All posts by Ben Rearick

Michigan Makers at Mitchell, Winter 2018, Sessions 1 & 2: Boardgames & Zines

MM@Mitchell 1/23/2018

This semester at Mitchell we had two new helping hands, Sarah and Tori! With four pairs of hands, we thought we might introduce Sarah and Tori as helpers first on two projects, zines (which we had been excited about for a while, and Sarah had experience in) and boardgames (which Ben really digs as a means to collaboration and choice for the students).

So we split the students up into two groups and had one group work on zines this week, and the other on designing boardgames in groups of two or three. The following week, the groups switched. If they finished early they could work on engineering toys or other items that we had brought in.

Over the two weeks we had a lot of zines made that were very thoughtful and described what the students were interested in. Some used some Ed Emberly books to enhance their drawing skills, but some created stories of their cats or about their interest in soccer. The boardgames also turned out well, as students were encouraged to use only the materials that were presented to them in a small ziploc bag. We were happy to get Tori and Sarah used to how Michigan Makers worked by using familiar projects!

MM@Mitchell 1/30/2018: Board Games And zines

Michigan Makers at Scarlett, Fall 2017, Meeting #10: Design Your Own Mugs

For the last session at Scarlett before winter break, the activity was designing our own mugs. Each student was given a IKEA mug and access to several colors of the oil based paint sharpies. Small slips of paper had the baking instructions so that students with the help of an adult could bake the design onto the mug so that it would not rub off with everyday use and washing.

Many of the students created christmas themed designs they planned on giving as gifts to friends and family. While most of the designs were hand drawn, one students used stencils to create a stop sign. Her idea was to create an image and word that would prevent her family from using her mug.

One problem that arose was how to fix any mistakes on the mugs. The sharpies were fairly permanent so any mistake had to be quickly wiped away with an alcohol wipe. Sometimes being creative or accepting the mistakes was easier than correcting them. This forced the students to be intentional with their choices as well as accepting of any small mistakes that occured.

Michigan Makers at Scarlett, Fall 2017, Meeting #9: Puppet Show

At Scarlett Middle School today the students were tasked with creating a Puppet Show from scratch. The students had a cardboard stage, fabric, junk boxes, and their creativity at their disposal to create everything they needed for their show.

Using toy parts, felt and other scraps of fabric each student created unique puppets. The students did not do much planning and preferred to jump right in to making the puppets. This allowed each puppet to be fully unique, however, they soon discovered that sometimes what seems like a great idea for a character might not be conducive to a 3D puppet. The students spent time troubleshooting how to get their floppy but pretty puppet to stand vertically. Straws, popsicle sticks and glue seemed to be the method of choice to support the puppets.

When it came to the stage, the students used fabric and other fun materials to drape over the stage and the area in front of it to create scenery. This was done instead of coloring or drawing on the stage. The effect was magically, however, like with the puppets the cardboard stage could not support all of the weight so it was back to problem solving and figuring out how to have a decorated stage that could stand up straight under the weight. The students used some of their books from school to prop up the stage from behind carefully making sure it was not visible from the front.

The last step was to bring all the pieces together to put on the show. There was no real planning of dialogue or action. It was definitely an improv session. The students took inspiration from shows and movies they loved as well as conversations they had in real life with friends and family for their shows. They were definitely unique!

Michigan Makers at Mitchell, Fall 2017: Three Busy Weeks!

We were grateful to finally return to Mitchell Elementary — and to be back in the gorgeous library which gave us more room to work with than the creativity-inspiring art room — in the third week of November. We had scheduled four weeks to work with the students with a break for Thanksgiving, but we ended up getting the first snow day of the year on our final gift-giving blowout meeting! Read up a little below on what we did and learned throughout the three fall sessions…

Diverging from our typical route of having (too?) many stations, we decided to try to have one large-group activity. The first week we went with our tried-and-true favorite: toy takeapart. The main reason we love this activity so much is it engages the most reluctant third grade students. Over the semesters, we’ve been adjusting simple things here and there about how we present the activity and how we monitor the students learning. We are also always searching for the perfect toy. This particular iteration featured a few too many smaller toys with specialty screws. Our librarian host and some parents who came early even stepped in during the waning minutes trying to help the students with pesky screws — we eventually discovered some of the thread on the plastic part had been eroded!

The second week we had plans to have the students make felt finger puppets using hand-sewing techniques and then design a short play that could be performed for the other students. We added the decoration of the stage as an extendable way for the students to further realize their designs. Our trustworthy junk box became the primary fodder for students to enhance their stage sets (made out of cardboard boxes). Students also created different mechanical set-ups attached to the stage to create both a stand for a soccer goal to sit on, and a way to have curtains be raised at the beginning of the play.

During the third week, we finished up puppets, stages, and plays, and finally had multiple groups show off their plays as their classmates looked on.

Michigan Makers at Scarlett, Fall 2017, Meeting #8: Droid Maker

Things were a little different today at Scarlett Middle School. For the activity we brought a littlebits R2D2 Droid Inventor kit for the students to build and explore with. The kit worked with an app that gave step by step instructions on how to build and test the droid.

The instructions were easy enough to follow without too much adult input and the students really enjoyed putting the parts together and testing each addition as they were added. One limit of this activity is that is something that can only be done in small groups. It was easy for people to get left out or to take over the building process. Emphasis on teamwork was necessary to keep everyone equally involved.

Once the droid was built the students were able to complete quests and challenges on the app. One challenge was to build a obstacle course and then using the app steer the droid through the books, boxes, bags and other obstacles in the way. There was definitely a learning curve with the controls. It was not as easy as it looked. Other future challenges included placing a pen in a loop on the back of the droid and using a large sheet of paper to create designs with the droids movements. It will be fun to see what possibilities the droid has in the future.

Michigan Makers at Scarlett, Fall 2017, Meeting #7: Toy Takeapart

Today was a day to bring an old Michigan Makers favorite to Scarlett Middle School. Toy Take Apart! After getting the students geared up in goggles and gloves, they were handed screwdrivers, pliers and any tool they might need and a box filled with old toys.

Toy take apart is always a mix of curiosity, fun, and patience. Removing dozens of screws can test anyone’s patience, but nothing is more satisfying than removing the last screw and seeing what is inside of the old toy. One student spent her day taking apart an animatronic dog toy. Nothing brought her more joy and creeped everyone else out more than seeing the dog without any of its fur. It’s white plastic casing looking more alien than dog like. One student turned an old frog clock into a vase for fake flowers, really pushing the limits of what old toys can be used for.

To wrap up the day students were able to use their personal favorite tool – the button maker. The students love taking old magazines and looking for cool pictures or patterns to create into pins for their bags or magnets for their lockers.

Michigan Makers at Scarlett, Fall 2017, Meeting #6: Backstitching

Today at Scarlett Middle School only one student came for Michigan Makers. With only one student the focus was on direct one on one interaction which worked out for the activity. Today we learned how to backstitch. In previous weeks we tried cross stitch but it was not the best activity for the time constraints. With back stitching an image can be created in both a simpler and quicker way. Backstitching is a way to make a solid line of thread on an embroidery project, unlike the patchy line created by the classic running stitch. Using a pencil the student drew out her initial and a heart on the fabric. With some instruction and encouragement she was able to slowly trace the design with her thread and create a patch that with iron on Heat and Bond she can with her parents help iron on the design to a backpack or other approved fabric object.

Michigan Makers at Scarlett, Fall 2017, Meeting #5: Clothing Hacks

Since today is the week before Halloween we decided to do a fun activity with the students at Scarlett Middle School. It is time for Clothing Hacks! We brought several large IKEA blue bags filled to the brim with donated and thrifted clothing. With two sewing machines, scissors and creativity students were able to create their own new clothing or costume pieces for Halloween, if they celebrated. One student took the sleeves from a plaid button down and added it to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt, giving the shirt a new look. Another student took light blue kids clothing and turned them into leg warmers. There was no shortage of creativity today.
One of the most elaborate projects involved almost no sewing. Using black clothings and accessories from the bags one student turned a “Happy New Year” hat into a witches hat. The biggest problem she had to solve was how to get all of the items to attach without visible tape. It took a little bit of creativity since she was not using the sewing machines to help.
At the end of the day each student had something they had made to take home and we had what could only be described as a literally explosion of fabric everywhere. Sometimes creativity is a messy process and there is nothing better than accepting and living with that fact.

Michigan Makers at Scarlett, Fall 2017, Meeting #4: Cross-stitch

This session started off with a bang! Immediately after the bell rang to release students from class for the day the fire alarm went off. As you can imagine fire alarms are much more chaotic when students are not being marched out in lines by their teachers. There was quite a bit of running and screaming. Mostly for dramatic effect and not due to any emergency. Luckily the alarm was a false one and after a few minutes the alarm stopped and we could settle in for the session that day. On this day we had low turnout. Only one student came by. This did mean that we were able to give more individualized attention and feedback. Missing from this session the sense of camaraderie in the group; which is something the students enjoy.

The challenge for today was to create a cross stitch patch. There were two options for choosing a pattern. The first option was to choose a pattern from some that had been pre-selected. Optionally, the students could take images from the web and use editing software to pixelate the image creating a cross stitch pattern.

Once the pattern was picked it came time to learning how to cross stitch. Growing on previous sewing related projects This project reinforced the skills of threading needles, knotting thread, and starting work. The new skill was mostly in the precision of the stitches. Using grid created by the weave of the Aida cloth fabric we created small x’s for each square of the pattern. There was definitely a learning curve. It was important to make sure that you followed the pattern closely to recreate the same image. Overall this was more challenging for everyone than expected. As time passed the student found it easier to improvise instead of follow the pattern exactly. She did this by creating the outline of the shape she wanted and instead of filling it in drawing in facial features. All that was left to do was to cut the image out into a patch size and iron on interfacing. We did not iron this on to backpacks or clothing, but rather sent her home with instructions to follow with her parents once she got permission to iron this on to whatever her heart desired.

We might not do cross stitch again. It is hard to learn with the time constraints we have, but sewing is definitely something we will continue to revisit.

Michigan Makers at Scarlett, Fall 2017, Meeting #3: Photo-editing/Monster pillows

Bracelets, buttons, monsters, and spooky editing! This was a jam-packed session. Today ended up being a girl-only day with a handful of girls coming back to Michigan Makers. We had a couple different crafts going on; all relatively simple and fun. There was the option to use stamps to decorate bookmarks or bracelets, make custom buttons with a button maker, use photo software to take photos of the school and edit them, and monster pillows were back.

We will start with a small oops. We were all ready to go with the button maker and were pretty excited too. Using a circle punch, students cut out images from magazines that they found fun or pretty to turn into buttons. The buildup was tense and the excitement was palatable. Then the worst thing happened. The button machine was not working. It had gotten banged a bit in transport. We were worried we had broken it. No tutorial or information manual was capable of fixing the button maker in the moment. It was a bit of a let down, but we did have a bunch of other activities with us. It was time to let go of the buttons for today.

For the physical crafts we had two options. We could create more monster pillows. Which is fast becoming a favorite of the group. Or you could make bracelets and bookmarks by stamping letter strips with a variety of stamps and inks. While I did not manage to get pictures of the finished bracelets I can tell you they were a smorgasbord of colors and images. One had a very strong pineapple theme to it. Too go along with the pineapple bracelet there was a pineapple monster pillow. As well as a cat and an owl monster pillow. Sewing skills are improving. Students are getting a better grasp of the whip stitch and are also having a blast creating their own sewing patterns to make new unique shapes.

The digital item of the day was photo editing. The idea was to take a photo of the school or something in the library and edit the photo to see what you can do with it. One student took a photo through the window of the building façade and with the help of Picmonkey she was able to make quite a chilling and spooky black and white Halloween inspired photo. I definitely would not want to go to the school she created in that photo.

All in all the session was filled with exciting things to try both in physical and digital media. I do also have good news to report. A few days after the session we were able to fix the button maker. Apparently a small magnet had found its way into the machine and it was just enough to prevent it from working properly. We look forward to bringing the button maker back finally turning our small circle punched pictures into buttons to wear with pride.