Things I made. People I met: an end-of-summer summary

I started this post back in August.  That was a long time ago.  This post probably would’ve lingered in the drafts folder like so many posts before and after it.  However, at the gentle nudging of a friend, I’m going to get a post in.

It’s good to be held accountable.

Summer came.  Summer went.  The 2014-15 school year reared its chaotic, energized, and lovely head on the 26th of August.  I was greeted at the doors of the Academic Commons by exuberant student council members and given this swag (as the kids say).

First Day Swag

First Day Swag

I didn’t do a lot of open, digital reflecting over the summer, because life.  But there was some pretty cool and important things going on.  I’ll recap them here.

I had goals for the summer.  Some were met.  Some were derailed by other happenings.  Time was spent with e-textiles.  I enjoyed mashing up the circuits with things like embroidery and cross stitch.

In space, no one can hear you scream.

In space, no one can hear you scream.

The above project was going to be a space scene.  Planets.  Stars.  A rabbit in a rocket ship.  I dismantled it though, because the rabbit looks distressed.  I’ll give it another go eventually.  The cross stitch project is also unfinished, like many other projects around my house.  I’m discovering that I really enjoy the planning of the project and the more challenging aspects (like planning a circuit for the conductive thread and LEDs).  Sticking with the actual embroidery (or knitting of tentacles for a knitted nautiloid) is more difficult. It’s not that the work is tedious.  It’s just a slower burn, I think.

EL wire project

EL wire project

I finally got around to using the EL wire that I’ve had for about a year now.  It’s definitely inspired by the TRON bag project over at Adafruit.  I’d like to do another EL wire project soon that requires soldering.  I think that would make for a nice challenge.

When my son was in diapers, we used one of my messenger bags for diapers and such.  My son is long out of diapers, so I reclaimed the bag, sewed some EL wire on the front with nylon thread and called it a day.  The hardest part of the project was ripping open some seams in order to secure and EL inverter.

Ta da!  Flat line!

Ta da! Flat line!

This project only took a couple of hours (if that).  Immediate payoff!  Like!

Project Update:  The EL wire broke and my stitches are popping.  My sewing does not hold up to brutal, daily wear.  I’m pretty sure I can solder the EL wire back to the inverter.  I’ll make some stronger stitches too when I get back to this.

One goal for my summer of making things was to get out of my house and make as many connections as possible.  I worked with 7 other pretty amazing folks to organize the RVA MakerFest, which put me in touch with many makers and advocates of making in the community.

The most rewarding thing about the summer of making was spending more time at Hack.RVA.  I worked there a few mornings when I didn’t want to deal with my cats jumping on projects.  I went to a few Maker Camps organized by Catherine, Hack.RVA member and fearless leader of the RVA Maker Guild.  I adored the DIY music camp.  Some of us created music boxes out of Altoids tins and those awful, awful singing greeting cards.  You can find a tutorial for the Musical Altoids Tin here.

DIY music box made from an Altoids tin and other bits and pieces.

This plays “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Over and over and over and over again.

Some other folks experimented with the Little Bits Synth Kit, which was pretty awesome.  I need to get some of these for school.

Making music with the Little Bits Synth Kit

Making music with the Little Bits Synth Kit

Hack.RVA launched a crowdfunding campaign for a CNC router over the summer too.  I backed that, got trained, and need to get trained again since training was an eternity ago.  I really do need to make some house numbers.

It’s mid-October now.  Going to Hack.RVA is second nature now and no longer induces the awkward social anxiety it once did.  I attribute that to members’ willingness to include others.  Or maybe I’ve just found my people.  It’s nice to say something like, “I’m going to knit a Cthulhu mask for my uterus pillow.” and not have people look at you weird.

Don’t judge me.

So that’s it.  My summer of making in a sweeping blog post.  I’m into the fall of making now, and it involves band saws, scroll saws, and drill presses.

*&%# got real!



blank paper + markers + public venue + high school kids =

Disaster, right?  Not entirely.  The DIY/Maker seminar students took over three blank boards in the hallway for a couple of interactive art projects.

photo(5)The board on the far left was based on the “Before I Die” project.

photo(6)The board on the right are coloring pages that can be removed, colored, and tacked back up.  The project was born out of a class conversation about the the effects of a large-scale construction project currently taking place on campus.  Fencing went up around much of the interior of campus.  Convenient paths from getting from on building to another are blocked for now.  The students say its reminiscent of prison or some post-apocalyptic zombie world.  Our question was how can we bring some whimsy to this situation?

It took maybe one school day for students to populate the “Before I Die” walls.

Some comments were reflective.  Some were silly.  Some were knee-deep  chest-deep in the waters of inappropriateness.







Unicorn races

Some reflections were scratched out either by the contributor or other students (maybe even staff/faculty).


Here are some questions/observations I’ve been rolling around in my head:

  • Does a space like this create yet another place where someone can be mistreated by his/her peers?
  • What are the implications of anonymity?
  • If a community sets the standards, how does the community enforce those standards?  Who is the enforcer?  How is that determined?  And what happens when different subsets of a community have different standards?
  • Why are spaces like this so appealing?  What is it that makes people want to share?
  • There is a secret language on these boards–a lot of inside jokes–that alarmed (perhaps rightly so) some staff and faculty.  Is the alarm warranted?  Is the “secret language” reminiscent of children’s made-up languages or is the intent not as innocent?

Senior seminar meets again Tuesday.  I’m hoping we’ll have an interesting class discussion.











The blog is renamed “the therapist’s couch”

The blog isn’t really renamed the therapist’s couch.  Maybe it should be though.  These personal web spaces are not so much about library/school-related issues and successes as they are about my feeling insecure or unsettled about this or that.  I guess it’s all connected at the end of the day.

The spring semester started January 8th, and I kind-of-sort-of invited myself to sit in on the Physics 2: Electronics class.  In all fairness, I was talking to the physics teacher back in the fall about soldering or something, and he said I should sit in on the class–that it’s a work-at-your-own pace/independent project class.  I said, “OK!”

And here I am.  Spending my very small amount of free time trying to learn physics.  I’m still trying to solve complex circuits from last week.

It shouldn't be this hard.

It shouldn’t be this hard.

This would probably all make a little more sense if I had taken physics at some point–any point–in my life.

I’m frustrated, and I’m very much reminded of my math/science experiences in high school/college.

I’d like to give up, and I would if this idea of making–more specifically making IN THE LIBRARY, A COMMUNAL SPACE–wasn’t so unbelievably spot on.  I don’t want to be an armchair maker.  I don’t want to be just a cheerleader for making.  I don’t want to research the whole DIY/Maker movement and just write about how it needs to happen in schools.  I want to know how to do.  And yeah, making is more than just soldering and programming and cool tech projects.  It’s filmmaking and writing and photography and all of that stuff too.  The differences are: (1) I can at least fumble my way through the latter and (2) I know the campus experts who can help out with a film project or a photography question.

I at least know something about filmmaking, and literature, and photography to be a legitimate part of those communities.

A pile of resistors, capacitors, and wires…. well, that’s slightly paralyzing.

bits and bobs

CC licensed Flickr photo shared by Nick Ames

Why has learning the tech end of Making become a personal crusade?

Because if these videos doesn’t move you, you have lost your soul:

But just plugging things in based on a set of instructions isn’t enough.  I want to know how it works.

What does this have to do with the library?

There’s a sixth grade girl who visits the library several times a week to say hi, to find a book, to, on occasion, show off the latest invention she made with a lamp from Family Dollar, electrical tape, and other odds and ends.  Last week she came in and said she was suffering from “inventor’s block.”  She didn’t know what to make.  She had reached the limits of what she knew about electronics.

I had nothing to offer except, “I know how you feel” and my Radio Shack Electronics Learning Lab.

Librarians know things, and we’re pretty good about shepherding people to the right books, databases, web sites, or human beings.  I’m going to talk with the student’s advisor about finding her an electronics mentor.  Maybe even one of the students in Physics 2 would be willing to help.

Exploration of interests need to happen in the open.  I can’t think of a more open space than the library.  If you put a 3D printer in the science department it becomes a science thing.  If you put a large format printer in the art department it becomes an art thing.  If you put these tools in a community space, they belong to the community.  The community see what’s being made.  They become inspired.  They start to make too.

<hippiespeak> And that’s effing beautiful. </hippiespeak>



How do you teach Makerbotting?

This past summer I got the go-ahead to purchase a Makerbot Replicator for school. Not only was it necessary for some 3D printing workshops hosted on campus, but I figured there would only be more interest in 3D printing from students.

the thing-o-matic and replicator

TOM and Replicator–BFFs

I was totally right about that.

There’s been a cadre of 5th grade boys visiting the library during study halls and activity periods to print something on the Makerbot.  What have we printed?  Creepers from Minecraft, a model of an iPhone, a Camaro.

These kids think the Makerbot is awesome and a little bit of magic.  It is truly endearing that they want a tangible object that represents their interests and passions.  But a transaction that goes something like this bothers me:

Kid:  “What can I print out on the Makerbot?”

Me:  “Have you had a chance to use Tinkercad or 3DTin yet?”

Kid:  “No.  What’s the site I can go to if I want to print out something from the internet?”

Me:  “You mean Thingiverse?”

Kid:  “Yeah, that’s it.”  [Runs off to find a file to print for instant gratification]

That’s not really how I want to do things, and it’s not the way it should be done.

Andrew tweeted this today:

It really hit on what I’ve been thinking about for a couple of weeks now.  The Replicator and Thing-o-matic really are the first exposure to 3D printing for most of these kids.  Thingiverse and the assortment of tsotchkes on display is an effective way to catch someone’s attention.  However, I feel like Thingiverse is in danger of turning these kids into consumers rather than makers.

Things made with the Makerbot

I was thinking about banning Thingiverse prints, but at the end of the day, that restriction doesn’t sit well with me.  Maybe having the kid take the time to reflect on a Thingiverse model would work.  What’s interesting about the design?  If the kid was designing something similar, what would he/she do differently?  It would be ideal if a student actually observed a print so that he/she could learn from some of the frustration and/or troubleshooting that goes into printing.  The structure of the middle school schedule doesn’t necessarily allow for that though.

Next week I’m usurping Carolyn’s 5th grade library classes to formerly introduce the Replicator, Tinkercad, and 3DTin.  I’ve been pushing Tinkercad and 3DTin with my 5th grade regular, but I’m hoping that this hands-on class time and opportunity to work with each other will really get them interested in designing their own things.


Rules for teachers and students

Kids come back tomorrow.  I’m ready to see them, ask about their summers, fall into the reassuring rhythm that is the school year.  I’m also nervous.  My librarian colleagues and I are dividing the current shared middle and upper school library.  An academic commons, which will house the upper school library will open in 2013.  The middle school students will return to school in fall 2013 to a renovated library just for them.  It’s exciting, but it also means there’s lots of weeding, evaluating, shifting, cataloging, and whatnot to be done.  The process involves spending a lot of time with our library management system and dusty books and that bores the s**t out of me.  But that professional existential crisis is a story for another time.

This spring I’m teaching a section of senior seminar.  My topic: the DIY/Maker movement in politics, art, technology, etc.  I’m looking forward to it.  I’m also nervous.  What if it bombs?  What if no one other than me thinks the DIY/Maker stuff is fascinating?  I glanced at my student roster.  There are a bunch of smart, talented kids in that class.  Here’s hoping I can engage them for how many weeks?!

The 10 Rules for Students and Teachers circulated around Camp Magic Macguffin this summer.  After my first reading, I knew I wanted to incorporate the spirit of this list into the DIY/Maker senior sem.  I’m pretty sure that my kids and I should get “There is no win and no fail.  There is only make” t-shirts.

Oh, that’s totally going to be a project.

Cage's 10 rules for teachers & students

(BTW, here’s a bit of background info on the above list from Brainpickings.)