As part of MVIFI’s hosting work, we’ve created an evening of fellowship and fun for people to learn more about maker-centered learning environments. The goals of the evening involve helping participants recognize, through direct experience, (1) that deep minds-on learning is connected to hands-on learning; (2) that new tools and materials for creation are more accessible than ever before; (3) that while learning to create something is an individual endeavor, it is often a community of learners that enable/enhance/enrich that learning for the individual; (4) to make something, of course! (See text block for more on these goals.)
The genesis of the idea for “maker nights,” as they were first called, was to create a structure that would allow MVPS faculty to see the degree to which our design program had evolved, and more importantly, to experience it firsthand. The creation of new spaces on campus, equipped with different tools and different materials, allowed for learning opportunities that weren’t add-ons to the school’s programs, but in fact core to the school’s mission. The decision to have evening events was partially adopted from the workshop nights often held by community makerspaces, such as Decatur Makers.
Much to our benefit, the first MVIFI Dine and Design evening was prototyped while Parker Thomas, a consultant on school and community makerspaces, was visiting us as part of a precursor to some of the work he would be doing with MVPS. He asked a beautifully simple question at the start of our event that has chimed loudly in my mind at every prototyping moment since then: “What are you testing?” Admittedly, that is probably an underwhelming question after reading the build up to it… but the focusing nature of that clarifying question helps solidify the purpose of what you are prototyping, while simultaneously forcing you to explicitly seek observable data that informs you of the results of your test. (KISS anyone?)
The hypothesis we sought to test during that first event was pretty basic – the format of the evening itself:
- Was the structure of the event correct?
- Did we pick out a good project to make?
- Was the venue correct?
- Did we have the right number of people there to facilitate and participate?
- Was the right amount of time allotted for the night?
For all intents and purposes, we did pretty well regarding the testing of our hypothesis on the format of the evening.
We were able to step back and reflect on the various format components to determine if we had made the right choices, and in all but one case you could say that we had. That lone exception was in regards to the last bullet point: time. On that first night prototype evening, and the second one that we held, we could have gone longer. And it wasn’t because we poorly executed our plan, it was because the participants just weren’t ready to stop making! Honestly, a good problem to have.
But these initial confirmations of our design for the evening don’t mean that we aren’t thinking about how to improve future events. Some other questions that we are asking include:
- How often should the events be held?
- Does telling people what we are making, or tinkering with, encourage or discourage people from attending?
- Would an unknown project encourage deeper reflection on the learning that took place?
- Do known or unknown projects allow for more empathetic connections between teachers and their students?
- How might we emphasize BOTH process and product?
- Do we have to have a finished project at the end of the night?
- How can we also model the growth of learning dispositions that take place over time in maker-centered learning environments?
- How might we encourage a diverse group of makers to attend the evenings – diverse in the sense of students, teachers, administrators, spouses, parents?
- Conversely, is there a need to bring together homogeneous groups of learners?
What other questions should we be considering for these events? What opportunities have we missed? What opportunities should we be creating?
Check back for more updates on these nights under the tag Maker: Dine and Design. You can also read more about the first evening, and see more pictures, in the MVIFI post, Leading Change Demands Living the Change… and Building Agency.
In the meantime, if you came here looking for a “How-To” guide on putting together one of these evenings, you should look for it on Instructables… obviously! It’s “the place that lets you explore, document, and share your DIY creations.” MVIFI’s xlr8 Makers: Dine and Design events are exactly that! #MVIFIshares