Makers' Center of Gravity

 

Recently, while reading Alfie Kohn's new book The Myth of the Spoiled Child, I stumbled upon a phrase by progressive American educator John Dewey: a child's "center of gravity," and I felt I finally found words to describe what it feels like when a roomful of young makers are "in the zone."

In 1900, Dewey published The School and Societya series of speeches and chapters. In the first chapter, "Schools and Social Progress," Dewey shared his feelings about hands-on learning (or "manual education") with his audience of elementary parents. He wrote:

[School in the past] may be summed up by stating that the center of gravity is outside the child. It is in the teacher, the textbook, anywhere and everywhere you please except in the immediate instincts and activities of the child himself. On that basis there is not much to be said about the life of the child.  A good deal might be said about the studying of the child, but the school is not the place where the child lives.

Now the change which is coming into our education is the shifting of the center of gravity. It is a change, a revolution, not unlike that introduced by Copernicus when the astronomical center shifted from the earth to the sun. In this case the child becomes the sun about which the appliances of education revolve; he is the center about which they are organized…  

The ideal home would naturally have a workshop where the child could work out his constructive instincts. It would have a miniature laboratory in which his inquiries could be directed. The life of the child would extend out of doors to the garden, surrounding fields,and forests. He would have his excursions. His walks and talks, in which the larger world out of doors would open to him. (Dewey 1900, 35-36).

I take "center of gravity" to mean a child's agency: the ability to make one's own choices and focus on the ideas and visions that the child has chosen for herself.

When we do maker work with children and teens, there is always a certain amount of "let me show you" that transfers from mentor to child/teen as new materials and tools enter the space. It is easy for us -- especially those of us with a background in teaching or programming events for children -- to fall into a routine where each week, the adults are selecting the materials and projects and acting as tutors or directors of the experience. But we make a grave mistake if we simply bounce from new activity to new activity, because that keeps the center of gravity with the adults (or with the tools themselves, or perhaps, even, making novelty the central agent). 

This year, especially with the students in our elementary makerspace, we've intentionally put out tools and materials that students can tinker with without adult intervention, like boxes of fabric, Snap Circuits, LEGO, or a "junk box" full of stuff kids can glue, stitch, assemble, and transform by themselves.  We may have as many as ten options from which kids can choose in a single maker meetup, with about half of them being stuff kids can putter with independently. By doing so, we not only free up our mentors to introduce more challenging work with kids in small groups. We're working on shifting the center of gravity -- the sense of agency; the opportunity to envision one's work and to take it from imagination to creation and transformation -- over to the maker. 

People, not tools, are the fulcrum of our maker work.

- Kristin Fontichiaro; cross-posted to the Active Learning blog

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A report worth reading: "Incorporating Engineering Design Challenges into STEM Courses"

I was cruising through ERIC the other day (the way you do), when I came across a report by the National Center for Engineering and Technology Education (NCETE): Incorporating Engineering Design Challenges into STEM Courses.  "Engineering design challenges" isn't a phrase I remember encountering before, but it sounded right up the alley of all of us here at MakerBridge, so I thought I'd take a look.  And I'm glad I did!  

If you're trying to find a way to get students really engaged in designing and making things to solve real-world problems, this report is worth a read.  You won't find a carefully spelled out list of project ideas here, but you will find guidance on how to choose a good problem for students to solve, how to approach the process of keeping students engaged and learning, and how to evaluate student learning as a result of the project.  Because the authors took this more general approach, this is a report that will appeal to anyone thinking about getting students to solve real-world problems--regardless of what you teach or how old your students are.

 

kids sitting at a table working on crafts together
Image Credit: Make It and Take It by Franklin Park Library
 

There were several parts of this report that really jumped out at me.  One of those parts is the section talking about getting students to define the problem they're trying to solve.  Apparently this is one part of the process that really separates the novices from the experts.  Experts spend more time than beginners on defining the problem, looking for hidden constraints, and so on (p. 23).  Knowing that, you can make sure you scaffold that part of the learning experience for your students, making sure they have a better chance of success.

There are also several pages on how to assess student learning as a result of the engineering design challenge.  Given that the whole point of projects like this is to get students to address ill-defined challenges, tips on evaluation are a wonderful thing!  Suggestions include portfolios, engineering design notebooks, and presentations.  Sample rubrics are included for assessing systems thinking, the design process, collaboration, communication, and awareness of impact.  

The report is a bit on the long side (53 pages plus references), but that means that it has the space to go into a lot of helpful detail.  It's well worth a read if you're interested in getting your students hands-on experience with making and the maker mindset toward solving problems!

Have you done any projects like this with your students?  How did it go?  

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Code4Lib 2014 Keynotes

First off, I’d like to apologize for the tardiness of this post. I had an entire post written up, and suffice to say, DON’T WRITE POSTS IN DRUPAL, THEY ARE NOT AUTOMATICALLY SAVED.

In any case, my blog post was gone and I had to be up at 4am the next morning to catch a flight to the Code4Lib 2014 conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. Code4Lib, for those of you don’t know, is a formally informal community of coders and developers who work in libraries or on/with library technology. While it’s not directly related to makerspaces and maker culture, it is definitely something that relates to hackers and coders. If you’re interested in technology and libraries, we would love to have you attend a conference (there are both national and local groups), or join the listserv/follow on twitter/chat with us on IRC to learn more! This is my second year attending Code4Lib. I am by no means a coder or a developer, but since I am currently a type of Systems Librarian (Web Services to be more specific) I work with technology every day, and I know just enough coding to be dangerous (makes everything more exciting!). So, I like to go to Code4Lib to see what other libraries are doing and possibly implement similar things at my own library.

code4lib logo

I was especially happy with Code4Lib this year for several reasons. While there’s been a Code of Conduct for almost two years now (as far as I can tell), C4L really went the extra mile this year with the two keynote speakers.

The opening keynote speaker was Sumana Harihareswara who works on the Engineering Community Team at the Wikimedia Foundation.  The notes for her talk, “UX Is A Social Justice Issue”, can be found on the Code4Lib Wiki. I highly recommend that you check out the notes for her talk. You can also watch her talk by clicking on this sentence, which will take you to the video on the Code4Lib YouTube channel.

photo of Sumana Harihareswara
Photo of Sumana Harihareswara from her Twitter

The closing keynote speaker was Valerie Aurora, a co-founder of the Ada Initiative (Suffice to say that the keynote speakers for Code4Lib 2014 had me fangirling all over the place!). While there do not appear to be links from her talk, which was held in a conversation/interview format rather than a more traditional speech, there is also a recording of her session (which you can watch by clicking on this sentence fragment)!

photo of Valeria Aurora
Photo of Valerie Aurora from her Wikipedia page

I would like to briefly note that you do not have to watch the entire video to watch the keynote sessions, they are both at the beginning of the video. However, if you are interested in seeing what kinds of projects are going on in the library technology world, please watch the videos!

The Code4Lib conference is attended by, on the majority, Caucasian men. However, there is a strong female presence (whom are often members of libtechwomen – CHECK US OUT). Despite being in the minority there (female, person of color, vege-CHAMPION), I have never felt anything but safe and welcome at Code4Lib. The choices of keynote speakers and a pretty decent representation of diversity among the presenters, further my admiration and appreciation of Code4Lib. Can’t wait until next year!

Be sure to tweet us on twitter @makerbridge or leave a comment below!

 

 

 

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A MakerFest Grows In North Quad

This week's guest post comes from Sofia Gutierrez, a student at the University of Michigan School of Information, and details her experience putting together a maker event called the North Quad MakerFest. Be sure to check out the link at the bottom of the post for more information on the next MakerFest coming in April!

 

This past December, a fellow student and I, along with our dedicated faculty advisor, organized the North Quad MakerFest at the University of Michigan: a one-day event for students, faculty, and staff to tinker, create, and explore. It was a wondrous and challenging opportunity. The Maker Movement, an inclusive DIY culture that promotes creativity in the arts and technology, inspired the experience, and resources from the Michigan Makers organization and a grant from the North Quad Community helped us execute the event.

My motive for participating in the organization of the North Quad MakerFest was a little selfish. Many of my classmates at the University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI) seemed to be constantly talking about technology that was unfamiliar to me, and I needed a safe environment to learn what it was all about. It felt like everyone but I had an Arduino and spent their spare time building robots. For my Networked Computing course our professor provided instructions for installing the course software on multiple platforms, Mac, PC, and Raspberry Pi. Raspberry Pi? The only raspberry pie I knew about came with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. If I didn’t know about these gadgets then maybe there were other students at UMich who didn’t know about them either, but wanted to learn.


North Quad at the University of Michigan | Image Credit

We scheduled the North Quad MakerFest for the weekend after fall classes ended and before exams began. We recruited experts in the fields of 3D printing, programming, knitting, circuits, and crafts. It was difficult to recruit workshop leaders because many people were very busy around the end of the semester. I was nervous that even if we found all these experts, what if no participants showed up? But the generosity and spirit of the Maker Movement prevailed. Subscribers of the Maker Movement philosophy are typically excited to teach others and have an empowering “can-do” attitude.

The North Quad MakerFest was held from 12–4 pm at the University of Michigan and had great attendance. There were workstations where you could learn to knit, run programs on Arduinos, use a 3D printer, create your own design to 3D print, explore snap and squishy circuits, decorate cookies and just play with Legos. We ordered sandwiches from Zingermans and provided beverages. The atmosphere was relaxed and fun. We made mistakes and achieved successes and experienced what it was like to discover and to enjoy learning in a different context after the rigors of fall semester. We tinkered because we were curious, not because we were being graded. We laughed at our mistakes and were elated at our simple successes. I worked with another student to program an Arduino to change the pitch output from a speaker in relation to amount of light received by a photocell. It was awesome and something I never thought I’d be able to do.

Given the chance I’d do it all over again. And this time I’d tell even more people about it, because anyone can be a maker. Luckily I do have that chance. My collaborators and I will be hosting a winter semester North Quad MakerFest on April 26 from 1–4 pm.We hope you’ll join us.

 

Have you put together a similar event? Want to know something about the upcoming MakerFest? Leave a comment below or get in touch with us on Twitter!

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Interview with Leslie Preddy, Author of School Library Makerspaces, 6-12

Cover of School Library Makerspaces, Grades 6-12 by Leslie Preddy

Libraries are logical destinations for makerspace activity. They have how-to guides; Internet access; community trust; an existing infrastructure for planning, promoting, and presenting programs; and big tables for workspaces! But what might a makerspace look like in a secondary school library, which also has responsibilities for developing students as readers and researchers?

I asked Leslie Preddy, veteran school librarian and author of many books about student learning, to share her perspective and insights about makerspace learning in school libraries. Leslie is the author of the recently released School Library Makerspaces, Grades 6-12 (ABC-CLIO, October 2013). Enjoy!

-Kristin Fontichiaro

 

As we talk with makers and visit schools and libraries, we see many kinds of makerspaces popping up. How do you define a makerspace?

A makerspace is a community destination where the tools and equipment are available for students, with the guidance of adult and peer mentors, can create, problem solve, and develop skills, talents, thinking, and mental rigor. Envision the DIY Network meets the hands-on learning philosophy of a children’s museum, but right there in the school library. What could be more exciting than seeing, doing, and thinking in a place where knowledge, information, and inquiry were born and encouraged?

There are some that say a makerspace must contain certain tools and equipment and must include particular events or activities in order to be a true makerspace. What sort of activities, events and ongoing programming occur in a library makerspace cannot be defined universally. To say so would be wrong and counter to the origins of the maker and tinkerer flexibility, freedoms, and philosophy.

What tools and equipment are contained, and layout of the space cannot be mandated. What activities are supported and programming decisions should be unique to your community. These are decisions that should be made at the local level to align with library, school, district, and state goals. For example, your community’s focus may be STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), or it might be upcycling/recycling, or it might be the fine arts. What is done, how it’s done, the equipment, tools and supplies needed, the activities supported will differ dependent upon your unique needs and vision.

A library makerspace is a place to think, create, share and grow, just like our national American Association of School Librarians standards encourage. It is a place for the thinking and doing to occur with the support and guidance of the school librarian and other vested mentors. Put together a committee. Establish a mission and goals. The mission and goals will be guiding force for how your community will define your makerspace. Those key elements will make it uniquely yours and specially designed for your learning community’s interests and needs.

 

Why do you have a makerspace in your library?

I feel that a makerspace is the next evolutionary step in school libraries. It is an opportunity to take the learning to the next level. Patrons in school libraries have always been learning and thinking, but now they are also doing in a creative and tactile manner. And it’s not just what is going on the makerspace that matters, but the global change in the way learning is viewed throughout the school environment that slowly alters the school landscape as the make philosophy begins to embed itself into the school climate.

 

Tell us a bit about what your makerspace looks like in your library.

It is crucial that the makerspace is continually evolving, so I can tell you what my makerspace looks like now, but we are already working on grants and future expansion plans, so it may not look this way for long.

Money is always an issue, but I didn’t want that to stop us from establishing a makerspace. We started by getting as much as we could donated, and will continue to seek donations and grants as we expand our vision. It looks a little rough, but for us it didn’t matter how things look but rather that there was a place and basic resources for the doing. Plus, we have a student population of nearly 60% free and reduced lunch, so it was important to us to initially show the kids by example and programming how to repurpose and reuse.

So what does our makerspace originally look like? We started by clearing out an area of the library to create an open and flexible space. The school used to be open concept, so we have many large, old cabinets on wheels. Six have been donated to the makespace for storage of tools and supplies. A twelve foot cafeteria-style work table was donated by a community center for work space. Library shelving was consolidated and an empty bookshelf converted into shelving for student maker storage. We have donated plastic containers and student makers can use one of the containers to keep a working project and personal materials in and store it on the shelf.

We currently offer lunchtime maker guided activities so that students can sample experiences. If they learn about something through a guided make that they like, they are encouraged to continue and advance on their own, utilizing the makerspace resources and guidance of the librarian as needed. Other independent activities can occur by a maker conferencing with the librarian about an idea they have and turning in a proposal for the resources needed and the expected outcome. As the maker coordinator (aka school librarian), I then dig up the resources and guidance they need to accomplish their independent goal.

 

What do makerspaces in school contribute to student life? To student learning?

Initially, a library makerspace fills a niche for students who are open to experimenting and physical learning. This is often a space like none other in the school and it fills a need and void that the school may not even realize exists until they see the makerspace in use and see the student makers in action.

A library makerspace gives student the potential. It combines all the higher level thinking we hope for our students to achieve and gives students the potential for  higher order thinking, higher level Bloom's Taxonomy, self-discovery, peer teaching, and peer mentoring. It helps students move beyond the ‘tell me what you what me to do’ and ‘tell me what you want me to learn’ generation mentality to actually doing and independent learning, questioning, thought, and creativity.

 

Can you talk about the creative and necessary tensions between process and product with your makers? How important is “finishing” a project vs. experiencing the process?

This is where things might get confusing and are hard to explain, but the basic tenets are:

  • Failure and mistakes are okay and important in the learning process.

  • Just like we teach about book selection and how a reader doesn’t have to finish every book started, starting a make doesn’t mean it has to be finished. It could also mean that, just like a book, it is set aside for a bit and the maker gets back to it later.

  • Depending on the age and intellectual level of your patrons, a lot of initial guidance may be necessary. Plan makerspace guided activities and events into your calendar just as you do other library programming and events.

  • Sampling different activities is important. Think of it this way: out students don’t know what they don’t know. Give them experiences with ideas and tools that they might not otherwise know exist or know that they would enjoy.

  • Break down gender barriers and traditional gender roles. Boys should familiarize themselves with crafts. Girls should experience technology.

  • We librarians are always trying to drill into our staff and students that the research process is more important than the product. This holds true for make-ing.

 

How did you fund your early makerspace efforts? How did funding streams change over time?

I try to get as much as possible donated. What I can’t get donated, I try to fund through grants. There might be some library supply funds used as well, but not much. Grants are great, but I also love to go visit our local recycle center where, for just $5 a visit, I can bag up and take as much as I want.

 

We have a similar program in Ann Arbor - the Scrap Box. It's a great way to get a bunch of stuff for less than a single DIY kit would cost. 

I will also contact local clubs and organizations, asking them to post in their newsletter or email their members a request for a donation of hand-me-down tools. I try to think outside the box and use creative funding sources. There are also some great websites out there where educators can use crowd source funding opportunities and post a project and need, with the hope that other see the potential and support your idea financially.

 

We used our school's departmental listserv to get donations and got carloads full, so I agree with that technique! I’m often asked what librarians should buy to start up a makerspace. How do you answer that question?

This is difficult to answer, because until your mission and goals are established, this cannot be answered. Instead, ask yourself:

  • What is the school comfort level for minimally-supervised learning? What occurs in a makerspace cannot always be intently supervised. There are other patrons, things and teaching going on in the library, too. So a consideration should be trust. Based on the age and clientele, what do you want to entrust them with using?
  • What can we afford to maintain? It’s not just the start-up cost to purchase the equipment or tools to consider, but can you support the ongoing costs to keep that equipment in supplies, maintenance and update fees, and repair.
  • As the Makerspace Coordinator, what do you feel comfortable using? Start with what you are excited to learn and use, or already know how to use, and expand from there.

 

Those are great points. I know that many people jump to the conclusion that they need a 3D printer ... and maintenance on those is a handful in terms of money and/or your time and experience.

What is your most important advice to K-12 librarians and educators wanting to build a makerspace in their buildings?

Start with what you know and are comfortable doing and build from there. Put together a committee. We librarians know how to use the power of the collective minds to create the best possible solution. Discuss what a makespace is,  because many will not have ever heard of it, and what you want to do for your students through the makerspace. Let them share their ideas and suggestions and help build the foundation. If you have others vested from the onset, you’ll guarantee yourself a following of supporters and believers and promoters.

 

You’ve written books previously on K-12 inquiry, sustained silent reading, and social reading. With so much writing about formal learning under your belt, what inspired you to begin thinking and writing about makerspaces, a less formal learning space?

I’m not sure it is much different. School Librarians have always been reflective practitioners who continually think about best practices, lifelong learners, influencers of change, and try to keep up with the new learning styles of each new generation. Everything I write has been about helping myself and others meet the ever-changing needs of our patrons and be the best we can be for our community. I see school library makerspaces as just another component of we are and the services and programming we provide. We are the reading specialist, the information specialist, the community builder, a teacher of students and adults, a librarians, a technologist, and so much more. It is just an extension of what we already do.

 

What are your future plans? 

Currently we are working on a plan for expansion and a grant to help support with equipment and tools. Our key goal is to expand the makerspace to incorporate independent making connected to advanced learning in the classroom. For example, if a teacher recognizes a student is an expert on a particular instructional topic, they come to the library makerspace during that unit for independent study. In the library makerspace they think, grow, create, and finally the student concludes their makerspace experience by communicating what was learned and created with the teacher and class. With this expansion we have twelve maker station themes planned and the committee is in initial discussion for redesign and reorganization of the school library to support the expansion of needed space.

 

Is there anything else you’d like MakerBridge readers to know?

I have the book through Libraries Unlimited, which can also be found on amazon.com. I also try to provide ongoing help to school library makerspace coordinators through my Twitter posts and my makerspace boards on Pinterest. There is also a learning MOOC developed by Dr. David Loertscher, Bill Derry and myself, and ALA has archived a 3-part learning series on makerspaces (browse related items here).

 

Thanks, Leslie! Readers, what questions do you have for Leslie? Share them here or via Twitter.

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Easy things to upcycle

I've been hearing a lot about upcycling in recent months.  As someone who hates the thought of contributing unnecessarily to landfills, and also as someone who loves free things, the idea of repurposing stuff that I would otherwise be throwing out (or tossing in a recycle bin) appeals strongly to me.  Here are a few of my favorite upcycling maker projects, most of which are kid friendly.

Newspaper
paper mache tea cup

You can use that old newspaper to make paper mache, which is one of my favorite ways of making something.  Who doesn't love the magic of turning flour into glue and then changing old newspaper into anything you can dream of?

Make a pinata - I did this once in elementary school and it was *awesome*
Make dinosaur hats, piggy banks, and other cool stuff

 

Plastic bags
plarn and pop tabs

You can cut plastic bags into strips, join them together, and then knit or crochet with them.  Cool, right? 

- Pop-tab plarn bracelets
Cool plarn bag

 

Old CDs
recycled cd sculpture

You burn some files to CD, and then the CD gets scratched, or the files go out of date.  Why waste all the pretty shininess of the CDs?

Melt the CD into a decorative bowl/lampshade
Use CDs to brighten shady areas of your garden, stack a bunch of them up for a cool lamp, and other neat ideas

 

Old toothbrushes

Old toothbrush handles are not useless!

- Make a toothbrush bracelet
- Make a crochet hook to use on all that plarn you're going to be making

 

Glass
lightbulb ornament

Sure, you can chuck it in the recycling bin, but some of these projects are just cool.

- Turn lightbulbs into ornaments
- Create faux stained glass vases/candle holders 
- Other cool glass projects

 

You can also make things with bubblewrap, tin cans, and bottle caps.  Anyone have a favorite recycling/upcycling project I didn't include?  Hit the comments, or tweet it to @makerbridge.

 

 

Images in this post:

bhav.bhav. (2008). Final Sculpture [photo]. Retrieved 1 March, 2014 from http://www.flickr.com/photos/bhavbhav/2934420173/sizes/s/. CC-BY.

peregrine blue. (2012). ready for tea? [photo]. Retrieved 1 March, 2014 from http://www.flickr.com/photos/peregrineblue/7842227598/sizes/s/. CC-BY-NC.

pinprick. (2006). i actually had an uncle named narcissus, if you can believe it [photo]. Retrieved 1 March, 2014 from http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinprick/198405940/sizes/s/. CC-BY-NC-ND.

Pop Tab Lady. (2008). Plastic-bag Yarn and Pull Tab Tote [photo]. Retrieved 1 March, 2014 from http://www.flickr.com/photos/poptoplady/2503373912/sizes/s/. CC-BY-ND.

Silly Eagle Books. (2010). snowman ornament [photo]. Retrieved 1 March, 2014 from http://www.flickr.com/photos/sillyeaglebooks/5192818396/sizes/s/. CC-BY-ND.

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Black History Month & Black Makers

 

February is Black History Month and in honor of that, MakerBridge is highlighting some wonderful black makers, groups, and resources.  We've talked about the lack of minority representation in the mainstream maker movement before (see our Diversity in Making  and Ada Lovelace Day: Women in Maker Culture posts) and we hope this list helps highlight the significant involvement of African-Americans to the Maker Movement. 

This is by no means a comprehensive list,  so please feel free to contribute names and/or links of additional Black makers (past and present) that aren't listed here to us on twitter, @makerbridge, or in the comments below!

 

Organizations

Black Girls Code: We've talked about Black Girls Code before but they're awesome, so we're mentioning them again! BGC aims to give young and pre-teen girls of color the opportunity to learn coding and other technology skills.

 

All Star Code: All Star Code is a new, NYC based non-profit that seeks to educate young black men for careers in the technology sector. 

 

Code2040: Code2040 works to increase the representation of underrepresented minorties, especially Blacks and Latinos, in the technology industry by placing Black and Latino/a engineering students in internships with technology companies.

 

AkiraChix: AkiraChix is an organization headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya that works to empower and increase the number of women in the technology industry in Africa through training and mentorship. 

 

Liberating Ourselves Locally (LOL): LOL founded the Oakland Makerspace in East Oakland. LOL provides a safe place where anyone in the community (people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants, women, and youth) can go, to make, tinker, build, and teach, regardless of their socio-economic status. 

 

National Society of Black Engineers: NSBE is a non-profit, national student organization that is committed to increasing the number of academically and professionally successful Black engineers in America and across the world. 

 

Individuals

Kipp Bradford: Kipp Bradford is the founder of KippKitts and We are the Black Makers!

 

Faith Ringold: is an American artist who is most famous for her painted story quilts. Follow the link (http://www.makers.com/faith-ringgold) to see her video profile on Makers!

 

Kimberly Bryant: Kimberly Bryant is the awesome founder of Black Girls Code, and will be speaking at the Library Information Technology Association (LITA) President's Program at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in June!!! (note: We're very excited about this!)

 

Issa Rae - Issa is a producer, writer, and director who is most famous for her YouTube web series "Awkward Black Girl", which by the way, is HILARIOUS!

 

Resources/Events

Bold and Beautiful: African American Masterworks from the Collection: Through March 16th, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art is showing an exhibit of art in which all the pieces were created by African-American artists.

 

BlackFemaleCoders: A tumblr blog that focuses on black women who code!

 

Black Creativity Innovation Studio: The Innovation Studio is a makerspace at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The Black Creativity program pairs making with highlighting the contributions of African-Americans to STEM fields. 

 

 

Additional References

Thanks to Our Fearless Leader, for letting me model this post off of her lovely Ada Lovelace Day post. 

African Americans and DIY: Using Etsy and Kickstarter to Boost A Business

Lifestyle30: Category Archives: Black DIY: Making and Sustaining 

 

 

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Making Music with the littleBits/KORG Synth Kit

This week's guest post comes from Stephen Liu. Check out his bio at the end of the post for more information!
 
Thanks to the internet, oodles of people around the world think they can become DJs and producers just by downloading the right software. This is true to some extent; it’s fairly easy to cut, paste, and loop. Knowledge of (and appreciation for) how sound is actually produced and manipulated means that aspiring musicians can go even further and silence the internet naysayers who will have one fewer argument for why the internet has ruined the quality of music.
 
There aren’t a whole lot of easily accessible and experiential ways to learn about the science of sound; while libraries and the internet may have text-based resources, I’d hesitate to call these “hands-on”. There is a piece of software out there called Pure Data, but it’s about as user-friendly for children as Weibo (aka Chinese Twitter) would be for someone who’s never been exposed to the Chinese language: if you don’t know what’s going on, you’re probably not going to know what’s going on.
 
The combined efforts of littleBits and Korg have resulted in the Synth Kit. Take the familiar littleBits pieces, but customize them into audio-specific units, and you’ve got a reasonably-priced way to get some DIY music making going on. All of the essentials you need to generate audio, which would basically just be oscillators, and a good selection of sound modifiers, such as delay modules and keyboards, are contained in a gold-accented box with two tiers of cardboard trays.
 
little bits/KORG synth kit box
littleBits/KORG Synth Kit | Image Credit
 
It’s entirely possible to work with the Synth Kit without any technical knowledge of music, since the included informational booklet is sufficiently informative for even the tone-deaf to become capable of unleashing their inner rock star, as the cover suggests. Don’t know what filters have to do with music? Never realized that there were envelopes for sound? The booklet explains it all in plain English. Some domain knowledge might be helpful going in, but I wouldn’t say that it’s required; it’ll certainly ease the pain when using the kit to lead a workshop.
 
Furthering the cause are the final pages of the booklet, where the combined efforts of littleBits and Korg result in assembly instructions for projects ranging from basic sound generators to a fancy DJ console. It’s quite a spread of possibilities, only limited by the fact that, if sharing is caring, then, as people already familiar with littleBits may know, it’s hard to be particularly caring.
 
When leads to the next big question: is it worth it? That’s mostly dependent on if you think you can work it, on both a technical and logistical level. The tangibility of the Synth Kit puts it at a significant advantage over the abstract and un-labeled nature of Pure Data, and the gold-colored booklet is accessible enough for the uninitiated to become less intimidated. However, the aforementioned tangibility also means you’re paying $159 for something that can be used either only by one child at a time or primarily for instructional/demonstrative purposes. To flip it back around, though, that $159 goes towards what is ultimately a simple yet comprehensive doodad that could easily prove effective in teaching people the science of digital sound.
 
I don’t know if I would pay $159 for the Synth Kit, but considering that Korg’s other DIY synth kit costs $1400, it’s not too bad of a deal (relatively speaking). Just keep the limitations in mind before pulling out the credit card.
 
About Stephen Liu
 
Stephen Liu is earning his Masters of Science in Information at the University of Michigan's School of Information, specializing in Human-Computer Interactions and Social Computing. He is a member of the Michigan Makers project. You can learn more about him at http://www.iamstephenliu.com or find him on Twitter @iamstephenliu.
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What Counts as a Library Makerspace?

 

Over on the Library as Incubator Project blog, I was delighted to see a University of Michigan School of Information alum, Eden Rassette, blogging about what she called a "pop-up teen makerspace." It's a clear plastic box full of arts and crafts supplies. 

She writes:

This was designed based on feedback from my Teen Advisory Board: they wanted simple arts and crafts supplies, not technology or devices. Teens can use the kit in the teen area, and sometimes I bring it to programs for teens to use while they hang out. They made holiday cards with it, and do other things like repair notebooks and backpacks with the duct tape!

This desire to make with our hands -- versus on a device -- is something I continually see in our two Michigan Makers after-school makerspace projects, so this rings true to me. Eden also has students keep a tally of how often the box gets used.  Kids, either for a kind of self-soothing after a long day or merely to keep hands busy, which feels good -- often choose activities like making stuff from our junk box or hand sewing, even when digital options are available. It's a phenomenon I have yet to really make sense of.

According to this photo, Eden's maker kit has been used dozens of times. How many of our library materials can we say have equally impressive circulation stats? And the items in the box -- markers, duct tape, drawing pencils -- cost little more than a good coffee table book. It's a great way to support interests identified by members (as Lankes would call patrons) at a very low cost. We don't need a grant to make a box like Eden's. It's easy to replicate, expand upon, and adjust over time. The materials are open-ended and conducive to many maker journeys. This is making that makes sense for libraries just starting out. I know the temptation is to run out and buy a 3D printer, but these early actions -- and some children's libraries have had kits like these for some time -- help us test the water and see if we're on the right track in responding to patron needs. 

What I (and the LAIP weekly roundup post) found so curious were the comments that followed the post, questioning whether this box counted as a makerspace activity. It's a conversation worth reading. One says that makerspaces are portals to soft skills development. Another that makerspaces are portals to the world beyond what we already know. It's a fascinating discussion.

One commenter says that fundamentally, makerspaces are about transliteracy development. The commenter uses transliteracy to label some very powerful concepts, like using your ideas and creations to change the world. That's heady stuff, but ...

Unfortunately, this is not how transliteracy is formally defined. As delineated by Thomas et al, transliteracy is an umbrella term meant to define communication in digital and nondigital formats at any point throughout human history ...  which means this maker box counts as a transliterate tool.

If we go back even further, to Liu's Transliteracies Project, which inspired Thomas's work, you see that he and his team were wrestling with the affordances and constraints that digital media could bring in terms of comprehension, primarily the tensions around what it means to "read" and "write" in a widely growing field of genres and formats. I'm not sure that is the same thing as making-for-social-change. Both concepts are important for librarans to grapple with.

I'm endlessly fascinated by how librarians take on the mantle of transliteracy thinking it means what we want it to mean. We seem to be looking, as a profession, for a term that encapsulates some powerful shifts in our professional and personal worlds. "Transliteracy" came along, and some saw it as a powerful life raft, a way to articulate this momentous path. It's a valid impulse ... my hunch is that "transliteracy" is our profession's current placeholder term for a lot of impulses, shifts, movements, beliefs, and more, just as "information literacy" and "digital literacy" and "information fluency" have been in prior decades.

Dale Grover at Maker Works in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who has been in the maker community far longer than most of us in LibraryLand has, has my favorite definition:

makerspaces = tools + support + community.

I see the maker kit fulfilling all three. The box contains the tools; the librarian is there for support (the box has a note saying that if you need more supplies, let her know); the collection has additional resources for ideas for making; and the teens create the community.

What do you think?

- Kristin Fontichiaro

Cross-posted to the Active Learning blog

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Tools for digital making

Making digital objects--webpages, gifs, music, you name it--is one of my favorite kinds of making, because as long as I’ve got my computer and a functioning internet connection, I don’t have to worry about other supplies (or mess!). Better yet, a lot of the tools to make these things are free to anyone who can access them online. I love free things.

Quite often, after I make something on the computer, someone will ask me how I did that. And, when I show them the tool(s) I used, they ask, “How do you find out about all these things?” So that’s what we’re going to talk about today: a few of my all-time favorite tools for creating digital objects, and a few places I go to find out about new tools. After all, there are new tools cropping up all the time!

So, without further ado, here are a few of my all-time favorite free tools:

 

 
Pixlr
Need to be able to edit images, but don’t want to spring for a copy of Photoshop? Pixlr doesn’t have all the features Photoshop does, but 1) it’s free, and 2) it does have layers, which is the one feature of  Photoshop that I have trouble giving up. You can use Pixlr right in your browser, and download your images when you’re done.

 


Audacity

If you need to record and edit sound, Audacity is a great tool. It’s a free download that will give you more capabilities than I, at least, know what to do with. I’ve used Audacity for everything from recording narration to add to videos, to creating MP3s to use as ringtones on my phone. (If you want to make MP3s, make sure you also download the LAME Encoder.)

 


Popcorn Maker

Ever wonder how people create those cool video mashups that pop up relevant links and maps, or just remix existing content? You can do that with Popcorn Maker. Better still, Mozilla Webmaker (who’s behind Popcorn Maker) offers suggestions for ways to get involved in the web-making community.

 


Weebly

Do you or your students want to make a website without having to learn HTML? Weebly is a great tool for making nice-looking sites without having to spend hours making them look good. Even as someone who enjoys writing HTML, I have to say that Weebly was a great, quick answer when I needed to create a project site quickly a few years back.

 


Firefox

Firefox (yes, the web browser) is more in the way of a learning tool than a creation tool, but I love it too much not to include it in this list. If you’re ready to move on from Weebly but you want help understanding how the professionals have put a webpage together, open that page in Firefox. Right click on whatever you’re specifically interested in--some cool formatting? an amazing font?--and choose Inspect Element. Firefox will show you the page’s HTML on the left and the relevant CSS on the right. You can even do some limited editing to the HTML and CSS, and see how your changes would affect the page. (Editor's note: Don't forget about the Web Developer tools plugin for Firefox!)

 

But where did I learn about all of these? Here are some places to start--but you should definitely hunt down a few sources of your own!

Free Technology for Teachers
Not every post on this blog is about a tool for creating your own digital masterpieces, but a good many of them are. I’ve come across a lot of useful tools here, as well as interesting tricks for making better/different use of tools I already know about.

EdSurge’s EdTech Index
The most relevant part to this post is probably the Authoring Tools, but there’s plenty of great stuff here!

Hunting down experts
Do you know someone who’s plugged into this kind of thing?  Talk to her about your interest, and make sure she knows you’d like to hear about her latest discoveries!  

If you don’t know anyone in real life, there are all kinds of other places to look.  For example, my library has a Learning Technologies Librarian, and she has created a guide to recommended tools.

Alternatively, you can look for interesting accounts on Twitter (regardless of whether you have a Twitter account).  A good place to start is by checking out MakerBridge on Twitter: @makerbridge. From there, you can see who we’re retweeting that interests you--and check them out, too!

 
Do you have a favorite tool or source of tools that I left out?  Let me know in the comments.  I’m always up for learning about cool, new tools! 
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