves as a testbed for these theories within more traditional/static organizations.

Can you use all of them in a sentence?
In a Genius Hour, I’d encourage my students to develop their own interests into tangible, vibrant projects using the Design Process, with the goal of supporting a Maker Mindset for all.

Why it doesn’t matter.

After our exchange this morning, Mary linked to Rebecca Cochran’s 2011 musings on Design Thinking as a methodology and a mindset. Sure. Ok, I can see that. Given a leisurely lunch, I’m sure Rebecca and I would find innumerable things to discuss about how individuals develop that mindset, or which cultural systems erode it. But there’s no value in the semantics of the thing.

If there’s a common thread across these three different terms, it’s the rejection of the pristine, universal “right” answer and its privileged space at the center of K–12. And yet! How many times have we had conversations with teachers that stir up concerns that they’re not doing MakerEd or Design Thinking properly. Like, maybe they should have some more training, and watch a few more TED talks. Maybe I can give them a checklist? Just to make sure they’re really doing “real” Genius Hour stuff. Or maybe they’ll just teach “normal” for another term, until the administration settles on wether they’re backing Design Thinking or ProjectBased Learning and commit to an August training. Suddenly we’ve fallen back from a broad platform of empowering students through engagement with challenges in their world, back into the same mire of authenticity and correctness, hesitant to reach out for the “wrong” support.


** To be clear, great learning experiences accomplish this same feat in any discipline. The first time you read a poem for an audience that responds, or if you ever saw prints emerge in a batch of developer fluid, or any of the innumerable hilights that many of us experienced in traditional school. The #makered doesn’t suggest those experiences were worthless, just that they were too rare!  Too rare for individuals, and too rare institutionally. 

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One thought on “Trying to Avoid the Buzzword Sting – #dtk12 and #makered

  1. Pingback: #Makered at VAIS | Tie And Jeans

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