Can Non-makers Lead Maker Spaces and Education?

First, we should discuss what a, “Maker” is in the first place. All of us have the potential to be Makers. Adam Savage worded it perfectly, saying, “Humans do two things that make us unique from all other animals; we use tools and we tell stories. And when you make something, you’re doing both at once.”

However, in our recent globalized, hyper-consumer culture less and less people have been taught the skills that enable them to make things. We’re able to buy everything we need – why should we make it ourselves? Making was once a core component of the American middle class. Home Economics was a required class in high school. Times have changed though and being able to make things is a unique skill. But being a Maker is more than technical skill, it is also a mindset.

Dale Dougherty, founder of MAKE Magazine and Maker Media has discussed this thoroughly. “Today, making lives on the margins of society, but it is thriving nonetheless. Makers are likely to see themselves as outsiders, like some artists and writers, who do not follow the traditional paths. They create their own paths, which is what innovative and creative people do.

Makers are those of us seeking an alternative to being regarded as consumers, rejecting the idea that you are defined by what you buy. Instead, Makers have a sense of what they can do and what they can learn to do. Like artists, they are motivated by internal goals, not extrinsic rewards. They are inspired by the work of others. Most importantly, they do not wait until the future to create and make. They feel an urgency to do something now— or lose the opportunity to do it at all.”

By no means is being a Maker reserved to an elite few. All of us are naturally born as makers. Quite simply, we need to encourage more people to explore, create, discover.

We are moving into what has been worded as the latter-stages of the program. We don’t know what the future of the program looks like, but we’re trying to ensure our mission carries on. To, “provide a unique space for community members in North Philadelphia Free Libraries, where self-directed experimental and experiential learning is promoted through a focus on creativity, critical thinking and skill-building.”

One possible direction of our program is providing physical resources in the form of portable kits (I.E., tools, computers, materials, even curriculum) and having other library staff conduct  Maker Jawn-esque activities in different library branches through out the city.

Over the summer, Maker Jawn collaborated with another educational program at the library. Maker Jawn’s mentors, including myself, wrote a number of different lesson plans and activities that a group of college-bound high school students conducted and led groups of school-age kids through at other branches. The high school students had mentors of their own that would help them conduct the activities.

Once a week, at least one MJ mentor met with the other programs’ mentors at a group meeting and training session for an hour to go over the requirements of the activity and answer questions.

I created a basic e-textile activity. (See the lesson plan here.) It was a hand-embroidered patch of your given zodiac sign’s constellation, with one of the stars as a light-up LED. When I wrote the activity, I included lots of diagrams and pictures as well as resources for information on a basic electric circuit to power the LED. I had assumed most people would not have had experience with circuitry.

But I left out any information on how to sew by hand. This was an oversight on my part, as it hadn’t occurred to me that most people don’t know how to sew.

I had thoroughly prepared for the meeting with diagrams and videos to go over circuits and how to embed the LED in the fabric, but I had nothing prepared to go over hand sewing. I managed to find a video that showed the process, but I’m fairly certain the e-textile activity was most likely skipped.

This highlighted a big question for me; If the future direction of the program is to provide the physical resources and activities to be conducted by other library staff; will they be able to do it? Of course any of the other programs’ mentors could’ve been shown how to sew. They could be shown how to do anything; with enough time and leadership. But giving them the tools, supplies, lesson plan and an hour of our time was not enough for them to be able to do it on their own with their own makers.

One of the foundational ideas of the maker movement is that anyone can be taught to be a maker. But it takes time and leadership. Physical resources and thoroughly planned out activities simply aren’t enough. As my time at Maker Jawn progresses, everyday I see evidence that one of the biggest resources of our program is our mentors.


Dale Dougherty’s The Maker Mindset

Adam Savage on, “What is a Maker?”

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