Since I am interested in the Maker Movement, I have been focusing on the “DIY, Maker, Hacker” strand at the SXSWedu 2015 conference. It is exciting to see so many innovative programs and projects happening all around the country, and around the world. However, today I came face to face with one of my own hypocrisies. While I have been involved with this movement for the last four years, presenting on the topic at conferences, even being a Maker at the MakerFaire in San Mateo two years in a row, as well as local mini-MakerFaires, I tend to avoid a whole slew of Making experiences. I do describe myself as a crafter, I have been knitting at most sessions I attended this week. However, I have yet to solder anything, connect any circuits, or program even simple projects. But the fates were conspiring against me today. My first glimpse of this was the session, “Maker Mash-up”, where the tables were full of a variety of hands-on projects. After the twenty minute intro, we were invited to explore. I watched someone try to figure out Makey-Makey for a few minutes, and then made my escape.
Fortunately there was another talk from this strand right next door called “DIY Tech: Creativity Through Transformed Teaching”. It sounded safe. Yet, after about twenty minutes in this session they asked us to make a musical instrument using a plastic cup, paper clip, and length of jewellery wire. There were some parameters, but not knowing much about music, I wasn’t sure what they meant, but since I had already run away from one session, I figured I might as well give this one a go. So, I made something that produced a song. I was feeling pretty good about that until we got the next assignment to choose a song from a list and play it using our instrument in front of the group. At that point, I made for the door again.
I peeked back into my first room and as the numbers had lessened, I felt a bit more courage and thought that I should really get over my resistance and try something new. I went to an empty table that had an iPad with Scratch Jr. loaded. Since this program is designed for 5-7 year olds, it felt like a safe place to start. I did play around with it for ten or so minutes until I understood most of what it is capable of, and then progressed on to the Makey-Makey Scratch spot. I didn’t really know what I was doing with the Makey-Makey part, but I was emboldened to play with the Scratch program a bit, and made some more progress. Since there was still time left, I thought I would give one more tool a try and messed around with a programmable robot bee shaped thing. It was cute, and through trial and error I discovered a few things. Once someone else showed me how to “reset”, I even had some fun with it.
Then it was time for my next session, “Exploring Environments for Maker-Centered Learning”. After an intro to the speakers and their work, we were given the challenge to build a functional chair out of cardboard and brads. Each group was to have a few “doers” and a few “observers”. When we went around the group to say what role we wanted, I admitted that I tend to prefer the observer role in these types of activities, but that today it seemed the universe wanted me to engage in some “doing”, do I helped build the chair. And, it was fun. I enjoyed the teamwork and the way we easily negotiated the design and the roles –and at the end of twenty (!) minutes, we did have a chair that could support weight. While it was more of a stool than a chair- we met the parameters of the challenge.
Furthermore, I had met the challenge for me- to break out of my comfort zone and do some making! Watch out- you might soon see me with a soldering iron in my hand and then there will be no stopping me!