Silhouette Cutter in Our Makerspace … and Betabrand’s Design Studio

A couple of summers ago, we heard that some maker groups were having success having a Silhouette Cameo in their makerspace and that it was helping to attract more girls into their K-12 maker project. We bought one for Michigan Makers, because we thought it might help us bridge between the physical making to which many of our elementary students were attracted and the digital making that was more closely aligned with our school’s mission. At first, we did small projects like learning how to arrange letters in order to “weld” them into a single sticker cut from Con-tact paper.

This year, we tried out freezer paper stencils cut on the Cameo. You find freezer paper near the aluminum foil in the grocery store for about $5 a roll (and that roll will last a very long time). One side has a light plastic coating on it. Place it face down on a garment and apply the heat of an iron, and the plastic will melt just enough to adhere to the shirt for a stencil that won’t move.

We bought lots of $1 thrifted clothing (we have enormous thrift stores here the size of grocery stores that run “5 for $5″ on merchandise that has been hanging on the racks for several weeks) — all kinds of knitwear and, as we saw how popular they were, various jean jackets and blazers, adding a few new choices to the big pile from which kids could choose.

We prepared these handouts to help students design their own custom garment:

  • T-shirt design template
    (we only had one Cameo, so this let some students think in advance with pencil and paper while they waited)
  • Sample shapes to use in the design (these were preloaded on the Cameo after having been pulled from The Noun Project, Microsoft Clip Art, or Cameo’s built-in images; as they get more experienced, we can open up more choices to them and also let them draw and import their own art … it’s always important to remember, when we do more controlled work in makerspaces, it’s in service to them having more agency and independence — because they have more practice and skill — later. The long view matter here.)

We used Tulip brand puffy fabric paint, though we sponged it on in thin layers instead of squirted it from the bottle, so it was only a little bit dimensional. (Hint: bring paint shirts!) We also brought in a hair dryer to ensure that all the garments would be dry before kids put them on or took them home.

You can see our very first creation below. What I love about this is that the maker applied the paint very thinly, giving it an aged or antiqued look.

While it takes a long time to get this project started, because you need stations for planning, layout and cutting on the Cameo, ironing the freezer paper to the shirt, stuffing and painting the shirt, then drying it with a hair dryer before peeling off the paper, it’s also really satisfying to watch grow, because as our 4th and 5th graders got into the routine, they were able to start teaching each other (except for the iron … that is one scary tool to them!). And it’s a reminder to me that making is really, really, we’re not kidding, a process. And that means you have to build in manpower and time and patience as you develop skills in kids. That can be hard to balance with just one or two adults … but it’s worth it in the end, because suddenly you step back and see them doing it without you (again, except for the iron).

This was a project they could not do unassisted the first time. But the second time? They’re already chomping at the bit for their next turn, and we got some smaller Silhouette Portrait machines for $100 during Black Friday, so we’re going to have more stations that allow more kids to work simultaneously.

Meanwhile, the Silhouette company posted this video about how Betabrand is using the same tool to prototype new clothing. They use Silhouette’s iron-on materials more than stencils, but the idea is the same: customizing a one-of-a-kind stuff.

If we really want our makerspaces to reach all kids, we need many modalities and kinds of project. You might think that using a scrapbook cutting machine to make t-shirt stencils is a girly activity … but boys have been equally engaged with it. (The big difference? Girls tend to like blazers; boys like t-shirts.) Which just goes to show that if you plan for everybody’s interests, you’ll discover interests you didn’t know some of your makers had.

Here’s the Betabrand/Silhouette video. Maybe it will give you some ideas, too.


Apparel Prototyping: Betabrand and the Silhouette from Silhouette America on Vimeo.

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ASCD SmartBrief Survey: Teachers and Digital Badges

Results from a simple one-click survey via the ASCD SmartBrief site on teacher understandings of digital badging (sample size unknown):

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Video from Corporate America: Cotton Makers

An interesting corporate approach to making: “Cotton Makers”:

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Quotable: Anne Carroll Moore on Libraries

The invincible children’s librarian and innovator Anne Carroll Moore on libraries, as quoted in the back matter of the picture book biography Miss Moore Thought Otherwise:

Image that reads: "A little less stuffiness right here would surely do none of us any harm." - Anne Carroll Moore

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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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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


**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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