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Free Booklist Webinar Coming 10/20!

[decorative] image with name and date of webinarPlease join me for a free Booklist webinar, sponsored by Cherry Lake Publishing, on Thursday, October 20, 2016, at 2pm Eastern / 1pm Central.

Here’s what I’ll be talking about:

Primary-aged children are natural makers. They couple their imaginations with the physical and digital worlds as they poke, prod, push, pull, pixelate, and produce.  Whether using digital tools, circuits, robots, or recyclables, many of the core questions are the same: What is our role as facilitators of maker mindset and purposeful exploration? How do we set up spaces that welcome creative interactions with materials and peers? In celebration of the launch of the Makers as Innovators Junior series for K-2 students, Cherry Lake Publishing invites you to engage with these concepts and build or refine your vision for playful thinking. Presented by series editor and University of Michigan School of Information faculty member Kristin Fontichiaro and moderated by Books for Youth editor Dan Kraus.

You can register here. If you cannot watch the webinar live, an archive link will be sent to you a few days after the live event.

Hope to see you there!


Things Learned on the Road This Summer, Part I

Thanks to funding from IMLS, I spent much of the summer on the road, working with librarians, educators, and community members to envision and think about community-responsive making in rural and underserved communities. Here are some things I learned (or re-learned) from stepping outside the current maker narratives:

  • Balancing traditional maker activities (e.g., log furniture) with new technologies (e.g., CNC routing) remains a challenge, in part due to financial constraints.
  • Future Farmers of America and 4-H remain highly influential avenues to making and hands-on learning in communities.
  • One powerful, persuasive personality can mobilize many others.
  • 3-D printing, seen as a critical tool in many urban and suburban maker narratives, simply isn’t financially viable in many rural libraries, though they might be found in local high schools.
  • The maker movement in libraries is codifying around youth and STEM primarily, with a big emphasis on playing with pre-made items (e.g., Snap Circuits, LEGO, K’Nex).
  • Despite the current youth and making focus, we got a lot of questions this summer about making and senior citizens, something we’re really interested in, too!
  • Underwater remote operated vehicles showed up as an in-class or extracurricular activity in three of our sites. Robotics was even more popular (in part because Michigan’s governor has actively supported and incentivized the incubation of FIRST Robotics programs).
  • Incubator kitchens are specially licensed facilities to help nascent food businesses get started. That this is a state-licensed activity tells me there is more support for non-tech-based small businesses than we previously anticipated.
  • Multiple communities pointed to farmer’s markets as a hub for creative handmade products.

What did you learn this summer? I’ll be back next month with more learnings.


Cross-posted to the MakerBridge blog and the Active Learning blog

Photo of maker area at Frankenmuth Wickson District Library

Hello, Frankenmuth!


Frankenmuth, a place so beautiful that we were glad it rained one of the days, making us feel better about not missing out on anything. From Bronner’s to the newly opened farmer’s market, there was so much to see and do in this place. We were right in saving it for the grand finale it turned out to be.

On day one, we covered the big picture about making and wrapped the day up with wonderful Hanoch Piven style creations about makerspaces. Day two started with rain on the outside, but it was all sunny in our workshop. Taking inspiration from the cafeteria chairs( which were never meant for a day long session) we designed the chairs of our dreams. We walked through the design thinking process and created prototypes with legos. A fun activity where the creativity and resourcefulness of the participants shined through. We spent the afternoon exploring some hands on activities, tools and the STEM exploration bus from Delta College. We also had the Makerfest at the Frankenmuth Public Library that evening. Thanks to Mary, Pam and Cora(of the Library) and Cindy (who had participated in the workshop at Alpena), we had the library filled to the brim with activities and had the Delta college bus outside(which was a hit among the children). Was very exciting to see the school Lego team and their creations as well as the hack/takeapart station hosted by a member of the community.

On the third day,  we visited the classrooms of elementary school teachers Julie Leach and Tosha Miller (of the TwoSassyApples fame). It was interesting to see the amount of exposure their students were getting and the kind activities being done in the space. They were also kind enough to have a surprise giveaway for one of our participants! After that, we went to the classrooms of the High school teachers Mr. VanArsdale and Mr. Culver. They showed us some great examples of 3D modelling coupled with 3D printing to optimize the casings of the motors on their underwater ROVs. They also had made attachments for a microscope that allowed a student with disability to do her lab work independently. In Mr. VanArsdale classroom, it was reassuring to see the students’ designs and engineering drawings being given the center stage, showing us that the true strength of 3D printing or other fabrication tools lies in 3D modelling skills. A special thanks to both their students who took out the time to come show us their work and the 3D printer they had modified and built from scratch. We ended the day by sharing some strategies on assessment and revisiting the mission from day one.

Working with Pam, Cora and Mary was a truly wonderful experience, and that basement of amazing stuff(not calling it junk) keeps us awake at night with envy. The commitment towards the community you have shows us the true charm of Frankenmuth lies in its people.

Here are some resources that may be helpful:

Photo: Maker Area at Frankenmuth Wickson District Library, Aug. 2016

Sewing machine and inspiration board with prompt at the Zauel branch of the Saginaw Public Library.

Hello, Saginaw!


The one day workshop on Making as learning at the Butman Fish Library, Saginaw was made possible by a chance that Rhonda Butler, the head of the Wicke’s Branch at Saginaw, took while applying to host it. And we are so grateful she did. This was a high energy workshop from start to finish.

We introduced the participants to some high level definitions of making. Then we turned our focus to their community and prompted them to think about the big picture; what was their vision for a makerspace and what it would look like. After that, we shared some ideas on how to assess the work being done in makerspaces without crushing any of the open endedness or the creativity. This brought us to design challenges and design thinking.

With a short introduction to the process of Design Thinking, the group jumped into the challenge with gusto. It was fascinating to see them work under such time constraints(as this was a short workshop) and come up with refined and amazing ideas. The product pitches themselves were a class apart. Hilarious and thought-provoking at the same time, the pitches left us in splits and also wishing the products existed.

We then explored some hands on activities and tools that we had brought along. We had a great conversation about the experiences of the day and how to move forward, bringing this wonderful day to an end. Keeping the best till the end, a very special thanks to the staff of Saginaw Public Libraries for being such lovely hosts and making the workshop so lively.

We are happy to be at the work home of UMSI alum Rhonda Farrell-Butler today — Butman Fish Library, a branch of the Public Libraries of Saginaw!

Some resources that may be helpful:

Benzonia events featured in Traverse City Record-Eagle!

We were delighted when Amanda and Helen forwarded today’s story in the Traverse City Record-Eagle about the maker movement in the Traverse Bay area, specifically highlighting Benzonia’s efforts:

Benzonia Public Library Director Amanda McLaren said she first got involved with the maker movement through her husband, who likes to tinker, and her son, who loves science.

“What really draws me to the maker movement is the community aspect,” McLaren said. “It opens doors for those that are talented, creative, artistic and curious and brings together a community of like-minded people.”

And the community is growing on several regional fronts.

The Benzonia Public Library hosted free workshops and a MakerFest earlier this week, and the Fife Lake Makerspace is fundraising for a physical space …

The concept of “maker culture” is where hacker culture, DIY-ability and technology intersect. The national movement combines varied pursuits like traditional arts and crafts and engineering with an open-source philosophy and a playful, collaborative spirit …

“It encompasses everything,” McLaren said. “I feel like it comes from that desire to reconnect with basics and building something you can be proud of. I feel like we’ve lost that.”

Teresa Mills, of Fife Lake, said she first heard about makerspaces in 2012, when she got involved as a facilitator for the movement throughout Grand Traverse County.

“It’s like a gym, but it’s for the mind,” Mills said. “A maker is everything from baking cookies to installing to journalism — people need to quit getting caught up in the ‘makerspace’ label.”

Cities like Grand Rapids and Detroit have hosted these events, and a grant from the University of Michigan’s School of Information and the Institute of Museum and Library Services allowed the Benzonia Public library to host free workshops and a MakerFest earlier this week.

The events overlapped with the library’s summer-long science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) theme.

McLaren added that she was excited that the small town hosted a “big city” event.

“The real focus is on starting this with youth,” McLaren said. “This also offers continuing education credits for teachers.”

If you cannot access the story online, we have archived the story here.


Wonderful learning in Benzonia!

This was a much-awaited workshop for all of us. Over the three days, we covered different aspects of making. Starting, as always, with the big picture as it brings a focus on the community and allows each makerspace to be conceptualized differently. Since we were with a special group of individuals,(which was evident from the design challenge) we went out into the community and picked up a few real world problems to solve. The resulting ideas and pitches were amazing and showed a great passion for the community. We also had our hosts Amanda and Michelle share all the wonderful work they have been doing at the Library.

The visit to Grow Benzie was truly inspiring and we thank Josh for making it so memorable. With facilities like the incubator kitchen, greenhouses and sewing rooms, we see that the place has the potential to become a real catalyst for growth in this community. We look forward to hearing more!

Our time in Benzonia was heartwarming and we learned a lot from the participants. A big shout out to Sheryl  for joining us (once again) and adding to all the tools for exploration. And having been on the road all summer, we must thank Amanda and Jimmy for making us feel truly at home.

Resources :

Mural made of shattered mirrored glass on display.

Thank you, Coopersville!


Thank you so much for a wonderful event. We explored many topics together, spent a lot of time actually getting our hands on the activities we might incorporate into our maker practice, and got to see some great sights together. Special thanks to the Coopersville High School for providing the meeting space for our event, Ryan Schoenborn for sharing his expertise and experience running an after-school STEM club, GVSU for sending some interesting tech and sharing their stories about maintaining a creative technology space inside a larger organization (and alongside many other responsibilities), and of course the Coopersville Area District Library for applying and inviting us to their area.

The time we spent at Coopersville, either in the workshop or the public event, we felt very connected and community-driven. People generally seemed to understand the connection that being a maker has to both the traditions of the area (seeing the woodworking area as a place to express that creative, purposeful energy, for example) and the needs of the community (which we felt in our conversations with the community at our very well attended MakerFest).

Here are some resources that you may find useful:

And some selected photos from our visit:

Continue reading Thank you, Coopersville!

Congratulations to Houghton Lake attendee Shelly Jenema!

Graphic with the quote: "It's not about giving them the solution. It's about giving them the chance to create the solution in the way that they chose ... Not everyone will have the same solution and that's OK." by Shelly Jenema

Shelly attended our Houghton Lake workshop and added so much excitement to our days! With a grant from the Missaukee Area Community Foundation, she’s launching a makerspace at her school, Northern Michigan Christian School.

The project was recently featured in the Cadillac News and features the quote above. You can access it via free registration or by opting to watch an ad prior to accessing the entire article.

Congratulations, Shelly!

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

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.