Tie And Jeans


I’ve been thinking more about the topic / grade divide I ended on yesterday. Like almost all my conundrums, the actual practical answer will probably hinge on scheduling or sectioning details, of which I know nothing and have even less control. But, in the meantime, it’s interesting to think through.

Yesterday I was thinking about Jeff’s cosplay group and mentally mixing it with my daughter’s sustained interest in 18″ doll photography and stop motion (you can follow her work on Insta and Youtube). Somewhere in that intersection is a course that reaches out to kids fascinated with costuming and prop building, looking to combine art and photography with the fantastic. There’s not a tool in any makerspace that couldn’t be pressed into service of those goals.

Let’s posit the existence of three unique, catchy frames for makerspace elective/exploratory that might appeal to disparate (if not mutually exclusive) sections of a student population. Jodi, always smarter than I am, suggested Craft, Build, Tinker as placeholder category names. The names aren’t meant to exclude any activity, but as a signpost for fascinating, passionate kids.

For me, the most important thing is to avoid signalling to giant pre-existing social groups that this new space is “for them.” In an earlier interview this season, a Head of School explained that my (potential) makerspace/programming electives would be for “those 6 guys, you know, who just want to play video games.” That’s one way to make sure that no one else becomes invested in a program.


I don’t want to avoid programming, games or robotics. I just want to avoid making the initial makerspace electives filled with the people who automatically choose context-free programming, games or robots out of any field.


If I had the option, what would be different about offering each of the three topics to a different grade level each term as opposed to offering the same topic to the different grade ranges?


Assumption: There are probably 2-3 distinct grade level schedules in a 6-12 school. So offering Craft in a given block means offering it to 6-8 or 9-10 or some other partitioned subgroup.


There’s an obvious teacher benefit to only offering one topic at a time. This isn’t the same as only having “one prep” in a single subject, but it’s about as close as a makerspace can get. Project storage for three classes is still space intensive, but you can hope that most projects will fit within a reasonable range. While different kids will explore different tool and material paths in their projects, you can build similar introduction or training tasks grounded in a particular context.


Providing similar prompts to 11 / 13 /17 year old students at the same time is a great way to get feedback on their viability. Every week would be a new set of focused “and then…” challenges. My hope would be that if a particular project shot off in an unexpected direction that needed new tools or materials (“I need a 2x1m foam block to carve a *buster sword*”) that supporting that project would inspire new ideas and funnel more interest towards the new investment. Most of all, running classes for multiple age groups would give me a broader introduction to the student community. My first year at CI, I worked with single grade levels for 6 week chunks. It was really, really hard to get a sense of the school with that schedule.


What are the downsides? Trimester are long and semesters are longer. Just as I don’t want a makerspace to be “the robotics room,” I don’t think being “the prop/costume” room is significantly better.  If I bet wrong on the topic for the first term, the space could be flooded or become a ghost town. If the first topic is a roaring success, I’ll need to find someway to keep those students engaged and connected with the space outside of the elective/exploratory structure.


Running multiple topics hedges against some of these outcomes. Whatever reputation the space might develop, it won’t just be as home for a singular activity. I could still spread out offerings across the age groups in a given term, and then cycle topics through each age group (trimester offerings of Craft / Build / Tinker for one group, Build / Tinker / Craft for the next).


I worry about generating 3 sets of compelling, context-rich prompts across three domains during the first run, and of making sure that all three tracks are equally well resourced. I worry about having to do major tool shifts during the day. Having a Build class using woodworking and welding equipment followed by a Craft class using the paint stations and sewing machines could put a strain on the space (and me). I don’t know if it would be any easier to retain kid interest in the “off season,” since the offerings in their particular grade range would still be A then B then C.


I don’t imagine that I’ll actually have the flexibility to choose between these two models next fall. But I think I have a better idea of how to make either reality a success.


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One thought on “rebuilding

  1. This makes sense to me, a lot. In the DesignLab, it helped to set those priorities early, like “tools make tools make things”: that left room for a class that started in carpentry, making a drop spindle and a pair of knitting needles, and ended with learning to spin wool into yarn, and turn yarn into a scarf. Similarly, building a simple tablet loom and learning some card-weaving was a way to combine carpentry with weaving with the idea of algorithms (follow this pattern to produce this piece of weaving, this other pattern to produce this other design).

    Another possibility is to build shorter (after-school) programs around game design. When we ran ten workshops in a row, the goal was to build ten traditional board-games from around the world using different materials and tools each time: mancala, Tablut/Hnefentafl, chess, draughts/checkers, Go, a deck of cards, Tiger and Hunter (it has a Thai name, I forget it), parchesi, backgammon… and … I’m missing one, can’t remember. The point of these is that each game is the product of a culture, and requires certain kinds of mentalities to ‘win’: Tablut, a viking game, emphasizes loyalty in asymmetric warfare; chess teaches the challenges of matched forces in symmetrical warfare; mancala teaches generosity. Card and dice games teach about probability, backgammon and parchesi both teach different kinds of risk-assessment.

    In other words, I think we have to think about the ‘hidden curriculum’ in mathematics and the humanities, in MakerSpaces, as much as we think about the nominally ‘official’ skills and methodologies. It makes for harder work in pre-planning, but if WE know why we’re teaching a set of skills that, should come across in the workshop to some degree.

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