Lenses are powerful tools. With the right lens on your camera, you can see things very close up, or incredibly distant. The right lenses can help you bring light to dark places, or shelter the darkness from too much intruding light. Turn the lens on your microscope or telescope the right way, and what was blurry becomes much easier to see.
Lenses are good for focusing on what matters in a given situation, challenge, or opportunity. But you need several in your camera bag if you want to see the most of the world and capture it for yourself or others.
Beyond cameras, the metaphorical lenses or frames that we apply to our experiences can help us to better understand them, or to give us new ways of seeing what’s happening to or around us. There are three lenses that seem essential for any learner’s toolbag, be that learner a student in a classroom, or one who frames the learning of others. Helping to build and shape and develop these lenses is essential for lifelong learning in the 21st Century. Or the 20th. Or the 22nd.
How you see is shaped by how you look. And we say folks should look with lenses like these.
There’s a copy of Make Magazine on my desk right now as I write this, as much as talisman as anything else. I’m not a big DIY guy around the house. To be honest, my lawn sprinklers are in serious need of attention right now, and I am in over my head. I pity the portion of my yard that suffers while I figure that out. It’s a slow journey for me as a suburban homeowner to adapt my environment to my needs.
But I’ve always believe that making things is essential to the craft of teaching and learning. Students learn more and better and fuller and richer when they are making something to demonstrate their learning. Or making something to share their learning. Or making something to help them understand their learning. Or . . . well, you get it, don’t you?
Learning happens when we make things. We make sense of new situations. We make knowledge by processing our experiences. We make tools to help us do things we might not yet be able to do. Making matters.
Hacking too often gets a bad rap, because we’ve lost the sense of the word. The original definition of a hack was a fiddle that improved a process or a program. A hacker was someone who made such changes. Hackers were revered in technology communities, because they took what was there and made it better. The first hackers tweaked some code and made their software or hardware do something that it couldn’t do before. Later, the term grew to include people who fiddled for nefarious purposes.
But the original meaning of hacking is worth reclaiming. Hackers are the folks you want on your side when something’s not working like you want it to. Hackers improve things.
Learning happens when we hack things, too, because we must understand what our situation is, and how we can fiddle with it, in order to improve it.
While there are many definitions of “play,” our favorite is the definition of play as the search for freedom within constraints. When a system, be it law, or culture, or “the rules” of whatever you find yourself in, blocks something, playing with that system results in your discovery of freedom or agency. That playing might require you to make something, or to hack something. But good play certainly requires that you understand what and who you’re playing with, and perhaps even the nature of the game. If you don’t like the game, perhaps you can tinker your way into a better one.
Playing with information or structures or situations can lead to powerful learning.
And maybe the best sort of way to spend your time as a learner is through making, or hacking, or playing. Or maybe all three. And along the way, you might rediscover the parts of yourself that have gone to sleep. Or have never been awake. Those are the parts that you can use to make and hack and play wherever you happen to be.
These lenses can lead to agency. And that’s worth shooting for. That’s a life skill that’s bigger than science or geography or math or language arts. Applying and being aware of agency to and in whatever you’re doing, agency informed by your abilities to make and hack and play, leads to you being more fully in control of your situation.
That’s powerful learning. So enter the Center for Make/Hack/Play, an ethospace informed by and seeking to inform others of the value of making, hacking and playing. A place where it’s all about the agency of the learner and the art and habits of active learning.
Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing some ideas for applying making, hacking, and playing lenses and principles to the work that should happen in schools and classrooms and learning organizations. We hope to offer workshops and work with schools and teachers and the community to build and sustain spaces for this kind of learning. While some of this learning requires specialized tools and equipment and classrooms, not all of it does. The principles of making, hacking and playing can thrive in any learning situation. And maybe they should.
So that’s worth figuring out. That’s worth doing. So let’s begin.