I had the opportunity to visit the Tacoma Museum of Glass (MOG) recently, and saw, among other wonderful things, a stunning exhibit called the Kids Design Glass Collection. Young children (some as young as 5 years old) had been invited to submit drawings which were then transformed into exquisite glass art pieces by the professionals in the MOG hot shop. The kids were able to watch the production process and have input to the final product. A quote from the museum website: “As the designer, the child directs the artists as they make two sculptures—one for the child to take home and the other for MOG”.
This is a real-life experience – one that I would consider to be authentic learning. Although hot glass is too dangerous for kids to work with directly, the kids were in control of how their designs were interpreted and they worked with the artists to solve design problems. The artists learned from the kids and the kids learned from the artists and they discovered new ideas together.
It was obviously a tremendous experience for the kids – the museum has documented the joy of kids and artists working together and there is an account by a child psychologist (Susan Linn) that describes how this project worked for the kids to build self-esteem as well as an interest in the arts. Dr. Linn is known for her work related to imaginative play in childhood (something she sees as having been diminished in a commercialized era) and since this project is clearly based on the imagination of kids she is very supportive of it.
I believe technology (and glassmaking is a technology, just like computers, smartphones, videogames etc.) can either encourage or inhibit imagination/creativity. It all depends on how that technology is used. And an education system open to creativity is healthier than one that focuses on rote learning/standardized testing.
Educators can point to the Tacoma Glass project as an example of exploring boundaries of authentic learning. I’m guessing that the pairing kids and professionals in many domains could lead to equally fruitful results. How about having kids design outdoor sculptures to be built with local welders? Or park benches to be built in a nearby woodworking shop? Or a set design for the next professional theatre production in your community?