Tie And Jeans

Makerspace Busywork

My daily challenge in our Makers group is cajoling 8th graders to face complexity honestly.

It took me a few years of teaching to realize that kids would fake “a-ha!” moments for me in class, either to force some confirmation response from me or just to end the conversation. In Makers, these are vocalized as “I know what’s wrong!” and often enacted by a grab for the soldering iron. Because when you’re actively using tools, then you don’t have to acknowledge the problems in your thinking and the flaws in your design. Just do stuff for a while, and then if it doesn’t work, you can shrug it off as a good try.  That mess of wire and PCB is just one of those “productive failures” Mr. Carle seems to love.


Except it’s not. It’s a stall and a con.


To be productive, you need to leave the “whoops!” moment with something new, some confirmation or new bit of knowledge that you lacked at the outset. When kids reach for tools out of frustration, they’re not bringing in a plan or hypothesis to test. They’re killing time, staging a performance for the class or themselves.

I want to temper the frustration and negativity that I hear in my own words but can’t seem to excise in-line. I go through that same process. I have shame/frustration built things. I ruined an Adafruit Game of Life kit one New Years Eve by smashing, and soldering, the DIP socket into place one hole off.  All I learned from that is “don’t solder after midnight on New Years.”

For the last year, I’ve focused much of maker-teacher energy on that moment after the last part is soldered into place and it doesn’t work. Let’s trace the circuit, let’s look for bad joints.  Let’s talk about how power is moving through this circuit.  Let’s look at the range of motion on this joint, let’s go back and compare this to to your original drawing. But I was focusing on the post-mortem out of my own skittishness, afraid that a corral of teacher-rules would just blunt enthusiasm.

But when the driving force behind the initial build isn’t passion or personal enthusiasm, when they’re just looking for *something* to do in the moment, then the post-mortem is too late.  They’ve been disconnected from the project throughout and haven’t paid enough attention in the build to allow for meaningful reflection.

In the weeks after MakerFaire Norfolk, I’ve pushed more on the preamble, pushed students to find a solid place from which to begin. It’s in this process, in what I sometimes fear is still arbitrary “process” requirements, that I’ve clearly seen their unwillingness to face a complex task. The call for “more MintyBoosts!” is never stronger than when the reed-switch falls off the longboard.

Maybe it’s different for other ages or working on different timescales. 50 minutes! You return to vex me yet again!


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2 thoughts on “Makerspace Busywork

  1. Pingback: Authentic Motivation and the Redo « Tie And Jeans

  2. Had to laugh at the fake a-ha moment. That bothers me so, because I know exactly when they’re doing it to get me to leave them alone.

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