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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Does Playing with LEGOs Help Those with Autism?

Decorative image of a bunch of LEGOs

[Reposted from MakerBridge blog]

My Making in Michigan Libraries team has been talking a lot about the importance of purposefulness when bringing maker tools and materials into a space. It’s so easy to just buy stuff and let patrons and students loose … but without a purpose, which leads to a consistent “elevator speech” or narrative, making and building and constructing can seem like a gimmick. And if we believe in the power of what we do, then we want it to be sustainable and not a fad. (A similar challenge is that sometimes we know why we’ve acquired an activity’s materials or tools but just don’t articulate it.)

So I was interested to see “LEGO-Based Therapy: How Colourful Bricks Are Helping Kids with Autism Improve Their Social Skills” pop up in Flipboard.

Playing with LEGO can be more than just a way to prevent boredom, for some children it has the power to boost their social skills and build self-esteem.

LEGO-based therapy is a social development programme for kids with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or related social communication difficulties …

Research into the benefits of LEGO-based therapy has been developed by Dr LeGoff and Gina Gomez de la Cuesta …

“Children with autism have difficulties with social interaction, social communication and social imagination … in contrast, they may have very good visual-spatial skills, a good eye for detail and enjoy systematic problem solving.

“You can think of LEGO as a fairly systematic, predictable toy, that follows certain rules or constraints – though of course, within those constraints of how the bricks fit together, you can be as creative as you like” [said Gomez de la Cuesta]

Children are signed up to an eight-week course, which will usually consist of a two-hour session per week.

Sessions begin with the children saying hello to each other and then working in groups of three to build creations.

Gomez de la Cuesta explained that children are assigned different responsibilities during the session.

“There is a big emphasis on the children making decisions about what gets built, who does which role and how long for,” she added.

One child will act as the “engineer” who describes the instructions, another will be the “supplier” who finds the bricks, and the third child in the group is the “builder” who puts the model together.

“Children take it in turns to play these different roles,” Gomez de la Cuesta said.

“By splitting up the task of building (something that children with autism enjoy doing), children have to work together, communicate, solve joint problems and practise many different social skills, (things that children with autism find very difficult).

“The trained adult activity leader works with the children to facilitate their social interactions.

“Their job is to highlight social problems to children as and when they arise and coach children to come up with their own solutions to social difficulties” …

“LEGO also has real social currency with peers. So children can talk to others outside of the groups and gain further experience of social interactions.”

One of the main reasons this therapy is so effective is because playing with LEGO is familiar to most young children, the author explained.

Children who may not wish to attend a typical social skills group because they find it quite difficult and stressful, may feel much more confident and relaxed attending a LEGO group.

“Crucially, children are learning in a naturalistic setting – i.e. they are learning as they are playing with each other – and the social difficulties that arise as things happen in the group are dealt with and discussed as they happen,” Gomez de la Cuesta added.

Gomez de la Cuesta said children with autism are often really good at building LEGO models, meaning the therapy can help to build their self esteem.

“They get genuine praise for something they have done, unlike at school where they may be underachieving and getting told off frequently,” she added.

The fact that the children in the groups are also meeting others who are similar to themselves gives them a sense of “shared identity”…

Said a parent:

“The groups built amazing scenes and we could see the compassion and commitment for LEGO-therapy each week.

“Attending these groups allowed him to be his own person and share a common interest with others.

“By doing so he was sharing and taking turns when appropriate, using his communications skills and socialising in a creative environment.”

“[My son] experiences positive and negative emotions on different levels when creating and playing usually, but with a completed task of a LEGO build, he is able to focus on his achievements in many ways,” she added.

Said researcher Gomez de la Cuesta:

“In my original groups for my PhD, I found that for a few children, LEGO-based therapy was the ‘lightbulb moment’ for the individual,” …

“There is increasing interest in using it for people who have social communication difficulties for other reasons (for example: a brain injury or social anxiety).

“The research so far has focused on children with higher functioning autism.”

So how could reframing an activity help LEGOs and making be about more than construction and engineering skills and add a layer: that making improving lives?

Image of LEGOs by Clovis_Cheminot on Public domain.

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Slides from STL in STL

{Decorative} Logo for MICDS STL in STL conferenceHello from St. Louis! It was an honor to be here  at the STL in STL conference to talk about my two ongoing projects. Here are the slide decks:


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Can library ties help an underserved community?

If your community had an unemployment rate of nearly 20%, 34% lived in poverty, 25% were immigrants, and 64% had a high school diploma or less, what would you add to your library’s collection? Traditionally, we’d say literacy programs. But according to Liz Dwyer’s article in TakePart, ties. The 48-tie collection, displayed in unused VHS tape boxes and inspired by a similar project at Queens Public Library, began in March, features what Dwyer describes a “conservative colors and patterns as well as more brightly hued, trendy cravats.”

Ties circulate for 3 weeks, though only a few have been checked out so far, as the library staff is still contemplating just-right marketing and promotional strategies.

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On creating safe spaces for makers

From maker mentor Molly at the remarkable MakerJawn project at Free Library of Philadelphia:

Embarking on a long term project requires a level of trust in a Mentor, because by challenging themselves to engage on a deep level, our Makers become inherently vulnerable…

When I think of my own role in our space and how tied it is to relationships and trust, I realize that the most important thing Maker Jawn provides to its participants isn’t necessarily access to high tech materials and tools. It is the space and the people; an atmosphere that attracts, encourages, and inspires creativity based on the relationships that exist there.

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