Friday, 28 October 2016

Teaching Critical Thinking Through Sewing

Let's Sew! We are pleased to announce the arrival of 4 new sewing machines at the Enrichment & Innovation Centre! These machines have assisted us in expanding our Maker space to include designing and making with textiles.They were first used with our grade 7 students and due to the tremendous amount of fun and learning that happened simultaneously, we are using the machines with our grade 6 students too!

On first glance, it may appear that we are teaching students how to sew. Although not incorrect, there is a whole other level to the learning as well. It is our goal this year to address critical thinking while making!

Our grade 7 students were asked to consider the concept of re-purposing throughout their day at the Centre. Students were asked to bring old shirts and other articles of clothing to use as the fabric. T-shirts were turned into drawstring bags, pant legs turned into neck pillows and old pockets re-purposed into ipod cases. While the skills of hand sewing and machine sewing were addressed during the day, students were given an opportunity to ponder how the skills involved in making could help address the United Nations Global Goals. Students pondered what else they could re-purpose instead of sending to landfills.

The classroom was busy! Students were measuring, cutting, designing (sounding like Math to me!) while critically thinking about environmental and social issues! It was fabulous! The conversations and thinking that occurred transpired in such an active way! At the end of the day were we all expert sewers? - NO WAY! However, the pride that occurs from having a completed project was tremendous. Students felt empowered. Instead of just talking about how we could solve World Issues and creating a lofty list of things that we may never do - we did! We made! We created! We re-purposed!

This lesson addressed re-purposing, but that is not the only critical thinking that can be addressed through sewing. Our grade 6 lesson was much different, yet visually if I took a picture of the class during the two grades they would look exactly the same. Students were moving around the room doing!

During our grade 6 sessions we used sewing to address media issues. We focused on how logos and branding impact individuality. Students were asked to design a logo that they could cut out of fabric that represented them. They were asked to think about what others would infer from that image. These logos were then hand sewn onto a piece of fabric that became one side of a pillow that was later sewn in a sewing machine.The conversations that occurred during this lesson differed from the re-purposing conversations that occurred during our grade 7 classes! Here are some of the questions that were pondered while making:
Are logos truthful?
Why would corporations and institutions choose to use logos that have no words?
Do logos control the message or expand a message’s possibilities?
Who decides the meaning of a logo?
What informs the meaning of a logo?
Does everything need to be represented with a logo?
How might logos work for or against the UN Goals for Sustainable Development?

Wow! These questions require such deep thinking. Yet, instead of just just talking we made while we talked. Again, our students left with a finished product and a sense of pride that comes from making. It is no wonder that I had a nightmare that I came to work and had no sewing machine in my classroom!

We are only just starting to explore the potential of the machines in our classroom. We have just touched the surface of learning by addressing re-purposing and logos in media. The rich Math that would come from making or following a pattern has yet to be fully explored. Not to mention further exploration of Social Studies issues such as Child Labour (the textile industry plays a large role in this!) or exploring the textiles of other cultures.

If I haven’t yet convinced you of the power of a sewing machine, and even if I have, check out the video below of an amazing young boy who sews teddy bears for children who are sick and at the hospital. Warning - have your kleenex ready, it’s a tearjerker!

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