As a child I used to get in trouble for taking apart the family rotary phone. I would tinker and toil with every piece, fascinated by how they all worked together. Though my stepfather loathed seeing the phone disassembled, he knew that I would put it back together in working order just as quickly as I had taken it apart. That fascination with how things worked led me to gather seemingly discarded bits and pieces of what ever I could find in order to build my own treehouses and toys, which eventually sparked my interest in art with found objects. I became a high school art teacher at a low socio-economic district and did everything I could to inspire my students to create art with found objects and what ever they had accessible to them. Now as a college professor who trains teachers and facilitates workshops around the community for all ages, I continue to promote a maker mindset to encourage my students to get their hands dirty by making their own solutions. Even though it may be seemingly easier to go to a store and buy an object, there is so much more learning that takes place as you take the time to struggle and toil with the problem at hand and then achieve a personally meaningful artifact that is the culmination of your persistence.
Wow, that is a hard question to answer! Recently, my daughter and I made our own jewelry using Tinkercad and our PrintrBot Simple 3D printer. We designed pendants and rings in Tinkercad, printed them in PLA plastic, then sanded and painted them bold metallic colors.
My go-to media are wood and hardware. I simply love wielding a hammer and bringing individual pieces together to form a whole. I love going to the hardware store to try to find random pieces and then bring them home and see what I can turn them into (maybe some jewelry or a lampbase).
Time has always been my biggest challenge because I am my own worst enemy! I get these grand ideas inspired by some random found object and then I get too busy with work to actually bring the idea to reality. Much like I do with scheduling time for conducting my research, I have begun to schedule time devoted to my own making. I give myself “Maker Fridays” so I can go on a hike and find cool branches, tinker with my CNC machine in my garage, or wander the aisles of Home Depot to find the perfect missing piece.
There are so many different ways to look at maker culture. Some people focus on the digital components (hackerspaces, coding, electronics, etc.) while others focus on the non-digital components (crafters, textiles, found objects, etc.). I am enamored with all components! I like to try new things (like trying a new coding language to make an interactive game for my daughter or try a new knitting technique to make a scarf for my mom) and I relish in the ability to make something that I am proud of. I think that maker culture involves an indescribable constant craving for making personally meaningful things – whether digital or non-digital – whether commercially profitable or a non-commercial gift for someone – these things are an extension of the maker.
Maker culture is taking on many different variations throughout the Texas State University campus. We have spaces devoted to developing entrepreneurial creations for startups,
engineering courses focused on redesigning existing objects, and even education majors who are trying to figure out ways to visualize the invisible learning that takes place during making and tinkering.
Makers exemplify persistence. They fail, try again, fail EPICLY, then try again until they eventually succeed. This ability to persist means that makers are willing to tinker with the complexities of the big problems that so many are afraid of. Fear of failing is our societies' largest hurdle to overcome, yet makers view failing as a necessary part of the design cycle in order to tackle which ever curious challenge lies ahead.
As in K-12, the main challenges facing Making are the ways in which we can justify connections to learning outcomes and the time in which it takes to actually make. Many educators are focused on traditional teacher-centered instruction methods that involve lecture so there is little time left for hands-on making that is largely learner-centered. If we can find a way to use both styles when appropriate, we can create a place for making in almost every discipline.
As a former secondary art teacher, I am particularly interested in the reconceptualization of failure in low-tech makerspace environments and the impact it has on learning and persistence. That said, students don't normally get the time to actually fail and demonstrate persistence – which is basically setting them up for an unrealistic world. Time and time again I have seen the proverbial light bulb that goes off in a child's head as they struggled with a construction problem and then joyfully figured out a solution. To me, all making can connect to the K-12 standards that our school systems are so reliant upon. The real world does not exist in silos and you don't always get to drop what you're doing simply because a bell rang.
Making teaches students how to apply their knowledge of all disciplines as they persist to make their idea become a reality.
My advice: harness your inner Leonard daVinci and dream big and don't give up! As an educator and a researcher I obviously know that scaffolding instruction within manageable
chunks is the most effective way to learn a new skill. However, with making I challenge people to start with the end in mind and work their way backwards. If you want to make a go-cart, examine an existing cart, identify things that you recognize and categorize their functions and materials, identify simple machine mechanisms and how you can replicate them using found objects. You can always find a step-by-step tutorial but often the lack of opportunity for serendipitous discovery results in minimal chances that the knowledge you've acquired will actually transfer to future use.