Book: Your Starter Guide to MakerSpaces


This is a book review. It’s part of a new series on this blog that began last week.  I hope you find it useful.

Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces
by Nicholas Provenzano (@TheNerdyTeacher)
Blend, published 2016
ISBN-13: 978-0692786123 (Paperback) N.B. I read the Kindle edition.

✦ ✦ ✦ ✦ ✦ ✧ ✧

I’m deeply interested in MakerSpaces, of course, and I make quite a lot of things myself.  This is a fairly short book, as well, and more of a workbook than a true book.  As the author titles it, it’s a Starter Guide, not an exhaustive examination of the topic.

Yet given how many times I say, “I teach about and in makerspaces,” that the response is “What’s a MakerSpace?” both Nick and I have a good deal more work to do (fair warning, Nicolas Provenzano and I follow one another on Twitter) in bringing this idea to the masses.  It’s not part of the common lingua franca yet, and it could be and should be.  But that means that we have to do the job of educating the public, and stakeholders in schools and libraries and other institutions that could have MakerSpaces successfully.

The book contains eight short chapters:

  1. What is Making?
  2. I know what Making is; why should I care?
  3. Where does a MakerSpace go in a school?
  4. Making allies
  5. What goes in a MakerSpace?
  6. MakerSpaces and Project-Based Learning
  7. Failure and MakerSpaces
  8. Final Thoughts

He also concludes with information about his own identity as a Maker and teacher, and how to reach out to him and use his skills as a teacher-educator in your own institution. Which is awesome.

One of the things that I didn’t benefit from, that readers of the paperback edition may enjoy, is that this is a workbook.  As any good Maker will tell you, the interaction process between the thing that you make, and the audience you make it for, matters.  That’s certainly true here. Even in the Kindle edition, the illustrations and workbook pages give you the opportunity to engage with the book by writing your own (offline) lists and make your own mind-maps of the things that the book inspires in you.

The book’s primary audience is a teacher, particularly one who is already invested in the idea of project-based learning (PBL), or who has support within her institution for a change to a more hands-on program that involves building and creating within STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields.  I’ve argued elsewhere that it should be STEAMED (adding Arts, Entertainment, Design) but very sensible commentators have responded to that.

Provenzano admits that this is not a book for an advanced practitioner, but a starter guide.  It’s not systematic, but rather it’s a combination of encouragement, first-hand accounts from a MakerSpace-as-classroom that he himself ran, and top-level considerations of equipment, toolkit, and mental attitude that help MakerSpaces get launched and succeed.  This kind of teaching and learning is valuable and important, though I wish he’d included more discussion about budgeting and financial planning for MakerSpaces, because money (where it comes from and how to get supplies, tools and equipment with it?) and time (how does the MakerSpace avoid burning out the teacher[s] who run them?) are rarely addressed in MakerSpace books and articles to nearly the extent they need to be.

That said, Provenzano does address a number of important points, like the scale or size of a MakerSpace, what equipment and tools it needs to have, and how much access a school should/could provide to its student body to use the space.  He addresses the process of finding allies for a MakerSpace program, in the student body and administration, in the parent and alumni community,  and in the local business climate.  The book concentrates to a high degree on what is wrong with schools, and shows some cheeky rebelliousness — but this is often the only posture a would-be change agent can take in the modern American school climate: if schools weren’t doing anything wrong, there wouldn’t be a need for MakerSpaces, would there?

All the same, Provenzano’s points echo my own sense of Maker work in schools. Hands-on practice with tools, with materials, with construction and design process, all help make students and teachers into more well-rounded, more competent and capable people. They’re more skilled at solving problems outside their own usual wheelhouse,  because they’ve solved problems involving physical materials and invisible forces (like the flow of electricity through a circuit, or the arrangement of parts so a thing stands on its own).  I think this is a great book for teachers or librarians starting out, who have curiosity about how to get a program started; and I’d happily recommend Provenzano to come to your school or library to help your MakerSpace get started.

A victory


12871475_10153683035618347_1860429310701337643_n.jpgTonight was the Area contest for the spring public speaking contests in Toastmasters.

As you can see by the medal around my neck, I won.  The speech type was “tall tales”.  In the next few weeks, I’m going to be competing in the next level up, which is either District or Division. I think Division.  It has to be more or less the same speech, and I think I’ll do fine.

There’s some awesome talent coming up through the ranks, though.  One kid gave a speech about his first Volvo. The thing that struck me about his speech was how rooted in concrete details it was: spark plug, muffler, V8 turbo.  At any point he could have said “car” but instead he said “Volvo wagon” emphasizing how uncool his friends thought it was, and how cool he felt it was — how grand it was to be able to modify and soup up his car for a race against a “stock mustang”, which is to say, he didn’t reduce his opponent to just another car… he reduced it to a standard model variant of a famous car.  It really impressed me, how rooted in concrete and specific language his speech was.  And he’s been at this for two months. Brilliant, even so.

Toastmasters runs two contests a season — one in the spring, and one in the fall.  In between contests, a local club near you is holding at least a meeting or two a month for you to practice at; mine meets first and third Tuesdays.  Anyone and everyone can practice and get better.  I know few ways of getting better at public speaking outside of a course in preaching, and usually you need to go to seminary to get that.

Consider joining. You might have fun, and you might even wind a medal or three.

Estimation and Geometry

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This afternoon, I got into a discussion about why I spend more for milk and eggs certified as produced in Connecticut. In order to do so, I had to rely on geometry.

“Look,” I said, “Connecticut is just about 100 miles wide from east to west, and about fifty miles wide from north to south.  I know it has that weird little tail in the southwest corner, but let’s call it a box, with more or less right-angle corners, and leave it at that.”

“Ok,” said my conversation partner.

“So that means 100 x 100 equals 10,000.  And 50 x 50 is 2500.  So 12,500 square miles should be c-squared.”

“You mean the Pythagorean theorem.”

“Right. And … please don’t make me find the square root of 12,500 in my head…” fumble with calculator… “that’s 111.8.  SO none of these eggs and none of this milk is produced more than 112 miles away from us.”

“As the crow flies.”

“As the crow flies, right. Though some of these roads are pretty twisty,” I said.

“You realize we’re going to pay a lot more for eggs and milk, now, right?”

“Yes. And it will be especially more delicious because it won’t have sat in a storage facility for weeks.”

(And the closest road-to-road comparison I can find on Google Maps says that it’s about 137 miles northwest to southeast, and 144 miles southwest to northeast.)

Tablet Weaving

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Knitting Needles, Drop Spindle, LoomTablet weaving, or card weaving, is one of those things that’s been on my mind as a major design endeavor for a while.  Mathematics, pattern recognition, a precursor to computing, and more: weaving is one of those skills with a host of other benefits for kids in terms of brain power and mindfulness. More

Design Thinking: How, not About

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I’ve just come upstairs from the basement workshop, where I’m assembling a pair of inkle looms as gifts for friends.  I first learned about the inkle loom  while trying to assemble a system for card/tablet-weaving, and now I think I want to build a better loom that looks like this, anyway.  Before that, I worked on another automata that’s built from the box frame I built to practice dovetails, which will be a present for my mother.  And on Friday I folded a trio of big origami boxes to wrap a present for a colleague, using giant paper and a pattern I learned during my summer experimentation.  And I’m getting back to these projects, of course, after weeks of experimenting with electricity and building motors for my Thursday teaching program.  I’ve not been able to go to the Monday night knitting circle in a few weeks, but I’m looking forward to getting back into the string-theory work I’ve been doing with knitting a Hermetic scarf (like a Doctor Who scarf, but in the colors of the seven classical planets rather than the Doctor’s colors), and a few other projects, like making lucet cord for decorative purposes, and for finishing out a pair of medieval-style poof pants I made for myself….

Which is to say:

When I was asked to start up a design thinking program six years ago, I thought it was all about theory.  It was all about having empathy for people, and solving problems.  But it’s occurred to me in the intervening six years, that while empathy is an important part of the thinking of Design Thinking, the real work of Design Thinking, the Design portion of the work, comes not from knowing about someone else’s problems, but knowing how to do things which might help those people arrive at a solution to those problems.

The famous Ted Koppel Nightline story about IDEO and “The Deep Dive” begins with visits to a grocery store and interviews with people in the grocery store, and a request to redesign a shopping cart in just five days.

But it’s worth noting that these folks are Designers.  They built the first Apple mouse, and a host of other products. They’re psychologists, biologists, technologists, and interviewers.  They defer judgement, and listen to the ideas of others, and build on the others’ work.  As one fellow says, “Enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of the lone genius.”  And of course, “Fail often to succeed sooner.”  And all of the language that they use is great.

But think about the Talents and Skills which are on display here: using a angle grinder and a metal hacksaw.  Using a welding tool, building mock-ups of precisely-cut foam board and sculpt-able styrofoam, building crazy things out of whatever materials happen to be lying around the workshop.  Drawing. Writing (beautiful handwriting, too).  Laughter, easy-going cleverness in groups.

And I think that what I’m trying to say is that I see many schools succeeding at the Thinking part of Design Thinking.  But one of the places that I think my school succeeds where others fail is in the Design portion of Design Thinking.  A kid comes to my school, and he or she has the potential to learn knitting, sewing, embroidery, jewelry-design, costume design, thread-spinning, basic electronics, weaving, basic carpentry, graphic design, drawing, origami, and more.  He or she learns these skills because _I_ have learned them (sometimes painfully), and I’ve come to understand that the success of a Design Thinking program hinges not on the stuff you have in the Design Lab, nor in the books in the library shelves, nor in the projects  you create.  No, it lies in what your teachers know how to do — what skills do they know, and what can they impart to a group of children successfully in the time you give them.

Don’t get so caught up in the abstract thinking portion of Design Thinking, that you forget to teach the students how to Design (and Make) what they have thought into existence.

Electricity: Simple Motor

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Here, with the background hurly-burly of a Latin class prepping for an examination, I tested and ran an electric motor that I built.  The video is only a minute, but it parallels the work of Dr. Arvind Gupta, who runs Toys out of Trash:

This is part of my overall course in electricity, which I described and documented in photographs here, as part of the Maker’s Grimoire.

Tomorrow I get to see if I can teach a bunch of second and third graders how to do this… right before a two-hour class on computer programming. Should be fun!

The Motor Itself

Simple motorThe motor itself is not particularly complicated. It’s a rubber band passed twice around a D-cell battery, with a safety pin on either end of the battery under the rubber band. The coil of insulated wire has been wrapped around the battery 9-10 times to form a coil or a spring. One end has been completely stripped of insulation, the other end is stripped on three sides but not the fourth. And it works. The washers are there solely to balance the battery against the torque that the motor generates.  There’s also a small ceramic magnet, purchased from Home Depot, that provides the static electromagnetic field

Yesterday afternoon, I wasn’t convinced that I was going to be able to get this motor to work before class tomorrow.  Today, it turned out that I needed a half-hour of fiddling before I got it working properly.  Voila!

Carpentry Video: Dovetails


I hadn’t done anything on my YouTube channel in several years: five or so, to be precise.  Basically, I got bounced from teaching history and writing to teaching Latin. So creating videos about teaching history or writing took a back-burner to making videos about teaching Latin… but I never really got into that, either, because I also picked up a job teaching computer science and computer programming.  Oops.  And on top of that, I gained additional responsibilities running the Design Lab at my school. Perhaps you’ve read me when I run my keyboard about the subject?

Design education in the education world has been in the news lately.  A colleague’s blog reposted a New York Times article a few days ago.  And yet, when I look around at what’s going on at other schools, I find that a lot of teachers don’t have much hands-on experience with the materials or the tools. Even I am still at the point of doing basic exploratory activities more often than not, as I did with automata, and with electricity.

And so it’s proving with carpentry.  My dovetails are terrible.  But how many of my colleagues in other schools know enough carpentry to cut a good dovetail? How many have cut a dovetail at all?  I think this is one of the things that distinguishes the Design program at my school from a good many other places — the emphasis is toward hands-on learning, hands-on thinking, and hands-on process.

And that has to include my own learning process, too.

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