Booklist Webinar on Early Elementary Making Coming 10/20!

[decorative] image with name and date of webinarPlease join me for a free Booklist webinar, sponsored by Cherry Lake Publishing, on Thursday, October 20, 2016, at 2pm Eastern / 1pm Central.

Here’s what I’ll be talking about:

Primary-aged children are natural makers. They couple their imaginations with the physical and digital worlds as they poke, prod, push, pull, pixelate, and produce.  Whether using digital tools, circuits, robots, or recyclables, many of the core questions are the same: What is our role as facilitators of maker mindset and purposeful exploration? How do we set up spaces that welcome creative interactions with materials and peers? In celebration of the launch of the Makers as Innovators Junior series for K-2 students, Cherry Lake Publishing invites you to engage with these concepts and build or refine your vision for playful thinking. Presented by series editor and University of Michigan School of Information faculty member Kristin Fontichiaro and moderated by Books for Youth editor Dan Kraus.

You can register here. If you cannot watch the webinar live, an archive link will be sent to you a few days after the live event.

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Hello, AASLH!

I’m delighted to be joining Paul Orselli and Lisa Brahms in a workshop on making in museums for the American Association of State and Local History. You can find my slides here.

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Things Learned on the Road This Summer, Part I

Thanks to funding from IMLS, I spent much of the summer on the road, working with librarians, educators, and community members to envision and think about community-responsive making in rural and underserved communities. Here are some things I learned (or re-learned) from stepping outside the current maker narratives:

  • Balancing traditional maker activities (e.g., log furniture) with new technologies (e.g., CNC routing) remains a challenge, in part due to financial constraints.
  • Future Farmers of America and 4-H remain highly influential avenues to making and hands-on learning in communities.
  • One powerful, persuasive personality can mobilize many others.
  • 3-D printing, seen as a critical tool in many urban and suburban maker narratives, simply isn’t financially viable in many rural libraries, though they might be found in local high schools.
  • The maker movement in libraries is codifying around youth and STEM primarily, with a big emphasis on playing with pre-made items (e.g., Snap Circuits, LEGO, K’Nex).
  • Despite the current youth and making focus, we got a lot of questions this summer about making and senior citizens, something we’re really interested in, too!
  • Underwater remote operated vehicles showed up as an in-class or extracurricular activity in three of our sites. Robotics was even more popular (in part because Michigan’s governor has actively supported and incentivized the incubation of FIRST Robotics programs).
  • Incubator kitchens are specially licensed facilities to help nascent food businesses get started. That this is a state-licensed activity tells me there is more support for non-tech-based small businesses than we previously anticipated.
  • Multiple communities pointed to farmer’s markets as a hub for creative handmade products.

What did you learn this summer? I’ll be back next month with more learnings.

Cross-posted to the MakerBridge blog and the Making in Michigan Libraries site

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Hello, SWON!

[Decorative] logo for SWON Consortium

Hello! I’m participating in a Google Hangout for the SWON library consortium in Ohio today. Here are some handy links:

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Making That Triggers Family Memories

Decorative photo of sewing machine footAs part of the Making in Michigan Libraries project, we’ve been traveling the state of Michigan this summer for multi-day professional development workshops. On the evening of the second day of the workshop, we host a small MakerFest in the library. We have some variation in what we bring to each workshop. Lately, we’ve had a sewing machine at MakerFest, and we’ve noticed some really interesting things happening:

  1. This finding isn’t new, but it remains consistent over the years: boys and girls visit the sewing machine in equal ratios. Sewing a bean bag — our gateway activity — welcomes kids of both genders.
  2. Moms often talk to their kids about how there is an unused (or, in one case, a never-opened Mother’s Day gift!) sewing machine at home that they’ll need to get out to keep the sewing going.
  3. Moms occasionally sew alongside their children, waiting in line for their turn at the sewing machine. (Dads do not.)
  4. In one town, one of my teammates overheard a mother saying something like, “My mom sewed but never taught me.”
  5. With some parents, conversations start about how someone sewed clothing for them when they were growing up. We realize that there was a time when sewing one’s clothes was less expensive than buying new.

What I’m starting to realize is that the sewing machine represents more than a new machine to explore. It’s a station that connects people back to their families.

What in your space provokes family stories?

Image: “Sewing Machine Precision” by venturaartist on Public domain.

Cross-posted from MakerBridge

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The 4T Virtual Conference Has Sunsetted!

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Where are Libraries in the 3D Printer Hype Cycle?

3D Model of a Life Cast on a Makerbot Rep. 2 3D printer. Available for download from the Smithsonian at

3D Model of a Life Cast on a Makerbot Rep. 2 3D printer. Available for download from the Smithsonian at

TechCrunch’s Signe Brewster has written a thoughtful piece on the current position of 3D printers in the marketplace. “Whatever Happened to 3D Printing?” explores some of the aspirations of early 3D printer manufacturers, the struggles some have had to stay afloat, the stages of Gartner’s Hype Cycle and where 3D printing falls on that cycle in 2016. These excerpts caught my attention, because this was one of the first articles that addressed the cycle as I had experienced it: from wow-this-is-the-next-big-thing to why-doesn’t-this-look-as-awesome-as-I-thought to the reality that I was using a 3D printer designed for one purpose (roughed out prototypes) for another (finished products). And it got me wondering where 3D printing, the first maker tool many libraries purchased to anoint their spaces as makerspaces, has gotten libraries.

Are libraries finding value in their 3D printers? Real value, once the cool factor has rubbed off? Or are we collectively in a similar hype of quiet disillusionment, waiting for the next big thing?

[In 2013], the promise of desktop manufacturing had just entered the general public’s consciousness. The media reported breathlessly on the potential of local manufacturing and bio-printing. Governments raised fears about undetectable 3D-printed guns. Early adopters wondered whether they, too, needed a 3D printer …

At the end of 2015, 3D printing veteran 3D Systems ceased production of its easy-to-use Cube printer … Stratasys announced layoffs for the second time in six months for its consumer-oriented MakerBot division …

By 2016, it felt like desktop manufacturing was in the rearview mirror … Except, desktop manufacturing is still growing. Shoppers bought more than 275,000 desktop 3D printers in 2015, up from 160,000 in 2014 … So, who is still buying 3D printers … and will everyone else want one anytime soon? …

The thing about prototyping with 3D printers is that the end product doesn’t have to look great. It’s a way to get a sense of scale and feel, but not usually expected to be buyer-ready … Hobbyists, on the other hand, are printing items for themselves and expecting … vases that look good enough to sit on their shelves and replacement parts for household appliances…

“I think the hype surrounding 3D printing has waned — or is at least decreasing — because people realized it’s just a lot harder to design specific things than they thought,” [Other Machine CEO Danielle]Applestone said. “You can’t get around the fact that you have to learn (computer-aided design)”…

This leaves 3D printers focused on generic items like toys and decorations … There’s no shortage of things to print, but the truly useful use cases are still reserved for experienced makers.

Gartner’s hype cycle holds that after inflated expectations comes disillusionment. 3D printers didn’t instantly solve our problems. No ultra-compelling application ever arose to inspire us to rush out and buy one …

Kristin Fontichiaro

Cross-posted to MakerBridge

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4T Data Literacy Conference Coming July 14-15: free and online!

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On ISTE and Products vs Pedagogy

I didn’t go to ISTE this year, and not just because it overlapped with ALA. Over the past few conference visits, I’ve been uncomfortable about the overall lack of depth of ideas. There seems to be a lot of cheerleading for the wonders of technology without also thinking about how, as a community of vendors and educators, we leverage that technology not just do educate differently but to improve overall learning. And the conference seems so costly despite so much corporate wallpapering everywhere … and educators are told such a conference is only possible, and only at this price point, due to vendors.

Now, I know a lot of library schools preach that librarians should not cultivate relationships with vendors. I would say, instead, that we should not cultivate relationships with  unhelpful, heavy-handed, rigid, or manipulative vendors. But good vendors? Responsive vendors? The very best conversations come when I sit with vendors who have a uniquely broad view of education and/or librarianship and/or making and we mash that up with the narrower but deeper view of practitioners. By combing depth with breadth, good vendors can be one of our best allies.

And I’ve seen some very powerful vendor-educator interactions and conversations at SXSWedu (I know! I was surprised, too!). When vendors and educators come together to pool ideas, identify common barriers, and together brainstorm how we can improve the social, personal, or other lives of our students/patrons, then we can achieve a confluence of product and pedagogy.

Yet at ISTE, I’ve found that products often trump pedagogy, and often the brawny budgets and marketing of corporations seem to steer the agenda. Instead of engaging in the tough conversations of education — how do we juggle motivation with challenge? how do we really crack the code when it comes to disenfranchised students in underserved neighborhoods? how can technology jumpstart the achievement of the American Dream for all? — it’s nice swag and product reps and educators alike shilling for products. (Imagine a world where you create a product and educators pay hundreds of dollars — either taxpayer dollars or their own personal money — to travel to sell it to others! Amazing!)

Your experience may be different from mine. I get that. I see educators who are completely pumped up from the experience, cheering on the “just let the children loose and they will soar!” speakers and not giving themselves heartburn by inserting “middle-class, well-cared-for” in front of “children,” as I find myself wont to do. Darn those internal added appositive phrases.

So I was pleased? frustrated? disappointed? delighted? to find I wasn’t the only one. Writes Adam Rosensweig of Beyond 12 on Medium:

I came to my first ISTE expecting to find educators sharing stories of inspiration and struggle , because ISTE is presumably a conference for teachers — and those are usually the kinds of things that teachers talk about. Sure, I expected to preview the latest gadgets and gizmos, and to navigate the … corporate sponsors. But I also expected to find at least a few critical conversations. Some attempt to deflate the mile-high rhetoric that implicitly ingrains the causal link between consumption and learning … I was disappointed…

ISTE is not an educational or reflective or collaborative environment. ISTE, more than anything, is a sales environment. I was ashamed of my naive expectations. Then sad that I might be wasting my time here. Then, finally, angry that nearly 15,000 educators might be wasting their time here, and that we were all potentially letting down the … students we represent…

This year, Jim Siegl earns highest literary praise for predicting the “edtech TurDuckEn” — inevitably some kind of VR-learn-to-code-wearable which can be 3D printed in social studies class…

Oh, this would be hilarious if only it didn’t seem so true…

… it was difficult to find conversations that didn’t center around discrete products. As a result, the prevalent mode of framing problems and solutions is to begin with a set of technical features and then seek or invent corresponding educational needs [emphasis added] …

What’s lost in a sales environment is the space for educators … to reflect on real problems and conceive independently the features that authentic solutions would have to offer in order to be good enough for their students. What’s lost in a sales environment is the cultural permission for skeptical but disempowered teachers to call out the endless parade of useless tech that threatens to consume their time, budgets, and energy. What’s lost is the opportunity to convene 15,000 professional educators to collaborate on evolving pedagogies in order to harness and drive (rather than be driven) by evolving tech.

Amen. Read the entire piece here for a reminder of what those of us who plan professional development need to be mindful of as we plan.

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Houghton Lake, That’s a Wrap!

Our Making in Michigan Libraries project spent three days in Houghton Lake, Michigan, for a three-day workshop. Check out the resources and photos from the event!

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