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Sketch from design thinking activity at Benzonia Public Library

Teacher Librarian article on Design Thinking

Many of you enjoyed using design thinking as a framing structure to help making fit more tightly into your curriculum. Thanks to the publisher, I’m able to share my latest “Makerspaces” column on design thinking from Teacher Librarian..

Full citation: Fontichiaro, Kristin. 2016. “Inventing products with design thinking: Balancing structure with open-ended thinking.” Teacher Librarian 44:2, December, 53-55.

MML in School Library Journal!

We were delighted that Making in Michigan Libraries was featured in this online School Library Journal story on SLJ’s upcoming online maker workshop series. The story will also run in January’s print issue.

Here’s an excerpt:

Kristin Fontichiaro adds that librarians should consider what’s best for their particular community. She’s a clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Information and the faculty lead for the Making in Michigan Libraries project, which supports primarily rural areas.

Good libraries have always been responsive to the needs of their community,” says Fontichiaro. “There’s a big need for folks to be learning with their hands as well as learning with their brains.” She says Making in Michigan Libraries doesn’t go in and tell librarians what to do or buy. Instead, they ask questions about what the community needs. “That helps us make purchases for things that get used as opposed to things that are showpieces,” says Fontichiaro.

She stresses that every Maker space will be different. For example, some might need to be a place for students to wind down after a long day, while others might need to get students energized. “The biggest mistake we can make is to assume what works in one school or public library will work in every school or public library,” says Fontichiaro.

The SLJ online Maker Workshop, which will include my discussion community needs, beginsJanuary 31. Those who register by Friday receive a 20% advance discount.

Decorative: Photo of inside of toy electronic guitar

Toy Takeapart

{Cross-posted from MakerBridge blog}

Over the past few months, we’ve been piloting Toy Takeapart at our statewide MakerFest events and Michigan Makers after-school program. It’s pretty close to a sure-fire hit.

MM Toy Take Apart 11/22/2016

We visit our favorite end-of-the-line thrift store outlet, where we can buy electronic toys for less than a dollar and know that if we did not buy the toy, it would be dumpster-bound within the hour. (That saves us from the guilt of thinking we have grabbed a toy that a needy child otherwise could have used.)

MM Toy Take Apart 11/22/2016

We avoid any toys with a screen — I’m a little anxious about what chemicals could be released if the screen was cracked.

MM Toy Take Apart 11/22/2016

Why toys and not appliances? Toys tend to run on 6 volts or fewer of electricity. Anything that plugs in gets 120V, and that means there can be energy stored up inside that could be unsafe for kids.

MM@Mitchell 11/29/2016

If it’s a public event, we generally set out the toys with a handful of screwdrivers, googles, pliers, and this handout. Without a doubt, when we clean up at the end of the night, the take apart table looks like a tornado has hit. Even though we tell kids and families that they can keep We scoop up anything that is left over. Anything cool and electronic gets saved for future digital jewelry-making. Anything else gets added to the junk box, where it will get a second life inspiring a new invention or creation.

MM@Mitchell 11/29/2016

This year, we are working with third graders after school, and we notice that they have new discoveries and needs different from the 4th and 5th graders we’ve worked with previously. Here is some of what they are learning (and what we are learning about them!):

  1. Many third graders have never used hand tools before. They love the tiny precision screwdrivers and don’t intuitively recognize that they need to pick a right-sized screwdriver for the screw. Tinier isn’t always better — a standard No. 1 Philips screwdriver is often our go-to. (What made us realize this was that we had lost one or two of these over the summer and suddenly we were scrambling to share!)
  2. They’ve never heard “lefty loosy, righty tighty.”
  3. The simultaneous push-down-while-turning dual action of screwdrivers is tough for them to master, especially when they are tackling a new screw. We sometimes have to get them started for them. However, they tend to have high levels of perseverance for removing multiple screws. What facilitates this is that we try to put at least two kids on a toy at a time so they can take turns.
  4. They are less interested in the science of circuitry and more in the wonder of the stuff they find inside. They reacted with enormous wonder to polyfill inside stuff animated creatures.
  5. Speakers are magnetic and much more interesting to them than circuits, capacitors, or resistors.
  6. Cutting wires is more awesome than discovering what components are connected by the wires.

Taking parts home is part of the fun.

I’m tickled to see how many life skills these kids are acquiring as they go on. It’s empowering to master the art of driving (or, in this case, “undriving”) screws. And fascinating to realize we’ve now been in this making and tinkering business long enough to see the different ways kids react depending on their age and experience.

Have you hosted a takepart, wreck lab, or appliance autopsy event?


Benzonia Holiday Party

We were so excited to spend the weekend in Benzonia for meetings with our colleagues from Benzonia Public Library (BPL) and Grow Benzie and to get to be part of the BPL Holiday Party!

Community carols, the perfectly-advertised hilarious puppet show, and then lots of time to make stuff!

The Repurposeful Librarians set up several craft stations for kids, and we had a gift-making and wrapping station consisting of:

Blank certificate paper so kids could make coupons (“good for one back rub”) or certificates (“Best Mom!”), roll them up, tie them with ribbons, and present as holiday gifts.

Benzonia Holiday Magic

Recycled suede bookmarks, with the last-minute addition of similar recycled suede bracelets (we bought suede jackets for $1 at thrift stores and cut them into standard shapes that participants could then fringe or trim into their preferred shapes) that kids of all ages could stamp, draw on with Sharpies, and gift:

Benzonia Holiday Magic

Benzonia Holiday Magic

Benzonia Holiday Magic

Benzonia Holiday Magic

QuestLove-inspired LEGO pins. We threw some ornament hooks into the van at the last minute, and LEGO ornaments were way more popular!


Benzonia Holiday Magic

Benzonia Holiday Magic

Benzonia Holiday Magic

Benzonia Holiday Magic

Buttons and magnets made with our donated vintage button-maker and our brand-new 1″ buttonmaker from American Buttons! We had blank circles for DIY original artwork, plus a vintage dictionary, picture book galleys, and magazines for those preferring to hunt for art:

Benzonia Holiday Magic

Benzonia Holiday Magic

And you can’t hide your gifts from family members unless you take them home already-wrapped, right? So we also had an easy-for-kids gift-wrapping station, complete with lots of bows rescued from a local thrift store:


Benzonia Holiday Magic

Benzonia Holiday Magic

Sadly, we had to return to the campus world of semester-end cramming, projects, and grading, but not before we caught a glimpse of the Holiday Magic parade!

Benzonia Holiday Magic

We have been deriving so much pleasure from our ongoing partnership with BPL. Benzonia is 4+ hours from Ann Arbor, but we chattered the whole way there and back, inspired and full of new ideas. We cannot wait for our next trip there in January!

To see more photos, as well as what the Repurposeful Librarians had up their sleeves for kids to make, check out our Flickr photo album!


Benzonia Craft Fair

Kamya and I have had the Benzonia Craft Fair marked in our calendars since August. We’ve been dying to see the work of the Repurposeful Librarians, Michelle and Cathy’s fundraising-through-crafting arm. Proceeds benefit programs at Benzonia Public Library.

We came up the day before for some meetings, then were bowled over by what we saw at the Fair. (Let’s just say we did much of our holiday shopping, too!)

Getting off the elevator, I saw this (left to right):

Benzonia Craft Fair 12/3/2016
(Middle school spirit swag, plus jewelry, homemade jellies, balms, and lotions)

Benzonia Craft Fair 12/3/2016(
More homemade concoctions, then a booth raising money for education in Borneo by repurposing shoe leather scraps, then a booth selling upcycled wool mittens, hats, adn clothing.)

Here is some of what drew our eye at the Repurposeful Librarians’ booth:

Benzonia Craft Fair 12/3/2016
(See that lamp on the left? It now belongs to me.)

BPL Repurposeful Librarians: Art pages from a donated coffee table book for sale $1/page -- better than selling the book at a Used Book Sale
(These are actually carefully excised from a donated coffee table book and sold for $1/page. So many sold while we were there. What a clever and profitable alternative to selling the book itself at a book sale!)

Benzonia Craft Fair 12/3/2016(
Ornaments from recycled materials.)

Benzonia Craft Fair 12/3/2016
Rolled up print = snowman)

Benzonia Craft Fair 12/3/2016

Benzonia Craft Fair 12/3/2016
Having bought many gifts at the booth, I realize these photos are full of what I did not buy but yearned for!)

Benzonia Craft Fair 12/3/2016
More rolled paper designs)

Benzonia Craft Fair 12/3/2016
Everything sold by the Repurposeful Librarians is designed and made by library staffers on their own time. All profits benefit programs at the library. This is the only library I know of that has a program like this!)

Beyond the Repurposefuls, Sophie had Charlie Brown trees for sale:

Benzonia Craft Fair 12/3/2016


Jimmy’s booth featured one-of-a-kind Harry Potter wands. If you were really lucky, Sophie was working the booth and could help you pick one just right for you. Then she’d tell you what was inside the wand (mine had a phoenix feather). Service right out Diagon Alley!

Benzonia Craft Fair 12/3/2016

Benzonia Craft Fair 12/3/2016


And this booth of art, batik art (including a book!), and lavender treats from the Flynn farm:

Benzonia Craft Fair 12/3/2016

Benzonia Craft Fair 12/3/2016

We were so inspired by the artistry we saw in this single small room — we got lots of, err, “holiday” shopping done. If only there had been enough money for a custom upcycled wool jacket … the basket woven with an antler handle … the quilt … the stuffed dragon tail for kids … the jewelry worthy of an episode of The Tudors …)

Enjoy the visual feast!

Image of quote that reads, "I am asking how we can dig deeper beneath the truism "Kids should love science!" and find useful cultural meanings." by Rebecca Onion

Book Recommendation: Innocent Experiments by Rebecca Onion

Remember this clip from the White House Science Faire of President Obama helping 8th grader Joey Hudy shoot off a marshmallow cannon he made with the help of the folks at Home Depot? So did reporter and author Rebecca Onion, who mused about what this revived focus in informal science work meant.

She set forth to study the informal science movement over the past 100 years in a series of vignettes collected in the newly-released volume innocent Experiments: Childhood and the Culture of Popular Science in the United States (University of North Carolina Press | Amazon | Project Muse (subscription required) | Google Books Preview ).



As shown in the the table of contents below, her research takes her on remarkable journey.


Chapter 1 takes her to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum between the World Wars, with descriptions of children (mostly white, mostly middle-class, mostly male) learning classification and tree identification but ultimately leading to a group of boys running the museum’s wireless system.


Chapter 2 studies the rise of chemistry kits and the ways in which the “naughty” behaviors of those who used them (again, mostly white, middle class, and male) began to be seen not as mischievous but as scientific. Chapter 3 looks at the movement to identify and showcase scientific talent (again, with males as key figures and female budding scientists as those guided by males, dating male contestants, or visiting the Hope Diamond), with a desire to find prospective scientists who also met society’s ideals for sociability. Oh, and most of them, just to be clear, were mostly male, mostly white, and mostly middle-class. See the pattern?

Chapter 4 delves into the role of science fiction, particularly the worlds created by Robert Heinlein. (Teachers and librarians, beware: he’s got harsh words for both of these traditionally female-dominated professions, though some of his harshest words were reserved for his editor — and Newbery Honor awardee Alice Dalgleish).

Chapter 5 looks at the early years of San Francisco’s Exploratorium and wonders aloud if, just as with the male chemistry kits, the movement to learn science through exploration is more about play than about scientific acquisition. Thankfully, gender plays less of a role here, but the pedigree of the Exploratorium’s founder makes for a good jeopardy question, as it is none other than the brother of Robert Oppenheimer of the Manhattan Project.


Screenshot of Table of Contents of Innocent Experiments

I’ve been recommending this book to everyone I see because it raises some crucial and critical questions about the role of informal, out-of-school science in the development of the scientific workforce and in the development of science skills. Here are some of the many questions that my team and I found ourselves asking as we read:

  1. For decades, there has been an intent to develop more scientists through interventions like museums, science competitions, and even science fiction. Has it worked? To what extent?
  2. What is the difference between “cool” science (think of the hair-raising Van de Graff generators or the Diet Coke and Mentos explosions at a Maker Faire) and the day-to-day work of scientists? Does interest in “cool” lead to professional engagement? What is the missing piece there?
  3. What pieces need to be in place in order for children to not only experience science but develop meaningful/rigorous scientific understanding?
  4. Over and over again, there are events in American history that are that generation’s Sputnik. (Think, for example of President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union speech, in which he referred to the need for more research and development by calling it “our generation’s Sputnik moment“) Do we succeed in rising to the challenge today? Historically?
  5. Today’s maker movement has been accused of catering to an audience that is primarily male, well-educated, and middle class, the same population Ms. Onion refers to repeatedly in movements of the past. How do we get past this as the primary audience, 100 years later?
  6. Do we have the right players working with young people to develop scientific thinking, understanding, processing, and reasoning? How would we know that we were successful in this way?
  7. One of the implicit themes of Ms. Onion’s book is that perhaps what we’ve labeled as informal or out-of-school science is actually play. Yet politicians and decision-makers are often far more committed to spending money on science/STEM/STEAM/STREAM/STREAMS/HAMSTER (!!) than on play. Should we try to change the narrative? What are the risks/benefits of doing so?

All in all, this has been one of the STEM/maker books I’ve read lately that has challenged my thinking the most. I highly recommend it. You can get started reading it below, as much of the first chapter is available via Google Books.

Anyone else read it?


[Cross-posted at MakerBridge and Active Learning]



Blank cover for Made magazine

Things Learned On The Road This Summer, Part II

Blank Cover for Made Magazine

Last month, I wrote about some of the things we had learned traveling the state with maker professional development.

This month, I’d like to focus in on one finding in particular: the relative lack of awareness of Make magazine and the ensuing implications in rural and underserved communities.

Partway through the summer, we changed our summative activity that the end of the three-day workshop. Our colleague Amber created a blank parody cover of Make magazine called Made, and we invited participants to imagine that Made was going to create a special issue focused solely on their makerspace. They were asked to provide the cover headlines that would relate to the vision they had worked on during the workshop.

And that’s where things got interesting. Overwhelmingly, only one or two attendees had ever heard of Make magazine.

So what are the implications of this? What does making look like when the flagship publication isn’t a reference point?

Our observations are that without that supposedly canonical reference point, making in libraries and K-12 schools (our two primary audiences) tends to be:

  • the STEM tinkering model of commercial kits, not raw materials put to work to create a personal vision
  • more focus on soft skills
  • less focus on drones and more integration of stereotypically female activities like sewing, quilting, and knitting
  • more focused on low-cost activities that can scale up for groups rather than individual activities that cost $50+
  • less focused on Arduino and professional-grade coding

Do you notice anything similar in your space?


Cross-posted from the MakerBridge blog

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!