The DoSeum is San Antonio's only museum just for children where kids learn by doing, creating and tinkering, instead of just looking and listening.
Step into the Maker Workshops at The DoSeum, and you may be surprised to see an 8-year-old boy wielding a power drill, constructing the base to his Rube Goldberg machine.
Jaden, the boy with the drill, is a regular at Maker Workshops. He, alongside seven other makers, are learning how to safely use a handsaw and drill, how to incorporate levers and pulleys into their contraption, and how to draft a design. Then there’s the other aspects of becoming a “maker.” These are less tangible skills, even more complex than building a machine that is deliberately tangled up: design thinking, collaborating with others, and developing a sense of agency.
Dawn, Jaden’s mother, says that the Maker Workshops help her home-schooled son practice those crucial soft skills, like interacting with peers and adults.
“We try to go every week,” Dawn says. “He’s a high energy kid, and it’s great for him to learn that listening to instructions is important if he wants to know how to really do things.”
In about a year of attending Maker Workshops, Jaden has covered diverse topics from 3D printing and computer programming, to sewing and modifying board games.
Even with all the cool projects kids take home after a workshop, the point of Maker Workshops is not to master any particular hard skill, says Clint Taylor, Discovery Leader at The DoSeum.
“It’s empowering for kids to walk out of a workshop with a new skill, like how to use a drill,” said Taylor. “But the biggest thing we want to teach is agency.”
The Maker Workshops are inspired by Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape their Worlds, a book which resulted from a three-year Harvard-led research project, Agency by Design. Pedagogy from Agency by Design and its parent organization, Project Zero, advocates for an educational process that prepares learners for the world that they will live, work, and develop in. With this philosophy in mind, Maker Workshops seek to deepen children’s sense of agency and community.
Taylor says when children learn to see through the lens of a maker, they learn that the world is malleable and, more importantly, that they can be an agent of change. For example, a maker might see a problem at her school and approach her teacher with a solution.
Dawn says the Maker Workshops have given Jaden something to be proud of. Jaden likes to show photos, or sometimes, when he gets to take the project home, the actual object he built in the workshop. He’ll explain how he made the item and how it works, like the 3D snowman he brought home for Christmas last year.
“People are always surprised to learn that Jaden is home-schooled,” says Dawn. “He’s really well socialized, because we do things like the Maker Workshops.”
Another Maker’s priority is that kids are given the freedom to explore. When Taylor or Gladys Hernández (Senior Educator) teach the workshop, they make sure the kids understand how to use the tools provided and that they have a general direction for their project. Sometimes students choose to work in groups, sometimes individually. Sometimes the whole class will work on the same project, like they did with a recent sewing workshop. Given a pillow, fabric, needle, and thread, the whole class collaborated to form a fuzzy Frankenstein, an animal they called a litigraffe (a combination of a lion, tiger, and giraffe).
That’s the magic of the workshop; you never know where kids’ creativity will lead them.
Maker Workshops meet every Friday on the second floor of The DoSeum in the Innovation Station. The drop-in program can accommodate 16 students at a time, and always has two lead makers to guide children. Workshops are geared towards children ages 6-11.
Stay tuned for Little Maker Workshops for ages 1-5, being piloted now!