#SXSWedu is a great convening of minds, life changing sessions, and amazing conversations in hallways, over coffee, and between sessions. It is those moments and casual conversations between that can have the biggest impact. On the first day I arrived at the conference, I found myself at the convention center with hours to go before any sessions started. I messaged Sam Patterson and Krissy Venosdale to see if they wanted to meet up and chat about maker education.
After chatting with Sam about writing, teaching, and making mistakes… he decided we needed to make a quick podcast with Krissy. The next thing I know, we were huddled in Krissy’s hotel room and recording our “Maker Confessions” for a podcast episode. We discussed how it is just as important as maker educators for us to share our “anti-Instagram” moments and celebrate our failures as loudly as we celebrate successes. You need to listen to this conversation about failing, making mistakes, and how difficult it feel to share these moments via our positive social media accounts.
Listen to the full podcast here.
During our conversation, I talked about the saga of George. At the beginning of the semester I challenged my sewing circuit club to design and make their own twinkling stuffies. I put together this example stuffie sewn with a Lilytwinkle controller and Lilypad LEDS. I documented the process so I’d have picture tutorials to aide my students if they needed it.
Here is my final example:
On the first day that students began designing stuffies, it became evident that a 1 to 15 teacher/ student ratio for designing and making stuffies was not going to work! I needed another sewing circuit expert (and plushie designer) to make it through! Luckily, one of the girls in my club is already an excellent plushie maker, and she helped a table of students design and make their own ideas. (I also had an aide that quickly adapted to sewing with conductive thread and was able to help those that needed it.)
It was a loud and rambunctious hour with many students designing and cutting fabric and only a few kids made it to actually sewing on the battery holder. It quickly became evident to me that this workshop that I thought might take two hours, could possibly end up taking the whole semester. (And I’m not sure I can sustain interest in making a stuffie for an entire semester!)
The Working and Not Working
After our second session, one student had a complete and working stuffie! His name is Seymour and I love the way his expression seems to change as different LEDs light up.
The Saga of George
On the opposite extreme of Seymour is George. The student sewing George moved quickly and had great success sewing the battery holder to the Lilytwinkle controller. I thought it meant she’d do well sewing the rest of her circuitry. I walked away to help others and came back to discover she’d sewn every pin of the controller together with her conductive thread. Curious as to what this would do, we alligator clipped from one pin to an LED. We were both surprised to learn that it still actually twinkled a bit, but as brightly as it should.
(Teaching note: If I had this to do over again, I’d have all kids sew their battery holder to the controller and then alligator clip LEDS before sewing to experience that each pin would sew only one conductive trace. This is the way I really learned how to sew circuits, but I didn’t think about it as being a necessary visual step that our learners might need! Lesson learned! )
For the next time we met, I told her to go ahead and sew from one pin to one LED and follow the suggested circuit paths.
Well…during that fated club meeting she sewed all of her positive traces and things were looking great. I told her, “Next time you come in, it will only take about five minutes to sew your negative trace and ground all of your LEDS.”
So… the next club meeting rolls around. The other students have moved on to making Makey Makey fabric switches and George is about to BE FINISHED! I see that the student has sewn the negative trace OVER the positive trace and I was like … oh boy… now what. More troubleshooting and problem solving led to me showing her how to insulate the circuit trace and for a moment… George lit up!
But it was short lived.
The way the circuits were sewn, it was just not going to work. At this point, we both admit defeat. It’s time to let go of the circuitry. I tell her, “You have two options. One, you can take the components out and resew now that you understand how to sew the circuits. Or you can take out the components and just finish George.” She didn’t want to sew the circuits again.She didn’t want to take the components out either. She just wanted George to be finished. It took some hemming and hawing, but we finally freed the components and another student helped her finish sewing George together. She came back the next morning to make George a cape and finish him completely. And you know what? George is cute even though he doesn’t light up. And the student still learned about sewing microcontrollers and LEDS with conductive thread. Yes, she’d really have the knowledge cemented in her head if she’d chosen to resew the circuit traces, but that’s for next time, right?
Moving Beyond Failures
Maybe saying we should “celebrate” our failures is too extreme. It isn’t that we should celebrate these moments as great things. BUT since our students see us failing and persevering everyday, we as maker educators should share and inform those around us that we often have things go wrong. We teach lessons that totally flop. We have projects that don’t work. We don’t label things and kids break components, or tear up rulers. It’s important to share when things go wrong. It helps us all teach just a little bit better everyday. So what’s your maker confession?