Educator and author Kathy Ceceri and I have been colleagues on and off for nearly 15 years, writing for some of the same publications and collaborating on projects. Kathy has always been an inspiration to me — focused and innovative with a powerful can-do approach. It’s not just me. Her work inspires kids, parents, and educators every day.
Kathy has written nearly a dozen books and kids in her hands-on workshops make fascinating things. Really fascinating — like a hydraulic Lego 3D food printer, solar baked oatmeal cookies, a light-up paper cat, or a swarm of gliding vibrobots. Better yet, her goal is getting them to come up with their own creations.
I suspect all of us would like to know more about Kathy. I was thrilled when she agreed to an interview.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
My background is in journalism, although my training was all “on-the-job,” writing news reports, lifestyle and art features, and investigative pieces for newspapers, magazines, and websites.
My training in education was all “on-the-job” as well — I homeschooled my two sons from kindergarten up until college. I have written about kid-friendly hands-on learning projects for Family Fun and Wired.com, and as the “Homeschooling Expert” (yes, that was really my title) for About.com. I currently produce books and articles for Make Magazine and other publishers and lead workshops for kids, families, and educators.
How does starting out as a writer and artist lead to a quest to advance STEAM and Maker learning?
STEAM stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math,” and the Maker Movement is about building, inventing, and exploring in the physical realm (as opposed to creating software). Both these educational trends excite me because as a kid I was always creating homes, environments, and accessories for my dolls and recycling materials into playthings. I was also very crafty, trying a little bit of everything that came along from stained glass to candlemaking to macrame. And my favorite type of reading was fantasy and science fiction.
I studied some art in college but never really applied it until I discovered ways to incorporate it into projects that involved engineering and science. Today design and technology is an area of concentration in many art programs, but not when I was in school! Making robotic systems out of cardboard and duct tape is a perfect expression of everything I enjoy. And it seems to appeal to an audience of teachers and students who want to get started but don’t know where to dive in (or don’t have the resources to start big).
Can you share a project or two in depth? (including a link to instructions?)
Sure! This Tin Can Cooker project from my latest book Edible Inventions dates back to my days at Girl Scout camp.
And these recipes for Refrigerator PIckles and Yogurt in a Mug are family standards.
You can find links to more projects from my books at my website Crafts for Learning.
Are your projects do-able for people who don’t have much in the way of DIY experience.
Definitely. I describe my projects as “low tech/no tech” and I design them to draw on skills and materials that most people already have. As I always say, “If I can do it, you can do it.”
Can you share a story of how hands-on projects can empower kids?
My favorite stories are the parents who come back and say, “He spent the whole weekend working on making his robot better,” or “She went home and taught her sister how to make that project.” If nothing else, kids who try my books and workshops come away knowing how to troubleshoot, and have a little more confidence about trying something to see where it leads. The nice thing about Maker projects is there’s no one right answer. Unlike math worksheets, there are many ways to set out, and many different directions you can go in. That’s something kids don’t get enough of nowadays.
You are making a difference. Can you give us some encouragement to follow our own passions?
That’s very nice of you to say! If I’ve followed my passion, it’s because it was the path that best fit the life I had at that moment. I guess my advice is don’t be afraid to promote yourself and your particular strengths and talents. If you’re passionate, sooner or later you’ll find someone who responds to that energy and will open up new ways to channel it that you might not have imagined.
Kathy’s book titles include:
And her newest, due out in March 2017.
Check out Kathy’s site Crafts for Learning for low-tech projects, her workshop schedule, and Makerspace suggestions. Thanks Kathy!