THE 3-D PRINTER in the Peabody (MA) Institute Library’s basement Creativity Lab might be what draws teens to the space, but it’s not always what they spend the most time using.
One group of boys is fascinated by the sewing machines. “They come in because of the tech, and then they get involved in the [other] things,” says Cate Merlin, teen and special projects librarian for the library’s main branch.
At Dover (AR) High School, library media specialist Janet Kanady has seen a similar response. “We came close to having enough kids knitting to form our own club,” Kanady says. As it turned out, they were more interested in an old electric typewriter. “They are completely fascinated by it.”
It’s hard to predict what will capture teens’ attention in a makerspace, so flexibility is key with this age group. Kanady also finds that a hands-off approach works best for students who use her library’s “tinker spot.” She says, “They have always amazed me on the things they come up with. Maybe that is a part of the appeal of it. They aren’t forced to do it just one way.”
Working successfully with teen makers means being willing to step back and dispense with structure if needed. It also means resisting jumping in to direct activities and offer help. Not teaching may be hard for some whose instincts tell them that a hands-off approach diminishes their role and relevance as educators. But it’s central to success in teen maker education, librarians and experts say.
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