Tie And Jeans

On The Bus – Not So Easy After All

I had lots of answers for why our 8th grade Makers group was making the trip to Mini Maker Faire in Norfolk, and none of them involved lifting heavy objects.

Overnight trips are always an extra hassle in middle school, so my answers had to be solid and compelling. I wanted them to encounter the values and personality of Maker culture directly. Since I was one of the voices who told them to distrust what they read on the Internet, I wanted to reopen the possibility that some seemingly impossible things are, in fact, real. I wanted them to have a chance to share all of their work, the successful projects and the frustrating ones, and have other voices confirm the value of both.

Our trip to Mini Maker Faire Norfolk started with a math problem. Fit this pinball machine …

through this door.


If this problem showed up in an 8th grade math textbook it would come from way higher up the Ladder of Abstraction, with labeled diagrams and a dotted hypotenuse. It would also flatten the problem down to two dimensions and remove the complications from seats, arm rests and a curved roof.

Thanks to @calcdave for the problem image!

Most importantly, solving that math problem never involves 8th grade hands and arms supporting 300 pound pinball machine.

Events like MakerFaire are a chance for students trapped in the manufactured and apparatus of schooling to encounter the reality of work. It’s hard to sound the gulf between first whisps of ideas and the solid, tangible creation of something new. Saturday morning, when we were struggling with the surprisingly unique challenge of how to wrangle the machine out, I suspected that this process might prove useful.

We ate lunch outside on the Norfolk Scope plaza on Saturday, enjoying the amazing fall weather and outdoor projects like the Centiwhirl and drive-able hammock. As I recovered from my phyrric victory over @jodikittle on the Centrifury, I overheard two students talking about the contraption. “It looks easy! It’s just a motor, two seats, two buttons with an AND statement.” “Yeah! ; But it is really BIG. ; And I don’t know how to weld.”

That comment gave me some hope that the trip to MakerFaire was doing good work. Navigating the divide between the abstracted math problem and the visceral challenge of moving a pinball machine, along with the other completed loops between idea and execution, had opened the space for some humility. I’d be thrilled to see the ragged edge of 8th grade bravado honed by knowledge that that “simple” and “easy” aren’t the same thing, and that sitting on your duff is a horrible place to make judgments about either term.

Moving heavy things isn’t a learning target for Makers. Sadly, I don’t think I’ve even prepared them for “college level” problems of moving a bookcase and queen boxspring in a Civic. But the challenge was authentic, and their solution required planning, communication, strength, and we really could have “Whooops!”-ed it at any time.

Together, the 8th graders loaded, unloaded and reloaded the body of the pinball machine. Exchausted after MakerFaire and the 4 hour trip home, we left it on on the bus Saturday night. With the help of a few other adults, I tried to move the machine off and back into the Makerspace this morning and wound up with this.

That’s what left of the playfield glass after it shattered against the semi-squishy seats of the bus. Three adults, both stronger and more headstrong, tried to rush the job and wound up deep in Whooops-ville. Score one for the Young Makers.

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3 thoughts on “On The Bus – Not So Easy After All

  1. Pingback: Saturdays Are Simple « Tie And Jeans

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