Purposeful Making by Dominic Parker

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

Purposeful making, to me, is making that meets the needs and/or wants of not only myself, or my students, or my school, or our community, but seeks to bring these categories together so that they can become more aware of their interconnectedness. Making can be meaningful to oneself personally, but it can become more meaningful when it helps the person to feel they can exist and contribute within the society around them in a capable and even unique way. This is why building a prototype for one’s own enjoyment can be just as meaningful as working in a team that is doing community outreach. Where the latter may be more explicitly focused outward, the former implicitly may be meaningful in that it allows a person to be present with one’s self, while also honing the skills or ideas that may positively impact one’s relationship with others.

At the beginning of this workshop, we were given different prompts to make boxes of different kinds. The prompt I was given was, “Build a box and make it yours.” I made a small cube out of cardboard. This involved plotting out the concrete aspects of how a box fits together, and the efficiency of this process. When I had completed this, I then remembered I had to personalize the box in my own way. After it seemed that my brain had hit a wall, I decided to draw different pictures on it’s sides – pictures of things I like to do in my leisure time. In doing so, my box was becoming a dice. I reflected on the fact that I had just been camping over the weekend, and that my enjoyment of this had reminded me that I am not intentional enough with taking time for leisure. As a result of this process, I came away feeling not only that I had applied my box-making skills, but that I had also reflected on my hiking experience and my appreciation for the healthiness of leisure time. The meaningfulness therefore lay not in the making by itself, but in how the making helped me to feel more at one with myself and the outside world.

With this in mind, I came up with a project at DPME that I sought to make more purposeful. For my project, I prototyped a simple circuit, using LED lights, batteries, and a resistor. I had not really had to use resistors before, but I wanted to experiment with them and power sources of higher capacities that I had not used previously. I designed a basic activities scaffold for use with my middle school classes, in hopes that I could have them making circuits and using the different mathematical equations ( R = V / I ). But the question was how to make the project more meaningful and engaging for my students. The result I have so far arrived at involves inviting them to partner with me in coming up with values that we would like to promote in the makerspace (e.g. creativity, stewardship, etc). My intention is to encourage a sense of ownership and agency in the space through personal investment. I am still developing this idea, but it is an improvement on simply wanting them to experiment with circuits just because it relates to what they are learning in their science classes.

My time at DPME has been very instructive, mostly because I had to wrestle with the question of what it looks like to the make making experiences meaningful. Is it that they are meaningful to me, to my school, to my students. I feel that all of these parties are important, but the crucial one is the students. After all, we as teachers and school administration may want our students to come away from their educational experience having learned concepts and skills, but if those students have not developed a sense of personal investment in their learning, and enjoyment and motivation in this, then in many ways we have failed. We may have learned some things, but have they learned how to explore and teach themselves while being inspired by the process?

Dominic Parker is a Makerspace Tinkerer at the Ravenswood School District, East Palo Alto, California. He is directly involved with developing the maker program initiative the district has adopted, and interacts with grades 2-8 students each day as they come into the makerspace during class time and recess. His personal school experience growing up was dotted with situations and structures that he found catered to his needs in some ways, but also fell short in many ways. He is excited by the opportunity to make the learning experience more enjoyable and productive for the students he works with.