The Maker Mindset

*Cross posted from’s blog and co-authored by Pam Moran.

A few weeks ago, some of our young people reminded us that “making” is a mindset that can occur any time, any place. During a snow day, a group of kids were co-opted by a local teenage video “maker” into creating and publishing a fabulous YouTube video, “Call Me Maybe, Josh Davis.” It represented the inherent passion and joy that surfaces when young makers get together and intersect talents, skills, and interests in a collaborative venture. They learned from and with each other. They sparked ideas and inventive thinking. They showed our community what happens when kids exercise their spontaneous and creative genius, use technology tools in powerful ways to communicate, and leave their mark upon an authentic audience.

We also see inventive potential when our elementary school students children construct their own cardboard arcade games for their school carnival, use chairs, tables, and unifix cube bridges to test bending movement and design engineering solutions to meet challenges pitched to them. The same potential is inherent in the creative genius of our teenagers who built their own 3-D printer, designed quadcopters and musical instruments, produced their own studio music and made document camera projectors for less than $100.

Making is a natural learning state for humans. It offers a different way to see the world through the practical lens of finding solutions to problems, conundrums, and perplexities embedded in daily life. Such opportunities stretch analytical, creative, and integrative thinking. They create multidimensional–hands-to-mind and mind-to-hands–processing that engages the mathematical and language centers of the brain.

Making offers integrated learning opportunities–the best of learning in any century. We see it in the collaborative efforts of Destination Imagination teams to design-build solutions to challenges. We see it in the gardens created and nurtured as part of a school’s own “grow local” effort for their school cafeteria.

But it’s not just about math, science, engineering and technology.

A hyper-focus on STEM content knowledge is great if we want our children to be the next generation of skilled technicians and workers. But, for us, the hacker/maker movement is about creating the next generation of entrepreneurs, creators and inventors. That’s what adding the “A” to STEM gets at–a necessary injection of the creative arts shifting STEM to STEAM. We believe whether it’s the advanced manufacturing spillover influence from the University of Virginia’s engineering school into our elementary school digital fabrication labs or our year-round Irish-influenced coderdojos where kids make games in Scratch, create websites with HTML, or work with Java, our children are moving back through these experiences to the natural learning that’s fueled America’s inventors, patent-makers, backyard mechanics, studio artists, NASA engineers, and skyscraper designers and builders.

A number of our Albemarle schools have been prototyping maker spaces in libraries, redesigned computer labs, hallway niches, and converted classrooms. We see the results in the energized work of young people to create, design, invent, engineer, and make. This summer we will partner with MakerCorps to create new pathways for young people to explore. Next year we will open Design 2015 teacher-developed maker space projects in a number of schools. We want our children to learn to use manual tools and much more.

In today’s environment, digital tools are often very necessary in early-stages of “making” — drawing or programming to make something else do something. But consider the tools, materials, skills and knowledge that is necessary to make that something else and get it to do something. How many educators are readily equipped with the skills (or recognize the underlying progressive education philosophy) to do this work? How can we increase the number of colleagues who recognize the value of this educational experience?

We see the connectivity of the MakerCorps summer project work with children as offering a different kind of interactive professional development for teachers who will partner in this hands-on maker experience using a variety of traditional and contemporary technologies. The MakerCorps offers us an opportunity to draw young people graduating from our MESA Academy, a real-deal maker program, into serving as mentors for both our children and the teachers with whom they will interact.

We are at a turning point in human history–a rising tide of a culture of participation in global networks that open doors of which we humans have never dreamed. We must remember, “making” at its core, is about “teaching” kids to view the world (not just school) in a completely different way. It’s about empowerment and ownership of destiny. The ability to wonder and dream is great but realizing that one can “make something happen” is a very powerful thing.

Many of us talk about what’s wrong with the world (our work, our culture, etc)—we opine about what needs to change and wonder about something better. But very few of us actually do much of anything about it. We tinker around the edges at best. We are mostly admirers of problems rather than solvers of them. Public schools, very much by design, perpetuate that. And most educators, by default, are products of public schools. It’s a vicious cycle.

So moving kids from compliant listeners to wonderers and dreamers is the first step to be sure. The ultimate goal must be to move them from dreamers to doers. And ultimately, we hope later in life, to changemakers.

But in order to make our own dream a reality — we’ll need to reflect and move ourselves and colleagues along that continuum. No small challenge. Where are we today? Where is your faculty and staff? Your child’s teacher? Or you, as a parent? There’s a lot for all of us to think about. And to Make.

UPDATE: The result of our initial Summer of Making:

B Corporations Coming to Virginia

The Virginia General Assembly just swung the gate open for social entrepreneurs by approving legislation allowing businesses in Virginia incorporate as “benefit corporations.” HB 2358, introduced by Del. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), at the nudging of Michael Pirron, CEO of Impact Makers, sailed through the House and Senate unopposed and is expected to go into effect July 1st. This makes the Old Dominion among the first states in the U.S. to pass such legislation, joining Vermont and Maryland, plus a handful of others currently considering it. (Learn more about the greater B Corporation movement here.)

A summary of the Virginia version can be found here—but in simpler terms, a B Corp is (kinda) like a business/non-profit hybrid, whereby a profit-making venture formally establishes a social mission into its corporate charter.  (I wrote about the LLC version here). Unlike so many CSR initiatives, though—that are often simply veils for compliance or PR—a B Corp registration has teeth. For instance, the company has a fiduciary duty to fulfill its social mission, there are no tax advantages, and they must produce and publicly display an annual report of social impact.

So this isn’t about greenwashing, marketing, or financial loopholes. This is about social enterprise. Doing well by doing good. Triple bottom lines. Granted, that’s not to say someone won’t attempt to game the system—but, in this arena, they won’t last. True social innovators are hardcore, passion-driven folks and will fight to protect their space.

Coincidentally, I’ve been a voracious autodidact of social entrepreneurship for some time. The academic field is still in its infancy, and, for the most part, still sequestered at the MBA-level in elite institutions. Nothing wrong with that—knowledge is emerging, ideas are spreading, coursework is expanding, and social ventures are popping up all around.

But I’m ready for the idea make it to the masses. I’m ready for social innovation to grow organically from within the communities it aims to benefit. I want the people who grew up, live, and work in a community to think of themselves as social innovators. And for them to have the tools to innovate in their communities or anywhere on the globe.  I’ll be teaching a Topics in Social Entrepreneurship course this fall.  Here’s the description:

An emerging and rapidly developing field, social entrepreneurship is about creating and leading organizations that strive to solve social problems through innovative solutions. These “social ventures” can be for-profit, nonprofit, or a hybrid of the two; and often blur the traditional boundaries of the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. This course introduces students to the history, theory and emerging activities of social entrepreneurship; examines the application of entrepreneurial thinking and business strategies to address community and societal issues; explores management skills for social entrepreneurial organizations, scaling of social impact, and social performance measurement; and investigates the unique range of issues and challenges facing the new social venture.

It’s exciting to see social entrepreneurship gaining momentum in our fair Commonwealth.

Rethinking Capitalism

There are only a few people whose writing and ideas have the ability to shift the way entire sectors fundamentally operate. Michael Porter is one of those folks. His thoughts on strategy permeate organizations; you’ve likely experienced the effects of his work, even if you don’t know his name. He’s the guy behind the “value chain“, there’s probably not a business leader alive who hasn’t read What is Strategy, and my b-school brethren couldn’t forget the Five Forces Analysis if we tried.

Well, Michael Porter just dropped another bomb with his cover article in the newest issue of HBR. The idea, Creating Shared Value, is a 13-page indictment of capitalism’s latest incarnation and a convincing call to action. He argues, quite effectively, that it’s time for a redefinition of the corporation and a reinvention of capitalism.

Not sure if this idea will have that “Porter-impact” and staying power as his previous ones. Time will tell. Meanwhile, you can find the full article online here, or get a sampling from the video below.

Lean Thinking

Educational leaders across the country are sharpening their pencils in preparation for another tough budget cycle. In light, I’m reminded of this great piece in the Washington Post penned by U.Va. Darden School of Business Dean Bob Bruner and the even better follow-up on his blog. Take the time to read both.

In short, I pulled these three pearls on what lean thinking should really mean:

The dire challenge posed by the financial crisis and our experience in responding to it offers at least three lessons.

Leadership. Going lean is not an exercise to be relegated to the time-and-motion experts. Leadership is indispensable. The leader (at the top, middle, or at the front line of the organization) has to set the tone of lean thinking–it can’t just be about cost cutting; it must be about transforming the organization for high performance; it can’t justbe thinking about doing with less money, it must be about working differently. If all you want to do is cut costs, then you don’t need a leader; you need a technician. This is the central difference between the lean thinkers and the cost-cutters.

Harness the network. As the saying goes, there is more knowledge in the network (such as your community or the Internet) than in the heads of the few people immediately around you. The best ideas come from people distant from the CEO (such as the front line). Therefore the leader must learn to listen well. Going lean isn’t simply a matter of a top-down directive. This means that the senior leader has to engage in outreach and facilitation with a cross-section of people. As we teach at Darden, the term, “leader,” isn’t reserved for the supremo at the top of the organization—leaders can be found throughout organizations. You must lead from where you are, wherever you are. From there you must work the network.

Patience and persistence. Lean thinking entails a culture change within an organization, and culture change takes time. Tangible progress may not be immediately visible. The best lean operators are relentless in their pursuit of muda—and over time they show dramatic advantages in quality and cost over their competitors.

Difficult decisions are inevitable and we must carefully consider every resource allocation. What’s the impact of each investment? How will we project and evaluate that impact? The choices we make, as Dean Bruner suggests, will separate the leaders from the technicians.

Are We Preparing Developers or Producers?

In many cases, companies that are based in the US can’t survive on the global market because they don’t have innovative products or the qualified workforce required to develop them. -Rolf Langhammer, German Economist

The above quote is noteworthy for two reasons:

First, the workforce diss wasn’t uttered in the same tired “ed reform” rhetoric we hear each day. In fact, U.S. public education issues weren’t even on the radar. It appeared in an international publication where Langhammer, vice president of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, was being interviewed about the currency war and the revaluation of the Chinese yuan. Important context.

Second, he’s right—we don’t have the qualified workforce, and won’t, because our schools simply aren’t designed to teach kids how to develop anything—they were designed, a century ago, to create a population of product producers (more here). What’s worse, many of the current popular reforms will not only perpetuate, but actually exacerbate this serious problem.

The video below does a beautiful job explaining and framing this issue. I strongly encourage watching the whole thing.

We know we’re shifting from globalization toward “globality”. We know soft skills are critical for success. We know there is a looming higher education gap. We know almost all of the nation’s net new jobs come from entrepreneurs.

Yet, most public schools can only offer scant exposure to world languages, the arts, cultural studies, entrepreneurialism, technology infusion, project-based learning and other activities that clearly contribute to needs of the new knowledge economy.

In addition to the “three R’s” and STEM, we should be graduating kids who—at minimum—have learned to play a musical instrument, have experienced a robust arts curriculum, can speak a second language, have some college credit, are financially literate, have participated on a team, can manage the ever-increasing volume and velocity of information, have taken a course online, and have an appreciation for other cultures inside our borders and across the globe.

Yes, I’m suggesting “at minimum”.

And that’s not pie-in-the-sky eduspeak. That’s an economic reality.

We simply don’t value, in terms of policy and funding, the very things that are imperative to our economic future. But one thing’s for sure—we’ll be incredibly prepared for a bygone industrial age.

Update: ASCD reminds me to revisit Yong Zhao’s work on this topic.

My One Wish: To Be Superman

To DelvinTyreNickJoshLynwood and Anthony, Chad, Anthony E., Cornett, Jason and Tasha, Steven and DominiqueShavon, and those whose names are unreleased:

I think of you guys often. Each of you were in one of my classes, on one of my teams, or in one of my programs at some point during the near decade I worked in the high school you attended.

But I failed you.

You weren’t one of the kids for whom I fiercely advocated much beyond my scheduled time with you. I didn’t go to your home to tell to your mom or grandma I believed in you. I didn’t ask you to come to my room during my planning block so you could do your homework in peace. I didn’t ask you to eat lunch in my office to talk about college, the world, your potential, or to simply stay out of trouble.

And I didn’t collaborate with your other teachers to unearth your hidden talents and discover common challenges. I didn’t teach you how to navigate the system of schooling. I didn’t connect you to key community members to be there if I couldn’t. I didn’t tell the principal and your teachers to let me know each and every time you slipped. I didn’t introduce you to my wife down in the English department so you’d have another place to go. I didn’t accompany you to the police station if you got in trouble.

I simply didn’t do the things for you that I did for many of your classmates or team-members that faced the same challenges.

But I would have.

It wasn’t a deliberate choice—I just ran out of time. And, ultimately, I ran out of physical energy and emotional stamina. Knowing I had the ability to make a larger impact on your lives, which perhaps could’ve altered the path of self-destruction upon which you traveled, also made it hard to sleep at night. I finally had to take a short break from education.

I’ve since returned and am working in another district. I’m not in a classroom anymore, or even a building, but I think about getting back “in the trenches” often. I happened to spend some time last year as a substitute principal at one of our elementary schools. While there, I met and learned lots about a young fellow and the home enviroment from which he comes to us. He was troubled and angry.

He reminded me so much of you.

I made a few calls to get him some support both inside and outside of school, but, like my time with you, I felt largely powerless. When I walked out of that school one afternoon, I cried.

I cried because I know.

I know that regardless of how hard we try, or how much we care, or no matter how high we can get his test scores—this child’s future is vulnerable. Maybe it’s indeed impossible for us to help each child navigate the perils of poverty in the short time we have them in our care. But I believe, with all my heart, we must try. “If not us, who? If not now, when?”, as someone whom I deeply admire likes to quote.

I learned from that brief elementary school experience that I’m not quite ready to go back into the building, and, honestly, I’m not sure I ever will be. But I promise that I’ll never forget you and what you taught me. And I’ll always fight like hell to provide the best educational opportunities for every student.

You’ll never know the madness of educational policy propaganda, hostility, and political ideologues from both sides throwing garbage in the path toward that end. But it’s worth fighting through. Lives depend on it.

I just wish I could’ve been your Superman.

Teacher Salaries as a Percentage of GDP

From the new McKinsey report, Closing the Talent Gap: Attracting and retaining top-third graduates to careers in teaching, the chart below shows the change in U.S. teacher salaries as a percent of GDP per capita since 1970, and then benchmarked against other professions using 2008 data:

McKinsey identifies South Korea, Finland, and Singapore as the top performing nations in terms of education. This chart offers up how the U.S. (light blue) stacks up against the trio (orange) and other countries with regard to teacher salaries and GDP: