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.