Recently, I asked my kids to share a couple of personal goals for the summer. One of the questions that I asked them was, “What would you like to create this summer?” My daughter (eight years old) decided that she wanted to create dolls and learn how to design clothes for them. I handed her an iPad and she started researching different methods that others use to create dolls. An hour or two later, she decided to start with a paper doll and a yarn doll. We took a trip to the craft store, picked out our favorite colors of yarn, and headed back home for an afternoon of doll-making.
For the next two days, my daughter went almost everywhere carrying a yarn doll. I asked her why she liked it so much and you can probably guess her answer. “Because we made her, dad. Other dolls are nice, but we didn’t make them.” Yesterday, I came home from work and saw a thick stack of “clothing” that she designed for her new paper doll as well. I enjoy watching my daughter play with dolls, but there is something really exciting about seeing her create the dolls herself and then play with them. I couldn’t help but think about the parallels with my philosophy of education, one that values self-directed learning, projects, and creation.
This led to another conversation about her use of the iPad. Using the example of the doll that she created, I explained that some apps on the iPad seem to be mainly consumption apps. They are like the dolls that you buy at the store. There are also creation apps. These allow you to create or design something for yourself. Of course, not every app fits neatly in one of these two categories, and she was the first to point that out. “What about apps where I practice things like math?” “I suppose that makes a third group dedicated to practice apps,” I replied. These are not carefully constructed categories but they communicate the general idea. We then spent time talking about some of the “creation” apps, and I explained that I love seeing her spend time with the creation apps, apps that allow her to create stop motion movies, record video messages to her friend, create her own comic strips, write letters and stories, or design fictional magazine covers. “I love doing those things too, dad.”
There is an interesting part in the Judeo-Christian creation account:
“Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.” – Genesis 2:19
Note that this was not a consumption activity. According to this account, one of humanity’s first “assignments” was a creation assignment. The animals were not pre-named and then it was our job to memorize those names. This was much more than rote memorization. It was to create names for the animals. As a parent and an educator, I want to keep the spirit of that first assignment alive in a 21st century education. Consumption is certainly an important part of life today. We can’t live without it. Yet, the educational endeavor is not adequately equipping people for life in the constantly changing 21st century landscape unless it places a high priority upon students learning to grow and learn by tinkering, designing, building, planning, and creating. One’s capacity to create is rapidly becoming one of the most universal currencies of the digital age.