We say all the time that pictures are worth a thousand words. Yet we don’t value the development of students’ artistic skills sometimes, and we don’t encourage them to develop their skills as artists by copying great works of the past. My friend Scott takes it a step further, and notes “pictures are worth a thousand words… but parts are worth a thousand pictures.” The other day, the comic Trenches published a picture of its characters. And, being that I’m trying to show kids how important it is to get started right away, I decided to produce a sketch of the diagrams of the characters. Which I then gave away. (part of me wishes I’d saved it for the design lab, though… I may have to remake it).
A part is worth a thousand pictures.
Then, Andrew Carle and I got into a bit of a comments back-and-forth on his blog, in which he reminded be of a bit from Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle,where Isaac Newton developed nets tied from a single piece of string to catch and suspend small stones. I remembered (Palace of Memory!) how intrigued I was by that image when I read the book, and how startled I was to encounter this bit of lore about the nature of Isaac Newton’s curiosity and powers of both observation and practical experimentation. (Reading about the real-life bodkin-in-the-eye experiment is not for the squeamish… and I don’t intend to repeat this one.)
And yet, I am not the same person that read Neal Stephenson several years ago, and thought, huh, neat, and yet did nothing.
So I grabbed some string, and started thinking about knots, and baskets, and carrying objects inside a single piece of string. Also, the string-bag to support a weight. That one I could do. I had some handy string in my drawer, and I set out to make such a thing. It may take me some time to find a suitable stone or a larger object, though I am interested in learning wire-wrapping of stones for jewelry and talismanic work. But, a white-out bottle makes a suitable substitute.
It’s not easy to make it look good. Without doubt, this is the worst string-bag to contain an object that I will ever weave or knot. It’s not symmetrical, it’s not pretty, and it’s not even. And I left a bit hanging off the right side, which you can see against George Washington’s portrait here.
But, I made it. I think it likely that I will make many, many more.
I think we tend to think of our classrooms as carefully-curated collections of books, videos, and materials — museums, of sorts, combined with workshops or ateliers, for learning one or two or three subjects. But as my friend Scott says, parts are worth a thousand pictures. Creating objects that inspire curiosity and weirdness, or that make students think about what they know about the world (do rocks always fall down, or can they be balanced in odd ways?) Part of our job as Maker teachers, I think, is to provide students with parts — because one part is worth a thousand pictures, and a picture is worth a thousand words. There’s a whole MILLION WORDS of knowledge wrapped up in a completed three-dimensional object that a student (or a teacher!) creates. Not every student has to crack open the “book”, even, or try to ‘write’ one themselves. Simply looking at it can change them.
And I wonder who will be the first person to notice this funky little object. How long will it hang there on my classroom wall before a student or two try it out for themselves?