Four States of Making?

Four States of Making?

As our semester came to a close, we held our second exam-week North Quad MakerFest. (Sofia Gutierrez wrote about our December event here.) MakerFest is about making, not showing off what you’ve made. With that in mind, we don’t have exhibits; instead, we have several stations for easy-to-pick-up DIY activities, from LEGO to crochet to Little Bits/KORG kits for electronic music composition. This semester, we also had Music Tools available from the Ann Arbor District Library, Arduino classes from Hall Hands Active, and instead of holiday cookie decorating, we had a healthful fruit kabob station.

What surprised me this time around was that some of our high-tech offerings repeated from last term were less popular this time around. Arduino and 3D modeling didn’t have the buzz that our Project Runway clothing upcycling station or our Shrinky Dinks and rubber band bracelet table. We collectively wondered aloud if this was because at the end of a long, high-intensity school year, our grad students were just tired of sitting in front of a screen and wanting to play with hands-on novelties. And it continues to surprise me how popular and novel a sewing machine is!

As I ramp up to attend an IMLS conversation on the future of library spaces, with an eye on learning spaces, I think it’s important to recognize that making isn’t necessarily learning.  I’ve seen several distinct sets of making this year, and I’m tentatively naming them calming, puttering, progressing, and producing. And I think all are legitimate maker modes.

Calming – Many of our makers this year came from tough backgrounds or, in the case of our middle school site, a loud, frenetic, and sometimes physically uncomfortable school day. I noticed that some of our makers didn’t come to us seeking stimulation. They needed to calm down. The repetitive motions of friendship bracelet knotting, crochet strands, or stacking LEGOs help them to self-soothe. We need to recognize the important value that these “simple” activities bring to some.

Puttering – Some makers like to try something, wander, look at what others are doing, try something else, etc. (We even have a mentor who likes to work this way, so it is by no means a negative state in which to be!) These students may have a strong need for social interaction, struggle to concentrate, or crave the one-on-one attention that a mentor can provide. Sometimes, these makers do best when guided toward an activity that requires movement, like video-interviewing other makers, being the “reporter” or photo-documentarian, or staging/acting in a film. I can also think of a student for whom puttering meant, “I really don’t want to be here.”

Progressing – These are makers who have settled into an activity and are actively engaged with it. They’re clearly learning because we can see them building new skills along the way. They may be receiving active guidance from a mentor or peer, which makes it easier to see that they are learners.

Producing – Not all making needs to result in production. The exploration of the other modes can be just as valuable. But once a maker has settled into an activity or set of materials/tools, and has completed any guided tasks to pick up skills, then it’s a pleasure to watch them take making into their own hands. Their learning may have happened already, or their learning may be occurring below the surface. They look active, or they may seem pensive and reflective as they plan what comes next. They may move in and out of this state, sometimes moving into the puttering zone when they become frustrated or need a fresh perspective.  They may be in what Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.”

Do these states resonate with you?

What have I missed?

Cross-posted to the Active Learning blog

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