I am of a certain age, I think, where one starts considering retirement. And, this week, my Dad turned 84:
I have been so fortunate to find work that intersects with my passion and the line between work and play is often blurred. Consider it a continuum: the work includes things like balancing the books where there is little or no room for play while the play end includes things like making a game console to play our Scratch games and sample Valentine’s Day Light-Up Cards for my STEM club meeting on Tuesday. It’s called volunteer “work” but it directly connects to my own desire to learn and create…to play!
The game console grew out of our experiments during our last meeting. We had some success with creating buttons and grounding bracelets but didn’t have time to perfect them. I wanted to show them how the engineering process works by taking the ideas we worked with and making a prototype of a console that they can explore.
How does this relate to retirement? My husband says I will never retire. I say I will just move closer to the play end of the continuum. Fewer Quick Books and more circuits and Scratch programming, along with Legos, as one friend suggested:
I am a white cisgender woman of privilege.
I am reminded of this every day when I leave my house to run errands in my town.
I live on the edge of one of the poorest communities in Virginia, surrounded by people of color who have no privilege at all. Their lives, their economies, were and still mostly are controlled by white people.
The county in which my town is located includes a segregation academy that, while it now claims to be racially diverse and posts pictures of mixed race groups of happy children on its website, did not finally admit African American students until 1984. Hmmm…the same year that Ralph Northam admits to putting on black face. This is not history. This is now.
I am beginning to find my niche in this community through work with the local 4H coordinator. It is nothing…a small drop…but for a few hours this past month, I was able to connect with some local kids over circuits and coding. I was able to provide some STEM-related fun and learning but the real opportunity was the it gave me a chance to listen to and share with them.
I’m not sure how I discovered artist and writer Austin Kleon. Probably on Twitter. I have his books and the new one is on preorder. But, it’s his weekly newsletter that makes him an integral part of my life. I look forward to it every Friday. He seems to have mastered the art of the email newsletter: ten quick items. He highlights his blog posts which are always thoughtful and also introduces his readers to music and books and art, all in the name of supporting our own creativity. If you don’t get the newsletter, you should.
Go ahead…subscribe now. I’ll wait.
I’ve thought about crafting my own Austin Kleon style blog post each week, but I’ll be honest: I’m a little intimidated. Kleon has a breadth and depth of knowledge of culture and the arts that make my offerings seem meager. But, as the saying goes (at least if you grew up with Risky Business), sometimes you just have to say WTF. So…here you go: five items from the week ala Austin:
- I was sad to finish The Books By the Bay mystery series by Ellery Adams, but she knows when a good thing is done. Using the setting in coastal North Carolina to craft the stories, Adams drew on Native American and Appalachian culture while painting a loving portrait of the fishing community that resides along side the tourists in Oyster Bay.
- This Newshour feature on conductor Jessica Bejarano inspired me to stream some classical music, including Beethoven. I’m also learning to play Piano Sonata No 20 (short and pretty simple), and it feels good to sit down at the piano in the evenings for a little practice. I have never been much of a music memorizer, but I would like to try to get a couple pieces under my belt (or my fingers, as it were). I may try this easy tip.
- The Electric Light Orchestra has always been a favorite, and Mr. Blue Sky has been running through my head lately, probably because it has been raining so much! As though the Internet was reading my mind, I stumbled on this animated version.
- It is February 1, and I like Austin’s idea of starting my resolutions now. I often wait until my birthday month in May as that’s really the start of my new year, but May seems far away. Today is about this blog post and 10,000 steps, something I haven’t done regularly since Christmas Day.
- Thursday was the last day for the 4H STEM Club. As I said on Twitter:
I don’t watch a lot of television whether live or through a streaming service. Much of my news and entertainment comes via PBS.
But, I discovered I had a Hulu account as I was poking around, I found the first few episodes of NBC’s nod to Makerspaces called Making It. Executive producer Amy Poehler and sidekick Nick Offerman host professional makers for weekly challenges. Two judges–Etsy’s Dayna Isom Johnson and Barney’s Simon Doonan–make decisions about winners and losers.
Some of the projects are more crafting than making but there is lots of critical and creative thinking going on. The judges look for the unusual and innovative and are quick to point out when something has been done before.
I recommended the show to my students and managed to catch it “live” at its regularly scheduled broadcast time on Tuesday night. It was a great way to wind down from my exhuberant class.
Historian David McCullough has discovered the “secret sauce” of writing history for non-historians. He presents history first and foremost as a story of people, often ordinary, who go on to do extraordinary things or live through extraordinary events.
The Wright Brothers is no exception: we learn a bit their childhoods, just enough to let us understand their close knit family and community in Dayton, Ohio. But pretty quickly we are in the workshop and on the beach watching as they create their flying machine.
For schools diving into makerspaces, the story of the Wright brothers is an important one: In a time of amazing innovation, “aerial navigation” was the last untapped frontier with many people, both laymen and leaders, simply believing that man was not meant to fly. Yet, two bicycle makers from Ohio had a vision that played out into a lifelong passion. They understood that there would be failure so did not let it deter them but moved ahead step by step. I like to imagine them wandering the shore line of the Outer Banks where I have spent many summers watching the gulls and gannets but not, as I might, just to admire them, but to consider what lessons they could learn from the birds.
There is a clear lesson for all of us who wish to encourage the habits of thought that lead to the kind of creative and critical thinking exhibited by the Wright Brothers. McCullough writes:
Years later, a friend told Orville that he and his brother would always stand as an example of how far Americans with no special advantages could advance in the world. “But it isn’t true,” Orville responded emphatically, “to say we had no special advantages…the greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity” (p. 18).
This grainy video of the record setting flight in 1909 is available from the National Archives and is in the public domain. The plane itself is on display at the National Air and Space Museum and you can learn more about the early flights at their website.