Guy Roz, NPR host of the NPR TED Radio Hour, mashes up interviews with TED Talk speakers under one single theme. On the episode “From Curiosity to Discovery” he interviews Adam Savage of “Mythbusters.” If you never saw “Mythbusters,” the premise was that Adam and his co-host Jamie Hyneman uncovered the truth behind science legends, experimented with possibilities, and built amazing and curious things while explaining the science behind each activity.
In the interview for the TED Radio Hour, Adam as a maker describes how he learned early on from his dad that making things – even when you never made anything like it before – was a possibility that shouldn’t be passed up. Like his dad – he is a maker. In his TED talk he notes, “The strongest episodes [of Mythbusters] were the ones driven by the narrative of our curiosity. That is the nature of science. Often discovery is not the end of a line of looking for something; it is tangential to it, because something else happens to it that you didn’t expect. Someone once said that ‘The phrase that typifies real discovery isn’t ‘Eureka’ but: ‘huh. That’s funny’.”
One can easily imagine the picture: the scientist pieces together two things that has been hypothesized to emerge in a certain way. The moment of explosion or cohesion happens; and something completely different emerges. The scientist stops. Observes. Thinks for a moment, and then states: “huh. That’s funny”…. or “weird.” Then, picking up the pieces our scientist examines them closely, ponders a bit more, and then begins re-building in a different way.
We in the library get to create an environment that allows for the kind of “ah-ha” that elicits those moments of “huh.” If students are lucky, they attend schools with teachers who build lessons around those kinds of activities that let students truly experiment. We know and understand that discoveries happen when students are connected to their project ideas; and the serendipity of “ah-ha” is actually a result of “opportunity favoring the prepared mind.” The kind of critical thinking we are looking for here includes the ability to explore ideas and re-fashion the bits that we think work together.
Maker stuff happening in libraries are the go-to activities that one thinks of in connection with exploration. Building robots, lighting bracelets, playing with magnets are all awe-inspiring activities that can, with one tweak, turn an expected result into something unexpected that causes us to pause and reflect about our direction. While “making” is not new – kids have been making things in libraries for decades – one of the great thing about the maker movement today is its determined reaction to the kinds of row-by-row teaching we have engaged in in recent years. It is a wonderful thing to hand kids the tools to dig in and play while they think through puzzles and build things and make stuff.
We librarians are on campus to open a door, help our students persevere through their process to reach a conclusion, provide a comfy couch, engage speakers that reach out across boundaries, hand students those books that become their key to a world of ideas. We are the folks who can hand a student a hammer, a book, a website, a paintbrush, a quote, or a poem and create a maker.
Some resources for explorers:
1. Popular Mechanics lists “10 Awesome Accidental Discoveries” that can be used to help tweak your students interests in exploration.
2. The best (IMHO) starter challenge – easy to do during a lunch period, fun to do over several days so students can come back again and again, and an excellent way to break the ice or begin a series of maker events that get more complicated over time – is The Marshmallow Challenge.
3. Try the Mythbusters way with Mythbuster Classroom.
4. It’s not always about building – sometimes it’s about poetry; for instance, Blackout poetry.
..and another wonderful exploration: the 6 Word Memoir.
5. Spend some time with social media and media literacy – create your own memes. Choose a theme, an event, or other big idea to distill. Then locate images, write your message and pick a meme generator. An article on EdTech provides a tutorial on how to do this.