Makers’ Center of Gravity


Recently, while reading Alfie Kohn’s new book The Myth of the Spoiled Child, I stumbled upon a phrase by progressive American educator John Dewey: a child’s “center of gravity,” and I felt I finally found words to describe what it feels like when a roomful of young makers are “in the zone.”

In 1900, Dewey published The School and Societya series of speeches and chapters. In the first chapter, “Schools and Social Progress,” Dewey shared his feelings about hands-on learning (or “manual education”) with his audience of elementary parents. He wrote:

[School in the past] may be summed up by stating that the center of gravity is outside the child. It is in the teacher, the textbook, anywhere and everywhere you please except in the immediate instincts and activities of the child himself. On that basis there is not much to be said about the life of the child.  A good deal might be said about the studying of the child, but the school is not the place where the child lives.

Now the change which is coming into our education is the shifting of the center of gravity. It is a change, a revolution, not unlike that introduced by Copernicus when the astronomical center shifted from the earth to the sun. In this case the child becomes the sun about which the appliances of education revolve; he is the center about which they are organized…  

The ideal home would naturally have a workshop where the child could work out his constructive instincts. It would have a miniature laboratory in which his inquiries could be directed. The life of the child would extend out of doors to the garden, surrounding fields,and forests. He would have his excursions. His walks and talks, in which the larger world out of doors would open to him. (Dewey 1900, 35-36).

I take “center of gravity” to mean a child’s agency: the ability to make one’s own choices and focus on the ideas and visions that the child has chosen for herself.

When we do maker work with children and teens, there is always a certain amount of “let me show you” that transfers from mentor to child/teen as new materials and tools enter the space. It is easy for us — especially those of us with a background in teaching or programming events for children — to fall into a routine where each week, the adults are selecting the materials and projects and acting as tutors or directors of the experience. But we make a grave mistake if we simply bounce from new activity to new activity, because that keeps the center of gravity with the adults (or with the tools themselves, or perhaps, even, making novelty the central agent).

This year, especially with the students in our elementary makerspace, we’ve intentionally put out tools and materials that students can tinker with without adult intervention, like boxes of fabric, Snap Circuits, LEGO, or a “junk box” full of stuff kids can glue, stitch, assemble, and transform by themselves.  We may have as many as ten options from which kids can choose in a single maker meetup, with about half of them being stuff kids can putter with independently. By doing so, we not only free up our mentors to introduce more challenging work with kids in small groups. We’re working on shifting the center of gravity — the sense of agency; the opportunity to envision one’s work and to take it from imagination to creation and transformation — over to the maker.

People, not tools, are the fulcrum of our maker work.

cross-posted to the MakerBridge blog

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Missouri Assn of School Librarians: Makerspaces Talk

Screenshot of title slide for "Makerspaces in Schools and Libraries" talkGood afternoon! I’m happy to get to talk about our Michigan Makers work with Missouri school librarians this afternoon.

You can find the slides here and a list of possible maker activities and media here.


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Missouri Assn of School Librarians: Rigorous Tech Workshop

Title slide for "Rigorous Learning with Technology" WorkshopGood morning, St. Louis! It’s a treat to get to spend a half-day working on how we can build more valuable, in-depth learning experiences for students with technology.

You can find today’s slide deck here.


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MAKERS AS INNOVATORS book series earns Top 10 Series Nonfiction nod from Booklist

Book Covers from Cherry Lake Publishing's Makers as Innovators Series -

Hooray! Booklist has named Cherry Lake Publishing’s Makers as Innovators series on its Top 10 Series Nonfiction list. From Booklist‘s April 1 issue, page 74:

Makers as Innovators (Cherry Lake)

Gr. 4-7. Here’s a series many librarians need as much as their readers. Digging into such newfangled topics as maker faires (sic), 3-D printing, and digital badges, the volumes in this cutting-edge series communicate a level of energy that elevates the challenging material into need-to-know-right-now stuff.

It is so much fun to identify titles and authors for this series, act as series editor, and see their enthusiasm and energy leap off the page. And we have more titles coming. On the Fall 2014 list, we’re adding four new titles:

  • Web Design with HTML 5 (Colleen Van Lent)
  • 3D Modeling (Theo Zizka)
  • Squishy Circuits (Kristin Fontichiaro and AnnMarie Thomas)
  • Soldering (David Erik Nielsen)

Thanks for your support!

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TXLA Presentation: Makerspaces and Libraries

Image of the title slide from the TXLA Makerspaces and Libraries slide deck


It’s always fun to be at Texas Library Association for its annual conference, and the cool spring nights of San Antonio make it even better!

For Wednesday’s presentation on Makerspaces and Libraries, here is the slide deck and the handout on possible maker activities and tools.

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TXLA Presentation: No More Eye Candy! (Visual Literacy)

Image of title slide from TXLA presentation "No More Eye Candy!" on visual literacy


Hi, y’all!

Earlier today, Debbie Abilock and I had the pleasure of spending three hours discussing visual literacy and assessment in a preconference at the Texas Library Association. Thank you to the participants who were patient when we discovered at the eleventh hour that we had no Internet access in the room and had to adjust our learning activities on the fly!

You can find the slide deck here.

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UMSI announces new specialization

As some of you know, the MSI committee at the University of Michigan School of Information has been engaged in deep conversations about how to continue to iterate our programs in order to best prepare students for the information professions.

Today, we’re pleased to announce the first in a series of new initiatives. From the home page of the UMSI web page:

Screen shot of UMSI web page, April 1, 2014: "UMSI creates new Squirrel-Computer Interaction specialization  Groundbreaking new master's degree track will continue UMSI's commitment to assist all who use technology."

We anticipate strong and immediate interest in the new SCI specialization; however, we ask that you hold off on making queries until April 2. After all, announcements made on April 1, well, you know.

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Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose

John Dewey quote represented visually: "Knowledge is no longer an immobile solid; it has been liquefied."


School and Society, 1900, p.40

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Michigan Makers in the News

Yesterday was UMSI MakerFest, and here’s a snippet of the story from The Michigan Daily!


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Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire coming to WCC May 10!

Logo for Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire, schedule for Saturday, May 10, 2014, at Washtenaw Community College


Posted on behalf of our pals organizing the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire:

Now in its sixth year, the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire features dozens of makers from across the region and draws over three thousand members of the community for the day’s free events. Metalworkers, inventors, papermakers, artists, students, robot designers, enthusiasts and professional alike teach the public how they make their work.

Many participants come away with more than just inspiration, but new skills they can use to fuel their own creations and lasting connections to other makers and resources in the region.

May 10, 2014 marks the second time the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire will be hosted by Washtenaw Community College. This free, all-ages event features community members of all types who come together to display their ideas, projects, and inventions.

We will be seeking applications from people and groups with engaging, inspiring, and just plain cool projects.  Projects should have a focus on the process of creating, designing, and making – not just displaying a final product.  Makers of all ages and experience levels are encouraged to submit applications. We will begin seeking applications for makers in the next few weeks.

More Info

Check out our website ( or our Facebook page for more information, applications, and dates.

Organized by members of the Ann Arbor tech and arts communities such as a2geeks ( and GO-Tech (, the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire is a small, local version of the huge Bay-area Maker Faire, and is one of many faires across the country that happen year around.

If you have any questions about participating in or attending the Mini Maker Faire, please email us or visit

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