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


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.

A Summer of Design Thinking

This summer has made me fall in love with Design Thinking all over again. Taking a fifteen minute introduction to Design Thinking and making it an entire three hour piece in the workshop helped me gain a much deeper understanding of the process. Over the course of the internship, I tried different things. Some worked well and some didn’t. Here are the most important lessons I have learned:

Problem definition is hard, really hard

In the time-frame of the session, which is typically two to three hours, we start with a problem and end with a prototype. The sessions went without a hitch when we threw a very specific and simple challenge at the participants, like “Design a better chair”. Encouraged by the enthusiasm of a particular set of participants (thank you West Iron and Benzonia), I tried something different. I asked them to come up with a challenge; it could be anything that annoyed them in real life. And the first thing I received was a room full of blank stares. This is in no way the participants’ fault. Most people would draw a blank at something this open-ended.

I realized, as a designer, I had trained myself to observe and keep a mental note of design flaws in everyday objects; or, perhaps, I became a designer because I was already doing it. Either way, it took me a while to understand that not everyone is like me; that we humans have a tendency to get used to problems or come up with workarounds so that it no longer bothers us. And this was my first lesson. No matter how well we train people to solve problems, they cannot put that training to use until they have learned to see the problems that surround them. Acknowledging the existence of a problem and the urge to improve something must come before any problem solving technique. And this realization surprised me even more because it is not referenced in the design thinking literature. I realized that learning to observe is a necessary prerequisite for being able to conceptualize an improvement.

Seeing is believing

We had a lot of fun during our product pitches at the end of a Design Thinking workshop. Some hilarious, some thought provoking, some absolutely mind-blowing and all of them radically new and different in some way or the other. Most participants were surprised at the amount of creativity that comes out of them. If I were to simply tell them that they are all creative and that design thinking would work, I would not have had as much success in getting them to try it in real life. However, I believe there is more work to be done. Most participants, I feel, see design thinking as a fun activity that they can implement as a program in a library or incorporate it in the school curriculum. It has been hard for me to get them to apply the process in their own lives, as a technique to solve their own problems or as a change in mindset. Upon reflection, I find that Design Thinking had the most profound effect on me when I saw that I was changing someone’s life. A short workshop only skims the surface of design thinking. A true mindset change can happen only when we can empathize with the design’s intended beneficiary and see the difference we have made in their lives.

Gamifying the process: missing pieces

Our team came up with a fun, simple, and engaging activity to introduce participants to design challenges and certain aspects of design thinking: a game that … . We made several iterations over the summer, introducing the game in different ways and with different rules. We loved how the room buzzed with exciting ideas when we did the activity in groups. Words and pictures elicited different interpretations. And to be honest, the most fun bit was the wildcard design constraint that they were given halfway through the challenge. It spiced things up, even  if it sometimes annoyed the participants. But there had never been a team that did not rise up to the challenge. This proved to be a great warm up challenge, getting the creative juices flowing in a quick period of time. But we do realize that the game heavily focused on the brainstorming and the prototyping steps of Design Thinking. These steps are fun in real life, too, so they are easy to replicate in a game. But what about the more serious steps, like user research and making design choices? We see that the real challenge is incorporating the other stages of Design Thinking without making the game too long or boring. A solution to this would be a real game changer because it would help educators and librarians develop student/patron mental muscles over time in a safe and joyful setting.

In conclusion, I have had the most rewarding summer. Personally, I managed to step out of my corporate comfort zone and meet some amazing and very real people. Now, I have a design thinking problem of my own: make design thinking second nature to everyone.

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