Seventeen Things: Toward a Maker Curriculum (For Teachers)

UPDATE: A lot of visitors seem to come here to learn how to be makers.  And that’s great.  But you should see what I’ve done since 2013, too: 

  1. Maker Summer Camp, and some of its projects and conclusion (Summer 2015)
  2. Autumnal Maker School, with some of its various projects, and eventual conclusion (Autumn 2015)
  3. The Maker Space we launched at my school

The point here is that you shouldn’t just check out the Seventeen Things you can do to make  yourself a Maker.  You should try out some of the other projects here, and see what works for you, and learn from my learning as best you can.

And leave a comment. Tell me what you’re looking for, and maybe I can steer you in the right direction.

Seventeen Things

I’m currently involved in this Twenty-Three Things effort to learn to become a better user of technology.  And it occurred to me that there really needs to be a similar list of things that teachers need to do to become better oriented to the Maker movement.

Then I had dinner with my friend Hollie the other day.  And Hollie told me about her impressions of the daughter of a friend of hers.  Her daughter is in that age bracket where she’s bored of high school and not really sure if college is for her.  And so Hollie, and her friend, are both regularly engaging the daughter in conversation about what she wants, what is she interested in, what excites her.  And the answer, apparently, is nothing.  Celebrities perhaps, or makeup and clothes (wearing them, not making them!), music (listening to, not creating), and … in general… consuming provided culture and experience rather than creating it.

Augh!

Ok, maybe this is what the “corporate masters” of America want (although I don’t believe in conspiracies like that).  Maybe it’s the reason that our schools have been turned into a reading-writing-arithmetic wasteland (not mine, of course. Where I teach is awesome!)  Maybe it’s the result of testing so much.  But this kid (allegedly! Remember, I only know the mom’s friend, and neither the mom nor the kid are in my regular circle of community…) is still not interested in school, nor in anything outside of school. Know any kids like that?

And I have to wonder.  From sixth grade on, most schools expose students to a literature person, a math person, a science person, a history or social studies person, and a foreign language person, daily. They’re lucky to get art. They’re lucky to get music.  They’re lucky to get drama (Kids at my school are very lucky; they get all three).  But still, they’re exposed to three principle Ways of Knowing: reading, mathematics, and writing.

Maybe we need a different list than the Twenty-Three Things to be a better Digital Age Teacher. Maybe we need a list of things teachers can do to help identify and cultivate Makers in schools, to encourage curiosity and tinkering, and develop imaginative solutions.  Maybe we need a list of things that teachers can do, which will orient them toward teaching other kids to be makers.

Thanks to Robert Anton Wilson, I know that the number 5, and the number 17, are very often associated with 23.  So maybe, if there’s a Twenty-Three Things list for becoming a better digital technology teacher, there should be a Seventeen Things List for Becoming a Better Maker Teacher.

I’m thinking about projects I’ve done recently, or that I have in mind to do for the future, and how (and why) I want to do them. They’re not the only possibilities, of course.  So this is a very preliminary list.  Please feel free to suggest ideas to add to the list, and ALSO suggest what should be taken out. And help me figure out the order of activities on the list, too: if the first ones are too hard, people will abandon the list before they get to the ones at the end.

But more — think about what it is that the list is supposed to accomplish… to be a Maker is to be a tinkerer, an artisan, a show-person, and an inventor.  These aren’t easily transferred skills. They can be learned from a book (sorta) but it’s more how-to manuals and craft guides than great literature.  And they have to be arranged as a kind of curriculum over 6-8 weeks.

  1. Week 1: Visual Thinking
    Visual thinking skills form the basis of much of Design Thinking or Maker skills — if you can’t draw it, you’re going to have a lot harder time building it.  Accordingly, our first three activities are designed to connect teachers and others with the visual skills

    • Activity 1: Do a Geometry Problem the Hard Way (and make it pretty!) — any of the problems from Andrew Sutton’s Ruler and Compass works to help reconnect you to the basics of geometry. The trick is to make it beautiful.
    • Activity 2: Make a set of precise drawings of an object in your home, from top, side and front.
    • Activity 3: Watch Dave Gray’s “Forms, Flows, and Fields”. Then practice teaching the lesson to someone else without the video.
  2. Week 2: Textile and String Theory
    Textiles are one of the most ancient materials that human beings have had as tools.  String and cording is 20,000 years old at least, and maybe as much as 500,000 years old. Only stone and antler tools are older; and that’s not even proven.

  3. Week 3: Digital Makery
    Computers and networks are among the things that launched the modern Maker movement.  It was possible for people to share their projects as never before, and that inspired more people to get involved in Making and in Design (and I think that in many ways, you have to be a Maker before you can really buy into Design Thinking — you have to be curious enough and handy enough to make something, before you can decide to critique and improve that work).  Anyway, you’re not going to become a graphic designer or an architect in a week — but maybe if you knew what was possible, you’d get excited.  So do that.

    • Activity 6: Produce a poster from scratch.  As teachers, we’re always asking students to make posters. Make one of your projects yourself. Digitally.  Use a computer, use clip art. Track your time.  How much effort does it really take to produce the level of quality you want?  How many times did you start over, or make serious adjustments? 
    • Activity 7: Design a Cottage using SketchUp.  Does this little house you created digitally have enough space for you and your family?  Does it have too much? How long did it take to build?
  4. Week 4: Physical Makery
    Physical Makery matters.  The human world is built of stuff — concrete and wood, bricks and ceramic, silver and carbon fiber, cotton ducking and rubber o-rings. Make some things this week, and make them as well as you can, with the tools you have available and the materials around you.

    • Activity 8: Build a box, with a correctly fitting lid.  Make it as beautiful as you can, while also structurally sound: six walls, and using the Amazon.com box from buying Ruler and Compass for week 1 doesn’t count.  How many tools did it require to build? How much time? What DIDN’T you know how to do? What required help?
    • Activity 9: Build a mechanical thing, where turning one part makes other parts move.  Think, maybe, whirligigs.
  5. Week 5: Physical Makery II
    Makery obeys rules: principally the rules of physics.  Things fall from above to below; rarely do they go the other way. Things that shoot out the back, tend to move forward. Rubber bands stretch, but then they want to tighten.  Press down on a pencil crossing another pencil, and the other end of the first pencil rises. This week, experiment with the edges of physics.

  6. Week 6: Electronics
    All those digital devices contain paths for electricity to move through; and nothing happens without that electricity. This week, build some things which will increase your knowledge of electronics. Why shouldn’t their model of the Lord of the Flies island have a little LED lamp to indicate where the community fire is?  Learn how this might be done, this week.

  7. Week 7: Games
    We live in a world in which games have taken over people’s lives.  Part of the reason is that they reward success. Try inventing some games this week, either alone or with some trusted friends (you’ll need them to playtest your game anyway! Invite them over).  How are games made? Try inventing a few simple games this week, and see if they work.

  8. Week 8: Maker
    • Activity 16:  Invite three people to dinner who don’t normally eat at your house. Cook, rather than ordering food. Show off your work of the last eight weeks.  Get ideas for new projects, and feedback on how to make these projects better.
    • Activity 17:  Build a piece of furniture — another box, a shelf, a stool, a seat, a thing. Use it. See if it falls apart.  Decorate it using the techniques and tools you’ve learned during this series of activities.

I have to say, I don’t think this is a perfect list.  Most of the things on this list, I couldn’t do in eight weeks without being exhausted. Any one of the things on this list, as well, is the beginning of a work of several months or years to master. Electronics? The two most skillful guys I know at electronics design have been at it for years, if not decades. Game design? I know that the masters of this right now have been at it for twenty years. What are you going to learn in a week?

But.

But here’s the thing.  You’ll know more at the end of each of these activities than you do right now.  You’ll know how HARD it is, on a real level, and not just in the abstract. You’ll discover the value of documenting your work with photographs and blog entries and v-log entries and Vine videos. And you’ll know that some of the projects that we assign as teachers are just crazy — but also have the power to launch our students into amazing new realms of knowledge.

As for me?  Let’s see.  FInished Weeks 1 and 2. Working on Week 3. Finished up parts of weeks 4, 6, 7, and 8.  I have a ways to go yet. What have you completed?

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