Name: Tracy Gray
Home: Brooklyn, New York
Makerspace: Sankofa Global Brings S.T.E.A.M. Makerspaces to YOU!
Day Job: Education Consultant
How’d you get started making? I became a Maker when I was a classroom teacher. Inquiry and project based learning was integral to all curricula. Whether we were studying butterflies, birds, the post office, the city, transportation, the green market, or neighborhoods, students were always “making” their environment to understand the unit of study. Studying the green market? Visit green markets all over the city then build and run one in the classroom. One of the highlights of teaching kindergarten was watching students paint New York City, the Hudson River, and the East River on the floor. Simultaneously, they constructed businesses and homes, the Roosevelt Island Tramway, the Brooklyn Bridge and the George Washington Bridge. The second grade classroom community researched architecture, examined conventional and unconventional facades and designed miniature buildings for their city.
Making the transition from classroom teacher to school administrator meant it was my job to make sure learning took place throughout the school day. The instructional school day for all students was 8:30am – 3:00pm. What do you do for the students whose day is from 7:30am – 6:00pm? You make sure that rich experiences happen for students before school and after school.
My goals, my vision of what I wanted for myself, and the students at my school, changed when I attended an event organized by the University of Southern California’s MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science, Achievement) program. MESA targets educationally disadvantaged middle and high school students from low-income families, exposing them to science at an early age with the ultimate goal of increasing the number of minority graduates in STEM fields. When I got the invitation from my brother, an engineer and the Director of STEM Educational Outreach at USC, I thought it sounded interesting. The reality far surpassed my expectations. I walked into the USC quad expecting to see a few dozen students at a science fair. What I saw was 400 middle school students and dozens of adult volunteers. Long tables were set up on the quad, each one focusing on a different project and different experiments, from aerospace engineering to robotics. Each table had a poster detailing what field and what physical laws were involved in the experiment and each child had a card with specific instructions.
It was the most amazing mass demonstration of progressive education and the Maker Movement I’d seen before I attended my first Maker Faire. I had found my bliss! I knew my experience as an educator would support my transition to full-time Maker. Shortly thereafter, I left the education world and I founded The Sankofa Global Project. Sankofa Global encourages all children and communities, regardless of gender or ethnicity, to advance in STEAM fields, From my perspective, the goal of making is supporting the natural curiosity that children, and their families, have and making it accessible through hands-on projects.
What type of maker would you classify yourself as? I see myself as three type of Makers – a Do It Yourself Maker, a Self Learning Maker, and an Educator Maker.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve made? My favorite project is building mini-racers. I love what participants are able to design when they are just given materials and the challenge to build!
What’s something you’d like to make next? The thing I really want to make next is a 3-D printer from scratch. I think it is a fantastic challenge that I’d like to accomplish with a group of students.
Any advice for people reading this? Making is about figuring things out – it’s all about the process. When I set up Maker experiences like I did at the Maker Faire in New York, I encourage participants to find the many roads to success. My goal is to facilitate experiences where participants walk away and want to continue building and designing long after we’ve worked together!
Who else should we profile? You should profile Darin Gray, Director of USC STEM Educational Outreach, Laura Hollis, Director of Technology at Saddle River Day School, and Holly Kasun, co-founder of Flybrix Make Your Own Rebuildable Drones Using Lego Bricks. They are all phenomenal Makers!
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