Monthly Archives: June 2012

1. 2. 4. 8. 16…

One thing I love most about being part of a hackerspace, or the maker revolution in general, is that you actually see the process of learning right in front of you. It’s not a whole bunch of students sitting in a classroom, blankly staring at the writting on the board. It’s when you have both kids and adults explain something they just learned to someone new to the group, and you hold your breath and listen to them, making sure they get everyting right, trying really hard not to finish their sentences…

And when all they need is that one word, and the whole concept comes together for both of the newly learned… it’s that AHA! moment. With the kids in the after school programs we do, high fives are commonly exchanged and that’s the moment you know something got to them. What’s even more awesome after that is that those kids are so happy with themselves that they run over to other groups of kids and tell them about this new awesome thing they learned… and inside of 5 minutes, everyone knows the differences between a DC and a stepper motor.

Tagged , , , , ,

Education Hacking

So today a few of us went to Bright Futures, which is a program based out of Eastern Michigan University that goes to “At-Risk” middle and elementary schools around the area and offers students after-school or summer program options. It’s a pretty awesome organization and is the inspiration for me to do the summer camps and other kid orientated stuff in our own space. Well, a few weeks ago, I went to the first class I had been to in about a year. A few weeks passed and that brings us to today. Day 1 of our triumphant leader being on vacation and all 4 of us had to wake up at the crack of dawn and go teach kids.

So in today’s class, I noticed there was a kid that no one wanted to be in a group with, so I automatically put him with my group. I know all too well how it feels to be picked last for gym class, lab partners, and other such group activities. It didn’t take long for me to understand why no one wanted to be in a group or teach him. He didn’t understand directions the same way a s a lot of kids. When I had to explain it another way, the other kids sighed deeply out of boredom and frustration of having to be in the same group as him. It was challenging, not only finding a way to get the point of the lesson across to him, but not to alienate him from the rest of the group, or spend all of my time with him and not the others in my group.

We taught the kids about breadboards and motors, and of course there were a few times that I had to grab the attention of the room due to kids being loud, craving attention, or getting distracted by others, but it was awesome. In the car on the way back we discussed the students that were easy to teach, and why we thought the more difficult ones were so hard. It’s interesting to see how people react to having to shift teaching styles so many times in an hour. It’s also interesting hearing adults saying stuff like “Yeah, I hate teaching so-and-so, he’s so difficult.” I have done this before too, but I don’t think I’ve ever avoided putting a child in my group because I would get annoyed. I would love to record how I teach, I think it would be very enlightening.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think any of us (maybe one of us) have any sort of formal training in the educating of children. In a lot of ways, I think that’s a good thing. We don’t have a whole bunch of jaded, underpaid, beaten-down-by-the-budget-focused-school-board instructors telling us how we should handle a classroom full of minds to mold. We don’t worry about tests or getting things right. We don’t say “You’re doing it wrong.” We guide them into the learning process, and there’s no manual for that. I’m not saying that the system that teachers use doesn’t work, I’m just saying it doesn’t work for everyone.

In a lot of ways, we have no idea what we’re doing, and it’s kind of amazing that way. We learn alongside the kids we instruct, and I look at it as we’re on equal grounds in two different sports. It’s the true Hackerspace philosophy, people teaching each other. It’s organic and true. It turns facts and education into an experience, and experiences never leave you, even if you forget how to do the thing you were taught in the first place.

In conclusion, I love teaching kids, but I don’t ever want to get a degree in it.

Tagged , , ,

Tea: Earl Grey: Hot!

ImageToday was Captain Picard Day, and in honor of the best Captain that Starfleet has ever had, I made some Earl Grey tea, worked my ass off for the greater good, and also made a few of these awesome TNG communicator badges. It was a pretty good day, seeing as I got to explain to people that there is an actual day devoted to Picard, how people translated the stardate to a more modern way of keeping time, and also the episode number and plot. I always enjoy showing off my Trekkie side, I will admit.

Other awesome stuff happened today though. A few of my fellow AHAers went to the Ann Arbor District Library here in downtown and taught people how to use Google Sketchup. It was kind of really awesome because I had about 30 minutes more experience than everyone in the class with the software. It was fine though, things went smoothly, and people taught themselves. It was a lot of fun.

Doing things like that makes me happy, not only because we’re teaching people, but I’m pretty sure All Hands Active is the only hackerspace going out to the community and educating kids on their own. I mean, helping First Robotics and holding classes is one thing, but actually starting their own summer camps or doing classes at the local library? I think not. If they are, we haven’t heard about them yet.

I may be sleep deprived, but I dig my life. It’s beautiful and awesome.

City Stations

Today we begin building the prototypes for the new stations that will be replacing the Cube. I hear that there are some other designs in the works, but so far, mine is the only one people have seen, so I guess we are pursuing it. It’s weird and I’m not a pro, so that’s why you guys don’t get a picture of it right now.

I’m anxious about the construction of these workstations. They need to be conducive to playing video games both as a group and solo, and also be versatile enough to be workstations, anticipating every need one would have while being all Maker-like. The design has to promote this and bring it out of people just by sitting there. I know jack-squat about design.

Also, I’m going to be building one of the stations today, just as a prototype, but still. I just really hope other people show up to help. Taking my little sketch made in the middle of class and turning it into something physical, it’s intimidating.

Yet again… I have no idea what the hell I”m doing. I dunno how I feel about that.

A Break from the Past for a Little Present

As the title says, I’m gonna pause a little bit on the story of how I got here to talk about what’s been happening recently. On top of going back to school, which is a blend of an epic battle in which I am the underdog and at the same time being the most educated person in the class, I have been tolling away at planning for the Summer Camps I’m putting on. Everyday I find new ways of learning just how ill-equipped I am for the things I choose to undertake. I have no clue on how to put on real classes, or to run a business, or to write a freaking lesson plan.

Don’t let that deter you from thinking that the things I’m planning won’t end up being awesome, though. I’m learning how to do all these things so fast, you would think I was going to school for this. I have many people around me that can’t do it for me, but can walk me through it, tutor me, and give me encouragement, which I couldn’t be more grateful for. This is what I love about All Hands Active. This is why I fight for it and devote all of my energies to the cause. I’m not as great at it as I would like to be, but I’m getting there.

It would be awesome if I could do this before the fall, but my goal by next winter is to be so awesome at kids classes down here at AHA that we can afford an office. It would have to be slightly off-site, (got my sights set on Nickel’s Arcade) but the sunlight would be good, and having a nice, quiet, professional looking meeting place would be good all around for the organization, especially for meeting with potential funders and contacts.

Also, I wanna wear pencil skirts dammit!

The Handball Convention of 2010

I became friends with a lot of the makers of All Hands Active and spent most of my day there. During really nice days, we would all meet up and play handball at some random place around the city, and on not-so-nice days I usually spent either playing video games or thinking of ways I could benefit the organization. I tried to run a few classes with what little skill I had, I pushed others to do classes, and eventually my response to everything was, “That’s really awesome. When do you wanna do a class on that?”

A growing concern for me was that I didn’t know anything about programming, yet everyone running the organization and making all the decisions was. Everything was always about making an app, learning something to do with LUA, and the neverending battle of whether Python or Ruby was more useful. I had no idea what this was, and got the feeling that more people in the community weren’t showing up here because that’s all they thought the hackerspace was.

I eventually came up with the idea to do an art show, showcasing what we could do away from our computers. Lots of meetings and gatherings happened to prepare and plan, and it might have actually been this way, but because I had never done anything like this before, it felt like I was the only one working my ass off to make sure it was a success. We got a bunch of local artists involved to donate their pieces, had live art done, and live music. We ended up raising almost $300 and a few people learned about us and what we do, which I guess made it a success.

Like I said, I felt like I was the only one busting my ass on the whole project and became resentful to a few of the people in the organization. I felt as if the people claiming to “BE” the organization, or rather, the “Inside Crew” should have been promoting and being more involved than they were. This drove me a little crazy, and by a little I mean I almost had a nervous breakdown, Girl Interrupted style. Almost directly after the show, I went on a much needed vacation. So I spent two weeks in Virginia with my brother and his wife relearning how to relax, react to opposition properly, and do nothing for once. I got into touch with some old friends I lost touched with and made a promise to myself to see them again upon my arrival back into town.

Upon my arrival, I began preparing for my yearly pilgrimage to the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, and spent the time I had promised to the dear souls I had pretty much abandoned during my year in Ann Arbor. I realized I lost touch with the person I was, the one who liked sitting on the front porch and chain-smoking cigarettes and talking with everyone about the science of sending a jar of your nail clippings into space until the sun came up. In spending so much time catching up with these wonderful, forgiving, and compassionate people, I had begun to slack on my work with All Hands Active, and in the relationship I was in.

Coming up next: Flip Tables and Exit Stage Left

It’s about time

Seeing as I have been part of a Hackerspace for some time now, and have pretty much devoted my life, dreams, and goals to becoming more useful in this type of organization, I figure I should share my story.

I encounter lots of people that seem lost and confused about what to do, all while having this basic interest in science, technology, and pretty much anything nerdy. To me, there’s only 2 responses I can give them. I can say, “Yeah, I know how you feel, life is confusing” and smile and nod and make them feel better. What usually happens is that I tell them what changed my life. 

Two years ago, a friend of mine brought me down to All Hands Active. I was overwhelmed by what could be done in the space, and not being a creative type, had no direction. My interaction with the place was mainly to play World of Warcraft, but that changed pretty quickly.

I re-learned how to solder and was part of some activities the members put on. The people were diverse, interests varied, and attentions rampant. There was a culture here, held within this dark basement in the middle of Ann Arbor. It was small and struggling, but there was much room for growth… and that I could try to do.


More to come later…