Prevent the Greatest Minds of Our Generation from Being Destroyed.


You’ve researched the possibilities, and worked hours on a solution. After singeing your fingers soldering wires together and assembling parts that you worked extra chores to purchase, you finally finish assembling and testing your masterpiece. It works! It really works, and YOU made it. You want to show it off to someone who will appreciate it, so you delicately pack it up and take it in to school with you.

Walking into school you’re jittery with excitement. This will be the moment when your new teacher sees how serious you are and you find your niche among your classmates. You carefully place your invention in your locker as you gather your books for your first few classes. You painstakingly carry your invention to class, tip toeing over couples making out, jocks wrestling and people walking obliviously against the flow of traffic.

You get there, SO EXCITED to show your teacher and your classmates what you’ve made. Once the other students see it, they’ll be so excited about what you can do, that they’ll want to discuss it with you. It’s been hard to be the new kid at a new school as a freshman.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

You fidget all through roll call. As soon as the teacher is done, you shoot up your hand, unable to wait one more moment. “I have something I’d like to show you, please.”

This is where it all goes wrong. So terribly, terribly wrong.

You pull your invention out of it’s casing, and begin to describe it, but before you can get into any depth, two students gasp, and others exchange looks. The teacher frowns and clears a throat full of discomfort. “What exactly do you have there?”

“It’s a clock! I made it myself!”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Furrowed brows. Pause. “It’s a clock.”

It’s unclear if this is a statement or a question. Someone giggles a nervous laugh. This is not at all the way that you thought this would go. What is happening?

You get even more confused when a few minutes later a police office stands in front of you.

“What do you have here?”

“It’s a clock.”

“A clock, eh?”


“Answer me.”

“Oh, um, yes, so it’s a clock. I made it myself.”

“Some people are scared that it might be more than a clock.”

“More than a clock?”


“It could be a bomb.”

nervous laughter

“A bomb?”

“It could be.”

“It’s a clock. I made it. I wanted to show my teacher and the other students in my class.”


“A clock, eh?”

The next thing you know you’re being hauled out of school in handcuffs. In horror, your sister takes a picture and texts it to your parents. This is your only hope, but you still can’t process what is happening.

Create, they said.

Innovate, they said.

Why am I being fingerprinted? Why am I getting suspended?

Bizarre, isn’t it? Unfortunately, this drama is based on the real story of a real teen.

It happened Monday. Ahmed Mohamed made a clock. When we was arrested for bringing it to school, he showed us all what time it is.

You can be brave.

Makers are the future. They need to be understood and encouraged, not feared. One thing that has gotten buried in this story is that the student’s engineering teacher was impressed, but advised the student not to show the clock to other teachers, presumably because they wouldn’t understand it and would react poorly. It’s fair to say that the engineering teacher was right. Though the teacher who was afraid the clock might be a bomb and the administrator(s) who called in the police were probably acting out of an “it’s better safe then sorry” mentality, the bottom line problem is that they didn’t understand that what they were seeing was safe, or even which colleagues to ask for an expert opinion, say like an engineering teacher…

You can question the status quo.

We are at a critical point in education. The point of public schooling used to be to prepare students for static jobs, whether in a factory or an office. These jobs required very specific, domain level knowledge that could be passed down from the sage on the stage, memorized and regurgitated. The reality is that jobs are not like that now. No job requires a person to be knowledgeable in math and only math or English and only English. Schools have become an artificial construct. If the point of school is to prepare students for the “real world” including college and careers, we need to rethink the educational hierarchy.

At the dawn of the industrial revolution, and probably before, the hierarchy looked something like this in most if not all western schools:

Figure 1: Industrial Education Hierarchy

Industrial Education Hierarchy Figure

This model reflected the needs of industrial barons and a people in a space race. Over time, however the needs have shifted, and pressures on the education system have shifted the model to something like this:

Figure 2: Post Industrial Education Hierarchy

Figure 2: Post Industrial Hierarchy

Schools are trying hard trying to do everything, but as a whole, they’re still doing it in a framework that is ill suited to the needs of modern students and future workers. We must rethink not only the hierarchy, but also the subject silos and our education methods. I propose three new core subjects and a new model.

Communication and Information Literacy

Language, Computer Science, Library Science, History, Arts

In a society that is in constant communication with devices, 24-hour news, streaming media the ability to access, evaluate, analyze, use and contribute information is key to a thriving democracy. Students can write songs, create videos, publish research and connect ideas.


Arts, Computer Science, Industrial Arts, Science, Math, Library Science, History, Language

To make, um, let’s say a CLOCK, a student would research the history of clocks, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, coding options and fabrication methods. To make a theatrical set, a student would need to understand the context of it’s role in the play, research historical accuracy, learn to use power tools safely, take accurate measurements and work with ratios and produce 3d effects with paint.

Wellness & Life Preparedness

Health, Physical Education, Home Ec, Sex Ed, Math, Science, Arts, Library Science

In his now famous Ted Talk from 2006, Sir Ken Robinson wondered why physical subjects, such as dance are relegated to the bottom of the educational hierarchy even though we all have bodies. Since then, we’ve also found ourselves in a national health crisis with childhood obesity on the rise, and an ever-increasing need for health care professionals. In fact, seven of the ten fastest growing jobs according to the U.S. Department of Labor are in the health and wellness field. Imagine a class in which students learned about their bodies, how they work, and how to use and care for them. We’ve also been in a bit of a financial crisis. Instead of making everyone take advanced math classes that, truthfully, most won’t ever use, perhaps we should focus on personal economics and global finance, which affects everyone. Some students would still study higher-level math, just as some students would study higher-level music.

Let us create a new structure for learning, one that puts the student at the center.

Figure 3: Information Age Learning Collaborative

Figure 3: Information Age Learning Model

If we are to be focused on the needs of students and preparing them for the world they’re facing, we as educators need to break tradition, step out of our comfort zones, and work together in a new structure.

Yes, I know that this model would require a complete shift in the school days, with teams of teachers working with groups in block schedules, but we need to make a fresh start. We have already pulled the foundation out from under schools and expected them to stand. This isn’t a renovation project. It is time to rebuild it, and rebuild it in a way that makes sense. Our students are counting on us.

Abolish Standardized Tests

While I agree that it’s important to evaluate student progress and to evaluate teacher performance, standardized tests do neither. No student is “standard.” Teaching to the average teaches to no one, because there is no average student. There are some great articles about this, but Harvard professor Todd Rose gives a great overview. If we really want to evaluate how much and what students are learning, how about we see what they can do? Talk with students about their science fair projects, go to see robotics teams in action, watch the plays that students have written and performed. If we shift our focus to what individual students can do, instead of how they measure up to an imaginary average student, we can make school a launching pad for futures beyond our wildest expectations, instead of a training ground for a world that doesn’t exist.


  • You can think deeply about the types of skills that you as an adult use or need most, and you can share that with school officials and policy makers.
  • You can listen to educators in and out of schools who are making a difference, and ask them how they do it, what they need and how we support them.
  • You can listen to students about their needs and interests, and help them learn it or connect them to someone who can.
  • You can be grateful for the incredible communication tools of smart phones and social media that allowed this child to receive instant support from President Obama, Mark Zuckerberg and many others. You can encourage schools to use digital tools to build skills rather than be afraid of them.
  • You can advocate for cross-curricular learning instead of test driven silos.
  • You can demand that elected officials abolish standardized tests and reshape learning objectives.
  • You can share this article.
  • You can join the conversation by replying.

It’s time to stop living in the shadow of the Industrial Revolution, and instead forge an Education Revolution.


No, for real. We’re really science-ing over here. Or we should be.

Recently, I had the pleasure of leading an Electric Art class at a local library. As students sewed circuits using conductive thread, LED lights and batteries, we discussed how electricity works, why we needed to identify and correctly align the anode and cathode pins, and the other various scientific principles in play. After the class, the hosting staff member, seemingly surprised at this level of discourse, looked at me a bit agape and said, “Wait, you’re a librarian?” Yep. I know, weird, right?
But, it isn’t really. Many of us in the library world have been inundated with Makerspace mania, digital media labs, STEM/STEAM programs and on and on. Often libraries are bringing in content experts to help educate the public on how to use equipment, but just as often, librarians are leading the charge with maker programs. In fact, since going into the wild as an independent library educator for hire, it’s been intriguing how individual libraries draw the line between what is and is not “librarian work”.  Some libraries are even hiring librarians and library assistants in part because of their skills and interests with potential for programming. Applicants who knit, play guitar, are certified yoga instructors might gain a leg up on competition if, in addition to reference and readers advisory skills, they’re able and willing to teach others about their hobbies.
Most libraries aren’t going to this extreme, but the definition of “library work” has been in contention as long as I’ve been in the profession. In my first few years in public libraries there were almost daily lamentations from librarians who did not feel that helping folks use computers should really be their responsibility unless it was to access a database or do “serious reference”. Now, that sentiment is rarely if ever heard from library staff, and constituents consider the library synonymous with computer support. When clients now ask about how in the world I learned all of this technology stuff, mentioning my history as a librarian always seems to be interpreted as more than sufficient qualification.

So, does the next evolution of librarian-ing include science?

Yes…and no. The thing about libraries is that we often try to be everything to everyone because librarians can help customers find information about anything and will help anyone. The problem is that there’s just too much to do, too much to know, and it’s one thing to be able to research anything and another to be able to educate on everything. Depending on the staffing structure and objectives of your library, it may just not be practical for you as a librarian to take on leading science, technology, engineering, art or math (STEAM) classes. If that’s the case, you can just hire me, call it a day, and skip to the end of this article. Otherwise, keep reading…
Whether in a dedicated space or not, making has become one of the trendiest topics for libraries to explore. As with all trends, it can be dangerous to dive in without considering the big picture. What are the objectives your library hopes to reach through maker learning? (Hint: If it’s to get into Library Journal, that ship has sailed, and you should probably rethink your priorities.) Is it about changing the community perception of the library from a book warehouse to a learning center? Is it to support an already curious community? Is it to build entrepreneurism? Is it to give youth a chance to problem solve and think critically doing something hands-on? If your answer includes the actual learning happening when folks are making, and they’re doing any making that involves electricity, then science is likely to be a crucial part.
Here’s where things get interesting. Youth librarians in particular are accustomed to creating and leading programs that are topically themed. Holiday craft programs, “people in my neighborhood” storytimes, big truck days, and International Games Day are events that sort of celebrate a topic without typically digging to deeply into learning about it. That’s fine, but if we’re promising stakeholders such as funders and community members that we’re going to increase STEAM skills, than we must move beyond STEAM themed events and into rich, participatory learning.
Librarians have more experience with this than we might think, but we tend to focus on arts and humanities content. Children’s librarians educate parents on building early literacy skills in active storytimes. In teen and adult book discussions and writing clubs librarians provide guidance and help participants collaboratively educate each other. One thing that all of these examples have in common is that they are learning and experience focused rather than output oriented. Our main goal (or outcome) to achieve in storytime is empowering parents to help their children become readers, not to produce a group of children who perfectly perform the Itsy Bitsy Spider. We need to approach STEAM the same way. 

It’s about how to think.

When my library comrade was trying to wrap her head around a librarian who scienced, she had a sudden thought, “Wait, what was your undergraduate degree?”
Are you wondering too? You might be surprised. “Art…um, specifically sculpture.”
How, what, why? An art-making librarian who teaches… STEAM? Yup. Here’s what’s really going to blow your mind, I learned more about science, technology, engineering and math while trying to create art than I did in most of my traditional academic classes. When people think of sculpture, they tend to think Rodin style figures carved in marble, but modern sculpture is really just about 3D creation, and at the time when I was in art school, we were just beginning to explore digital projection and interfaces with technology. To create any given piece I might have to research and create electrical circuitry, calculate ratios, and engineer a structurally sound object, all while also considering the aesthetic components. Professors, grad assistants and peers all contributed to this learning either by direct guidance, referrals or collaboration. Fellow STEAM majors in the dorm loved to brainstorm because we all shared the love of the process… getting ideas, researching, testing, reworking. These are fields that are constantly evolving because those in them are forever learning and improving.
This is EXACTLY what the maker movement and connected learning is all about. Students who create are driven to learn. We lead classes to provide them with the introductory tools and understandings, and then help them take it to the next level through research and information literacy skills. Most librarians are comfortable with the later part, but in order to get students to the point at which they are asking self driven questions to research, we need to help them build more robust background knowledge and critical thinking skills.
Consider the difference between a craft program and an art class. Traditionally, libraries have led craft programs in which students, possibly with parent guidance, try to recreate the librarian-produced example. This is similar to the renaissance studio approach in which an apprentice would recreate master works repeatedly. This approach led to perfection of existing techniques, but it crushed innovation. In an art class, students may be instructed in a technique in order to gain foundational skills, but they are encouraged to use that technique in an original work or better yet, expand on that technique in an original way. This approach leads to new discovery, ownership of projects, and creative spirit. The renaissance studio approach leads to the output of perfectly executed reproductions. The art class approach leads to the outcome of more educated, creative and innovative students.
When we lead STEAM classes at the library, we need to consider this difference between project-based learning that is outcome focused instead of output focused.
When we have students do an “experiment” are we using the scientific process to hypothesize, test and evaluate, or are we just dropping some vinegar into baking soda and watching it foam? Did students get an opportunity to make informed predictions? Do they understand why they were correct or not? Will they be able to transfer this knowledge to grow future understandings?
When we teach a coding class, are we having students regurgitate code from an instruction sheet, or are we problem-solving as a group based on some foundational principles? Would students be able to customize their games independently based on what they learned?
Obviously, students attending the Electric Art: Powered Pins class would be disappointed to leave with a pin that didn’t actually light up, so we need to consider the resultant product, but if we want them to learn in such a way that they can continue to create, the focus needs to be on why the circuit works or doesn’t and how to troubleshoot it. When I lead LEGO® WeDo® robotics classes for 7-10 year-olds, it is always so tempting to jump right into showing the students the instructional videos so they can create a cool animatronic animal. I know it’s exciting, and their little faces will light up when their robot alligators snap their jaws. But as fun as those moments are, I would be doing them a disservice to skip past the content leading to the prize.  All of these robots are constructed using basic science and engineering concepts, and the goal is really for the students to begin to understand these concepts enough so that they can create their own models, rather than just recreate the example. So, we spend time exploring gears, axles, pulleys, belts, forces and beams before we put them all together into a larger project. This process always leads to greater success when they are subsequently challenged to design a robotic animal from scratch. After all, this is the whole point. If we want to create creators, then we need to give them the tools.
Classes like Electric Art and robotics use project based learning to introduce and explore broader concepts. The outputs might be glowing badges or dancing robots, but the outcome is students who have the tools and drive to continue to create and learn. The key to achieving that outcome is finding a balance between building foundational knowledge and opportunities for individual exploration. BOTH components must be present. If as a profession we are truly dedicated to creating makers, than we need to be ready to bone up on science, technology, engineering, art, math and pedagogy. We must be informed and inspired educators, or we need to bring in those that are.