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From Mechanics to Makers: Making and Sharing

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This post is by Kellie Taylor, Ed.D., the 2018-2019 Library of Congress Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow.

The maker movement seems to be a current topic, but it had some interesting ancestors during the 1700s and 1800s! While perusing the amazing digitized collections at the Library of Congress, I was fascinated to discover organizations in early America that reminded me of today’s makers.

Plan for an Observatory Balloon, 1834

Organizations called “mechanics’ societies” were created in colonial America to fuel innovation, among other things. Members attended mechanics’ institutes in mechanics’ halls to learn and develop their skills. Does that sound familiar?  Much like the makers of today with maker spaces and maker faires, the mechanics generated an environment of entrepreneurship.

An important part of implementing maker activities and experiences is the opportunity to share results. This was a priority for mechanics’ organizations as well. In addition to lectures in mechanics’ halls, early mechanics shared their results through magazines to promote beneficial impacts for society. The image of a plan for an observatory balloon was shared in the 1834 Mechanics’ Magazine.

Introduce the item to your students in sections, beginning with the image of only the observatory balloon, taking care not to include the page title that’s above it. What do your students think it is? Encourage them to develop a hypothesis, and ask them “what makes you say that” to elicit supporting evidence. Once you have analyzed the image itself, direct students to look at the detailed data and information on the rest of the page. Allow time for them to use the information to test and improve the design. What more do they want to know?

Connect to hands-on learning by asking students to design a better observatory balloon to collect aerial observations. Sharing and learning from each other is an important aspect of both the mechanics’ organizations and the maker movement. If your students create their own design models through sketching or building with recyclables, share and showcase their innovations with a display of before and after pictures or digital portfolios to document and demonstrate problem and solution!

Please encourage your students to explore other pages from the Mechanics’ Magazine, and share solutions your students create. We would love to see them!

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