Welcome to Maker Ed’s “Growing up Making” community blog series that highlights how maker educators have been influenced by family and their community. By sharing stories of what inspires maker educators, we’re excited to showcase the impactful and multigenerational human history of making.
A Science Teacher’s Road to Constructionism
By Christa Flores
As a typical 1980’s “latchkey kid,” I was forced to cultivate a love of solitude and the capacity to self-entertain. Armed with my standard childhood uniform (a pair of overalls) and a beloved manual called Make and Do from the 1970’s Childcraft How and Why encyclopedia set, I filled my time after school, on weekends and during summers making and doing stuff. I played with Tinkertoys, sewed clothes for dolls by hand, did unmentionable things with mud and insects, made submarines with working periscopes out of cardboard boxes, built zip-lines for my Barbies. I also loved mechanical things and tiny architecture, so I turned a spare bedroom in our house in Fresno, California, into a studio for my model train village. The smell of lichen, the kind used for miniature landscaping, still makes me smile.
I once constructed a dog house and simple tree fort out of wood with my dad. Later when he reached retirement age, I took my dad to his first Mini Maker Faire. Since then, he was making stuff out of reclaimed wood and found metal objects pretty regularly. Seeing himself as a maker gave him a way to stay smart, creative, and part of a community.
By the time I was a teenager I was making fewer mudpies and submarines; I shifted my creative energy into writing, photography, making jewelry, and making my own clothes. At sixteen, my mother worked side by side with me to construct a relatively complicated dress for a school awards ceremony until the silvery, a bit too tight and a bit too revealing empire dress was complete. As a result of my mother mentoring my inner hacker, my wardrobe has consisted primarily of altered and upcycled thrift store finds since 1988. In retrospect, I was a self-directed maker from birth, but I was also “good” at school.
I loved science and took as many courses as my public school offered at the time. Bad math grades and being the only Hispanic female in my AP science course kept me from seeing myself as a “real scientist”. Everything changed in my first year of junior college when I discovered two scientific fields I loved more than I feared: paleontology and human evolution. In the early summer of 1993, while attending junior college and working for the California Conservation Corp (CCC), I volunteered at the Fairmead paleontological dig, a site discovered during a construction excavation to build a new landfill. In 100℉ weather and my tan polyester CCC uniform, I gleefully helped unearth the tusk of a Columbian mammoth using toothbrushes and tiny dental picks. I also met my first science role model that summer, a female graduate student who introduced me to the idea of graduate school as well as the concept that women should be valued for their scientific work and their ideas rather than their outward image. It was my first year of college, my inner inventor had met my inner researcher — beginning the journey towards teaching science from a constructionist lens.
Today, I am fortunate to be part of a vast learning community that is willing to take risks by utilizing learner friendly technologies and pedagogical practices with an unfailing respect for the construction over consumption of new knowledge in the teaching and learning of science, math, engineering, and art. My personal path to constructionism has been slow and reflective, scary, and inspiring. The best part? We are just getting started, and still have a lot to learn from each other.