This week’s guest post comes from Matt Barinholtz (@futuremakerkids), the founder of FutureMakers. Check out his bio at the end of the post for more information, and look for more guest posts from Matt in the near future!
“There’s a big wind coming…If only there was a source of best practices… a database of maker helpers.” Travis Good – LITA Forum 2013
Who makes makers?
Making has been happening in schools, libraries and community learning spaces for what seems like forever. We’ve called it by many names, and have seen initiatives and funding sources come and go. Until now, folks who taught in places where making happens have been generalists — able to differentiate a wide range of skills and projects across many communities of learners. As making re-enters places once reserved for rows of workstations, lab tables, shelves full of books or auto shops, tools and technology are highly visible and ready to try. What has changed, however, is that the range of skills and projects has spread so broadly. Generalists? Forget it. Integrated learning, linked through tools, traditions and technologies, requires a new kind of instructor or guide. In order to grow sustainable maker programs, focus must broaden from building labs, and integrate building coaches – makers who teach, and teachers who make.
When the first General Electric monitor top refrigerators came onto the market in 1927, meal-making changed forever. Household models were equivalent to the cost of a car. Owners gleefully ignored the massive amount of heat emanated by their conspicuous top-mounted radiator rings. And although they used corrosive, eye damaging sulfur dioxide for refrigerant, these marvels attracted attention. So much so, if GE’s original advertising is correct, they made occasional appearances at dinner parties. People gathered to stare at them.
For the time being, digital fabrication equipment is attracting the same attention. All sorts of evolutions in fabrication and production are in the news, and at the top of most administrators’ wish lists. But search for images of digital fabrication tools, and you’ll find them: wide-eyed individuals staring at filament being extruded, photons burning thorough acrylic, or carbide shaving spirals of aluminum. The machines are presently the ends. Without coaches, we lose sight or value in the means.
Stop staring. Really. It’s not cute.
Makers make makerspaces
With 3-D printing on the rise, an emphasis on “what can you make today” encourages exploration and discovery, and a leveling of access to maker tools. Whistles and bracelets and scanned self portraits are fun. Quad copter parts, adaptive equipment, jewelry, handguns — all serving distinct interests and purposes — leave us wanting to try. Without accurate, validated models, however, bad prints abound. And without some level of coaching, even the most accomplished self-starter experiences limited growth, or repeated failure. When planning to acquire any gear — not just digital fabrication tools! — efforts to integrate experts who have the capacity to coach wide ranges of users should be treated as a line item. We need makers to make makers. Otherwise we are just left with space.
Useful, but without content and expertise, empty and purposeless.
Invest in makers
To scale the steep climb from a good idea to a well-executed project, and to appreciate the healthy doses of failure along the way, we reach out to coaches for direction and advice. Volunteer efforts, even significant digifab or gear intensive maker barn-raisings, are unsustainable without coaches who are approachable, consistent, and open to growth. Makerspaces in the commons presently list their tools and tech resources as some of their key assets, but rarely tout rosters of amazing coaches.
FutureMakers Coaches supporting a prototyping workshop with 3rd graders.
Coaches make makers. Only engaging, knowledgable and open-minded individuals, liberally applied, activate makerspaces. Progressive organizations invest in makers — volunteer, contract or staff — by engaging them in regular professional development activities, observe and constructively critique their work with the public, and encourage their growth. No amount of expertise can balance poor word choices or lack of cultural competence in a well-intentioned maker meetup. If we are going to sustain public makerspaces, we must engage makers who resonate with community-centered initiatives, and give them the tools to become great coaches. We need a process for those makers, in any city or region, to learn, prototype, try and fail — and hopefully succeed — at coaching. The time for regional rosters of makers who draw on best professional development practices specific to their communities’ needs has come. We don’t have time for well-intentioned but uncertain coaching. Let’s make makers who are confident, organized, clear, open minded, anticipate needs and celebrate what’s awesome. Those are makers who will make makers.
About Matt Barinholtz
Matt Barinholtz is founder of FutureMakers, a community of coaches who serve young makers, their families, and community agencies in greater Baltimore and Washington, DC. Learn more at www.kidsmakethingsbetter.com and www.mattbarinholtz.com.
Image Credit: “Maker Faire 2013” by Flickr user hewy