Purposeful Making by Bryan Alvarez

(written by Bryan for Designing Purposeful Making Experiences, Jun 2017)

Meaning and purpose are forms of making. Meaning and purpose are created; they are not absolute. Meaningful making to me means “making something that does good in the world,” because that’s how I understand it to be used most often. But the act of making anything, even the act of interpreting something as “being made” assumes a meaning.

This makes sense to me because I have witnessed myself making meaning. I’ve spent time contemplating the act of making meaning and interpreting as it is imposed on my perceptions. That “marker” is a marker to me. I experience my perception of an object and notice myself say “marker” in my head. There’s a distinction there. That’s not a marker. It’s just a marker to me. I’m making the meaning up as I go.

I chose a project that plays with meaning, specifically, one that plays with the concept of a trophy. I picked this project because I feel uncomfortable with the word “trophy” and was motivated to change the meaning of the word so that I would change my reactions to it. In retrospect, it would have been more direct just to understand my reactions instead of redefining the word, but so it goes.

To me, a trophy is a shiny object in a glass case that represents victories over others. I believe there is inequity with the trophy system — my last school didn’t have a trophy case. My music students won a music trophy and they always wanted to hold it and say it was for them specifically. Even years after the original winners were gone. These kids don’t normally even get to compete for trophies. How is that fair? That is the meaning I associate with “trophy”.

I wanted a new meaning for “trophy” that allowed anyone to give themselves a trophy, or award themselves. I looked up the definition of “trophy” and found that it can mean:

noun: trophy; plural noun: trophies

  1. a cup or other decorative object awarded as a prize for a victory or success.
    synonyms: cup, medal;
  2. a souvenir of an achievement, especially a part of an animal taken when hunting.
    synonyms: souvenir, memento, keepsake;
  3. (in ancient Greece or Rome) the weapons and other spoils of a defeated army set up as a memorial of victory.
  4. a representation of a memorial of victory; an ornamental group of symbolic objects arranged for display.

The idea of “trophy” as representation of a memorial…an ornamental group of symbolic objects…struck me. A trophy can be anything that reminds you of a victory or success. If my lucky dime reminds me of success, that’s a trophy for me. If I take a picture of you when you are persevering, that’s a trophy representing your hard work.

This is something I can make in a classroom. I can designate a tabletop…or a glass cabinet…top house all of the things that remind students (and me) of success, accomplishment, perseverance, effort, hard work, learning…report cards, recordings, lyrics, finished projects, etc. A report card on the fridge is a trophy. It reminds someone that “I did that. I can do it again.”

I also added a social media component to this project, creating an Instagram account where anyone can login and post a picture trophy that captures someone succeeding, putting in effort, doing it, working on it, going for it., etc. The account information is:

Login: syntrophy
Password: tryitout1

Bryan Alvarez teaches music at Frick Impact Academy (Title 1, public, OUSD). He is creating the music program at Frick, and also creating a makerspace (although not the makerspace teacher). He loves making things — instrument making is my favorite. He likes to tinker with things, and is always taking apart electronics in the music room when they break to see if he can fix them. He has wanted to build a musical instrument park for a long time now, and that got him into music-makerspacing. That led to his eventual interest in, and work with, makerspaces in public schools.