When I arrived at the Tech Museum of Innovation for the summer, the Makerspace program was in beta mode and free to mold it into anything we wanted. For Kenny and I, this was a great opportunity to combine our talents and formulate something amazing. Combining our creative forces, Kenny as an electronics tinkerer and I as an aspiring paper engineer and illustrator hybrid, we tackled the challenge of developing a brand new program every week.
However, it became much more than that. For guests and for us as Makers, the most valuable experience of Makerspace was not only the physical works produced, but the mental and emotional ability to make too.
Makers create because we just do! As Makers, you develop the ability to adapt what you learn into other Maker forms to enhance your work. Learning new things, such as inflating paper balloons or the technology of the MaKey MaKey can open eyes to new solutions because you view things from another line of thinking. And that encourages new adventures for the young Maker. So when parents told us they wanted to get their kids involved in hands-on learning activities, but were not sure where to start, we developed a wide range of diverse programs to help them get started: from the high-tech MaKey CollaboThon interactive game to the low-tech Paper Engineering design challenge for the full Maker experience.
Kenny and I designed each Makerspace program to have an infectious, creative environment while we provide materials with a single prompt:
“Save the ice cream cone from DOOM with paper!” – Paper Engineering
“We designed this awesome Whack-a-Robot game, but we forgot our switches at home! Can you help us build one?” – Switch it Up!
But no matter what the program’s challenge, the true goal of Makerspace … is to spark creative grit! Creative grit is the nature of whimsicality, improvisation, and ambition that embraces the spirit of innovation. Creative grit is what keeps people trying and trying again, and in the long run, guests have fun despite the possibility of failure.
Makerspace allowed guests to take their creations to the testing stage and there it became like a spectacle where everyone could watch and cheer each other on! Whether their creation was crushed by all 3 paper weights at once or their Unique Flying Object (UFO!) kept flying right out of the wind tube, the idea of failure was desensitized, and we encouraged our younger guests to iterate and reiterate on their designs for their next attempt. As each week passed, the time guests kept making increased until it was common for them to stay for the entire 2-hour period. And sometimes, we would keep Makerspace running longer so everyone was able to have the full experience. Families would work altogether or each make their own projects!
We didn’t realize until the end, but creative grit completely remodeled the way we think, how we create, how we collaborate together with completely different interests, and most importantly, helped us build creative confidence in ourselves as Makers. It also embed a sense of humor and whimsicality through our creations! We learned how to formulate weekly programs through a series of challenges: rapidily prototyping/developing a brand new program a week, designing programs for the museum floor on a drop-in basis, creating an experience for short and long-term stay guests, facilitating over 200 guests some Makerspace days (and other days over 1000 guests for the Tech Member's Party), and teaching multiple summer camp groups at once … it wasn’t easy, but we did it!
I started illustrating whiteboards for the programs originally to help introduce the Maker activity if everyone facilitating was too busy to explain to incoming guests, but the whiteboards began to create a stunning presence for the Makerspace program. The whiteboards evolved from just a simple how-to illustration into narratives of the Makerspace programs! They added a colorful design element and helped create a fun and playful physical space for making. It was like a party in a classroom, but with open making! I even made a whiteboard as a background for the Maker Corps Development Camp and it added a whote new element of fun!
Working with Kenny at The Tech helped me see how I can rapidly prototype, delegate duties, take major risks, and learn how to combine our individual expertise to make an awesome summer for everyone! The Makerspace program was a great stepping stone for me, because it was a chance to find myself as a person. I graduated from University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my life. I picked my university specifically because the program I did embodied interdisciplinary thinking and allowed me to discover so many fields: illustration, paper engineering, environmental science, botany, and so much more. Makerspace inspired me to create personal projects pulling from my knowledge in all these different fields, both during and outside the actual program days.
And sometimes, we find the best inspiration from our youngest makers and how they take the project to the next level. On the left, two young makers making an inflatable in Paper Engineering and on the right, me making a paper inflatable for Wild, Wild Tech!
My plans now include staying in the Bay Area and continuing on longer as a Maker Corps Mentor, developing Maker-based programs, wrapping up documentation of our Makerspace programs, and continuing on my personal journey to combine paper engineering techniques to teach math and science.