Tools Are Meant for Building

For the past several weeks, I've been helping with a variety of building projects for my apartment. A shoe rack. A patio chair turned table. A piece of wall art. And although I grew up the daughter of a builder with a great appreciation for hard work, I've been finding myself frustrated at times by the process because it takes time. 

However, I'm realizing how much this physical building process is exactly like creating in the digital space. 

Tools are cool, but it's not about the tools.

All of my projects are still in process. I'm not yet enjoying the final product of what we're working to create. I've learned to use a couple of cool new tools, like the Kreg tool, but when it comes down to it, I still have no product.

The same happens a lot in the use of technology in our schools. There are a plethora of new tech tools, and it can be really easy to be distracted by their shiny nature. We often attend training sessions that spend a great deal of time teaching us how to use the tools. And that's important. BUT, it's not the end goal. It might be fun to play with the tools, but I don't have a product to enjoy. We need to be careful about how we frame tools in trainings and in our classroom by casting the vision for what we can do with the tool and actually having our students create something meaningful with it. 

There are right and wrong tools for the job.

As we've built these projects, we've had to go to the store to buy some new tools, like a miter box. To me, this is frustrating. Aren't we building it ourselves in order to save money and recycle the materials that we have? Yet, through the building process, I've realized that each tool does have a unique and necessary purpose, and we probably do really need all of them. Yeah, sometimes we might be able to smash two together to get by, but the new tool would really help. Further, most projects need more than one tool. As a builder, you must decide which tools will help you build the product you desire. 

Similarly, creating products requires teaching students how to choose the right tools to use. My students have a love-hate relationship for the projects in my class because I give such vague requirements. I've been known to say, "Create something awesome to show me __________." I want students to not only know the content they're communicating to me, but I want them to learn to choose the best method to communicate that content. I also don't want to over-exalt a specific tool; I want them to know what they need to create. Having said that, there are tools that just won't do the content justice or that will make their work much harder than necessary. They need to learn to choose the right tools. 

Building takes time.

I'm really good at shopping. It's really easy to see a need, go to the store, buy it, and use the product in an hour. Not so with building. It takes time. You often have to go to many different stores to gather your materials. You may need to wait for glue or paint to dry. And it takes time to put it all together. Patience isn't really my strong suit, and building projects are trying to teach me to enjoy the process in addition to the product. 

We need to remember the same thing in our classroom. Creating takes time. As teachers, we often feel the pressure crunch to get through content. Pacing guides driven by test dates force teachers to explore breadth instead of depth. But more and more, I'm learning that creativity can't be rushed. It takes time to build something and build it well. But I believe it's worth it. I believe creating teaches my skills that will be appreciated much longer than they'll remember the content that I taught. 

If you can dream it, you can build it.

The problem with store-bought goods is that you're limited by what's in stock on the shelves. You often have to shop and shop and shop and shop, waiting for the perfect item. When you build it, you can dream and create anything. You can make it just the right measurements and just the right color. With the right tools, you can make pretty much anything in your head with a little engineering. Yes, you'll have to plan it out. Yes, it will take time, Yes, it might not come out right the first time, but you can do it. 

The same freedom and support should be given to our students. I believe that middle schoolers are continually the most underestimated people in our world. All they need is a few people who believe in them and listen to them, and then they wow the world. I love giving my students freedom in the classroom because it cracks open their brains that are full of awesomeness; it makes their dreams spill forth. Then, equipped with the tools, they make those dreams a reality. That's why I love technology. These tools amplify their voices and make their dreams a reality. That's what I'm all about. 

Therefore, let's teach our students to be builders of awesome. Let's teach them to find and utilize tools to their full potential. Let's teach them to find the right tool for the right product and audience. But most of all, let's teach them that it's not about the tool. It's about building something worth creating.