Why I was never a maker

I have been continuing to enjoy the fascinating Learning Creative Learning CMOOC from M.I.T.
This coming week we will be looking at “Makers” and I have been delving into the readings as well as doing some of my own research as I like to do.
I found that there is huge and ever-growing worldwide movement of people of all ages who call themselves “Makers” and attend large “Maker Faires” at which they exhibit their projects and participate in a festival of interaction where they swop ideas and stories and suggest improvements and developments. Indeed there has been a Faire in Newcastle here in the U.K. this weekend.
I was fascinated to see the sheer enthusiasm of these people, their openness to learning with and from each other and the brilliant products that they made in their garages or lofts or a backroom often with really basic materials.
I got to thinking of why I had never become a Maker and why I spent all of my adult life thinking I was “no good with my hands”. I am the grandson of a carpenter who made two beautiful wardrobes as a wedding present for my parents. My brother,as a child, loved to make up kits and would spend hours and hours getting thousands of little parts organised and then put them together as a plane from World War 2 or a tank from the same era.
One year at Christmas my patents bought a Meccano set and a toy typewriter. I finished up with the typewriter and this led to years and years where I fondly imagined I would become a great writer. My brother tinkered away with his Meccano set and made all sorts of things.
At secondary school I remember that Woodwork classes were the low-point of my week. Some of my fellow-pupils seemed to thrive in making a cabinet but I found it difficult to even saw straight!
I preferred to be sent out of class for playing around so that I could read a good book outside.
Little by little I was convincing myself and (as I now know) my brain, that I was useless at anything practical. My adult life was one which needed others to do the practical things. I did though gain some self-confidence in fixing and changing a lightbulb and occasionally wiring something up to a plug.
So, I looked at these enthusiastic people and began to think about how much I had missed out in my life by believing that I could not make, I could not fix, I was not “handy”.
At 60 years of age I am working to rebuild a part of my life that I had allowed to leave. As as child I played happily in my Nursery and in my infant school. I made things out of plasticine and built imaginary buildings from bricks.
We are all born “makers” it is about being human and learning to manipulate objects and somehow get things to work. It is about experiment and it is about a lot of failure and, at its best, it is sheer joy.
I know this now and I also know that it leads to the gaining of a lot of important life skills which is why I believe that all children should have access to the chance to make and that it should be a key part of their education.
I don’t want today’s children looking back as I do saying that they were never any good with their hands. They are all born makers and they can all learn to make something and our society needs them to feel this way as my grandfather and brother always did.

The dark side of our digital age

I saw two very different but interesting takes on the things that might happen if we are not careful.

There first video is about the last bookshop left in Britain. It is discovered by a young schoolboy who has grown up in a world where he never knew what a book looked like, felt like or even smelled like.

It is a beautifully crafted and acted film which leaves us wistful  and sad at the demise of such a beautiful human invention as the book. Can we really  be creating a world where they disappear forever?

The second is a mock documentary called “The Internet: A warning from history” about a world which has been totally transformed by the effects of the net. It is funny but underlying the laughs are the closed stores, the death of the countryside and the change to a world where people live only on “the net”. It makes us think, as does the bookshop video about just where we are heading with our ever-improving and powerful digital technology.

I see the power and potential of our digital revolution but I also fear the possibility of just what we may lose in the process. This post has been written to contribute to the much needed discussion about our future.

My alternative vision

In an alternative existence I am born into a Britain that has cast off the burdens of a stratified class system that harks back to an imperial past now mercifully forgotten.
The post-war has seen massive change in education. Gone are the days of public schools and grammar schools  that existed to divide and leave so many languishing as the failures, the uneducated, often the illiterate.
Primary schools are run along Montessori-like lines. Children are free to explore, to create, to learn. The dreaded 11+ test has disappeared forever.
I enjoy my early education, I learn to cooperate, to socialise, to create and I follow my passions.
My secondary school is not divided by year groups. There are no rigid boundaries according to subjects. I created a portfolio of my achievements, a record of my learning which I could talk about when I applied to University.
I knew that my learning was for life and that my University days were just part of a lifelong journey to discover, to interact, to try and understand.
I chose to become a teacher as I desired to be a mentor, a guide to others in an ever-changing world.
At 60 years of age I have just retired from an exciting career where I have felt fulfilled in helping others to achieve their potential, to chase their dreams. I enjoyed my career and never felt under pressure. My students were the judges of my ability to mentor,  to be a great coach.
I am now enjoying the chance to continue my quest to learn.

All of the above is but a dream of course. My reality and the reality of my fellow-countrymen has been very different. There have been class divisions, there have been tests and exams in single subjects that I have mostly forgotten. The only part of the dream that is real is the last part. I am a lifelong learner, I am participating in online studies, I am keeping myself busy and trying to understand ideas that are of interest to me. I am enjoying the chance to promote creativity in whichever way I can. Last but not least I am having the chance to do what I loved at school, to write. This blog has been a joy, a passion and a chance to connect. School didn’t give me this chance….. Sir Tim Berners-Lee did.

The creative process: Wouldn’t it be nice


The link above is to a  section of a really interesting audio documentary about the creation of the Beach Boys song “Wouldn’t it be nice!”  This was the opening track from their 1966 album “Pet Sounds”.

The creation of just under 3 minutes of music involved the playing around with some novel ideas like the use of accordions as well as two guitars working against each other. The harmonies were beautiful and took hours and hours of attempts to get it right. There is even a discussion about how Lennon and McCartney listened to the track and how it influenced their track “Here, there and everywhere” on their next album “Revolver”.

Here is the link to that song. Judge for yourself.


A graphic way to learn

I have just read a really interesting article from Scientific American called “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screen”.

This article gave a convincing argument that reading on paper was actually easier for people than reading using a computer/tablet/mobile phone  screen of any sort. It appears that our brains have adapted to using texts by relating it to a form of topography such as a landscape. It therefore allows us to truly “navigate” and we remember instances in a book by where we read them. i.e. on the bottom left of Page 73.

This certainly presents a possible problem for those who are saying that the book is dying and that we will all go on to read only using  digital media in the future. The “book lovers” counter by saying that you cannot replace the feel of a book and their smell, The ability to fold down a page to keep a place and good old fashioned writing in the margins to make a note!

In the article though the last 2 paragraphs put forward the idea that digital media needs to look at how it can make the best use of the facilities that digital technology offers.It does not need to compete with books in terms of the reading of plain text but needs to move forward to interesting innovative ideas.

In respect of this there was a link to a really interesting post called “10 examples of bespoke article design and scrolling goodness”. The best one I found of a really interesting bunch was the Guardian‘s excellent attempt to explain the progress and result of the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election using the idea of a graphic novel.

I really found this a novel way to introduce the subject and maybe a pointer to the way that we need to present textual information to our visually literate youngsters. Plain text for books….. novel and innovative ideas for our digital natives.


Myrna’s war



My wife’s cousin Myrna died a few months ago in her 80’s. She had a happy life with children, grandchildren and kept herself busy into her old age. She was especially interested in Pilates and waxed lyrical about how it had helped her chronic bad back and given her a new lease of life.

Her son Marshall recored her memories of her life in the Second World War as a video with some great family photographs and posted it (see the link above) .

It was fascinating to hear her stories about life in blitzed London,living in Anderson shelters, the way that the war brought everyone together and how she and her family were evacuated to Maidenhead. The stories about getting used to the countryside for a family from Hackjney that had never experienced an early morning mist was brilliant.She tells also of anti-semitism and the way that she was able to overcome it.

This is the sort of oral history that is so important for future generations to know about the realities of the past. If you have an elderly relative who would be willing to be recored orally or visually then give it a go and leave some evidence for posterity as Myrna so wonderfully did.