All posts by Quenton Oakes

Quenton’s Take: Things I Learned on the Road

Thanks to funding from IMLS, I had the opportunity to travel all over Michigan over the course of the last summer. I was able to take advantage of great opportunities to meet new people doing interesting work in unexpected locales. The things that I learned the most about had to do with professional practice, particularly in libraries and similar community spaces, as well as the way people connect with creating things:

  • People from all backgrounds and walks of life can get something out of making even simple objects with their own hands, without a plan.
  • Types of traditional fabrication, such as soldering-torch jewelry making, decorative woodworking, or furniture reupholstering, are still maintained in certain spaces and appear to present an avenue for interesting economic development.
  • Developing partnerships between local organizations that may not have worked together in the past is one of the most powerful ways to sustain new programs such as out-of-school STEM programs (National Research Council 2015).
  • Continuing on the theme of out-of-school programs, the variety of peripheral STEM learning opportunities was very inspiring to me, from LEGO/FIRST robotics clubs to partnerships with local community colleges.
  • The relationship between local, regional, state, and federal STEM initiatives isn’t always straightforward, but investing time in understanding this network can give life to programs that would otherwise be prohibitively challenging to implement.
  • The natural beauty of northern Michigan is not overstated.

Going forward, I’m curious to explore how people turn a hobby or casual interest into a way to give themselves a little extra support, and how young people can rediscover something elemental about what it is make something with their own hands, from scratch. Look forward to some more reflection on our summer of co-learning next month!

National Research Council. Identifying and Supporting Productive STEM Programs in Out-of-School Settings. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2015. doi:10.17226/21740.

Nottawa Township/Centreville Makers, Thank You!

Hello, Nottawa/Centreville Making as Learning attendees! Here are the slides, and some selected images from our Flickr feed for the event (found here).

I want to take a moment and thank some of the parties, on behalf of our team, that made this workshop possible. First and foremost I’d like to thank Carrie Brueck of the Nottawa Township Library for applying and inviting us to come to her area. I’d also like to thank Glen Oaks Community College for their flexible space for us to occupy over the course of our 3 days there. And finally, I’d like to thank our attendees for making this event so great by participating and sharing their insights!

This site

Day One Slides

Day Two Slides

Day Three Slides

Yarn creature!
Yarn creature!
Everyone hard at work having fun
Everyone hard at work having fun
Cookies cut with a 3d-printed cookie cutter!
Cookies cut with a 3d-printed cookie cutter!
Everyone loves playing with Legos!
Everyone loves playing with Legos!
Fashion Hacking with fringe and fabric paint
Fashion Hacking with fringe and fabric paint
Kamya wearing an amazing prototype!
Kamya wearing an amazing prototype!

Exploring the Upper Peninsula – Making and Learning at the Pickford Community Library

We had a wonderful workshop at Pickford Community Library from June 20th to 22nd. Special thanks to Ann Marie Smith, director of the Pickford Community Library, for inviting us to her library and hosting our activities, with a special mention to Chris Smith and his talk on his use of Arduino microcontrollers in educational projects ranging from aquaponics to lightsaber design(!!!).

Chris smith passes around homemade lightsaber.

We also explored a number of other hands-on making activities to explore first-hand what it’s like to be a maker in a learning environment. We certainly weren’t teaching these people to be creative, but we were helping them think about creation in a new way. From board game design to squishy circuits made of conductive dough, we enjoyed a wide variety of creative activities in the activity space in the same space as the Friend’s Bookstore at the Pickford Community Library.

space2 space1

With attendees ranging from local artisans to middle school teachers, ISD executives to recent art-school graduates, it was one of our most diverse, exciting groups so far. With such a creative community we knew in advance that the maker activities would be some of the most creative and varied that we had seen, and we weren’t disappointed. People especially enjoyed hacking (that is, modifying) the simple LED flashlights that we made together into something unique to each participant.

Light-up feathered bracelet.
Small light-up robot.
Man made of pipe cleaners with an LED idea bulb over the head.
An actual LED lamp that stays on without pressing a button!

The squishy circuits creations were highly creative and varied as well, ranged from prototypes for wearable light-up shoes to an exploration of switches made of various colors of dough.

squish1 squish2 squish3

Various creations made of conductive dough combined with a title/subtitle activity.
Various creations made of conductive dough combined with a title/subtitle activity.

Once more we’d like to thank Ann Marie Smith for being a great host, her local planning committee for the event for putting together a wonderful space, great food prepared by the Iris and Main Street Cafes, and generally supporting our project. Final note, you can find more pictures of the event on the Pickford Community Library’s facebook page, found here.

A stamping activity with various words that capture our personal ideas of what a makerspace should be.

With all three days now completed, here are our slide decks:

Learning With Each Other at Benton Harbor


Benton Harbor was the first experience for our newest team members (Quenton and Kamya) to lead a Making in Michigan Libraries event for adults, on May 10th, 2016. We got to see some of the improvements being made to the Benton Harbor Public Library building, including some unique art:


Some great modern art decorating a stairwell:


And our workshop was watched over by some national leaders:


Overall, it was a great setting for our workshop.


Junk Box

As usual, the junkbox provided some of the most creative and visually interesting activities at our workshop. The idea behind our junk box project was to provide a design challenge. or We presented two options for this workshop: either work alone and illustrate a theme from a work of fiction or, as a group, brainstorm a challenge at your library or space and design a problem to solve it. We had plenty of attendees select each option. From there we allowed them free access to the eponymous junk box, filled with all kinds of semi-organized, semi-curated scrap material, including (but absolutely not limited to) small scraps of cloth, foam, and paper; spools of ribbon; a large plastic vase; the metal frame of a lampshade; straws; as well as non-junk tape, glue sticks, and scissors. We then left them to their devices for about an hour, occasionally intermingling to take the odd picture or ask about a particularly creative in-progress design. Following are some images of the in-progress activity:

Collecting “raw” materials:

A literary illustration in progress:


Early stage of design:


Creative use of straws and manilla folder:



After the designs were completed (and lunch was had) we divided the room into two groups to perform a ‘gallery walk’, during which one group would host the other group as visitors and discuss their design, and after everyone had their fill the roles were reversed. We feel that this is a great way to develop skills in talking about your design process, presenting your work, and, for the visitors, networking and asking productive questions. An important rule of a maker-style gallery walk is that visitors are not to give even constructive criticism unless it is asked for – if it’s asked for, it’s absolutely fine. This allows the makers to have more comfort in sharing their work and prevents them from becoming disheartened if they’re self-conscious of their creation or it’s an early-stage prototype. Here are some more pictures of the final creations, along with some artists’ statements and titles:


Peer Resource Sharing – Knowledge In the Room

We decided to have a semi-structured section for sharing resources which was very successful. Not only does it give our attendees a chance to share their passions and best resources, but also encourages networking between individuals who might not otherwise have learned that they shared a particular interest. During this sharing time we focused on adding these to our slides in real-time, so they would appear on the big screen and be easy to share after the event. Here is the list we got from this session:

-When introducing maker movement to teachers, will stay away from technology at the start.  Start with crafts materials, then go to tech later.
– Started w/coloring and duct tape #coloryourcollections
– Use compasses & protractors to make coloring pages
– Writing as making (haikus on content topics)
– Kids who delete work before being done – easier for those who see kids daily to get done
– Oriental Trading Company? Depends on the situation. What about hacking the OTC kits in new ways?
– Abuse of materials? Limit what goes out, natural social consequences? Tape spoons/plastic flowers to pens/pencils?
– fabric stores, grocery stores castoffs


Obviously this had a context specific to this event, but the resources should stand relatively well on their own. One example of the power of this is that we’re exploring a new addition to the junk box activity, in which we include a foam kit similar to those that the Oriental Trading Company sells, and encourage our attendees to make something other than the intended end product using the pieces of the kit and the junk box. Not to spoil anything, but our Ann Arbor one-day event, including our “hacKIT” event, seems to have been a success!

You can download our slides here.