I’m in Day 25 of a short series: Thirty Days of Making. Every day for the next thirty days, I intend to make something, anything, that is in some way connected to school. There won’t always be pictures, and I reserve the right to credit myself for things that I help my kids make. But I’ve decided that I need thirty days of maker success and maker failure under my belt to be a better designer.
I’ve decided that artwork counts, but not writing (unless it’s part of the art, like calligraphy). Digital work counts, but it has to be useful or publishable.
Some days there will be pictures, some days there won’t be. Each blog entry will contain a list of some of the materials and tools, a quick review of the success or failure of the Making, and a reflection on what I think I learned from the endeavor. (My friend Alicia is beginning a new series along these lines, 12 weeks of the Artist’s Way — I wish her well in her process, go check her out!). Also, there was a technical glitch with Day 24, which is now posted.
Today was sort of a grab-bag of projects. I had about fifteen minutes in the morning to finish this yellow sash I was working on. Here it is on the conference table in the computer lab, my station in the mornings on Fridays. It’s better than the blue Druidic sash I produced last time, but it still has some challenges. I feel that making this particular pattern is sort of like making Lemon Chicken, though. The more frequently I make it, the more likely it is that I’ll get it right. I made fewer mistakes this time around than last time — and one huge mistake, I was able to cover over with a bit of genteel improvisational sewing.
That’s really what design thinking is about, for me. The ability to find solutions even in the face of challenges that would leave non-experts fuming. I have to say, even six months ago this mistake would have left me flummoxed, and in search of a trusted tailor or seamstress to guide me through the fixing of the mistake. This time, I just did the work myself.
Process and Results:
Anyway, the sash. The cutting of the sash parts occurred a few days ago, followed by ironing on the interfacing a short while later. The sewing happened yesterday afternoon, after the conference, and after the kids left the afternoon program (I also helped two kids there finish sewing their Halloween costumes, which was awesome and wonderful — they got worn tonight at the little kids’ costume party!) I did the final sewing of the two ends of the sash’s hip-tab into the sash’s main body this morning before school started.
And then I got interrupted for project two. A kid came to me with some questions about something else, and he happened to have a geometry project in his hands. And I looked at it, and asked him how long he’d worked on that (because it was beautiful!). And he’d worked on it for hours and hours and hours.
So I showed him the “Flower of Life”, which is a short-cut to the solution to his geometry problem. And he was shocked and appalled that the thing he’d done with a ruler and a protractor, carefully measuring angles, could be done with a ruler and compass in fifteen minutes. All those shaded circles in the flower of life and the hexagram in the lower-right hand corner of the page? Those are the regular and similar triangles, and complementary triangles, that he’d spent hours trying to make with a protractor on construction paper, so he could cut them out and make a tile pattern. I showed him how the tile patterns were implicate in the flower of life structure (why don’t we give geometry students access to good compasses? Or insist on them? Why don’t we teach geometry from Andrew Sutton’s book, ruler and compass?)
But part of me felt like neither of these was really a worthy project for the day… and there was another project in the way on my art table when I came home. I’d had to move things around, and the staves for a little “stave-book” on Geomancy were lying front and center. And I recently got a new “fine point” for my woodburner. So I started working on wood-burning the text of my poem, Quatrains on Geomancy, onto the staves. Jason Miller has said some somewhat snide things about magic woodburnings, (to the effect that they don’t sell them at Crucible), but it’s still a tool that I could (probably) get away with letting my students use.
So, I ended the day by making the first two staves in my Quatrains on Geomancy stave-book. I am not a great wood-burner, by any means. Nor am I necessarily a master-anything, except maybe a teacher (though not, likely, a Teacher). Four staves down, twelve to go.
Reflection on My Learning:
John Updike said once that the secret to his not ever experiencing writers block was to have four different places to write, using four different materials, and four different tool-sets. Pencils in the kitchen in composition books for essays; pens and yellow legal pads in the garden for poetry. Typewriter in the library for short stories. word processor for novels in the office. When he got stuck in one form of writing, he moved to another form of writing. He didn’t experience block as a bad thing — he found ways to move around the problem.
I started these thirty days of learning by trying to make something every day. Now, I easily have a half-dozen projects to keep working on over the course of the next five days. I have to finish my halloween shirt, and I have a lotus that needs to go on a stick somewhere, and a bag to make for the stick and lotus, and a few more spagyrics to decant or move to the next stage in their evolution. I have another chapter on leadership to add to my debate club public speaking manual. And I could add a shell to my wooden house-frame. As I’ve been working with students on spreadsheets, I’ve been making spreadsheets like crazy to demonstrate different possibilities, more or less on the fly. I’ve barely had time to make and eat lunch.
All through, I’ve been reminded that I want to finish the “Seventeen Things for Makers” list, although I think Make Magazine has just come out with a new book called from Zero to Maker. But I definitely think that the last 26 days have helped set me on the path to lean into making things, rather than just thinking about making them.
Reflection on General Learning:
During my workshop yesterday, I said repeatedly that Design Thinking isn’t about knowing about; it’s about knowing how. How to make, how to solve, how to think about a problem, how to state a solution, how to draw compelling images and make persuasive arguments. And I think that if you want to be a design-teacher, the first thing you have to be is a maker. And if you’re not a maker, one of the first things you have to do is challenge yourself to become one. Doing a “Thirty Days of Making” challenge is a great way to start.
Five out of five stars. It was a banner day for making: one project begun several days ago finished; another project of similar size begun, a third project helping to initiate a student into the mysteries of geometry. The goal was to get me to make something every day for thirty days, whether I wanted to or not. Twenty-six days in, and I’m actually making more than a thing a day. That’s progress.