Join Us for the JSB Symposium and Invited Guest Cory Doctorow – Thurs., 11/20

Have some time this Thursday, November 20? Join us for UMSI’s signature event, the John Seely Brown (JSB) Symposium, featuring author, BoingBoinger, and activist Cory Doctorow.

11am – public lecture

3-5pm panel discussion (see image below)

Poster advertising the panel discussion on Thursday 11/21 at 3pm featuring Cory Doctorow

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Provocations

Cross-posted to the MakerBridge blog

The kids in our elementary after-school makerspace have a huge affinity for physical making. Give them the choice between having a glider competition in the hallway or a screen-based creation activity and they’ll pick the glider 9 times out of 10. Many times we simply go along with what they choose — choice in materials and making is a key tenet of our work. But because our makerspace is an extension of our information school, we sometimes feel we need to shift them into technology from time to time. So we’re always on the lookout for digital projects (iSchool goal) that result in physical objects (student preference).

This coming week in that vein, we’re going to try this by pairing the Silhouette Cameo, which was designed to cut out shapes for scrapbooking and crafts, with t-shirts. We’re going to have students play with graphic design by combining words with images in the Silhouette Cameo to create a t-shirt image, cut it out onto freezer paper or Contact paper (final trials are still to come!), and use fabric paint to apply the stencil.

Our students are used to having used clothing as source material for various projects: a few weeks ago, we challenged them to create Halloween costumes out of old pants, shirts, skirts, and dresses. (Those “teacher jumpers” made of denim or corduroy? Cut off the bodice and unbutton the skirt that remains, flip it upside-down, and you’ve got an instant superhero cape …)

“Upcycling,” a few of them call it. Last year, we cut fleece scarves out of old pajama pants and pullovers (cut off the bottom band; make a horizontal cut under the armpits; divide the remaining space in half; cut open each loop & stitch together). We take this path for both budgetary ($1/project!) and environmental reasons (to show kids that we can make from what already exists instead of buying new).

So as I was shopping for secondhand-but-looks-new t-shirts, I started to realize that I was throwing other things into the cart as well: a couple of button-down shirts, a few blazers, long sleeves and short, ruffled collars and gathered hems. As I encountered these new materials, my imagination went to work: where would place a design here — on the pocket? On the back? On the sleeve? Design elements in the various garment types called out new possibilities to me, and into the cart they went.

I realized that I was planning for provocations, what Bing Preschool at Stanford, TinkerLab, or the Reggio Emilia project would refer to as materials that spark the imagination and jumpstart creative thinking.

When your makerspace has a few “weird” materials in it — a length of refrigerator hose in your junk box, metallic yarn for the knitting group, a sample Squishy Circuits playdough circuit that greets makers as they enter the space, a piece of music waiting to be mashed up in your digital creation studio, a scrapbook of ideas for cutting up a t-shirt,  or an intriguing photo (what if a bubble wand were shaped like a cube instead of two-dimensional? how would that change the shape of your bubbles?) — you prime the pump for creativity, providing just enough spark to generate ideas that might not surface otherwise.

Provocations are part of what help inspire novice makers to transform materials to create something that has never been made before. Provocations help create those OOAK (Etsy-speak for “one of a kind”) creations that shift your space away from an everybody-makes-the-same-craft club and into a thriving makerspace.

Of course, the trick is to set out intriguing materials and restrain yourself from jumping in and telling them what to do with them. (Remember the jumper-to-cape idea? Yeah, I used my out-loud voice on that one. After I watched a kid execute it — albeit in a different way than I imagined it — and said, “Wow – that turned out great,” I realized my mistake when he said back, “Yeah, it was your idea.” In a makerspace, it should be his idea. Oops.)

What provocations do you set out for your makers?

- Kristin Fontichiaro

Image: a mentor’s experiment with the Cameo and printing on fabric from Spring 2014

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Poking and Prying

Graphic that reads, "Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose." - Zora Neale Hurston

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Favorite Quote from SLJ Summit

Image reading, "Imagine your perfect source and read it. @researchwell."

Jole Seroff and Tasha Bergson-Michelson gave a talk on research strategies that was a breath of fresh air. They used as their premise the idea of tacit knowledge: how we go about early stages of research ourselves and how we can use those personal habits to influence how we teach research strategies to students. They presented a “stepping stones” approach to presearch, recognizing that when we first want to study a topic, we use easy-access sources to glean who are the experts and what search terms those experts use. Those can contribute to next steps that are more focused and specific.

Tasha then talked about having studied researchers who train other researchers, finding the advice, “Imagine your perfect source and read it.” While she initially found the advice humorous, she realized that this visualization was actually exactly what she did to think about how to move forward.

Thanks, Tasha and Jole, for this thoughtful reminder that research isn’t just going out and finding articles. It’s a thinking process that takes time. You can keep up with the ongoing conversation by following the #tacitresearch tag on Twitter.

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Hello, Connecticut Educators!

Hello, Connecticut Educators at the joint CECA-CASL conference at Mohegan Bay Resort!

I’m doing a solo session on makerspaces, for which you can find the handout of makerspaces activities (with new additions!) here and the slides here.

I’m also teaming with Debbie Abilock to talk about visual literacy, and you can find a set of our slides, with the copyrighted material removed, here.

 

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Oakland Schools K-5 Research Webinar

howdoyoueatanelephant

**Update 10/17: You can now view the archived webinar here.**

Howdy! We just wrapped up tonight’s webinar for Oakland Schools: Small Bites: Research in the K-5 Classroom.

Session description:

The Common Core asks that students engage in small, focused research experiences across the year.  For many teachers, this is a curricular design shift.  In this interactive session, we will consider this important shift in a variety of ways: explore a continuum for varying levels of student independence in the research process; investigate the multiple and key skills we need to develop in our student researchers; and learn about tech tools that can help facilitate and support effective instruction for research and research writing.

You can download the slides here, and when we get the link from host Delia DeCourcey with the archive to the webinar, I’ll share the link here as well.

Thanks, everybody! That was a lot of fun!

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“Yes, We Can. But Should We?” on Making {Hmmm}

“Yes, We Can. But Should We? : The Unintended Consequences of the Maker Movement” gave me that kinda-love-it-kinda-don’t feeling. On one hand, it makes some important points about corporatization, materialism, the environment, and 3D printing. And on the other, it perseverates on a fraction of what making has the capacity to be and do.

Some meaty quotes that stayed with me over the past few weeks:

Quirky has been clever in melding the old-school notion of being an “inventor” with the new-school notion of being a “maker.” But somewhere in the course of entering the pop culture zeitgeist, the warm and fuzzy self-empowered “maker” idea got turned into an engine for output and profit.

To begin, Quirky pre-dates the popularity of the term “maker,” doesn’t it? That being said, this tension about making — is it just for fun or can people make a living doing it — is a critical one if we want to cast a wide net for makers. If there is something “wrong” with people taking an entrepreneurial approach to making, and the only way making counts is for personal edification, then making cannot serve as a road to entrepreneurship for those from less fortunate socioeconomic classes. And that strikes me as rather unfair. (Now might be a good time for me to point out that this article was published as part of a series sponsored by BMW.)

No idea is too superfluous. Many of the items the company sells are gadgets like “Pivot Power,” designed expressly for plugging in other gadgets.

Well, maybe, but what makes Pivot Power a compelling invention is that its outlets are hinged, not confined in a row. With so many oversized chargers, a standard bricklike surge protector can only accommodate a few blocky plugs, which doesn’t help if you have limited outlets. Pivot Power changed things by providing the ability to move and flex each of its outlets so you can accommodate all sorts of plugs. Seems kinda like an improvement to me.

… Not so long ago it felt like we were beginning to recognize that as a society, our patterns of production and consumption were not sustainable. Messages like The Story of Stuff went viral, refocusing our collective eyes on our culture’s stunning material wastefulness. But that period was short … the drive to produce more has only accelerated.

Fair enough statement, but is making somehow connected to wastefulness? If I make quilts out of scraps, isn’t that resourcefulness, not wastefulness? Is making a cake wastefulness? Or do those activities not fit into the implicitly narrow definition of making in the author’s mind?

… ideas around designing and making have shifted and sectors of the maker movement have veered from basement workshop projects to the production of i-accessories and other trinkets that make Kickstarter fanboys drool …

Well, this makes a pretty radical assumption: that the only things we’re making are trinkets and iPhone cases. Sounds a bit narrow.

I won’t point the finger at one company or one discipline but I am struck by the absence of sustainable discourse in the maker movement.

Fair enough. There needs to be more discussion around critical making, about making for a purpose, though even as I type that, I feel the need to point out that I often see making serve a therapeutic role, and that’s a valid reason for making. But when we start this sustainable discourse, let’s talk about diversity in the maker movement, at which making activities “count” in mainstream maker media, the author’s use of the term “fanboy,” etc.

Daily, we read swooning odes to the 3-D printer … Every tchotchke is celebrated as if it were as significant as the wheel or the printing press.

If there is this level of celebration, is it not being done by the author’s colleagues in the media?

…There seems to be a misconception about what 3D printing does and does not enable. Does it allow us to delight a four-year-old by pulling a mini Darth Vader toy seemingly out of thin air?It does.

This strikes me as an interesting issue regarding copyright and intellectual property. I’d love to hear more about this aspect, but the article abruptly shifts into a new angle.

But the object doesn’t materialize from nothing. A 3D printer consumes about 50 to 100 times more electrical energy than injection molding to make an item of the same weight. On top of that, the emissions from desktop 3D printers are similar to burning a cigarette or cooking on a gas or electric stove. And the material of choice for all this new stuff we’re clamoring to make is overwhelmingly plastic. In a sense, it’s a reverse environmental offset, counteracting recent legislation to reduce plastic use through grocery bag bans and packaging redesigns. While more people tote reuasable cloth bags to the supermarket, plastic is piling up in other domains, from TechShop to Target.

The environmental impact of 3D printers haunts me, too. The odor that comes off as the plastic melts is noticeable. The plastic issue is a big thing we’re a bit afraid to encounter. But how would the author reply to the 3D printers Staples is implementing abroad, which use paper instead? Would being able to recycle or reuse materials in a 3D printer change her position?

Do we need more products? Not really. But we need better ones. So why aren’t we designing them?

Wait … doesn’t the Quirky Pivot Power solve a problem for us? Yet it’s identified as a culprit in the opening lines of the article.

This is not to say that there aren’t good things happening in the maker space …  like The Tinkering School, which encourages kids to make stuff for the sake of making it (they then disassemble what they’ve created and reuse the materials). We need these avenues for supporting craft and DIY, developing an alternative to consumerism rather than a direct line to it.

There’s a role for designers and makers (and yes, even entrepreneurs) of stuff – a really important one – but there’s a responsibility in acquiring and applying the skills required to make things, and it is worth recognizing that just because you can design something doesn’t mean you should.

Who gets to decide whether someone can or should? Isn’t there a significant difference between printing out a Darth Vadar figurine using someone else’s .stl file that you downloaded from the web and designing your own item to help your classmate customize her wheelchair knobs? Maybe a more accurate thing to say is, “Just because you have a 3D printer doesn’t mean you should print guns and copyrighted figures on it,” or, “Burning plastic is bad for the environment, so ask yourself what you’re getting out of a print job in exchange for that small waste of toxicity.” Or just plain ethical making.

It’s disappointing that an article that raises so many important points — especially about environmentalism — doesn’t delve more deeply into its arguments and evidence.

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Advice for Successful Kids’ Makerspaces from Toronto’s MakerKids

From the MAKE blog comes advice from MakerKids, Toronto’s kid-centered makerspace. Advice includes a lot of stuff we also do in Michigan Makers. They call it “The MakerKids Recipe:

  1. Dedicated Space - that signals that this site is outside the normal boundaries of their day.
  2. Real tools.
  3. Process Over Product.
  4. Interest-Driven.
  5. Kids Teaching (aka peer guidance)
  6. Exhibition
  7. Community
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Inspiration: Sorting Your Programming by Dewey Number

http://blog.imls.gov/?p=5227

Interview: Delaware Division of Libraries | UpNext: The IMLS Blog via kwout

I was fascinated by this map created for the Delaware Division of Libraries that appeared on the IMLS Blog UpNext. It sorts library programming by Dewey number. Would sorting programming in this way give us new insights about where our efforts are over- or undercommitted and help us better reach diverse patron interests? Or would it merely encourage us, as in the days of balanced collections, to do a little bit of everything at the expense of going deep in areas of interest?

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Hello, Booklist Webinar Participants!

Banner image announcing October 7 Booklist webinar about makerspaces

Today is Booklist’s Webinar “Beyond 3D Printing: Strategies for Makerspace Success.” Join us!

You can download a copy of the slides here and a copy of the list of potential maker genres here.

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