Tie And Jeans

Living Off the Big Board

I’m sitting on a train to New York and the World Maker Faire. My bag has little more than socks and a laptop. No projects, which means no components, and no specialized tools. This is a sensible and obvious plan; what am I going to build during my “free time” at MakerFaire, but it’s another trigger for my perpetual fraud detection anxiety.

What happens if Nerdland Security searches my bag? Will they let me through the border without a multimeter?

When I left CMK this summer, I made some bold justifications for my lack of a completed project. What I built at CMK was a framework for a new holistic professional identity as teacher/maker, rather than just a teacher with hobbies. Spoken in the moment, the sentiment felt like empty gift bag, stuffed nothing but hope and bravado. On the train this evening, that identity feels natural and inspiring, and dramatically reframes the work ahead.

I’ve  worked on obvious, concrete tasks that fill up that empty bag.  Keep in touch with this incredible cohort of educators. Suddenly, the bag isn’t quite so empty. Personally invest in the local maker community, and don’t worry about coming off as lousy engineer or as teacher scouting a field trip. I am simultaneously both those things and more. That overlap is my strength and the heart of my craft, and improving any layer just fills out the bag. Find some local pinball mentors. Push for a dedicated makerspace in the middle school. Start a podcast. Commit to a MakerFaire or two!

I know, as a whole it reads a bit Trainspotting, but I fortunately didn’t have to experience it as a whole. This fall presented the same options and restrictions as last year, but now I had a bag called teacher/maker that wanted filling. That label/lens/framework abstracted each choice out of range of the anxiety beast. THING X might make me really uncomfortable, but is it something a teacher/maker would do? Then do it anyway.

Last week I took a teacher-heavy hour of Makers and tried to model the process of breaking down an out of reach idea into smaller attainable tasks. This turned into a different set of post-its with smaller, even menial, tasks. Change the lightbulbs. Clean the score reels. Cut a hole for the power cable.

Over the last few classes, things have started to migrate from TODO to DONE. Our done board is also our “Days Without Fire” board, a helpful tool that I recommend for any classroom or maker-space.







Until this evening, I hadn’t recognized how CMK and the lens of teacher/maker had served as my own big board. Tonight, I’m bracing for a weekend of conversations and collaboration with amazing educators, entrepreneurs and all-around super awesome folk, propelled and emboldened by my teacher/maker bad. And in the FHS Makerspace today, students booted up** and started a game of Sky-Rider for the first time.

The fact that it lacked working flippers, pop bumpers, or spinners didn’t diminish their excitement. Those aren’t impossible tasks, even if they don’t know how to approach them now. Those are just the problems they’ll have to deal with next.

That’s a Maker mindset through and through and, as a teacher/maker, it absolutely thrills me.
** I’m sorry EM fans! “Powered up and completed the pre-game reset sequence” is accurate but far less useful.


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3 thoughts on “Living Off the Big Board

  1. First, thanks for all of the tweets from Maker Faire NYC. Second, if “Those aren’t impossible tasks, even if they don’t know how to approach them now. Those are just the problems they’ll have to deal with next.” isn’t a sentiment for life, I don’t know what is.

    • tieandjeans on said:

      I hope it’s something that they can carry, even if they can’t articulate it yet. But isn’t that our story through all of middle school?

  2. Pingback: Intro to Makers: Communication Challenge « Tie And Jeans

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