What is Artisan Education?

Five years ago, our eldest son wanted to be a turtle for Halloween. We couldn't find a non-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one, so we made it out of cardboard using paper mache and paint.

This turtle shell is made from cardboard using paper mache and acrylic paint. Handmade pants too! We couldn’t find what he wanted, so we made it ourselves!

Meet the twenty-first century artisans. They understand the value they are creating. It’s tactile. It’s real. They made it because they wanted it themselves. They can tell you exactly how everything is made and where their materials come from. They blend the proven tools of the past with the current tools of today, picking and choosing whatever suits their aesthetic.
– David Lang, from his book, Zero to Maker.

They Understand the Value They are Creating

I love this quote from Lang’s book, Zero to Maker. I love it because he values handcrafted items and ideas, but also because Lang’s thinking mimics my own. At the beginning of his “maker” journey, Lang questioned his education and wondered if he could teach himself something about power tools and underwater submarines. I love that he didn’t know where to begin, but started anyway. To me, this is an artisan education. A self-directed quest to create something from raw materials. It’s a “back to the land” movement, but with technology instead of food production.

According to my WordPress stats, my most popular keyword search is centered around the phrase, “what is artisan education?” Unfortunately, I doubt all of those inquiries are for our small tech business (though, it’s nice when they are).

Rather, I imagine people are looking for how skilled craftsmen, known as artisans, became educated.  The librarian in me wants to do a reference interview and guide the web searcher to a better resource, such as this site from The Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum.  Perhaps, they are looking for the history of how artisans were educated, which was primarily through apprenticeships. However, the artisan in me wants to explain my art, my training, my self-directed path of education and the small business that grew out of it.

Picture of a simple circuit using copper tape to conduct electricity and light an LED

To learn more about how circuits work, I used copper tape to light up a SMD LED. It’s an idea from The Exploratorium.

Meet the 21st Century Artisans

I consider myself to be an artisan. In fact, I think every good teacher is an artisan. However, I can also sew, knit, cook, manage a business, find information, and facilitate learning for a number of topics. Of course, I can do a lot more than that, but I’m especially proud that I taught myself how to sew, how to cook and how to knit. No one gave me a grade and no one stood beside me forcing me to do it. I struggled and fought for every piece of knowledge I earned.

School was fun because I loved learning and the work was easy. When I got a job, I enjoyed the novelty of it, but after a while it became tedious and monotonous. I missed learning. I thought about a PhD, but I had just graduated. I couldn’t go back to school. I needed to learn basic life skills, not just “school” skills. It took awhile, but I realized that if I wanted to keep learning, I was going to have to figure out how to do that on my own. I thought of something I wanted to learn and landed on sewing. I wanted to make my own clothes. I liked a certain style, but couldn’t always find the right color or style and disliked spending so much money on something I wasn’t too crazy about.

How Everything is Made and Where the Materials Come From

My mom knew how to sew and helped me make a few things when I was young, but I didn’t retain any of that knowledge. After running the gauntlet through AP high school classes, varsity sports and a part-time job, such frivolous skills seemed unnecessary and useless. What was the point of learning how to sew when you could just buy clothes? Purchasing pre-made clothing seemed to be a much more efficient use of time.

Like David Lang, I realized how very little I knew. Oh, I could study for a test and receive a diploma, but most of that knowledge was distributed from the top-down. Teachers or professors laid out the material, or pointed me in a direction, and off I went. To figure out how to sew, I needed to make my own path. I needed to struggle with sewing and no one was going to grade me (or pay me) for my progress. To top it off, I had to find my own teachers and resources.

Penguin fabric that became pajama pants for my boys.

It’s pinned and ready to go! This penguin fabric became pajama pants for my boys.

They Made it Because They Wanted it Themselves

Slowly, I learned how to sew and how to find the information to teach myself. I struggled and realized that to learn something well meant that I had to try again and again and again. I had to be content with poorly constructed garments because my technique wasn’t good enough. I had to find other teachers and “waste” money on trying new patterns and abandoning the ones I couldn’t figure out. I had to pay for classes and get out and make friends with people who  knew how to sew and quilt. And, I did. It took awhile and it wasn’t always pretty, but I did it.

I became a twenty-first century artisan because I wanted to make something that was just right for me. I wanted to reflect my own style and to take care of myself and my family with these time-honored skills.

A picture of 4 double-pointed kneedles and a tube being knit.

Learning to tightly knit a tube was made much easier thanks to books and YouTube.

Artisan Education

Which brings me to our business – Artisan Education. Artisan was born out of a need for hands-on classes for our (then) six-year-old. We wanted to help him follow his passion to be a robot engineer. Yes, he truly said that at age six. A few years ago, he was a solid right-brain learner who loved (and still loves) building with legos. He wasn’t interested in the traditional tasks of reading and writing. He wanted to build and work with his hands. A Montessori child if there ever was one, yes?

I sought out ways to incorporate his interests into his daily learning. He still had to work on learning how to read, but I also incorporated his desire to be a robot engineer. I looked for classes in our area, but there weren’t a lot of options – especially for his age. So, we stuck with legos until six months later, I discovered Lego Education. The rest, they say, is history.

A picture of Lego Education's kit, Simple Machines

The first Lego Education kit he did – at age 7. Simple Machines.

Here was a company who was using hands-on materials to teach the things my son actually wanted to learn. When I realized that they made tools for learning computer science concepts, my business was born. I could reach other students who had the same interest and help them to learn about computer programming, but still stay to true to my Montessori background. All of the materials are concrete, hands-on tools and offer multiple creative options. Repetition is encouraged and so is using the materials in a new way.  I also discovered other age-appropriate tools for kids to work with, specifically the icon-based programming language, Scratch.

They Blend the Tools of the Past with the Current Tools of Today

We named our business Artisan Education because we think that learning is an artisanal process. The type of material or learning path is going to be different for each person – even if those same people want to be robot engineers. Each path will be unique. We want to honor that type of learning and crafting. We strive to include a lot of creative paths for discovery, while still allowing students to work at their own pace. We utilize our tools of the past (the Montessori philosophy) with current tools of today (Lego WeDo, Ozobots, etc.)

A picture of a computer with Scratch on the screen.

Icon-based programming tools, like Scratch, help make writing code more accessible…and fun.

In addition to our technology-based summer camps, we also design and review online courses, putting our instructional design skills to good use. Like good teaching, high-quality instructional design requires a unique approach. And, like a librarian, you need to conduct an interview to determine what the client truly needs. These are the tools of our past and we are combining them with the current tools of today. We are twenty-first century artisans.

Picture of tomato soup with a heart drawn with cream.

Knowing how to cook – and how to improvise – is an important skill. My husband made this tomato-based soup for me on Valentine’s Day.