Time and space for wild imaginations

I did a double take at my calendar.  Second semester started January 6th, which means the DIY/Maker senior seminar started January 6th.  It seems like we’ve been going for both weeks and weeks and just days.

That makes no sense, does it?

We’ve managed to get so much done, but we really haven’t had that many class meetings when it comes down to it.

What have we done so far:

  • Started class with a design sprint, which involved the building of a paper airplane.  The plane had to have a flight time of six seconds.  Students can only uses scissors, paper, and staples.  To make it even more interesting, each team has a $40 budget.  Paper is $1, each fold is $1, cuts are $2, and staples are $4.  We did our design sprint in a 45-minute class period.  No plane flew for six seconds.  However, a couple of days later a group of boys did discover some gliders on Thingiverse. which did fly for 6+ second.  Perhaps printing gliders from Thingiverse isn’t all that impressive; but having a group of kids who have never touched a 3D printer figure out how to download a file, prep it for printing, and then actually print it was very cool to me.
Paper airplanes

Paper airplanes

Behold, the Tech Zoo

Behold, the Tech Zoo

Playing a Scratch game with Makey Makey

Playing a Scratch game with Makey Makey

Someone fell into a Scratch rabbit hole

Someone fell into a Scratch rabbit hole

  • Started projects!  We are 2-3 days into actual projects.  It’s completely insane.  The class flies by for me.  Hopefully it flies by for the students too.  There are 18 kids working on 18 different things for the most part.  There are some amazing ideas circulating out there too.  I’m especially impressed with Clair’s list of ideas and Emily’s thoughts.  It’s that kind of wild imagination that I hope can be nurtured by the time and space this class provides.

Some random thoughts/highlights:

  • Sam (he’s going to start blogging.  Oh, he is.) has been working on an Omniwheel Robot after learning to solder Tuesday.  He was wiring the motors today, and was frustrated by the instructions. By the end of class he exclaimed that he had things working.  I asked what he did.  His reply, “I thought about it for a little while and applied some physics.”

Maybe that’s insignificant for you, but it’s what I’m aiming for.  I want students to apply what they’ve learned in other disciplines to their projects.

This is my third semester teaching the DIY/Maker course.  Last semester I had a group of kids that were (so I thought) unmatched in their enthusiasm and curiosity.  My current class is diving right in too.  My first class stared at me a lot, but I’m pretty sure that it had a lot to do with the fact that we weren’t in a makerspace, and I didn’t know what I was doing.

What’s challenging is managing 18 different students with 18 different projects.  I think this will get easier as the students get used to searching for tutorials, using forums, using each other, etc.  However, right now it’s too easy for a student to slink off to hang out with  friends or for the quieter students to get lost in the chaos.  I need to improve the dividing of my attention.

Sometimes I’m sure someone will cluck, “And where is the academic value in all of this… this knitting… this magic wand making…  this sewing of LEDs?!”  There’s a valid defense, of course.  But that’s a post for another day.




Process or outcome. What’s more important?

It was a good week.  A positive way to ease back into the routine after a leisurely spring break.

The DIY/Maker kids wrapped up their independent projects and presented their process/projects this week.  The projects included a puppet show, a matchbox pinhole camera, a board game, a couple of video projects combining spring break footage with music, baskets made from found cardboard and yarn, and a photography project that involved taking photos of students’ and creating collages from those portraits like this image by this Mike Marrero (I think).

pinhole came

We spent some time talking about process versus product/outcome, a point of conversation inspired by Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.

I asked if Mau’s statement was true.  Is process really more important than outcome?  The opinions were mixed, and to be honest I’m really undecided.  No, maybe it’s less about being undecided and more about responding to the question with, “It depends.”

In my efforts to learn Scratch, something I’ve been doing as part of MIT’s Learning Creative Learning MOOC, process matters a lot.  I’ve been paying close attention to what works for me as a learner, especially as a learner of something completely new.  What causes friction?  The process has been insightful and has maybe provided some “data” I can use the next time I take on something new.  However, the more I roll it over in my head, the more I think that reflecting on the process IS the product or desired outcome.  The point isn’t to necessarily master Scratch, but to consider how I learn and what it means to be a student and/or self-directed learner.

But here’s the thing… if someone is paying me to create a product or get something done, a bunch of navel gazing and half-baked blogging about “process” isn’t going to make many people happy.

It’s the process where we learn from mistakes and where we learn what works well.  It’s the process that teaches us how to create that awesome product.  It’s the process that toughens the mental and physical resolve to get after it…  to get things done.

Or maybe that’s all hippie BS.

The class consensus was that it was indeed the product/outcome that was most important.  However, one student–a puppeteer–boldly admitted that he could’ve cared less about the final product.  It was the process–the making of the puppet show–that was the most fun… the place where the memories were made.

Truth.  The process lends itself to memory making.  Maybe those memories involve laughs with friends, but those memories are also, “X works for me.” and “I suck at Y.”  All useful insights to have when moving on to the next product or outcome.



The ‘Gears’ of my childhood: a LCL post with an unhappy ending

I’m in MIT’s Learning Creative Learning MOOC, and I think it’s going to be a MOOC with which I stick.  Much like DS106, LCL promises to be fun and engaging with philosophies to ponder months after it ends.

One of the first reading assignments is to read the foreward, “The Gears of My Childhood” from Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms.  From what I hear, reading just the foreward of Mindstorms isn’t enough.  It’s a book I plan to continue with over the next few weeks.  There was a short writing assignment with the reading.  It goes something like this:

Read Seymour Papert’s essay on the “Gears of My Childhood” and write about an object from your childhood that interested and influenced you (and share with your group).

I would like to sit here and tell you that the Apple IIe that my parents brought home one evening was the most profound object to enter our house.  I’d like to say that I learned how computers really worked, that I learned how to program in elementary school, that I demystified computing, technology, whatever you want to call it.  I didn’t do any of that though.

I typed words and sentences into the command line, pressed enter, and pretended that I was doing important work, making big things happen, dominating my enemies.

The only thing I was really dominating was on that Apple IIe was “Sammy Lightfoot”

screenshot from Sammy Lightfoot

Image from Mobygames.com

and “Below the Root,” (which was based on the novel by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, one of my favorite authors at the time.  Although her name was in the credits, I was not clever enough to make the connection between the game and her until years later.  Um, I may have also stolen a copy of Below the Root from a library that will go unnamed.  I know.  I feel bad about this).

Screenshot from Below the Root

Image from gamesdbase.com

The day I solved/won/beat “Below the Root”–a game that I spent weeks playing–is one of the more memorable days from my childhood.  I vividly remember waking up and thinking, “This is what I need to do to win this game.”  And then I did it.  It was very much one of those “Aha!” moments that is actually a result hours/days/weeks spent cogitating about the problem at hand.

The Apple IIe wasn’t the “gear” of my childhood.  It was just an outlet for play and imagination.  It was, like Legos, Barbies, and a motley assortment of Smurf figurines, a way to create universes with complex plots, character motivation, protagonists, story arcs, etc.

With my rad gaming experience and interest in creating alternate universes, I really should gotten into game design or something.  Instead I studied English in college.  How depressing is that?  I went from making my own stories to reading about other people’s stories (and then writing mediocre essays about those stories).  From active to passive.

At some point there was an almost overnight shift (or so it seems) from playing to self-doubt and self-consciousness.  I’m still trying to figure out when this shift occurred and why it occurred.