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 Pixabay.com. 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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Collaborative Work Spaces – Renaissance Style

From Piero Formica’s “The Innovative Coworking Spaces of 15th-Century Italy” in Harvard Business Review:

Coworking spaces are on the rise … Much has been made of these shared workspaces as a brand-new idea, one that barely existed 10 years ago. But the way they function reminds me of a very old idea: the Renaissance “bottega” (workshop) of 15th-century Florence, in which master artists were committed to teaching new artists, talents were nurtured, new techniques were at work, and new artistic forms came to light with artists competing among themselves but also working together.

The Renaissance put knowledge at the heart of value creation, which took place in the workshops of these artisans, craftsmen, and artists. There they met and worked with painters, sculptors, and other artists; architects, mathematicians, engineers, anatomists, and other scientists; and rich merchants who were patrons. All of them gave form and life to Renaissance communities, generating aesthetic and expressive as well as social and economic values. The result was entrepreneurship that conceived revolutionary ways of working, of designing and delivering products and services, and even of seeing the world.

Florentine workshops were communities of creativity and innovation where dreams, passions, and projects could intertwine. The apprentices, workers, artisans, engineers, budding artists, and guest artists were interdependent yet independent, their disparate efforts loosely coordinated by a renowned artist at the center — the “Master” …

What can those who want to create more innovative and collaborative workplaces today — whether that’s a better office in a traditional organization, a coworking space, a startup incubator, or a fab lab — learn from the workshops of the Renaissance? The bottegas’ three major selling points were turning ideas into action, fostering dialogue, and facilitating the convergence of art and science…

While often remembered as primarily artistic today, in truth the Renaissance workshop was transdisciplinary. This helped create a holistic approach to creativity, which stands in opposition to our own organizations, in which people in different specialties are often separated into silos.


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Making Maker Learners: Ann Arbor

Wow, was it a luxury to get to be in our own building today for Making Maker Learning in Ann Arbor. Thanks to everyone who came out despite the cold weather and lunchtime hail!

You can find photos here.

Slides are available here.

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Boy, was it a treat to see my Hacking Fashion: Fleece book on Booklist’s “Top 10 Project Books for Youth: 2016″! Thanks, Booklist!

You can learn more about the book here (and about the series here).

Screenshot from Booklist's Top Ten Project Books for Youth

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Slides from Making Maker Learners in Benton Harbor

Decorative: screengrab of Benton Harbor Public Library home page, featuring Making Maker Learners

Decorative: screengrab of Benton Harbor Public Library home page, featuring Making Maker Learners

Hello! Here is the slide deck for the May 10 Making Maker Learners workshop at Benton Harbor Public Library. Check out the Flickr album here.

Funding for this free one-day workshop was made possible in part by Institute of Museum and Library Services RE-05-15-0021-15. Space and publicity provided by the Benton Harbor Public Library.

Thanks to all who came and to our hosts. We learned so much from our conversation and hope to stay in touch.

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Making and Apprenticeships and Storytelling

Decorative Image: Antique sewing machine

I like using Flipboard because it finds readings from topics I’m interested from sources that I might not know about or follow regularly.

That was how I found “The Apprenticeship: gallery exhibition celebrates craftmanship” in the Brisbane Times of Australia. Reporter Amy Mitchell-Whittington reports on a gallery exhibition of traditional craftsmanship and muses about the role of apprentices. She says:

The lost art of craftsmanship has been revived at a Brisbane gallery where a group of skilled artisans have share their work and how they got to where they are today.

Blacksmithing, shoe making, brick making and knife making are among a few of trades on display at gallery Artisan until June 25.

Co-curator Richard Stride said the exhibition was established after fellow curator and self-taught furniture maker Aaron Barton realised most craft apprenticeships either no longer existed or didn’t hark back to the days when the skill was considered an art form.

“The exhibition is partly about looking at what pathways are available and how the apprenticeship model could be updated in light of how things are different these days,” Mr Stride said.

“We found a lot of other artists following their own path, not doing an apprenticeship or where apprenticeships were no longer available.”

This was the first thing that jumped out at me: that the idea of apprenticeships seems to be falling away from some of the maker narrative as the movement matures. There are so many stories from those in the early wave of making who talked about the power of learning from a particular person (not necessarily someone online via YouTube.com or Instructables.com)

Especially in libraries and schools, where maker activities may be coordinated by generalists and not professional craftspeople, how can we expand our role as what Mark Anderson of the Chicago Public Library has called “on-ramps”? How do we get folks to move beyond our amuse-bouche activities and connect them with mentors who can take them to that next level? And how do we do this without feeling like we’ve been “abandoned”? In other words, we want to see them moving through and beyond us as a success. Either that, or we need to develop maker activities in libraries and cultural institutions that are staffed and funded to rival commercial-grade, stand-alone makerspaces. And that isn’t always viable.

And that means seeing ourselves as part of larger networks. If there’s one thing I’ve seen this year, it’s that there are some newer to making who are not connecting to networks of existing makers. (So the apprenticeship idea isn’t robust on that level, either.)

 The Apprenticeship seeks to show how crafts have changed over the years to compete with mass production.

“What they have taken from the craft is the traditional means of hand production, what they have changed is the products they are making from it and the means in which they are adding value to the product,” Mr Stride said.

This value-add, Mr Stride said, is the story and personal experience consumers can have with the product.

“We live in an experience economy and people are increasingly want to buy a product that has story associated with it,” he said. “They want to have the experience of dealing with the person who made it, seeing where it was made, knowing what it was made from.

And here is the second piece that grabbed me. Just the other day, I was talking with a group of maker mentors about making and the appeal of artisanal making. And I didn’t realize, in that moment, that I could have made a much more powerful contribution had I framed it, as this exhibit does, as storytelling. As a former drama major, English teacher, and librarian, I know that story is in the wheelhouse of libraries, schools, and cultural institutions. I’ve talked about pitching and making, but I wonder if I should be talking, instead, about storytelling and making.

How about you?

[This post was cross-posted to the MakerBridge blog]

Image by sabinevanerp on Pixabay.com. Public domain

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