Matt Jervis runs MacGyverClass!, a Berkeley, CA after school program that teaches creative problem solving to kids in K-5th grades. Their mission is to get kids to think creatively and see challenges as an opportunity, not a threat. Special thanks to Matt for being my first interviewee! Interviews with more exciting thinkers on creativity are in the hopper, and I hope you’ll come back for more.
::Two TinkerLab followers will have the chance to win a Challenge Box at the end of this interview.::
I love the name, MacGyverClass! Can you tell me about your program?
Yes! First of all… Thank you so much for seeing value in what we are attempting to do!! Let me begin by addressing the name… MacGyverClass! Now all of us parents know who MacGyver was… which made explaining the crux of the class a bit easier, but the connection to the TV show ends there. The funny thing is, we have brought the word MacGyver to whole new generation! Without them knowing anything about the 80’s TV show, they walk out of my class knowing “MacGyver” as a verb! The MC! program is essentially built to encourage kids to indulge their natural creative abilities through a specialized hands-on activity. And we do that by offering our students an open forum to explore their own ideas through fun random challenges and random materials! The random aspect is very important to the class… We like to say that, “You don’t get to pick your challenges…your challenges pick you!” and from there we begin!
I’m an artist and a veteran punk rock musician… in other words I’m a creative guy with a penchant for performing…that coupled with a family of artists and teachers… MacGyverClass! evolved very naturally… The first MC! class came to be when my son, Jasper was in Kindergarten and I wanted to get more involved with his class… as a new parent and an artist I decided to offer his teacher an “art” class for one afternoon… I based it on the crazy creative projects my Dad used to task my brother and I with growing up… making forts and other crazy stuff with just what we had around. As a painter, my Dad was fond of quoting Picasso, and often said “When Picasso ran out of red paint he would use what he had…blue.” I took much of that to sentiment to heart …and it was from there the idea for MacGyverClass! popped. I love MacGyverClass! because it’s simple and it can be done at home and it’s lessons are portable.
What age group do you work with?
As for the classes…I like the k-5th grade group… and I require them all to be in one class. This really helps to break down age barriers and form a real community in the class and beyond. As for my afterschool groups, I’ve seen this approach help to create bonds in the halls and on the playground! It’s magical to see a 1st grader and a 4th grader working together…then a kindergartner comes over with a cool idea…boom! That’s when MacGyverClass! really shines!! Separating the kids by grade just doesn’t work well for this program!
A typical class begins when school ends. We gather together and we pick our challenge out of a hat. The kids love being able to pick the challenge… Once the challenge has been picked, with a drum roll of course, I introduce the day’s materials. Every class is different and the materials are chosen with no regard to what the challenge could be.
For those of us interested in replicating a MC!-style class at home or school, could you share a couple of the questions that might get pulled from the hat?
Hmm. This is where MacGyverClass! really gets fun.
Challenges are off the wall but we take them very seriously! In fact we try and link all sorts of vocabulary words to each challenge and keep a conversation going the whole time. That really gets the wheels crankin’… My latest favorite challenges are:
- With today’s materials make a house for your foot! or…
- With today’s materials make shoes for time travel!
“With today’s materials create your very own action figure!”
This sounds like a lot of fun! What kind of materials do you use?
I approach each class like a head chef of a restaurant. Like a chef that goes daily to the Farmers Market and picks the latest offerings…I go to various places on my route and find wacky new materials and bring them fresh to each class. They may range from rolls of aluminum foil… to wine caps or sponges. My favorite materials are the simplest…like egg cartons and VHS tape! The most popular material by far is the duct tape…but we use it in every class and because of that, the kids have developed a pretty savvy appreciation for the “good” stuff.
Why do you think it’s important to get kids to “think creatively and see challenges as opportunities?”
First of all…why not? I mean, that’s the crux of life right? … to be prepared? I want our kids to be ready and able to deal with the ebbs and flows of life… Change and challenge… If we can start to show kids that to innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat…. Getting acquainted with your creative side is to equip yourself with a real survival skill. Simply I see MacGyverClass! as a metaphor for life; We don’t choose our challenges, our challenges choose us! I hope our kids walk away feeling a little less anxiety when approaching a new challenge and see it more as an opportunity to be creative then a potential for failure. I hope they begin to see an egg carton as compressed paper fibers and not as an egg carton. By that I mean, see the material thru the form. I also hope they have fun ultimately… I feel kids learn best sometimes when they don’t know they’re learning…
Can you tell me more about those intriguing Random Challenges boxes?
The boxes are great for anyone! k- adult… They tap into something we all do and gives enough structure without being too structured. Get a dozen and have them at a party… keep a couple in the trunk for long car rides…take them on the plane! Work as a team or just let your mind wander! It’s like a spa for your creative side.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today, Matt!
Giveaway is CLOSED. Matt is giving away two sets of his Random Challenges boxes to two lucky readers. To enter, leave a comment by Monday, June 6 at 8 pm PST, and mention your favorite upcycled found material. Winners will be notified by email or Facebook.
- Like TinkerLab on Facebook and leave a comment on the TinkerLab Facebook wall.
- Share this giveaway in your Facebook status and leave the link to your profile.
- Blog about this post with a direct link pointing to this giveaway. Leave me a link so I can check it out!
If you’d like to connect with MacGyverClass!, you can find them on Facebook: facebook.com/macgyverclass.