Not Your Father’s Shop Class: Learning to be a Maker at the Exploratory


exploratoryJean Kaneko is a tinkerer. Being around her and the Exploratory, no adult or child can help himself or herself, you feel swept up in the ability to gather parts from open containers and start to make. Perhaps you are drawn to scraps of fabric to design your own plushie animal or you prefer to create your own video game with marshmallow controllers. Jean has joined together pieces to design, build, create and be a maker. She also draws together Lawrence Hall of Science, AmeriCorp, VistaCorp, USC BioMedical Engineers, social scientists, parents, teachers from all levels and all types of schools as easily as she assembled over 200 small wooden pieces to build a nerdy derby from an open space design at MIT or make a MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer print a “statue” of a board member from over 20 iPhone photos from 123D Catch.

Many people in American question, “What is wrong with education?” If you are ready to be part of the solution, drive to Culver City and come learn with Jean and her incredible team. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that the SAT will no longer penalize for guessing, obscure words will be removed and the essay will be optional. It is true that testing and authentic assessment in schools is a problem. It is an issue that teachers have been discussing for years at our Los Angeles Science Teacher Network Meetings. What rubric do you use to fairly measure students of different aptitudes? If students can be nine types of smart from Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind, how do we measure them?

Students are asking if school is worth going to? What will they learn? Will they be truly engaged? Will there be jobs for them at the end? Parents are worried if students are learning the right things. Michael Milken recently spoke to a sold out crowd of Wharton graduates about Global Prosperity in the 21st Century. What will make a difference to our future and our economy? “Education.” He said: “Lifelong learning and engaged citizens who care about themselves and our planet.”

How do we inspire lifelong learning and creative problem solving? With making. Last Wednesday night at the Milken Institute, Milken remarked that in the future on the International Space Station instead of bringing every spare part required they will use a 3D printer. On Thursday night at the Exploratory, I saw my first 3D printer and its results. It is a combination of art, science, sweat, tears and love to make all of these components work. Students and teachers are dedicated to understanding how to use rhino, maya, google sketchup, tinkerCAD and the other flavor of the month software programs to understand design and the many programs necessary in the steps to 3D printing. Being educated is a moving goalpost as the tools keep changing.

If we want to support entrepreneurship in schools and what we really want as parents, as partners, as members of a democratic republic, is engaged citizens who can evaluate new tools and choose wisely which politician to lead us or which software to learn, buy and work with we must teach creative thinking and problem solving.

Sir Kenneth Robinson said in his book, The Element:

“Children starting school this year (2009) will be retiring in 2070. No one has any idea what the world will look like in ten years’ time, let alone in 2070. There are two major drivers of change–technology and demography. Technology is developing at a rate that most people cannot properly grasp….the world population has doubled in the past thirty years, from three to six billion. It may be heading for nine billion by the middle of the century. This great new mass of humanity will be using technologies that have yet to be invented in ways we cannot imagine and in jobs that don’t yet exist.”

Many parents complained to me when I was teaching their children about time. Students feel overwhelmed by their schedules during the day, afterschool, homework. They want to be in sports programs, maker clubs, orchestra, robotics, foreign language classes, student government. Adults feel overwhelmed by messages from email, text, Facebook friends, social media pressures, job stresses, and of course in Los Angeles by traffic. How do we find the time to go to the Maker events and discover what we can build?

The question is what are we working toward? Do we want a child with a 4.5GPA with a perfect SAT score and an admission to a top school or something else? Can we have it all at the same time? One thing we can all learn at Maker is to make our own opportunities.

Choose to get involved by being a mentor or take a class at the Exploratory, find yourself with Ann Bradney at Radical Aliveness this Saturday or watch a video of Awesome Sylvia, or Joey with his marshmallow air cannon. There are many ways to participate in changing education and ourselves. Commit to taking a step this week, have a conversation about what is the goal of education, or learn about the new “Tree of Possibilities” and five ways to power a hand-made boat. The Exploratory has a $35 drop in fee. Stop by and meet one the amazing fellows for “office hours.” Visit with a monthly membership for $75 for one parent and child. I wonder what you will decide to Make!

About the writer: Lisa Niver Rajna has been traveling and teaching since 1990. Find her at We Said Go Travel or Science Isn’t Scary.

Lisa Ellen Niver

Lisa Niver is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 102 countries on six continents. This University of Pennsylvania graduate sailed across the seas for seven years with Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Renaissance Cruises and spent three years backpacking across Asia. Discover her articles in publications from AARP: The Magazine and AAA Explorer to WIRED and Wharton Magazine, as well as her site WeSaidGoTravel. On her award nominated global podcast, Make Your Own Map, Niver has interviewed Deepak Chopra, Olympic medalists, and numerous bestselling authors, and as a journalist has been invited to both the Oscars and the United Nations. For her print and digital stories as well as her television segments, she has been awarded three Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards and been a finalist twenty-two times. Named a #3 travel influencer for 2023, Niver talks travel on broadcast television at KTLA TV Los Angeles, her YouTube channel with over 2 million views, and in her memoir, Brave-ish, One Breakup, Six Continents and Feeling Fearless After Fifty.

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