This morning, Courtney swapped her usual dry-erase marker for a butane torch. About half-an-hour earlier, we had a choice to go to sessions and discuss topics generated by attendees. Or to make stuff. Courtney, a Humanities teacher, spent Wednesday at workshops about brain training and teaching social justice through narrative. She worked Thursday at a deep dive with Mike revitalizing the sophomore research paper. “I’ve done academics for the last few days,” she said before getting up from breakfast. “I want to make something.”
The session we attended was Brazing Basics 101. Brazing is a process of joining two metals with a different filler metal as an adhesive. It is similar to welding, which is often done at a higher temperature – think 2000°F – and the base metals melt. It is also similar to soldering, which is done at a lower temperature – around 300-400°F – and the base metals do not melt. Brazing is essentially hotter soldering.
We walked into the session a few minutes late. About twenty educators had already begun the process and it would have been easy to leave (Courtney admitted she probably would had she been alone), but we watched Dana and others learn how to braze. When it was her turn, she was much better than me, and by the time Sarah arrived an hour in, Courtney was the one teaching her the correct technique. After two hours, Dana and Courtney had combined their tracks (we made marble roller coasters).
Yesterday, I spent the day with a woman named Houston making an 11.5 gram balsa wood rocket and the chemical motor that launched it 30 feet into the air. In six hours, we measured incorrectly, broke pieces, grew frustrated, changed designs, learned chemistry, and finished last. But lighting a fuse, running away, and watching something you made go even one inch off the ground is rewarding. Watching a group of adults – men and women, young and old – jump, shout, and celebrate a rocket launch is further evidence that learning to make something because it’s fun is enough of a reason to do it.
STEM teachers are often associated with skills like brazing and rocketry. It is a mistake to ignore what can be made as a way to share the humanities. The marble roller coasters that inspired our session this morning were made by eigth graders as an engaging way to explain the Constitution. If we ask our students to be creative in being makers, we must model the same intellectual curiosity, whether it’s Courtney taking a risk or a me spending a day constantly failing and fixing. Making and sharing forces us to struggle and learn.