The Importance of Sharing Mistakes- Reflecting on #SXSWedu – Post One

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Maker Confessions

#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.

“Because we teach in a process-focused approach, we have to subvert the “product- focused” nature of social media and find safe ways to share our daily struggles. If this resonates with you, share your struggles with us and let’s all work together to keep the process visible.” – Sam Patterson

Listen to the full  podcast here.  

Twinkling Stuffies

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:

Workshopping Stuffies

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?




#FETC wrap-up! Design Challenges, Maker Ed Breakfast with Sylvia Martinez, and Other Takeaways

Design Challenge Workshop

Whew! FETC was a whirlwind of fun! Diana Rendina and I held a workshop based on our upcoming book: Challenge Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace. (We missed you Aaron Graves!) My favorite part was watching our participants create things based on our design challenges.

Along with active learning, I love how collaborative challenges like this get our learners to talk about their thinking. The think-aloud process is a great way to hear a glimpse into the way our students think especially when making and problem-solving. Check out these participants that wanted to build a bridge across tables and joked about making fire with tissue paper as something their LEGO minifigure had to avoid when crossing a bridge!

Another fun aspect of this workshop is that we asked our learners to find a way to share their work through video. So some of them made time-lapse videos while others created videos with the Boomerang app.

Our first challenge lasted longer than expected, but even though we ran out of time, some participants asked me to do a quick tutorial on how to create Makey Makey Poetry with Scratch.

I borrowed an idea from another favorite Maker Librarian of mine, David Saunders, and showed them how to make “black out poetry” interactive with Makey Makey. Here is the Scratch game where we collaboratively recorded voices to make the poem interactive.

Maker Librarian Breakfast with Sylvia Martinez

Another great offering at FETC, was the FAME breakfast where Sylvia Martinez (CMK Press, Invent to Learn author, and amazing maker ed speaker) spoke about the importance of making and libraries.

Key Points included:

  • Libraries provide equitable access to making FOR ALL STUDENTS.
  • Libraries are communal hubs. In other words, librarians are generally experts about their own school community! We are “community-based” spaces and “creation-focused” places.
  • Making is not a shopping list.
  • Makerspace myth (reiterated)-Makerspaces  DO NOT EQUAL 3D printing. In other words, you can’t buy a 3D printer and check “makerspace” off your to do list.
  • The best making has a low threshold with a high ceiling, and many, many avenues of possibilities and endless creations and iterations.
  • The best makerspaces are “staffed by people who can help.”

Other Cool Stuff

I attended a super quick and fast hip-hop session and then followed Magic Pants Jones to a BreakoutEDU session by Adam Bellow and was stoked to learn about these Breakout reflection cards !


I found out about some really cool timeline and story-mapping applications by Knightlab in a session called “Leftovers with Leslie.”

  • Timeline JS  -Check out the Women in Computing timeline. These would be great for instruction or student work!
  • Storymaps is super cool too! It allows you to tell stories with maps, so I think social studies’ teachers would find it particularly intriguing. It lets you tell stories based on where the events took place across a map.
  • Soundcite – another great tool from Knightlab. You can embed SOUNDS in your writing! (#mindblown)
  • uses Google Sheets and I’m pretty stoked to share the Mad Libs with my 7 YO.

All in all it was a great conference and I met and spoke with so many impassioned educators!