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.

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