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Session Notes: Maker Educator Convening 2016

This is part of a series of Session Notes from grantees who have received Professional Development grants from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries. Each grantee will share their professional development experience and include tips and other resources from the workshop or class. Grantees had their choice of an article for the Compendium, a webinar or a podcast. This project was made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Crucible logo


Mary Glendening,
Middletown Free Library

Thanks to a Professional Development Grant from the State Library, I had the opportunity to attend this year’s Maker Educator Convening in Oakland, CA. This is an intensive 1 ½ days of workshops and discussion centered on incorporating making into education in both formal and informal settings. The Convening was held at a unique industrial arts and crafts center called The Crucible. This site holds classes and camps for people of all ages. At the Crucible, youth have the opportunity to learn a variety skills including unique offerings such as blacksmithing, welding, neon sculpture, jewelry making and ceramics. I don’t know of any place in my area that is offering these kinds of opportunities to adults, never mind opening up these classes to kids. The location of the Convening itself was an inspiration, especially being there the week leading up to the Bay Area Maker Faire. Makers were busy preparing their projects for the Faire while the Convening was taking place.

The first night of the Convening featured a screening of the film “Most Likely to Succeed.” This film shows how the current education system in the United States is outdated.  It inspires us to look at new and daring ways to educate our children. I think this film did a great job of showing the ineffectiveness of teaching when the passing of a test is the learning objective.

When you hear that more than 80% of high school seniors would fail their final exam in a subject just 3 months after taking it, you know something needs to change. The film was followed by a ‘reflecting through design’ activity. This was a hands on activity with the educators at the table. It involved reflecting and discussing what impacted us in the film and what we could take away into our work. We then worked on designing a learning activity for our tablemates based on their responses. This was a challenging activity but really got you thinking about how to approach learning and planning a learning experience from a different perspective.

The next day was jammed packed with speakers, demos and hands-on activities designed to help us reflect, build networks and share ideas on what making can look like in a variety of education settings. The morning opened with remarks from Trey Lathe, director of Maker ED as well as David C. Miller, CEO of The Crucible. The opening remarks were followed by the day’s Keynote Speaker, Nichole Pinkard. Dr. Pinkard is an associate professor of computing and digital media at DePaul University in Chicago as well as the founder of the Digital Youth Network. Dr. Pinkard’s talk focused on ways to increase opportunities to making through bridging connected learning and maker education. The definition of what it means to be literate in today’s society is changing. In our ever connected world, literacy has expanded beyond just the ability to read, but to digital and other areas known as 21st Century literacies. As the definition of what it means to be literate changes, the role of who is responsible for creating a literate population continues to expand beyond the school walls. To be honest, schools have not always done a great job of creating a literate population.

In order to create a literate population, access to opportunities needs to be expanded with role models who reflect the population, and with access to tools, mentors and places. We also need to create social capital. Literacy and learning need to be valued by all corners of the community-schools, peers, family, etc. Social capital is intentionally created but how do we create this social capital? One way to do this is through documentation of the participants’ journeys in your programs. This is not only important when seeking funding, but it is important for increasing understanding of what your programs are looking to accomplish. Making is still relatively young. Funders and stakeholders want to see outcomes. What better way to do this than to showcase the growth of your regular participants? We should be sharing our stories not only with our community but with the wider community of makers. In order to inspire young people to make, we need to show diversity and show young people engaged in maker activities. Kids need to be able to think “That can be me.”

The next part of Dr. Pinkard’s talk centered on ways educators can create on ramps for youth.  He also discussed some of the things they are doing as part of YouMedia and the Digital Youth Network to create opportunities for youth to explore and discover their passions. It’s im
portant to remember that creating an engaging program is not just about the space but about the environment you create in that space. If you are creating programs for teens, a teen-only space is important to them but it is also important to provide access to adults who will listen to them. Mentors for your programs can be anyone, not just people with a lot of experience in the activities you will be carrying out. Mentors can learn through doing, which will give them experience with the project and experience with some of the same failures the young makers will face. DYN also runs “Caring Adult Workshops” for parents of the kids participating in their programs. In these workshops, the parents will work on the same project their kids are working on so they can have a better understanding of what their kids are doing. One should also keep in mind that there are four stages you may see your participants undergo when they come into your space:

  1. Watch
    Many start here. They will watch more than participate in order to see what’s happening and become more comfortable with the activities.
  2. Play
    This is where a participant begins to tinker and experiment with tools, projects, etc.
  3. Practice
    After a period of time, the participant will hone and grow their skills
  4. Level-Up
    This is the point where you will need to find other places where your makers can grow and continue their work

Perhaps one of the most important takeaways, not only from Dr. Pinkard’s talk but from all the other speakers I saw during the Convening and Maker Week activities, is that showcasing should be part of any programs you are running. It is very important to give the kids an opportunity to show off, not only to their parents, but to the community, no matter whether they have created or finished. There are a variety of ways that you can showcase your makers’ work. These include:

  • Weekly emails to parents in which you highlight makers’ work and give the parents tips to talk with their children about their projects
  • Showcase events open to parents and the community
  • Social Networks such as ReMix World where kids can share their work, see other projects and help each other out

Next, we had the opportunity to make something ourselves. We created a Maker Educator Map by creating a small piece with a flashing LED to represent our organization. Map of AttendeesWe could also create extra pieces with a steady LED to represent a place or person who inspire us. We could add pieces to the map throughout the day. While many of the people present were from California, there were also educators from as far away as Malaysia and Denmark. This activity was also an opportunity to demonstrate a way to set up the room to encourage collaboration and discussion during a maker activity. Some of the supplies that were need were in the center of each table but not every table had the same supplies. There were also additional supplies on tables set up around the outside of the room. This encourages people to move around the room, see what others are making and get ideas or even talk with other makers.

The rest of the day consisted of more inspiring speakers who talked about ways to deepen the impact of maker education in a panel discussion as well as Ignite Talks. There were also demos of maker programs. I was asked to demo the programs we are running at CreateSpace@MFL. My demo highlighted our two most successful and popular programs, TechniGals STEAM Camp and Minecraft in Real Life Club. This demo provided me with the opportunity to share ideas with other educators and show off some of the work the kids in these programs have created. The day concluded with a hands-on activity that focused on facilitating making and learning. For this activity, each group was given a scenario and then we had to design a program based around this scenario.

All of the activities and speakers that were part of the Convening really just drove home what Dr. Pinkard covered in her keynote. It’s important to let kids fail and let them come back to fix or finish their project. While it may be our inclination to fix or finish a project for a child, the learning opportunity is realized when we let them troubleshoot and do it themselves. If you have the opportunity to view “Most Likely to Succeed” you will see an example of why this is so important. In the school highlighted in the film, there is one student who is unable to get his project to work by the community showcase. Instead of giving up, this kid came into school during the summer to finish his project. His teacher remarked about how hard it is to not step in and help him but he realized that real learning will only take place if he steps back and lets the student figure it out.

Learning through hands-on maker based activities is not just for gifted, affluent or white communities. We need to work to create access paths for all children to pursue their passions and interests. Besides giving our learners permission to fail and learn by doing, we also need to give ourselves permission to get to “I Can.” Give yourself permission to take things apart, use a tool you’ve never used, etc. And lastly, while a physical space where people can connect and make is important, it’s the people that really make the space. You should start with finding out what people want to make and go from there.

This was one of the best professional development events I’ve ever attended. If you are interested in getting young people making in your library or improving your maker programs, I highly recommend attending the Convening. Next year’s Maker Educator Convening takes place May 16-17, 2017.

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