The Realization That One Blog Can’t Hold Everything You Need

704351_10200216788126467_1826007249_oRegistration for this summer is up, the craziness is pretty much over, and now we play the waiting game. Again. I’m stuck looking at this screen and just waiting. Waiting for those slots to fill. I could spend more time putting up the events and classes on other sites and promoting, and I plan to, but it all ends up with me doing the same thing. Waiting and staring at this screen.

I realized that with all the subjects I want to cover, and all the projects and things we (AHAkids) are working on and want to share with the world, I cannot contain them here. The point of this blog was to share what it is like to be part of a hackerspace, and I will continue to do that when I can. I also cannot put all of that information on the All Hands Active website, as information and pages can too easily disappear  as I’ve experienced with so many people having access to it. I also don’t want it to be even more confusing to newcomers to be more active in the group. I want involvement to be a smooth and welcoming transition, not one that is overwhelming.

My solution is simple. Start yet another blog…

And that is one of the issues with the technology we have now, isn’t it? Sharing a life experience and everything going on in it isn’t simple. People need something simple to be able to comprehend the immense efforts of another person. Yes you can put tags and catagories, but that’s just another barrier people need to break down to get to the nitty gritty. I don’t want to subject someone to the craziness of what we had to go through with taking down The Cube and putting workstations in if all they want to know about is the strides we’re making in educational gaming experiences. I don’t want to go on about the kid’s Arduino projects if someone reading wants to know what it’s like running a simple hackerspace. I don’t want to turn someone off of, what I think, is a valuable experience of the hardships and celebrations of being part of a hacker/maker community, if the information doesn’t apply to them.

It’s easier to just start another project.


Looking more into the future than I’m used to

As February approaches, the deadline to finalize summer camp awesomeness creeps up on me and the small crew I’ve assembled. I think we’re going an interesting route this year and I can’t wait to see what happens. We have 5 different classes planning and are in the early stages of development. We’re starting in a weird way, at least I think it is because I have no idea what I’m doing, but I think by starting with the “Why” we can proceed to plan the “How” and “What.”

We seem to already have quite the interest from the A2geeks community, as well as a few people already chiming in about participating in our workforce.

This is super intimidating to me, personally, as I am completely not used to solidly planning multiple weeks of my life half a year before it happens. If you look at the person I was 2 or 3 years ago, you would say I was unreliable, inflexible, and hard to even get out of bed. Now I am constantly inspired, not by famous strangers whose accomplishments are the tales of legend, but by my own peers, who I have been angry with, cried with, and pointed out each others flaws with.

Of course there is also the uncertainty of not knowing what the hell I’m doing. I would like to think I have the problem solving, conflict resolving, and logic skills needed to figure out and accomplish anything I wanted, much like any person could. I do not claim to have anything more than another, but I have what a lot of the people I don’t know do. I have purpose. I have a role to play that is larger than myself. I know what I am to do, and I don’t have the option of giving up. Failure is quite literally not an option, because there is nothing else in this world that I want more.

Happy Hacks-Giving!

Part of being a hackerspace that is located right off of a major college campus includes being almost completely quiet during the holidays. Everyone is out of town visiting family, leaving only the townies and solitude-loving members of our community to populate the space. As one of these kinds of people, I can imagine the space looks a lot like two or three people gaming for the entire day and maybe one or two doing their normal projects and Maker awesomeness.

For the first time since I have had my hackerspace family, I am away from them for the holidays. My partner and myself are currently in the mountains with my family, where wildlife in the backyard is no big deal and there are no stop signs on the streets in the nearest town. This is the opposite of city life, and makes me wonder where the parallels lie.

Not only did we simply join together as friends and family and enjoy a delicious meal and tell stories, but we held a pie competition where the winner got to launch the losing pie from a make-shift catapult made from rope and tension between two trees. A few hours were spent trying to make a simple version of a ballista, but all attempts to make it usable were unsuccessful. With a creative mind, those few hours and a failed project were replaced by 10 minutes and some rope.

The Maker Revolution is an interesting concept to me. It promotes people programming, hacking, and learning to do more with technology and resources around them to advance their own lives and help their community. The other side of it is a return to the times of long ago, when we made our own clothes, grew our own food, and built our own homes. It’s nice to think that I’m part of something new and exciting, but in all reality, it’s a weird looking Tron-Garden hybrid. We never really stopped doing these things, but at some point, they became so much of an inconvenience to do ourselves, so we pay a gigantic corporate stranger to do it for us. 

I get it, we don’t have enough time anymore. We have jobs to be at, places to drive to, and show to watch. My question is, why can’t people have more productive hobbies? 

Arduino on rye please

So here I am, at the Electronics Lunch workshop on the U of M campus, about to mess with some Ardiuno. Upon my arrival and introduction, the prospect of working together and doing workshops was made clear that it should be pursued. I told Connor about how we’re working on after school programs and doing a lot of outreach with other organizations, and apparently he wants us to run some workshops down here on campus.

It’s becoming more clear to me that there are quite a few places around Ann Arbor that want to work with us, and not many people who know exactly what we can offer. I now know why Xander was always talking about how we should go out in the community and talk to people. I may have more thoughts on this later, but just had to get the thought out.

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The Massive Potential of Chaos

When conversing about the Kickstarter project we are trying to start, a quandary occurred to me. The project is for supplies that would make us, as an organization, more mobile. While we are still small and growing, the question came up in this conversation of why we should focus on being more mobile, and not put those efforts into expansion.

After questioning myself rather thoroughly, here is the conclusion I came to. Hackerspaces as a whole are still a vague and abstract idea. There’s a few spaces that have been around for decades, but the maker revolution hasn’t really taken off before just a couple of years ago. Most have come to the conclusion that they are spaces where people colaborate, share ideas, and make stuff. Some specialize in software, some make giant robots. Some places have more sewing machines than laptops, and they all agree that there should be classes taught my members of their community.

Apparently, All Hands Active’s reputation is being the “hackerspace with all the kids.” In all reality, we rarely have children down in our own workshop, but probably have gained this reputation through our work with Bright Futures and other such organizations. Only this year did we start teaching our own classes and utilizing the space we have. To me, it makes total sense to just give in to this proposed image and just go with it, develop curriculum, and teach ALL the kids, which is what we’re doing. I guess this is what we’ve interpreted what a hackerspace means from the abstract Maker/Hacker idea that AHA is formed around.

Another thing that made me panic a little bit was the fact that working on this Kickstarter project would mean we would make this effort for outreach. The question was a good one, why not use the money, time, and effort expanding the space. The conclusion I came to was that we haven’t quite outgrown our space. We’re very near that, but not there yet. Ann Arbor is a very tight-knit community, and a large part of our community still doesn’t know we exist. I think we need to do things that make us vital to our community, thus making us irreplaceable. A few of us, myself included, already believe we are invaluable to the spirit of our city, but the reality of everything is that we need outreach more than expansion.

And so after logic has made sense and sorted all of the abstract thoughts into a plan of action, this weekend’s project will be to finish the Kickstarter project. My mind figured, my focus renewed, I know we are doing the right thing.

Pizza Dot Awesome

When Eli and I arrived at the AHA on friday for his 3D modeling lessons, some of the Digital Ops employees had gone in on a pizza and invited us to partake. Of course we did, because everyone loves pizza. The best part of this mundane, yet awesome consumption was that the best idea I’ve have all week came from this boring event.

I had planned on the lesson being a recap of everything we’ve done, with the assignment at the end of the class being incorperating all the buttons and options into whatever shape he wanted to make. I’m a firm believer in creative freedom and love to just let students go and invent whatever they want to. There are some problems in this occasionally, and that is that sometimes the amount of options and lack of direction is overwhelming and nothing ends up being produced. So I devised something basic that could incorporate everything we’ve learned thus far.  This worked better than planned, because his assignment was to make a pizza… in 3D.

First we explained how we would make one of the peices, but had to fit all together. We thought the best way to handle this was to make the basic shape of the crust, removing all other pieces besides one slice. We then worked with all the kinds of shapes and commands he’s learned thus far, comparing the real world pizza to the digital one. We added little circles for pepperoni, made a slightly risen crust by creating a curved line and making that into another shape, and finishing with adding some color.

After finishing the single peice, we then copied it and made the other peices, but rotating is weird in the almost any computer program, and is hard to get procise. To be accurate, one has to input how many degrees one would like the object to turn. This was the most awesome part to me. We taught a 10 year old angles. I don’t even remember learning that until the end of middle school or beginning of high school.

At the end of the class, Josh and I determined that Eli would certainly have creative freedom, but throughout the course, we would occasionally go back to the created pizza and add more and more features, all of curious how realistic we could get that pizza looking in 12 weeks.

Why Do We Fall?

photo copy-written by Batman awesomeness

Turns out we will not have as many students as anticipated, which I could easily take as a personal defeat. After the long talk Josh and I had about what we should do next, for approximately two hours, I did. Then something clicked and I realized that this is still freaking amazing. We can focus on each student much more and make sure they learn as much as they can and have as much fun as possible. The only way this is a defeat is if no one learns anything, which is near impossible.

I remember when I went to high school, which was an “at-risk” alternative school, the class size was very small. In normal high schools, the class capacity was somewhere around 32. There were never more than fifteen or sixteen student in any given classroom where I went, and only sixty to seventy students in the whole school. Due to this small student population, the five amazing teachers that taught us demon-spawn, had a much closer relationship with every single student. They got to know everyone’s quirks, what did and didn’t work, and how to approach situations as they arose in a personal way. We also got to know their flaws, and more than once had I witnessed a few students push their buttons and try to get the teachers to snap, but that comes with the territory doesn’t it?

I’m not saying I’m as amazing as the one’s who taught, disciplined, and counseled me through some of the hardest years of my life, but you gotta start somewhere don’t you? I’m very excited and grateful for this opportunity that the world has given me and my organization. My hope is that the next semester will be bigger, better, and way more awesome.

Human Test Subject: 371

It’s only a few weeks until the after school programs start. I cannot seize to express how excited and petrified I am. I’ve determined that I will be doing an Ignite Ann Arbor talk about us hacking education, not for promotional purposes, but I just want people to know that there is a place that promotes DIY everything. Literally. We don’t how to properly do research, and so we’ve set up a day to have people just come in and play video games under the pretense that we will be watching them and asking them questions after. I don’t think any of us have made a curriculum for anything until 4 months ago, now we are learning how to ace that. We don’t know how to teach 3D modeling formally, but we’re gonna learn real quick.

I love the people I’m working alongside. Josh (far right in picture) is looked at as a leader around here, and his organizational and communication skills are that to be admired. Ivan (center in picture) is smart and enthusiastic, and eager to learn himself. This makes him open to constructive criticism, which I love.

My cousin is gracious enough to let her son be our guinea pig and have us test out our curriculum out on.  Last week, while we were having our weekly meal together, he asked how much video games he would be playing. I laughed and made a deal with him, stating that as long as he made something new every week, he could play video games with the rest of the time we had with him. Yesterday he came in for our first class with him, which he had been excited about for the whole week from what I hear, and we started sorting how how we should teach the 3D printing class. We got him on a computer and Ivan ran with it with few interruptions from Josh and myself. He did really well, and we ended up figuring out exactly how we should run the class. It worked better than I had ever hoped.

It’s amazing how that ends up happening sometimes. It happened during the summer camp, and I can’t be more appreciative that we have a young mind to test what we have set up, because I have a sneaking suspicion that we would have ended up throwing out our whole plans during the first week of classes. We’re learning and adapting to what’s needed, and I can trust that we will do so in a fashion that will ensure that makes sure the kids are the first priority. I am truly grateful for everything and everyone involved.

Goodbyes and New Starts

Tonight is the night we officially say goodbye to one of our most contributing members of our little community, and wish him well on his journey. Xander is one of the founders of AHA, been a board member for a long time, and has gotten the word out to so many people. A lot of us can thank him for bringing us down here and getting us excited to be part of whatever we’re doing.

As a close friend of mine, the goodbye is bittersweet. Of course I am glad he’s moving on with his life and trying to do bigger and better things. I know he would be embarrassed for me to say it, and especially publicly, but he was the best kind of inspiration I think a lot of us could have ever hoped to have. The friendship we had/have isn’t one of who was most experienced or more educated. He isn’t that much older than me, so I never felt as if he was talking down to me. It’s something I never had. There have been very few people in my life that made me as motivated, ambitious, and tested as he has.

I think about how everyone has to have someone in their life like this, and then I remember how odd he is and how long I didn’t, and I start to think that maybe not everyone is blessed with this kind of person in their life. It makes me grateful.

…and Xander, I know you’re going to read this and go “OMG, why does everyone look up to me, I’m not that awesome!” My response is, again, take it as a compliment. So few of us get such commendation. Do something with it, you jerk 🙂

Hacking Education? Hacking Education.

In the past few months, when I’ve talked with people who have expressed interest in helping me start a new chapter for All Hands Active, I’ve thought about the criteria needed from my prospective fellow instructors. To me, there are only a few things every educator without collegiate knowledge, or as I like to call them, “Education Hackers,” needs to know to teach a class properly, regardless of subject matter.

  1. There are going to be conflicts. Not everyone gets along, and not everyone will agree with you. Your goal is not to get all the students to like you, it is to educate them and the rest of the student body. You need to determine right off the bat whether a student responds well to positive or negative reinforcement, compare to the rest of the class, and work accordingly. You may need to be the bad guy, and that’s okay. Being an authority figure means not everyone is going to like you all the time. What matters is the respect that comes out of conflict resolution.
  2. Compassion is not a resource. You can’t look at your own patience or understanding as something that can run low or run out. You aren’t teaching kids for your own recreation or as a way to make money, you are there for them. This means you are a constant reminder of an unmovable force, and a representative of what a strong support structure of a human being you are supposed to be. If you grow impatient, so will the students. A genuine smile and constant enthusiasm is contagious.
  3. Communication will advance progress exponentially. There was a picture I saw years ago of a flowchart displaying the relationship between teachers, students, and parents. You cannot have success in a child without effort from all three. Not only can knowledge be gained from this interaction, but wisdom, motivation, ambition, and deepening the value and understanding of social skills. I am still talking to one of the parents from the summer camp we had, and every theory I’ve had about how I should be as an educator I have discussed with her. She approves it or gives advice, and I implement it. I look at this interaction as the most valuable resource I have the honor to use, and it also gives the parents another perspective as to how their child behaves outside of the home.
  4. Learn to use your instincts as a tool. If you sense a child (or even a fellow instructor) is struggling, even if they don’t admit it when asked, help them. If someone is going for a power grab at the expense of the rest of the class, act like the alpha wolf and bring them back down to the correct level. I’m not saying act like a barbarian and display archaic displays of intimidation, nor am I saying fight fire with fire and embarrass the child, which results in either shame or anger, but use your instincts to find symptoms of an issue that need to be addressed.

I’m not going to be so pompous as to think that I’m completely correct in any of these theories, because that’s the thing about hacking education as a process, isn’t it? You need to adjust to what’s needed by each student or class. You create a theory or a process, apply it to real life situations, take a peek under the microscope, and record your findings. That’s why I really like teaching on a hackerspace level. I have no formal training on educating those who are of a later generation than myself, but I believe I have the skills needed to do the most important thing, which is to just go for it and adapt as needed.