on the Power of Creative Constraints #MakerspaceMasterCourse

In the Makerspace Master Course video on this topic (here’s a clip that is included), John Spencer addresses several ideas that I believe are very important and emphasize to me that sometimes we get too caught up in the labels.

For example, I call the space at my school A Tinkering Place. Not because I don’t believe it’s a true Makerspace, but rather that the marketing folk associate that word with lots of high-tech tools that we don’t have, both by choice and circumstance.  Yet I know that many associate the word tinkering with something less valuable that what how  “making” is currently defined. (It was actually a big argument; for better or worse I did not back down.)

The definitions developed in Invent to Learn(1) are ones I like. To me, they clearly show the continuum and relationship of all the nuances that are encompassed in these creative and innovative activities, but neither do I  think they include everything. As John points out, there are multiple ways we can view making. Where is the artist? the chef? It’s not just the geeky, STEM folk who are makers.

Making is about the active role construction plays in learning. The maker has a product in mind when working with tools and materials.

Tinkering is a mindset – a playful way to approach and solve problems through direct experience, experimentation, and discovery.

Engineering extracts principles from direct experience. It builds a bridge between intuition and the formal aspects of science by being able to better explain, measure, and predict the world around us.”1

It’s a  sliding scale, fuzzy, blurry mess of meanings. They overlap, they intertwine. It starts as one thing and ends up another. And that’s totally okay. Maybe I’ll redefine STEM/STEAM for myself: Someone Tinkering (and) Engineering (through) Artistic Making.

In our space, we have the Tinkering Tenets (find them here and in reference 2)  as they embrace many of our hopes of how the space is used and viewed. My favorite – and what I think is the ultimate message to those who are hoping to bring a makerspace to their school, is “Start with What You Have.” It’s a creative constraint. It makes boundaries “okay.”

Using the tenets and definitions of making, tinkering, and engineering as a sort of mantra, has guided the way I encourage others to join in makerspace culture, and even how I design lessons that aren’t headed to the makerspace for any reason! It’s part of the mindset and greater learning culture that I hope to help my students establish.

1. (Martinez, S. L.; Stager, G. Learning. In Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom; Constructing Modern Knowledge Press: Torrance, CA, 2013; pp. 31-42.)

2.. Wilkinson, K.; Petrich, M. The Art of Tinkering: Meet 150 Makers Working at the Intersection of Art, Science & Technology; Routledge: New York, NY, 2013; pp. 31-42.


Why make a makerspace? #MakerspaceMasterCourse

A question was posed in a MOOC, “What is the purpose of your makerspace?” and limit it to one sentence. I adapted my answer from the proposal I presented to our administrators a few years ago:

A Tinkering Place will provide an environment open to all members of the school community that encourages creativity and helps develop innovative and entrepreneurial mindset and skills; subversive academics.

The Backstory to our Making Space.

But I think the backstory helps elicit why I feel this is an important endeavor. I teach at a boarding school – we are always looking for activities for our students, especially on the weekends, that will sustain interest and engagement. The school has a long history of entrepreneurship education. I took an online course from the Exploratorium on Tinkering. It was awesome – I proposed this as a weekend activity. The admin agreed, and I moved forward.

The Science Department had some funds with which we bought a few Arduinos, a couple of Makey-Makeys and some simple electronics. We got a bunch of things that were recommended as good items for fast-prototyping. We already had LEGO robotics.  An alum donated some funds with which we were able to purchase a small 3D printer and a couple of 3D pens. Since this was science stuff, I made the case that we could use our physics classroom – with all the old-fashioned “traditional” lab tables and such to host this “activity.” It was a really large room, and with some diligent reorganization could serve both classes and a weekend activity.

It was popular beyond expectations. Soon we were discovering that some teachers were looking at ways to assign work that necessitated some tinkering or fast prototyping! Excellent!

The physics classroom that was our home when we opened A Tinkering Place.

As word got out, we were fortunate enough to have some donors step forward and ask “if you could have your way, how might you remodel the room?” Wow. We researched and visited a number of makerspaces (just gaining real popularity… this was about 3 years ago) and higher ed innovation spaces.

We new we (the Science Dept) would not be willing to give up our lab… we’d been poking at our curriculum and making it more project and problem based, so we needed the space – but we said we were willing to share.

Our redesigned room sports mobile lab benched, whiteboard walls, reconfigured storage, and a whiteboard partition – which allows other classes to negotiate and sign up for a time when they can use the tinkering place even if a physics class is in session; without displacing the class. (Depending on needs, the science dept is willing to switch rooms, too).

Looking in the opposite direction from the previous photo – partition is closed. You can see the mobile tables and get an idea of new storage.

btw – we call it Tinkering, because we (I) am not convinced it meets most peoples expectations of a makerspace.  But that’s another discussion.