“I’m going to need to find a lot of cheetah-print fabric for the sleeves,” says 10 year old Amya, as she reviews her sketch of an outfit she’s designing. She points out how she’s reusing old jeans to make the bodice and combining dark and light materials for the pants.
Every Friday after school, Amya attends the Maker’s Place, learning skills to produce items she could sell, even as a young student. The group has begun work producing a fashion show using reclaimed denim. The students will complete everything from clothing design to model choreography. As the session begins, instructor Jomari Peterson reminds the students that they’re learning to “take control of your own destiny and change the world.”
This week, Amya isn’t thinking about the world. She’s thinking simultaneously about ripping seams from a pair of wide-leg pants and how she can use Hummingbird to direct the models who will wear her designs in the Blues-themed fashion show.
The Maker’s Place is also a site for the Remake Learning Digital Corps, so the tweens and teens learn digital literacy skills ranging from coding to robotics. The previous week students learned about Hummingbird, a basic robotics program. Amya says, “I was using my mouse to move these bars on the screen, change the colors, and it was controlling lights. I thought right away about how we could use this in the show.”
Amya seems fascinated by the connections she sees between her new digital literacy skills and physical products she’s producing in the Maker’s Place. After learning HTML and working with Thimble, she was able to customize her online portfolio of work, changing up colors and adding background music to her website.
While she prefers to sketch her designs by hand, she’s been able to upload them to her portfolio for easy access. “Plus, it’s easier to use the computer to adjust sizing and modify patterns,” she says.
Each week, the Homewood-based students begin their out-of-school learning with an “Info-make” session—basically a boardroom discussion where each student briefs the group on what he or she has been doing and reviews material learned the previous week. The Digital Corps emphasizes collaborative learning, problem solving, and “learning-by-doing,” so the lessons pair beautifully with the projects these students produce in the Maker’s Place. When people seem reluctant to speak up, Jomari reminds them, “This is not a lecture hall. If we don’t talk, we can’t move forward.”
While the students eat pizza and bananas, they start to address concerns about their work. One asks, “how can we move forward if we don’t even have a date for the fashion show?” Others are clearly anxious to dive in to the bags of material scattered around the space, and a handful of new students are learning to navigate Pinterest for design inspiration.
Amya sits quietly to the side. The youngest student in this out of school learning site, she formed a bond with an older teen, Micah. The two have worked together through the coursework, reminding each other to “close the sandwich” when coding in HTML.
Even though Amya doesn’t currently see a future for herself in the field of computer science, she is reaping the benefits of her newfound literacy in the digital landscape. Finding the links between Digital Corps lessons and other hobbies helps her expand her creativity in both realms.
As her scissors move through the denim fabric, it’s hard to say where her mind might turn next.