WILLOW LANE ELEMENTARY Teachers and staff flex their maker skills
"She's not messing around," Donna Unger said, watching her maker teammate and fellow kindergarten teacher Nicole Stratchko stitch the sides of a tote bag the women were making in a cafeteria turned design studio at Willow Lane Elementary School, Lower Macungie Township, Aug. 20.
Moments before Unger, Stratchko and other teachers and staff attending back-to-school preparation days at the school set to work in a maker exercise to design, produce and market a tote bag. Within 45 minutes bags from a tote designed to transport a vase of flowers to a tiny bag the sides of which doubled as a board to play checkers debuted.
Stratchko drew upon stitching skills gleaned from her grandmother, she said, while looping sturdy yellow and white thread up the sides of two cloth panels in a design she and Unger later fitted with applique flowers and a sturdy wire handle and dubbed "The Brilliant Beverage Bag."
Stratchko described the act of sewing as relaxing.
"This is a stressful time of year for us," Stratchko said, referring to Unger and their co-workers at Willow Lane Elementary School as they prepare for the school year.
School Prinicipal Anthony Moyer and Julia Dweck, who teaches gifted students at the school, developed the maker exercise, "Willow Lane's Project Runway," to get educators at the school to think about incorporating creating, experimenting, constructing and deconstructing into classrooms.
Teams created tote bags under several parameters including incorporating a secondary purpose for the bag and constructing the bag to be sturdy enough to carry up to five pounds. Teams were to sketch a design of the bag, name it and pitch it in a show-and-tell like finale.
Moyer rated the exercise a success.
"I wanted it to be a really inspirational experience," Moyer said, checking in with teachers as they worked. "I'm thrilled."
Karen Durigan, Stephanie Housten and Christine DeLise, fourth grade teachers, worked on the floor on a design gleaned from a toy DeLise's son has, a Lego mat. All of the blocks can be stored in a drawstring bag. The bag opens into a playing surface.
The teachers based their design of a picnic tote on the mat. Pockets fitted inside the circular mat provided storage for sandwiches and other picnic items. The bag opened into a picnic mat. DeLise visualized making the tote out of a water resistant material to allow use of the picnic bag on damp grass.
Ken Jones Jr. and Ron Morris, co-founders of Mercantile Home, Easton, led the maker session and provided the materials including burlap, upholstery and industrial fabrics, grommets, buttons, snaps, wire, thread, yarn, colorful ribbons and other odds and ends.
Mercantile Home is a studio/shop where new, recycled, upcycled and other materials are transformed into home and personal goods such as candles, tote bags and jewelry. Objects made in the studio can later be bought at the location and classes are held on site.
Morris said, although teachers frequently visit the studio and take classes, the session at Willow Lane Elementary School was the first he and Jones conducted exclusively for educators.
"Everyone was immediately engaged and enthusiastic," Morris said, who later snapped pictures of the finished bags with his camera phone. "That's what you need."
Jones and Morris are part of what has been dubbed a maker movement. Makers incorporate traditional crafts such as sewing and woodworking with a digital component often involving computers, electronics and robotics.
Dweck described the maker movement as a blending, marriage or dialogue between the hands-on and digital worlds in an effort to get students to "think with their hands." Trial, error and failure are encouraged along with creating and destroying to improve an object, all en route to making students "tenacious learners."
"We get to play daily and fail gloriously," Jones said in his talk to teachers about making at Mercantile Home.
Bags created by the Willow Lane teachers and staff included a tiny phone tote, pitched as "the ph-ote," to be tied around the waist, wrist or slung over the shoulder; "the snack-and-play," a tote just large enough to carry a snack for two players of a game of checkers, the game board conveniently displayed on the sides of the bag; and the "function first purpose pro," a large multipocket bag inspired in part by one teacher's 15+ hour plane trip with her young child.
"I could do this stuff all day long," Unger said.