Something Is Missing From This Space

C Note

Several years ago in a photography workshop, the leader told us that he never used the phrase “taking pictures”, preferring instead “making images”.

Besides sounding a little like theft, he said that “taking” was too passive for what we were trying to do. Making photographs is more of a creative process, rather than a one-shot deal.1 And that is how we should approach our craft.

This variation in the way we speak of photographs often jumps into my head when following discussions about maker spaces and Maker Faires.

Why isn’t photography included in maker space activities? Why aren’t photographers demonstrating their craft at a Maker Faire?

When the concept of “maker” is addressed, most people include things like robots, 3D printers, coding, and other things electronics-related.

Drones? Sure. Welding, puppets, and paper craft? Why not? Even VR and AR, which are still largely out-of-the-box activities that are not easy to make.

Making good images, those that evoke some kind of response from the viewer, requires thought and planning on the part of the photographer. And that creative process is very accessible to almost everyone, even more so than some of the higher profile maker space components. 

Ok, just something to think about when considering who and what is a “maker”.


The picture, made at the 2018 Maker Faire NoVA, reminds me that making music is also often missing from the concept of maker spaces. Although I think his tuba was more about the technology than the music. More pictures from this event are in this Flickr gallery.

1. Pun very much intended. :-)

Photo Post – Maker Faire NoVA

Last Sunday was the 5th annual Maker Faire here in Northern Virginia and I was fortunate to be one of the official photographers for the event. The Faire has grown tremendously in a short time and this year moved to it’s new home at George Mason University. Below are a few images of people and exhibits spread among three buildings and two outdoor areas. More are in this gallery.

Robots

A line up of robots waiting to come to life.

Robot Kids

There was lots to attract makers of all ages.

Dismantle Space

One of the most popular areas of the Faire allows visitors to take apart electronic devices like printers and DVD players. Because everyone is curious about what’s inside.

Maker Faire Johnson Center

I also took some 360° images at the Faire and this one of the exhibitors in the Johnson Center at GMU. Click your mouse or tap your finger in the image and drag around to see more. More 360° photos are in this Flickr album.

Making Is More Than Robots and 3D

Punkin Chunkin' in Washington State

When you hear the word “maker”, many people think of 3D printing, robots, coding, and makeshift devices like that pumpkin’ chunker in the picture. But, as Josh mentioned in a webinar last week, we should also be including some more traditional creative activities in our thinking, like blogging.

I would also add photography.

When professional photographers talk about their work, they will often not use the phrase “take a picture”. Instead they are “making an image”. It may be a subtle difference, but more than a few pros I’ve read and heard insist that making better defines their process than taking.

Because great photos, ones that inspire and move people, don’t happen by just pointing a camera at the subject and pressing a button. They are made through artful composition, a skillful use of light, and making the best use of the available equipment.

I won’t claim that any of the images I’ve posted here, on my photo site, or on Flickr qualify as “great”. However, I’m working in that direction, through experimentation, learning from others, and lots of practice.

Just like any good maker.


The picture, from Photos By Clark on Flickr, is used under a Creative Commons license.

Spotlight Mismatch

Description of a Spotlight report on Personalized Learning from an EdWeek newsletter:

See how schools are using algorithm-driven playlists to customize lessons for students, consider red flags to look for when purchasing products, and learn how personalization can make learning more social.

I’m almost curious enough to give them my personal information, just so I can understand how “algorithm-driven playlists” and customized lessons can make learning “more social”. Seems like a big mismatch to me.

The next item in the newsletter describes their Spotlight report on Maker Education:

Learn how schools are embracing student-driven learning, ensuring equity in maker education, and providing students with opportunities to develop real-world skills.

Is it possible to have “algorithm-driven playlists” and “student-driven learning” in the same classroom? Or do these reports describe two completely different groups of students? And if that’s the case, how do we decide which students get “personalized” and who gets the “opportunities to develop real-world skills”?

Lots of questions. Not many good answers.

Designing a Change

Serpentine Gallery Pavillion1

Although not as much of a rockstar in the ed reform headlines as STEM or maker, the concept of “design thinking” is beginning to seep into the top ten. Like STEM, maker, and PBL, it’s touted by advocates as a new idea that could revolutionize learning. Also like those other terms, few people can agree on what it is and how it might fit into the classroom.

But don’t worry, even the experts are not sure how to concisely explain design thinking.

Confusion around the precise definition of design thinking is understandable, said Neil Stevenson, the executive portfolio director at IDEO Chicago, one of the best-known purveyors of design thinking. “Design thinking isn’t one thing,” he told me in a phone interview, “but a bundle of mindsets and philosophies all wrapped up in one term, which obviously has the potential to lead to ambiguity and misunderstanding.”

Which means it fits right in with STEM and those other vague educational concepts: “a bundle of mindsets and philosophies all wrapped up in one term”. Ambiguity and misunderstanding probably describes all of them and more.

I like the idea of design thinking being applied in the classroom since the concept of design incorporates many of the skills we say we want students to learn during their time in K12 (creativity, collaborative, critical thinking, etc.). From my experience, it offers students and teachers an organized process for creating solutions to problems in just about any subject area.

At its best, design thinking incorporates proven-effective teaching techniques such as self-directed inquiry and collaborative problem-solving, and dovetails nicely with social-emotional learning curricula that emphasize interpersonal skills such as collaboration and empathy.

Ultimately, design thinking is not a curriculum, advocates like Stevenson say, but a process for problem-solving, a strategy to elicit creativity rooted in empathy and comfort with failure.

However, there’s just one big problem with trying to incorporate design thinking into our current learning model: the concept does not fit with the curriculum, pedagogy, and objectives used in most American schools.

Simply inserting a few “design” activities into the school year when time allows (aka after the spring tests) does not help students become creative, to learn to think in new ways. The same is true when we try to graft STEM, or maker, or PBL, or any of the many other buzz concepts onto what is already being done in the classroom.

If design thinking is really important (or STEM, or maker, or <insert your favorite curriculum idea>) – if it is really a process students should learn and use – then make it part of everyday school instead of a special activity. Rewrite the curriculum around design principles, help teachers revise their pedagogy to make it work, and completely reimagine how to assess student progress.

Without a complete redesign of what school is, we simply have our 1950’s expectations with a few modern talking points.