Monthly Archives: May 2016

Making and Breaking at the Houghton Lake Public Library


The energy of children at the Houghton Lake Public more than made up for the gloomy rainy day outside. The Houghton Lake Public Library and the team from UMSI had arranged a Mother’s Day themed, two hour workshop for kids.

3D Printing

The Youth Services Librarian Sarah Maddox had already 3D printed hearts from a clear filament that the children could color using sharpies. This, along with pre printed coloring cards made the cutest mother’s day gifts ever.



We had also set up three 3D printers that the children could use to print their own designs. We used the Cookie Caster website to build the designs. It is simple and easy to use and we were stunned by the creativity the children showed in making these designs. They ranged from alphabets to jaws and moustaches. What was even more impressive was that the kids improved upon their designs iteratively, changing the shape, size and color to make the designs more interesting. We were thrilled to see such impressive prototyping skills at work.

The toy take apart station

This was a high energy activity that drew the children’s attention right away. We had brought some toys that had electronic components in them that the kids could take apart and understand how they worked. It was so interesting to see that most of the children were familiar and comfortable with the use of tools and took the toys apart in minutes. Together, we discovered speakers, motors, lights and the many minute parts that worked together to bring those toys to life.


The Google cardboard

Virtual Reality seems to be in every conversation these days and it surely was not going to be missing in this workshop. We had brought along a Google Cardboard and a phone that the children could watch some short VR movies on. This was a fun activity that gave the kids something to do while they were waiting for their design to be 3D printed or taking a break from the other activities.


Houghton Lake Public Library was the perfect start for this summer. With its cozy library, friendly librarian and vibrant young minds, HLPL has us looking forward to our next trip there.

Making in Ann Arbor – May 14 & 15, 2016

We held two events in Ann Arbor this past weekend, and boy, are we gratified but tired!

On Saturday, May 14, we did a repeat of the workshop we did in Benton Harbor. This was a wonderful chance for local maker educators, librarians, classroom teachers, and more to gather together to think about the big picture of making.

One of the big comments that stood out for me was the school librarian who said, “I let them putter at first, but then I realized one group of kids had been making a bridge for months, and that bridge was going nowhere!” (paraphrase) She then went on to explain that by moving from open tinkering to challenges that had many potential outcomes, the students enjoyed the greater focus, and she saw them growing their skills and accomplishing projects. {Note added at the end of the summer: we realized we retold a variation of this anecdote throughout the state — thank you!}

Photo of a paper mask made with feathers in place of facial hair
We loved how one participant deconstructed a pink feather into this mask’s facial hair

We also tried an experiment based on feedback we got in Benton Harbor. We had been asked there about whether Oriental Trading Company kits — kits that many librarians and educators purchase to create all-look-alike projects like door hangers, picture frames, or crafty animals out of materials like popsicle sticks, pom-poms, and craft foam — “counted” as making. {Note added at the end of the summer: This issue of what “counts” came up much more in the lower and more populated parts of the state than they did in more northern and/or rural communities.}

So we tried a Hack Your Oriental Trading Company project: take those same materials but don’t predetermine the outcome. We saw a lot of wild designs, but ultimately, because some of the parts were pre-stamped with animal faces, we also saw a lot of norming toward animal creations .. hmmm … that didn’t quite turn out like we thought it would!

A sample hacking of an Oriental Trading Company-type kit
A sample hacking of an Oriental Trading Company-type kit

You can find our slide deck here, as well as photos on Flickr.

The next day, we headed over to the Ann Arbor District Library’s Secret Lab for an afternoon conversation of Maker Provocations, co-sponsored by Nick Tobier and Brightmoor Makerspace. We set aside this event as our only “not for beginners” event of the summer and asked three provocateurs to share their perspectives and a challenge with us:

  • Addie Matteson, Noblesville Public Schools, Noblesville, IN, who talked about the importance of play and playful design in making. She challenged us to create Dash robots that could imitate our favorite movie characters!
  • Justin Schell, Shapiro Design Lab, University of Michigan Library, Ann Arbor, MI, who talked about the importance of the senses and sensory design as a component of making. He then set us loose in the Ann Arbor District Library to soak in the senses, which led to a powerful discussion of the role the library places in our daily lives.
  • Pete Pasque, Skyline High School, Ann Arbor, MI, who encouraged the University folks in the audience to think about how making can make school more engaging for teens and urged us to bring his students into our maker projects.
Justin working on Addie's Dash robot challenge
Justin working on Addie’s Dash robot challenge

At the conclusion, Nick reminded us of artist Richard Serra’s Verb List (1967-1968), a handwritten list of words hanging in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, to imagine what verbs we use when we talk about making. He then gave each of us a piece of paper to create our one-word maker verb manifesto.

Sample maker manifesto page, featuring the word "break" stamped with rubber stamps across a fold in a piece of 12x12" scrapbook paperSample maker manifesto page, featuring the word “break” stamped with rubber stamps across a fold in a piece of 12×12″ scrapbook paper

A side note: we set out Wiki Stix – pieces of cotton string dipped in wax that can be used as repositionable sculpturing tools – at the start to keep early birds’ hands busy, and we all ended up reveling in the sensory pleasure of the waxy materials in our hands. Making is self-soothing!

Sample work created with Wiki Stix
Sample work created with Wiki Stix

It was a powerful day to watch people of diverse backgrounds come together to think about the broader themes of making, not specific tools or materials. Thank you to all who participated!

You can find our slides here.