Week’s end

The first week of the spring semester is over, and there’s lots to think about.  My senior seminar class started up Tuesday, and I think it went ok.  We spent Tuesday-Thursday (we don’t meet on Fridays) immersed in a couple of “design sprints” (thanks to Andrew for that phrase, which I had never heard before), a short discussion on what it is to be a maker, and the set up of class blogs.

The design sprints included a Daily Create-inspired video project.  The prompt:

Today is the first day of your last semester at Collegiate.  Tell us what will make this semester radically different.

Our second design sprint involved the making of sketchbook/notebooks using cardstock, paper, sharpies, brass binders, embroidery thread, and a host of other supplies.

Also, I’m not quite sure how the exercise went over.   Everyone participated, and without an tutorials they all created something.  My favorite was “Notebookception”–a notebook within a notebook within a notebook.  I’ll have to do some debriefing Monday.

The deeper I get in this maker/hacker rabbit hole, the more problematic my ignorance of electronics becomes, so I’m sitting in on Physics II: Electronics.  Day one opened with a review of some Physics I notes.  Personal electronics labs similar to the one below were handed out.

Radio Shack electronics learning lab

Radio Shack electronics learning lab

The week ended with finding the resistance of circuits and the current and voltage across each resistance.  I even have a homework assignment.

physics homework

physics homework

Participating in this class has been an especially interesting experience.  First, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such unbridled enthusiasm in a classroom.  The majority (if not all) of the students are seniors.  They have a special interest in the topic.  They want to be in that class.  I think that accounts for a lot of the enthusiasm.

Secondly, some of the class is lecture, but the format is really more of a work-at-your-own-pace/independent learning environment.  Although the class is confined to the upper school schedule, the students have some flexibility within that 45-90 minute period (the length of class periods vary depending on what day of the week it is).

I’m looking forward to watching how students teach each other as they embark on their own projects.

One of the best things I heard was, “Mr. P____, can you please tell my coach that I can’t make it to practice this afternoon, because I have to work on this [labs in his electronics kit].”

Ok.  I have homework to do.


Why do we make?

I don’t have a definitive answer to that question.  Maybe the answer lies in Shop Class as Soul Craft or some article I could find in JSTOR.  

I’m going to go out on a limb and give the non-committal answer that people make for different reasons:  necessity, compulsion to make something out of nothing, the challenge of the puzzle, curiosity, and maybe even the satisfaction of seeing a successful finished project after hours/days/weeks/months/years of invested time.

I don’t even know what I make these days.  I knitted in the past.  Dabbled in quilt-making.  I spent a summer during my undergrad years in the dorms during summer school.  One of my hall mates had a sock monkey from his youth (this was before Paul Frank, thanks).  I decided then that I had to have one too.  A lot of time was spent making sock monkeys and weird sock creatures for friends and family.

Weird sock creatures
Weird sock creatures

Having a kid has cut into my time to work on fiber/textile projects.  I dread (am intimidated by) home improvement projects.  Yet I find them to be really interesting once I’m immersed.  I spent a day one summer under the house rerouting a water line.  It made for a pretty interesting day once I got past the camel crickets in the crawl space.  What’s the most fascinating to me about these home improvement projects?  It’s a peek into how the guts of a house work.  It’s interesting to see how things are put together.  That’s really something I never cared about until I bought a house.

camel cricket
photo credit: lobstar28 via photopin cc

Lately I’ve been interested in projects that seem doable mainly because I don’t know enough about the topic at hand to feel otherwise.  An example?  Arduino.  Raspberry Pi.  WordPress.  Google searches and Youtube videos bring answers or at least more breadcrumbs.  The internet keeps the trail warm I guess.  At this early point I don’t even care if a finished project results.  It’s just cool to have something to sink my brain into.

Getting ready for Tuesday

For a few months I’ve been thinking about zipping over to the Wal-mart and picking up 16 or 17 of these pocket-sized composition notebooks for the kids enrolled in the DIY/Maker seminar.  Then I’d have to ask myself, “Why buy these notebooks when the students can make their own?”

Notebook.  Fun size!

Notebook. Fun size!

Recently Jared Nichol posted a link to Studio H, which looks like a pretty inspired maker program in California (by way of Bertie, NC).  The kids open their semester making sketchbooks.


And so it will be done in Richmond, VA next week.

I decided to whip up a quick prototype of a sketchbook before a rare chance to have lunch with my husband and before receiving a call to pick up a sick Jobot from school.

poor kid

poor kid

I used some cardboard for the front and back covers, which is too thick and rigid for my taste.



I folded up some paper…

paperpunched some holes…

holesmade an attempt to stitch the covers and paper together*…

bindingand then wrapped it all up with some duct tape.

finalopenfinalIt’s serviceable.  I’ll use a heavy cardstock or a thinner cardboard next time.  I’ll also use less embroidery thread to avoid the rat’s nest.

I did like the running stitch that I ended up doing.

MSruch1357350419So that’s that.  The new semester starts Tuesday.  I have some vague idea of where we’re going the first few weeks.  After that it gets kind of foggy.  I’m trusting that the kids will help guide our path.  After all, the direction we take depends on what they are interested in doing and what they want to make.

And then the car just stopped

This is my car.

the family car

the family car

It’s a Toyota Echo, and I love her.  I bought this car almost 10 years ago.  She’s been paid for for almost that long.

I thought I lost her Wednesday after some odd smells and wonkiness that surely suggested a shot transmission.  Luckily my diagnosis was wrong.  The competent folks at the Village Exxon brought the Echo back to life for a mere $640.

One of my top 5 regrets in life is not taking auto mechanics my senior year of high school.  I had space in my schedule to fill.  I couldn’t fill it with a second study hall.  I was so close to enrolling in the auto mechanics class.  Instead I opted for keyboarding.  Taught by my mom.

I already knew how to type.  I already knew how to use word processing software.

Sometimes–usually when there’s vehicle maintenance or repair on the horizon–I think about why I chose not to take that auto mechanics class.

It was the fear.  What if I’m not good at it?

Same as it ever was, right?

So here’s my resolution: the next time I make excuses for sticking to the easy and familiar path, I’m going to call myself on it.  Ideally there will be some action too.

That’s it.  Go about your business.

The library is dead! Long live the library!

We closed the library.  Not just for winter break, but for the rest of the school year.  When it reopens, it will house a pretty awesome library program for middle school students, staff, and faculty.  The upper school community will return to school in August with a brand new academic commons.  This building will be the home to academic services, international & economic education, counseling, student activities, communications, an archives, a design lab/makerspace, a cafe, and the library.

The bones of the commons

The bones of the commons

The past couple of weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind.  Cliche, I know, but true.  We  packed while students continued to study, work, and hang out.  Though they knew we were moving out, I don’t think the students really realized what was happening until boxes piled up around them.

I heard a lot of, “This is our last week in the library.”  And “Wow!  This is really happening.”  And, “This is sad.”  I also heard (because I was asked directly by a student), “Can we write on the walls?”

What what?!

My response, “Well, probably the sheetrocked walls, because those are coming down in the renovation.  But, that’s really a question for Ms. Chamberlain [the head librarian].”  

I was confident that the answer to the question would be “No!”

The answer was yes.  And boy oh boy did the inmates run and asylum for a good hour.

kids write on the walls before the library closes.

kids write on the walls before the library closes.

And it was really kind of amazing.

more wall writing

more wall writing

I was definitely outside of my comfort zone for a while, but I love this tribute to the library–this piece of art the kids created.

It’s a fitting tribute.  It’s chaotic.  It’s a jumbled ball of thoughts and feelings from ‘tweens and teens.  These walls belong to these kids.  The library belongs to the kids.  It has since the day I arrived 7 years ago.

The library has been a hangout space, a meeting space, a study space, a club space, a research space, a reading space, a concert space, a makerspace, a makeout space (so awkward to encounter that), a place kids come to be seen, a place kids come to talk.  This kind of space is not what comes to mind when your average Joe/Jane thinks of a library.

Sometimes that’s a point of contention, but tell me what you do when the kids have no where to go?  How can one expect a teenager to be in academic mode twelve or thirteen or fourteen hours a day with no break?  I want quiet to think and work sometimes, but I also want time and a place to tinker and play and talk and work with others.

The movers from American Interfile had us moved in a little over two days.

The makerspace is packed and ready to go

The makerspace is packed and ready to go

more stuff to move out

more stuff to move out

close to empty

close to empty

We librarians now dwell in two (rather comfortable) trailers for the rest of the school year.  We may get some visitors, but those trailers sure are removed from the rest of campus, and students have been tempted with the promise of a heated, tented area on the side of the cafeteria.  Though I won’t miss picking up trash and abandoned laptops, I will miss the (awful) Friday morning Third Eye Blind sing-a-longs.  I will miss eavesdropping on conversations of kids so comfortable that they forget they’re in the library.

There’s lots to be done though.  Lots of planning for the opening of the commons.  My section of senior seminar on the DIY/Maker movement starts January 8th.  I have this feeling that the next year will be the most challenging year I’ve had in a long time.  I’m going to do my best to document and reflect on it here.

The first rule of knit club…

A couple of teachers started a knitting club for students, facult, and staff.  A reminder email went out earlier in the week.  Tuesday night I ventured into the attic to pull out some yarn that I’ve stored away for the past three years.  I dusted off some knitting needles and cast on.

It was, as they say, like riding a bike.  God love you muscle memory.

I joined the knitters during the 45-minute clubs and committees period.  Kids passed by.  Some of them exclaimed, “I used to knit!”  Some of them said, “Oh!  I want to learn how to do that.”  A couple of kids sat down and called up their knitting stories.  A grandmother was often involved.  One of the history teachers–a self-proclaimed dabbler in the fibrous arts–pulled up a seat, showed off a picture of a quilt he made during a minimester in college.

Making: bringing people together since the beginning of time.

As stories were told, I knitted for the first time since 2009.  It all came out perfect.  No stitches were dropped.  A row that was pearled rather than knitted was fixed in a couple of minutes without help from anyone or a tutorial on Youtube.

swatch of simple stockinette stitch

That feels good.

I won’t deny feeling lost or adrift as of late.  Unmoored is a word my more educated colleague used.  Somewhere along the line I decided that it would be cool to learn about Arduino and Raspberry Pi.  Yes, I’d like to know how to solder a circuit board.  In fact, I’d like to know about resistors and capacitors and 555 timers.  Mastering WordPress sounded like a good plan too.  And because I know very little to nothing about any of the aforementioned things, it all seems very doable.  That it until one sits down with an electronics manual and quickly finds that the spare hour dedicated to doing this stuff has passed, and there’s no free time anywhere in the near future to pick it up again.

I’m doing this “learning new stuff” thing wrong.

I’m hesitant to say it, but maybe the question is why do I want to learn this new stuff anyway?  Is it just curiosity?  If so, can it wait until my son is in college (or at least old enough so we can figure it out together… assuming Arduinos are where Jobot’s interests lie).  Do I think it’s worthwhile to know this stuff so that I can share it with kids at school?  Yes, definitely, but do I need to be the ‘expert?*’

There was a time when curiosity was enough.  Though curiosity without free time creates nothing but dilettantes and wishes.

* Yes.  Yes I do.

“If this conference sucks, it’s your fault.”

“If this conference sucks, it’s your fault.”  That was the proclamation issued by Wren Lanier, one of the organizers of RVA’s Bill Conference.  The conference’s tag line: “Ideas are easy. Making things is hard.”  Yes.  That sounds about right.  That’s familiar.

The past week moved too fast for me to really give much thought to Bill.  I went in without expectations.  I went in surprised that I remembered to go.  It ended up being a really good way to spend a Saturday.  There was a nice mix of people, good energy.  There’s talk of future Bill meetups, and I hope that happens.

Like most unconferences, the Bill Conference had no key note speakers, no predetermined sessions, no breakout sessions.  The folks who talked had very little (if any) preparation and pretty much waxed philosophical about what it takes to make things from movies to iOS apps to community.

(One of the conference participants talked about his involvement in the 48-hour Film Project.  This short was the submission for 2012’s event.)

Some of the themes from the day: (1) Set your ideas free (write them in a notebook or share them with others).  See what comes back in the form of feedback or help.  (2) Commit to sucking.  It takes time to get good.  Making bad things is necessary before the good things can be born.  (3)  Procrastination is usually a sign that there are no constraints in place.  Add constraints if that is what works for you.  (4) Don’t get so hung up on the preparation.  If you’re preparing too much, you’re not doing anything.

I think it was Taber Bain who recommended keeping for a week “a list of things that annoy the s**t out of you.”   After the week ends, consult the list and commit to fixing/hacking some of those annoyances.  It’s the perfect suggestion for a person who wants to do something.

Lists/notebooks/some physical or virtual manifestation of thoughts and ideas were mentioned several times throughout the day.  Writing something down, recording a voice memo, or whatever isn’t a revolutionary idea, but it’s definitely a habit I need to nurture.

photo by Brenderous (Flickr)

Thoughts and potential good ideas are easily lost in all the noise.

Wren’s assertion that a sucky conference would be the fault of those of us who paid to attend was spot on.  Unconferences are participatory.  The topics discussed are decided on by those who paid (whether in money or time or both) to come.  I briefly thought about “presenting,” but decided against it when I saw myself pacing the stage and muttering, “Uh…. um…. uh….”  My participation included: listening, thinking, and an occasional tweet.  This could be described as passive, which leads into tomorrow’s topic…

On deck….  The burden of being a “mute.”