Participants in SMARTGirls initiative at Pennsylvania College of Technology

“If we have fun doing it, we might need to know, how does that work?”

Curiosity can inspire fun and creativity at every age. Andrea McDonough Varner — coordinator of the Williamsport Area School District Art Department — sees it happen in K-12 classrooms.

design camp
Summer camps encourage creativity

“I think about eight, nine-year-olds that have this interest  … maybe it’s gaming, maybe it’s experimenting with science. We know that it’s fun; we’ve got the fun down. Then that inspired us to go out and seek the knowledge … If we have fun doing it, we might need to know, how does that work?”

College students often react the same way, according to Lauren Rhodes, assistant professor of mathematics at Pennsylvania College of Technology.

A “lifelong lover of math and art and music,” Lauren said students gain an increased appreciation for theories and concepts when they encounter challenges in projects outside the classroom.

In a video available now for online viewing, Andrea, Lauren and other educators share their thoughts about creating spaces for students to learn while doing.

Roundtable discussion
Faculty meet at the Gallery at Penn College (left to right) Tom Ask, Lauren Rhodes, Rob Wozniak, Andrea McDonough Varner and Penny Griffin Lutz

Sparking Creativity

“Sometimes the creativity can spark the ‘Oh, I need to be able to do this, and I don’t know how,'” Lauren explained.

“Some of my favorite opportunities with students have been … sitting in the hall with a student who wants to do something with their truck and they’re realizing they don’t know trigonometry yet, so they don’t know how to do the angle … Or the gamer who’s designing a game and they’re going down the tube with their computer, but they can’t seem to control the speed. The tighter the tube gets, the faster the object goes, but they don’t want it to go faster,” Lauren said. “It’s really their play, in a sense, that brought up the math question.”

“It’s really their play, in a sense, that brought up the math question.”

cellphone game

When asked to participate in a conversation about creating a maker space for students, Lauren jumped at the opportunity.

“I want to be in this from the ground floor,” she said. “I love seeing big tools and sewing machines in the same row. I want to be in that room.”

Did she say sewing machines?

I love my handy Singer, but I had a hard time imagining a simple sewing machine sharing space 3-D printers and other high-tech devices until Andrea and Penny Griffin Lutz, director of the Gallery at Penn College, both shared stories of sewing machines attracting students’ curiosity.

Intriguing Machines

sewing machine
My beloved sewing machine is ready to work

“We found sewing machines to be very intriguing for high school level students,” Andrea said.

“It might not be in our household, it might not be a tool that we use in intermediate school anymore – we don’t do the home economics – so when we’re introduced to a machine like this, ‘Oh my goodness, how can I manipulate this?’ … It becomes so intriguing. ‘I need to know how to use that.’”

Penny had a similar experience with fourth graders. “We were doing Odyssey of the Mind, and I brought in a sewing machine, so that maybe one of them could make something. I was teaching one, and they all lined up, they all wanted to know. They had to each take a turn at the machine.”


“Fun can drive a lot of things.”

“There’s a whimsy there. There’s playfulness,” explained Tom Ask, professor of industrial design.

As faculty advisor for the Society of Inventors and Mad Scientists, Tom said, “We had a kite-propelled boat race, where they made everything from scratch, including the kites. Why do you do that? Well, there’s no good reason to do that, right? Except for fun. Fun can drive a lot of things.”

Tom believes a generation immersed in technology and entertainment can be positively influenced by the fun of doing something, creating something with their own hands.

“The maker culture is different. It’s saying, ‘The computers get turned off. The phones get turned off. Let’s build something. Let’s have fun actually creating something.’”

hands and clay

I think all makers – tinkerers, designers, inventors and artists that work in every imaginable medium – experience incredible pleasure making things they can enjoy and share. Tom agrees.

“You can make things that satiate your sense of wonder,” he said. “You can’t buy that at Toys-R-Us. You can’t buy that at Lowe’s. But you can create it.”

Dollhouse Fun

A creative childhood experience led Rob Wozniak, associate professor of architectural technology at Penn College, to his choice of career. His sister had beautiful dollhouse furniture, but no dollhouse. So, he approached his mother with the idea of building one.

Colonial Doll House 001 (2)
Rob Wozniak’s colonial dollhouse

“I didn’t have any tools,” he told his faculty colleagues. “Mom buys me a circular saw, jig saw, all these things. She just trusted me. ‘Have fun. Make a dollhouse.’ And I did.” He even included a photograph of the finished work (left) in the portfolio he submitted when applying to architecture school.

“Without the tools and the trust and the materials, it wouldn’t have happened,” Tom declared after listening to Rob’s experience. “That’s a great story,”

“When you make something, it’s a form of self-expression that’s really helpful,” Tom said. “You’re human. You can’t just play with other people’s toys and other people’s video games and watch other people’s TV shows and other people’s movies. You need to create. You need to put something out. If you can do it in a fun way, an evocative way, if you can do it with chums, it’s a beautiful experience. It really is.”

“You’re human. You can’t just play with other people’s toys and other people’s video games and watch other people’s TV shows and other people’s movies. You need to create.”

You can hear these stories and more on a video capturing the entire maker movement discussion that took place at the Gallery at Penn College.

Next week, I’ll share more about our efforts for Working Class.TV to discover how maker spaces can influence creativity and build a sense of community.

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