Making is learning
Some of Holzweiss’s students exhibit their LI Makes creations.

Photo by K. Holzweiss

Making is learning

Story By: RICK CHALIFOUX
9/15/2016


SUFFOLK COUNTY—Bay Shore Middle School librarian Kristina Holzweiss is spearheading a collaborative effort to connect schools, libraries, museums, organizations, and “makerspaces” on Long Island. The initiative, called “Long Island Makes,” is an extension of a worldwide Maker Movement – a culture of people from all ages and walks of life who engage in the act of “making.” 

Making is a collaborative endeavor, allowing individuals the opportunity to explore knowledge through action discovery, imaginative thinking and creative problem-solving. Typical interests enjoyed by the maker culture include DIY engineering-oriented pursuits such as electronics, robotics, 3D printing, and the use of computer numeric control (CNC) tools, as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and traditional arts and crafts, with a strong focus on using and learning practical skills and applying them to reference designs. 

Annual flagship gatherings called Maker Faires take place in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, and Washington, D.C. – the latter of which served as the site of the National Week of Making this past June. Such events are primarily designed to showcase makers who are exploring new forms and new technologies. The first-ever Maker Faire – held in the Bay Area in 2006 – highlighted innovation and experimentation across the spectrum of science, engineering, art, performance and craft. 

Combining elements of a science fair and county fair, Maker Faire is an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors. All of these “makers” join together to show what they have made and to share what they have learned. 

Since its inception, the Maker Faire has continued to grow in popularity. A record 215,000 people attended the two flagship Maker Faires in the Bay Area and New York in 2014, with 44 percent of attendees being first-timers at the Bay Area event, and 61 percent in New York.

During her tenure at Bay Shore, Holzweiss has been a passionate advocate of the practice of making. In recent years, she has generated funding while fostering efforts to combine technology and creativity into an innovative, interactive library environment bred for ingenuity. She developed a program in the middle school library called GENIUS Hour (Generating in Education New Ideas and Understandings for Students) that allows students to create original projects and presentations centered on subjects like coding and robotics. 

“A library is not just a place for books, school is not just for learning facts and figures, and a museum is not just a place to look at things,” said Holzweiss, who was recently named the 2015 “School Library Journal” School Librarian of the Year.

As founder and co-director of Long Island Makes, Holzweiss teamed up with Islip High School librarian Gina Seymour, who serves as co-director. In the spring of 2015, they planned and implemented an inaugural event dubbed the Students of Long Island Makers Expo (SLIME). By connecting and partnering with other educators, they were able to provide a day full of creative learning for 400 Long Island students. In 2016, the number of participants grew to about 600. Throughout the event, students engage in make-and-take crafts while also giving back to the community by creating cards for soldiers, care packages for the homeless and pillows for animal shelters.

When Holzweiss created the maker space in Bay Shore two years ago, its first supplies were some recycled yogurt containers and bottle caps. Since then, she has created STREAM (science, technology, research, engineering, arts and math) programming activities for students both in and outside of BSMS. Through the GENIUS Hour  program, which focuses on student-directed, inquiry-based learning, sixth graders use the maker space and work in small groups during class time. They can also sign up to use the maker space on their own during ninth-period study hall.

Through their work, Holzweiss is aiming to alter the preconceived notions of what a library should be. She hopes to carve outlets for a more hands-on, playful, well-rounded approach to education in general.

“What I’m doing may seem new, but it’s actually very old school,” she said. “Everyone is looking towards the future, but we’ve forgotten the fundamentals. They’ve raised the standards of education in schools, but they’re also taking away subjects like BOCES and shop classes.”

In today’s classroom and testing standards, Holzweiss noted that many children struggle to channel their inner creativity.

“Kids don’t know how to be creative sometimes,” said Holzweiss. “I had one sixth grader who said, ‘I forgot what it was like to play.’ Kids don’t normally associate the idea of ‘play’ with school, and I’m looking to bring that back.

“The focus is on academics and learning, but we’ve forgotten how to get our hands dirty and make things from scratch,” added Holzweiss. “We need more practical, hands-on learning with greater application to the real world. Kids want to know why they’re learning something. If they think there’s no point, they’re not going to be engaged and they’re not going to learn it.

“I went to the Cradle of Aviation Museum with kids over the summer, and they were able to look at the history of Long Island and all of the amazing things that happened here,” she said. “But a lot of it has been forgotten. We had Grumman here – we have the Brookhaven Lab in our own backyard. We have so many things going on and resources here that we can utilize, but our kids don’t know that.”

Through Long Island Makes, Holzweiss hopes to team up with various groups and organizations across Long Island to help promote the practice of making and incorporate it more deeply into the school experience. 

Holzweiss also stressed that making is not just for young students. Many makers are hobbyists, enthusiasts or professionals seeking to create new products by utilizing unique innovative techniques and procedures. Some even become entrepreneurs and start companies.

“There are jobs that haven’t even been created yet,” said Holzweiss. “I hope these ideals stick with kids once they reach the real world. Without a growth mindset in which we’re taught to value and learn from our mistakes, no one is willing to take risks, fail, and try again.

“I’m trying to build a network of makers across Long Island,” added Holzweiss. “Everyone is eligible to become a part of this.”

To connect with Long Island Makes, visit http://limakes.weebly.com.