HOWTO teach kids to be makers

Avi sez, "Gever Tulley outlines his simple yet radical pedagogical method in this short video. Gever's book 50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do is worth a high school education (or more) by itself."

Goddamn if that isn't the most inspirational fifteen minutes you spend today, you're doing something right. Tulley's method: learn to use power tools. Do a quick sketch of something challenging and great. Start building. Learn to use more tools. Encounter hard problems. Work them out. Make stuff. Feel great. Do more. I want to go back in time and attend Tinkerer's School.

Gever Tulley, Big Ideas Fest 2009

Fifty Dangerous Things parents' experiences blog


  1. This sort of thing is catching on.

    David Brin sent me a video of his son zipping around on a hovercraft his engineering class had built. At a public high school, not some special program.

    Since travel back in time is impossible, I’ll just settle for feeling bitter and horribly cheated. Grahhh. Hisss. Grumble.

  2. Sounds like the same spirit as the adventure playground I worked at in the ’80s. It was basically a 2 acre vacant lot at Harbourfront in Toronto, with lots of reclaimed lumber, spare tires and stuff, and donated tools. Over the 15 years it operated, the kid-built structures got quite dense — forts, towers, bridges. Perfect summer job for an art student.

  3. I only made it to minute 7 before stopping. He is using some big words to describe shop class. Any decent shop (or any other) teacher has already figured this out, without pseudo-science slides of the brain. It’s great that he’s teaching kids to be inventive and solve problems, all while treating them like adults, but I have a hard time buying into the belief that this is fundamentally different from the education many of us already participated in years ago.

    I had the same reaction to seeing the snippet from his book about boiling water in a paper cup; I learned that over 20 years ago in Boy Scouts. It’s no less cool, informative, and educational today, but claiming it’s somehow new and different is a stretch.

    It seems to me that the most progressive teachers today are learning that all of the sophisticated methods, psychology, and computer assisted learning invented in the recent past is not as effective as the simple methods used decades ago. They’re swinging back to hands-on methods and treating their students like humans rather than a unit to be passed through the system (sometimes with a score attached to a pay bonus).

    One of the most formative classes I was ever exposed to was at 6 years old. Each child was given a working (donated, used) clock to disassemble. We spent hours tearing our clocks apart and putting them back together, sometimes inventing new ways to make the thing work since we couldn’t recall how to re-assemble it.

    We should be giving our kids clocks to tear apart, not waiting until they are choosing their majors in college before feeding them a line of crap about engineers’ pay scales.

    1. gever’s usually pretty clear that he’s trying to offer kids today opportunities for experiences that he (and many of us of previous generations) had. not that he’s invented something new – he was finding, however, that it was new for many kids he knew.
      hearing about girl scouts who can’t bring their pocketknives to meetings and have “camp outs” in the indoor shopping mall (with specially open-24-hours Starbucks and nail salons) clearly indicates that while shop class and scouting as you describe would clearly offer kids these activities, isn’t a typical experience for most kids these days, unfortunately.
      sadly, many schools barely teach _science_ these days, much less shop class.

  4. This is the very idea behind experiential education. It’s nice to see these young minds exposed to these kinds of learning experiences. For older minds looking for a college experience like this you should check out Sterling College, VT ( ). It’s the college I wish I had gone to.

  5. @eander315: You may be right that many of the concepts are nothing new to past generations who grew up with shop class and Scouting. You may not be aware that many public schools have eliminated shop class from their curricula due not only to budget cuts but due to liability concerns. A woodworking magazine published a story about a shop program which converted bandsaws from electric motors to hand-crank power, requiring students to work in pairs, but at least they still had shop class!
    I grew up outside the city with access to the tools of my Dad’s plumbing business and quite a few hand and power tools. Most of my friends had no such good fortune. I believe most of those opportunities today are available only to farm kids.
    As further proof of my point, stand around a gas station and see how many people, young or old, still check their oil when they fuel their cars. Practical knowledge is increasingly uncommon.

  6. guys, i’m brazillian, and i can say that this kind of experience is absolutely fantastic. i didn’t have any of it in school, but i was lucky to be a curious kid with very dedicated parents. we could use projects like this down here.

  7. numike? I’m kind of curious as to why you would ask that question. Would you mind elaborating?
    I’m not trying to be confrontational, I just would like to know what feelings/perceptions prompted such a comment. :-)

    Like a lot of people noted above, THIS is what Scouting and Campfire and Shop class at it’s best SHOULD be. But with so much of our population shifted to “passive consumer” these days, AND with the ridiculous rise of cutting everything interesting out of kids lives for fear of getting sued, so much good interactive learning has been stripped out of childhood.
    And a lot of times, the few schools that DO make these thing available are only for the “gifted” and the kids whose parents are affluent enough to pay for the experience.
    I did a LOT of tinkering in my father’s workshop. Admittedly, I think I would have gone further if Dad believed in letting his baby girl use power tools (Dad, I used the drill and jig saw anyway- Surprise!), but I STILL learned so much! We live in an apartment now with no real tinkering room, but as soon as we buy a house, the garage is MINE and I fully plan to make a corner of it “kid friendly” so my nieces and their Campfire groups can come up and have workshops at my place. Heck, I would LOVE to someday be the house where my kids and their buddies came to work on strange contraptions after school! (And yes, there WILL be a waiver for all the kids to sign- I’m a Maker, but I’m a realist too!).

  8. This is great, it sounds like what school ought to be – not sitting at a desk memorising facts and copying what the teacher writes on the board.

    Actually it sounds alot like my apprenticeship years ago: Spend a week or two in the classroom learning theory, then spend a month at work doing the job, figuring problems out.

  9. I was probably to make a monorail with a washing line powered
    by a jettex motor with my dad


  10. My kids and I have been following the book for about a month now (my blog was linked in comment #6). What I like most is getting my son and daughter out of their comfort zone. While I don’t consider every one of the 50 things dangerous, they are a lot of fun. We ask each other questions about why glass breaks a certain way, or why a hot dog can cook in a dishwasher just as well as a pot of water. It great.

  11. I’ve been offering to teach my son to use a chainsaw since he was ten, I’ve taken him shooting since age nine but he refuses to touch guns. He’s just not interested in any object that does not have a video screen. I taught him to use the tablesaw and drillpress under extreme duress; he sincerely did not want to know, but he had some obligations that he could not fulfill without them so he grudgingly allowed himself to be taught. He hates all physical labor and all tools.

    Sadly, he is more physically active and mentally aware than 90% of his peer group. Most of them are riding a fast freight train to early diabetes, I think.

Comments are closed.