Thoughts From a First-Time Maker

On Thursday and Friday, we hosted a “Designing Making Experiences” session at the Creativity Lab. Makers from as far as Greensboro, NC joined us for the two-day intensive on creating maker-based curriculum for the classroom. As part of the session, participants were encouraged to work on a curricular project that they could bring back to their own maker-spaces. I’ll be helping to put on these professional development (PD) sessions over the next year. (That my first one came amidst the chaos of my first week was just a lucky bonus.)

Nine o’clock, Thursday morning, we gathered in the classroom. We said our hellos, noshed our sticky buns, drank our coffee, and then set to work, safety scissors in hand. I’m more or less new to the whole “making thing,” so I joined in where I could.

For two days we were back in time, at some point between kindergarten and twelfth grade. We made paper circuit murals and jitter bugs; scribble machines and soft circuits. Some of us worked with the 3D printer, while others tinkered with electronics platforms, like Arduino and MaKey MaKey…If you’ve no clue what I’m talking about then you’re exactly where I was three days ago. So, let’s back up a smidgen.

The paper circuit mural. Not too difficult, and it gives students a chance to make a working circuit—slightly more advanced and exciting than just gluing construction paper to a board. Here’s how to do it:

IMG_2086Attach a battery pack to a sheet of foam board. Connect a strip of copper tape to one end of the batteries (positive or negative), and a strip of aluminum foil to the opposite end. Glue the two strips in a pattern across the board, making certain not to let the paths cross (this will cause a short circuit). We had prepped all of this beforehand.

Each participant cuts a design out of construction paper. Our group had a dragon, a squirrel, Rudolph, a few Christmas trees…I drew a pair of pants—just because I happened to be wearing some at the time. There’s not a whole lot involved with cutting out construction paper, but, for twenty minutes, everyone really put the effort and consideration into carefully crafting their pieces. It just goes to show the level of enthusiasm people have for the things they create. (And this was a group of adults, mind you. Imagine just how much ownership an eight-year-old might take in their project.) On the back of the piece, attach another strip each of copper tape and aluminum foil. Then, poke an LED through the front of the paper, and connect its positive and negative wires to the corresponding strips on the back.IMG_2090

Tack the pieces to the board, making certain that the two positive paths connect, as well as the two negative. If you’ve done it correctly, you’ll complete the circuit, and the bulb will light up. Ta-da! Like I say, not too difficult, though we did run into some road bumps. Short circuits are a common problem. (This happens when the positive and negative ends connect without the aid of the bulb, creating a “shortcut” for the electricity to travel across. Hence “short circuit.”) Also, make certain to keep the the paths exposed (i.e. don’t cover them with tape—metal must touch metal). And sometimes the thing just acts stubborn, but finessing our pieces into the perfect position became part of the challenge, and, by the end, our mural was twinkling. (For a more in depth guide to paper circuits and other projects, check out our Projects Page.)

IMG_2146That was our introduction to circuitry. We took it a step further.

One group experimented with the 3D printer (they made Mickey Mouse keychain rings), while the rest of us played with software platforms like Arduino, and MaKey MaKey. I won’t say that you’re limited with what you can do using LEDs and paper circuits, but these programs really facilitate some cool electronic possibilities. I particularly like MaKey MaKey, which allows you to turn just about anything into a keyboard key (providing it conducts electricity). We used this software to turn grapes into video game controllers. Grapes. The fruit. As in, you squish a muscadine and Mario shoots fireballs. This is the kind of sorcery that we are messing with out here. (This Friday we are hosting another PD session, focusing exclusively on Arduino and MaKey MaKey, so I will cover them in more detail then.)

So, we were in a making mindset. And then something happened. Around this time the hands-on making sorta fizzled. We didn’t see much work on prototypes on day one. It was disconcerting at the time, but the good news is that first thing Friday morning everyone was eager and ready to create their curriculum and prototype. (So, maybe everyone had been tired from lunch, or still been absorbing all that they’d done that morning, but apparently this is a semi-regular occurrence at PD sessions, so you roll with the punches.)IMG_2205

Anyway, Friday rocked. Really. We had bins off the shelves, and people calling for more hot glue sticks. It was great to see so much of the making involve a spin on what we’d learned the day before. One maker incorporated a paper circuit into a journal. Another used MaKey MaKey to create an interactive poetry etching. (You probably had to be there to understand what that means. But it was cool.) The Mickey Mouse Keychain was fastened to a wooden car, and most of the projects had working LED lights. So we’ll call this PD a success, and celebrate.


And then it was over. We said our goodbyes, and cleared out.

Next session on Friday. See you then.




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David is the documentarian and professional development coordinator for the Creativity Lab. In 2014, he received a BA in creative writing from Louisiana State University, with focuses on short fiction and screenwriting. In partnering with New Orleans-based independent film company, Asymptote Pictures, his work has been featured in film festivals across the country. He likes his espresso maker, and vegetarian tacos.