Maker Jawn programming is entirely open ended. Participants join in and leave and they desire. They follow their interests, tinker, and finish projects at their own speed. Most often, especially with younger participants, this tends to lead to a lot of unfinished projects. On slower days with fewer participants, one on one attention provides the encouragement needed to see a project through. But, even still I consistently see participants facing something difficult and wanting to give up immediately. The fear of failure is enough to discourage even trying. They settle on “It’s too hard” or “I’m not good at this.” As a mentor, I try to create a space where failure is totally acceptable and understood as a learning experience. But, I’m finding that that’s a lesson that takes time, and I need to find ways to get participants to push through difficulty in order to experience the reward of an end result.
One helpful method is to find a project that is built by repetitive increments. One step, repeated many times, that creates an exponentially cooler result the more that step is repeated. Also, it helps to see an end result before they start. The cooler and more dazzling that end result, the more inspiring it will be to try.
This is where stick bombs become one of my favorite projects. Stick bombs are made by arranging craft sticks (big popsicle sticks) in such a way that they apply pressure to one another, creating potential energy that sends the sticks flying once that energy is released. Some stick bombs are made to throw like ninja stars so they explode on impact. Others are made into long chains that pop into the air once one key stick is removed. The end result is really fun, but getting there is challenging. It requires some practiced fine motor skills and patience to get a really good chain going. It’s difficult, so when I first tried this project with the makers in the program they weren’t having it. They would try, the sticks wouldn’t line up right, it wouldn’t work, and then it was just “too hard” and they went on to try something new. I was also a novice at first, so it was difficult to articulate methods to make the process easier.
Then, I found a rhythm, and made an epic stick bomb chain by myself while the makers tinkered and played with other things. I lined up the sticks in a cobra chain, gathered the makers around, and appointed one maker to be the camera person and another to release the key stick. The stick was removed, the potential energy was released, and from one end of the stick chain to the other, the sticks flipped up in all directions like a wooden firework. Voila! Stick bombs became the new coolest project. Soon everyone wanted to know how it was done, I found effective ways to explain tricks and methods to get past common mistakes, and as more makers figured it out they developed their own methods to share with people experiencing difficulties. The same makers who gave up initially remained focused until they figured it out. The repetition practiced the motor skills, and the longer they engaged in the activity the bigger the end explosion. As a mentor, I love seeing makers leave the program satisfied with their projects and excited to brag about new skills. Then next time the makers are quick to decide something is “too hard” this experience becomes one I can bring up to remind them that sometimes pushing through initial difficulty can be worth the learning experience.