Maker Mindset, then MakerSpaces

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Gary Stager and Will Richardson both have similar ideas about MakerSpaces. They’re worried they’ll add to inequality, and that they’ll continue to be used as hangars for equipment and technology, relegated to a few narrow functions, and ultimately not really put to use.

Gary says in one source (not quoted in Will’s article):

The greatest threat to realizing the potential of the maker movement in the schools is the coupling of the words “maker” and “space:’ It turns out that
it is comparatively easier to hang a sign on a room full of stuff than it is to change classroom practice.

The makerspace threatens to repeat the historical accident of the computer lab :The enthusiasm of an early adopter and presence of new technology created a specialized bunker that kids would
visit each fortnight for the next two generations — like a field trip to colonial Williamsburg . We need to avoid any chance that making, like computer integration , will remain a novelty and be left to a “specialist ” while other teachers remain disengaged .

Gary’s article

And then, Will says this…

Much in the way that schools have spent tons of money on iPads and Chromebooks that have changed little in terms of the culture of learning or in the agency and autonomy kids in classrooms have to learn in classrooms, the same danger exists for Makerspaces. As Gary says, making is a “stance.” It’s a way of thinking about learning and schooling, not something that suddenly happens because of new technologies.

Why it’s so difficult for schools to put vision and philosophy ahead of tools and tech escapes me.

Will Richardson’s Blog

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 10.09.33 PMToday I listened to a new podcast on Thursday, Meaningful Making.  It’s good.  I like it.  They had a lot of good insights, including the recognition that the Maker community tends to skew white and geeky, and that we need to do more to promote greater diversity in the Maker community — shout out here to @Mr_Hutchinson_ who does remarkable things with very little… (but boy, do these podcast guys need Toastmasters… lots of uhs, and ummms. repeated words, filler statements… I recognize that a podcast is a different format than a radio show, but if you’re going to be a professional or semi-professional speaker, you owe it to your audience not to repeat yourself too much if you expect your audience to give you an hour of their time.)

Yet something one of the participants said gave me pause.  He said that there was a regular problem on the standardized tests that involved folding a net mentally, to see if it made a shape.  Could the students fold a given 2D net of triangles and squares into a 3D shape, and would the resulting net be complete? The teacher used a 3D printer to make a number of ‘manipulables’ — an ugly, not-really-elegant word — for  students to play with in order to see whether or not the given ‘flat nets’ folded into regular shapes.

Oh… you mean….

The people at Mathisfun.com have been producing these raw nets for at least a decade. They were one of the first things I turned to in the MakerSpace at my school in 2010 — because there were few things cheaper than paper for teaching Maker skills and Maker mindset to children, and when we started we had virtually no money for tools or materials other than what I could beg, borrow, or recycle.

It’s also a ready-made computer activity: “Use graphic design to make a net — a flat design — that when cut out and folded turns into a three-dimensional shape that can be measured.” It’s then less interesting to produce flat ‘manipulables’ that don’t fold into 3D shapes — and the kids who cut out and fold the real thing will find their skill improved when it comes to imagining the folding of 2d images, because their hands will have done it already. — Principle #4, what the Hands Do, the Mind Knows.

I produced one in five minutes in a word processing application and posted it as a screenshot here, but even a rough cut-out of the weird cross do-hickey on this page will produce a 3D cube.  This cube can be assembled inside out, too, creating six surfaces for decoration, or to make dice, or to assemble into structures, or to talk about crystalline structures… After all, that’s what ancient people noticed about crystals a long time ago: that they came in distinct shapes that appeared to be related to standard geometric forms like hexagonal prisms and cubes and octahedrons.

I’ve said elsewhere that Maker teachers need to be focused on the past (Principle #10, Past vs. Future Orientation) so that the students can be future-focused. The Maker teacher thus becomes a library of solutions, if you will, and can give a student guidance about how to put materials or technologies or techniques to use.

But it’s not always helpful if we turn to the flash and the heat and whiz-bang of the 3D printer when one of the key experiences we want students to gain is the knowledge of how to turn a 2D material (like paper) into a 3D object (like a cube or an icosahedron). I recognize that a) every person has their own entry point to Making; and b) people need to learn how the tech works before they can adopt the right mindset around teaching it to others.  That’s fine.

But we should be conscious of not over-investing in the technology for technology’s sake. Paper has the advantage of being scaleable in a way that 3D printing isn’t, yet, for schools.  Paper is a wonderfully diverse material: ephemeral in a way that 3D printer plastic isn’t, mark-able in a way that plastic isn’t, recyclable in ways that 3D printer plastic isn’t, and as dependent on how we mark it, as how we choose to shape it or design it to function.  It also folds, and it can be sewn, and it can serve as template for other projects; and it can teach complex concepts in short order which can then be programmed!

I do believe that this approach takes some of the “discovery” component out of student learning. After all, you’re using an adult’s graphic design skills and an adult’s mental library of past technologies to present students with ideas.  But you’re also putting ideas in student’s minds at the same time that you’re giving them tools and materials practice.  Just in this blog post, I’ve linked to the idea of using paper to:

  • build scientific instruments
  • teach core concepts of solid geometry
  • train the mind to recognize geometric 2D nets as 3D or not-3D objects
  • building books (which a 3D printer can’t really do)
  • fold origami patterns
  • build templates for sewing projects (including clothing)
  • building and coloring planetary globes
  • building cultural objects
  • teaching algorithms for cryptography (and introducing students to the ideas of secret-keeping).

So, guys — great podcast so far, really.  But you’ve spent two weeks talking about how awesome computers and 3D printing are.  Maybe you can remind people that cardboard and paper have important roles to play, too?

Tools determine Output

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Here’s a popular dessert in our house. It’s frozen cherries (but sometimes mango or peaches or berries) mixed with a little extract — usually vanilla but sometimes almond or hazelnut — and then blended with a mix of milk and half&half (or heavy cream) until smooth. Ish.

It’s not ice cream but it tastes like ice cream. It’s not sorbet but it tastes like sorbet. It’s sort of an ice milk, I guess? But it isn’t. What it is, is a dessert. We eat it straight out of the blender instead of letting it “set” in the freezer, because we find the setting process makes it disgusting. You eat this fresh or not at all.  You also eat the variants from time to time, too: peach cream where the peaches have been in the freezer too long; or where there’s not enough milk or too much almond extract. The balance is never exact.

But it’s dependent on the tools. Without the blender or the food processor, without the refrigerator, without the whole apparatus to harvest cherries in season and flash freeze them, without milk or cream, this dessert is impossible. It’s not a dish of Ancient Rome; it’s a dish of modern Americans looking to avoid too much processed sugar in their diets.

A makerspace can have a range of tools of all kinds — but without accurate measuring tools, all projects will be sort of sloppy (With accurate measuring tools, projects may still be sloppy, but that’s the choice of the maker). No sandpaper and no files? Projects wind up looking a little rough.  No paint or stain? Things look a little unfinished, more structural, with more emphasis on materials. No drills, no saws? — projects wind up being made of other things than wood.

Tools determine output. If your MakerSpace is producing projects with a lot of bent nails, you might want to take a look at how many hammers you have, and perhaps invest in some saws or drills.  Or maybe a sewing machine…

Or maybe an ice cream maker.

Chinese sewing book

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I’ve been fascinated by the Chinese Thread Book, or (zhen xian bao) since I first found out about it several years ago.  It always seemed too complicated. Today, I followed the tutorial here on how to construct it.  There are other tutorials, but this is the one I chose to follow.

The results are not ideal.  The paper I used is really cardstock, and too heavy for this purpose.  It does make it less likely that you’ll rip the twist boxes in the course of opening and closing them, but all in all the book turned out nicely despite being made of paper scraps from my collection of leftovers from other paper projects.

By and large, the most difficult piece of the work is folding the pieces that become the twist boxes.  This involves cutting an A4 piece of paper to the correct size, measuring it, folding it into fifths and halves, and then folding it in a series of diagonals to produce the twist.  All in all, though, an elegant design.
This book contains seven compartments, but I missed an opportunity to add at least two more, if not six more. No matter. I was following a tutorial, not designing my own box from scratch. I do see, from museum examples, that there are some ways of adding more complex compartments to the book — one large one the size of the whole cover, another two on each side, and another pair opening underneath the two compartments on the right-hand side.  Plus there’s maybe space for a couple of ‘envelope’-like pockets under the left and right side compartments.

Here’s the second thing I like about it, despite the heavy paper (or perhaps because of it).  It’s clear that this is a thing with a specific purpose — thread. You’re not going to be storing cauldrons and alembics and elaborate machinery inside of this.  It’s for thread.  Maybe some needles.  I saw a museum-quality example once, really from southwest China, that was large enough to store pattern pieces for sewing shoes in it.  This one is not that big, as you can tell by my hands.  But it’s still a thing rooted in geometry (even if I used a ruler and was measuring in centimeters to make this particular example.  The people who built the originals did so using geometry for the most part, not measurement with measurement-units like inches or centimeters.  They made these things according to geometric rules, which I started to get a handle on as they made these beautiful objects.

Third — as some of you might guess from the paper choices for the twist boxes — there are potential uses for this book of boxes in magic.  I can see Gordon populating this with some of his sigils, for example, or maybe treating the paper as sigil-surface.  It can certainly be decorated, far beyond what I’ve done here.  Or sigils could be secreted inside the various compartments.

This one, I’m going to use in my bimonthly roleplaying game as a prop.  It’s a little too rough and weird and heavy to use as a regular-use object, and I don’t really have a use for it (yet).  But if I make some counters or things to put in the compartments, then maybe this is a wizard’s spell book, or a special-purpose version of something like a deck of many things, or a similarly special-purpose bag of holding. (Just because the compartments can’t hold cauldrons in our world, doesn’t mean they can’t in another world…)

So, that’s the basics of it. Not complicated, really, though it looks intimidating.

Little Viking Bags, finished 

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I used a lucet today to make three cords for these three Viking bags — appropriate for dice or for runes, or small stones. Lined but unpadded inside. One of the bags is spoken for, but the other two are up for grabs.

The Viking Bag is not a komebukuro.  This is a piece of fabric — the row of marching vikings, with the wave-band and the red and white stripes — sewn in a round around a base fabric, and then given a lining of brown cloth stitched with a drawstring tube.  The new cord, in a persimmon-dyed merino wool is pulled through the tube and finished with a wooden bead (or unfinished, in the other one).

One will go up for sale on my Etsy site next week. Probably the other one as well. Do I hear any bids?

Holiday Making

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I’m in the middle of a dilemma.  I like to post an article a week these days, so that people know I’m still working on stuff.  Yet at the same time, some of my readers are also recipients of the things that I’m making. So, that’s no good.  I can’t very well show what I’m working on, and give away the surprises meant for later in the season… right?

So what I need to do is give an update on what I’m working on, without giving away what I’m working on.  And the best way to do that is to present areas of skills-development and talent-training.

Sewing/Tailoring

  • Sewing machine cleaning, triage and repair
  • Sewing straight seams
  • Sewing curved seams
  • Scaling patterns up and down
  • Designing patterns from scratch
  • Sewing multiple/thick layers of fabric together
  • Quilting

Bookbinding & Graphic Design

  • Panel Book Making
  • Book of Secrets Making
  • 11×17″ book layout & binding
  • Coptic stitch binding
  • Belgian secret binding
  • 11×17″ book layout & binding (long-edge binding

Metalworking

  • Brass soldering
    • (still can’t do it. But have the tools, and can experiment)
  • Wire sculpting
  • Jigs and templates for soldering

Knitting

  • Knit Stitch
  • Perl Stitch
  • Casting On (Long Tail)
  • Casting Off
  • Bamboo Stitch
  • How to knit a lazy-8 scarf

Programming

  • Progress on HTML/CSS
  • Progress on JAvaScript
  • Progress on Python
  • Writing my own program using arrays, variables and counting processes

All in all, I’m making pretty good advances on the skills that I have, and that I’d like to have going forward.  I still feel like electronics and robotics eludes me to a large extent.  But I have other abilities that most Maker Spaces and Maker Programs don’t have.

Bags

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what do you do when you have a lot of little scraps of fabric but no real use for a small quilt?

Bags are simple


Make bags.
Small bags — for decks of cards, cribbage boards, magic wands, family heirlooms, game pieces, gift-giving —  are fairly simple. Even with a lining of a contrasting color, they’re not terribly complicated. Most of them are simple straight-stitches on a machine. Point the sewing machine in the right direction, and go. All of the bags here have basically three seams: one for a drawstring or ribbon casing; one for the side of the bag; and one for the bottom. They’re not intended or designed to hold up to a lot of abuse; but they could. Seriously, they’re pretty well-made for being made from scraps. 

But why make them?  For being so general purpose, they’re remarkably hard to use well. Still they teach important sewing lessons: pinning, ironing, making casings for drawstrings, pulling a drawstring, and making linings (in two different ways). They teach fabric selection and color-scheming and cutting and assembly. And they teach turning, too, which is the basis of pillow making as well. 

Once you can make this sort of simple bag, most other sewing is fairly easy. 

Bag repair

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I made this bag a few weeks ago to complement a coat that I made for an outdoor event in October in the Berkshires. The brown trim on the coat is the same as the body and strap of this bag. I didn’t know how much I would have to carry, but I knew that I had to carry some things over the weekend from place to place; this bag was going to provide a useful place to store things of unknown size but probably relatively light weight.

The barn-door stitch

I was right about both size and weight; the bag was hopelessly too big. It also had a problematic seam; one end of the shoulder strap came undone about an hour after I showed up at the event. The objects I eventually needed to carry? Tiny — like, I could have made a pouch the size of a deck of playing cards, and had room to spare. Oh, well. I still like the fact that this bag matches a coat I made, which will be suitable for other events. At the event, I made it work by creating a loop and tying a knot, but it wasn’t ideal. Today, I fixed it.

Top-stitching

The fix came in three forms. First, I top-stitched all the way around the mouth of the bag. This reinforced the attachment of the flap to the body of the bag, and the strap to the bag’s body. It also created a heavy attachment between the lining and the outer shell of the bag; the outer shell is wool, while the inner shell is cotton; this won’t be a great “foul-weather bag.

Second, I used a form I call the “barn door stitch”, which looks like a square with either one or two diagonals through it, to secure the shoulder strap to the body of the bag. These reinforced points mean that the bag just became much more suitable for carrying, say, my laptop or something similarly heavy and fragile.  I still don’t know that I would trust my laptop to this bag (what if it flips over? What if the flap comes undone or flies open in heavy weather? What if moisture seeps through the bag?) but at least I can say that it’s much stronger now as a result.  It makes me wish that I had used French seams, though, inside, which would have made the bag that much stronger yet…

Reinforced barn-door

Third, I backstitched over the beginnings and ends of all of my seams. I’m sure that this is what caused the strap to fail in the first place. It’s a pretty standard practice in machine sewing work to back your sewing machine’s stitching forward and back over itself in order to lock the thread in place.  By doing this at both the beginning and end of a stitch, the whole seam is locked together, and is much less likely to fail.

A bag has challenges — thinking inside and outside, choosing fabric, figuring out waterproofing as needed, sewing stitches, mashing together three or four or more layers of fabric, determining inside compartments as necessary, and more. There are a lot of things that can go wrong. But it’s a great student project — the finished bag serves as a useful tool for transporting notebooks and textbooks from class to locker and home and so on. Designing a bag for a school means that all the needful school supplies should be able to fit within it.  You can even pair it with a pencil case design for a more thorough experience in sewing (adding zippers, yay!), and thinking in three dimensions.

But I’d like to propose to you, readers, that sewing is a critical part of any Maker education. We wear far more clothes in our lifetimes than we install birdhouses; we carry more bags and wear more coats and scarves, than we build workbenches; and students carry far more books in far more book bags than they need vast collections of electronic gizmos that taught them how to wire one circuit.  The soldering lessons have their place, I admit — but knowing how to sew is a perpetual source of design power.

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