Teach Wonder

The Experience Doesn't End in the Makerspace

September 26, 2021 The Center for Excellence in STEM Education Season 1 Episode 6
Teach Wonder
The Experience Doesn't End in the Makerspace
Show Notes Transcript

Ashley talks with Eric Carpenter, the Executive Director and Chief Education Designer at Rocky Mountain Education Design. The first in a three-part series, this episode focuses on Eric's entry into education. He shares how he started working with the makerspace model with K - 12 students. Eric discusses the importance of collaboration and brings some practical advice on how makespaces facilitate that process. He also discusses how he handles failure with students.

Links:
Makey Makey

Edison Robots

Rocky Mountain Education Design

Center for Excellence in STEM Education

Ashley O'Neil:

Okay, now we're recording.

Julie Cunningham:

So welcome to teach. Wonder.

Ashley O'Neil:

Welcome to teach wonder

Julie Cunningham:

podcast hosted by Ashley O'Neill and Julie Cunningham.

Ashley O'Neil:

So this story starts with a cold call or a cold email, I should say. I've been working at CMU for a bit and I was feeling like I needed some training that was more focused on maker space work. We were a stem center, we had a makerspace. I had read a lot about what that meant. But I wanted some more experience from other people who were in this similar position. To me. A lot of professional development opportunities are amazing. But I was feeling that shift in my own professional career from Classroom Teacher to informal educator. And a lot of the trainings or programs or workshops that I was finding were really geared toward a classroom teacher. And I wanted to talk to the people who were in a makerspace doing the things that we were doing. So I did what everybody does when they're looking for something I google, but I was googling other maker spaces. And the program that Eric worked for at the time was at CU Boulder, and it came up right away. It was more established than ours at the time, and it seemed to be a nice complement to the work that we were doing. So I emailed while Eric has since moved on to running his own consulting company. The training and the time we spent together in Colorado has stuck with me for years. This episode is that experience in a bottle for you? I'll share some of my memories and the aha moments that I had when I first worked with Eric as a counterpoint to his expertise and stories. Okay.

Eric Carpenter:

So my name is Eric carpenter. I am the Executive Director and Chief education designer for a small consulting firm called Rocky Mountain education design. We're currently based in Seattle, Washington, and we do work throughout the Rocky Mountains in the Pacific Northwest.

Ashley O'Neil:

Eric was our guide to Colorado maker spaces. That week, we spent a lot of time out and about in the community, we got to see the college makerspace. But we also spent a lot of time with him. And we first met him, I think the thing that struck me the most was his sideways entry into education.

Eric Carpenter:

My background is actually an interesting one, I started off my career in construction,then transitioned into studying environmental science and earth science. This led me to my first teaching sort of career, which was actually a field guide, and a naturalist for state parks. And that's where I actually fell in love with teaching this idea of helping people understand place, connect with nature, and to fill them with all of the fun things that I've learned over the years.

Ashley O'Neil:

This outdoor naturalist focus meant something in our workshop, and it came up over and over again, Eric's ideas stay grounded in being real. His first time doing something in education was teaching people things that he was curious and passionate about things that were beneath their feet, or just off the path on their walk. When he brought that energy into the makerspace. It was exactly the same. Students should be learning skills to understand the world around them. They are capable of figuring things out, they can build and they can make and they can do. So at this point, you'll hear that Eric's career starts to shift a little bit more toward education.

Eric Carpenter:

This led me to a career with the board of cooperative educational services in New York, at an Environmental Education Center, that we did a number of playspace programs. But I also had my first experiences working with schools. I think that's where I really fell in love with teaching, and the processes we associate with teaching and learning.

Ashley O'Neil:

So it wasn't until this point in his life that Eric decided to go back and get his master's and specialist degree in education. And I have to tell you, I just love that I went directly from high school to college to be a teacher, graduated and got my first teaching job right away. And it was just really interesting for me to hear about all of the different experiences that Eric had had more than the professional workplace in his personal space, that were not focused in teaching and learning that really brought a richness and a diverse mindset to how you approach teaching skills and teaching content and teaching curiosity.

Eric Carpenter:

After the University of Idaho, we did a number of exciting jobs. We worked in outdoor experiential education, indoor experiential education and eventually for public schools. This led me to working with some big national level programs and eventually the University of Colorado at Boulder, which is where I started really leaning into STEM education.My work with the University of Colorado started off in environmental and place based work, taking students and teachers outdoors and bringing the outdoors inside through experiential education activities, working in collaboration. Researchers, I talked to a first year graduate student who came through an education prep program. So he has a bachelor's degree in education, and was going back for a Master's med and a master's in science. And I was on the science advisory side of the committee. She was asking me she's know, have you read John Dewey? I said, I have, if that's the foundation for everything I do, because why is it because I started with experience in education was the core of what I did. It's all we did. Because I started with a very Dewey model of giving kids experiences and constructivist learning and creating this idea of the experience first, and make sure the content is there. It's scaffolded my whole career to this day.

Ashley O'Neil:

So maker spaces didn't start in education. maker spaces were an idea that came from a collective group of hobbyists and professional makers who wanted to be able to share resources and tools and supplies, and interests and hobbies. So they got together and created a collective space, they would gather and crowdsource for bigger tools and pay a rental fee together to share that space to make whatever it is they want to make. So when you hear about people who get into maker spaces and bring them into education, there's usually a story or an idea or a book, or an experience that led them to become so passionate about maker spaces, and children. Eric's is one of my favorites.

Eric Carpenter:

I probably have the most interesting story of why and how I got into doing maker spaces. From an informal education perspective. I was collaborating with a group of graduate students who designed prosthetics and biomechanical devices to help people who have certain limitations. I was working with this group of students and we are trying to figure out a way to have young learners these would be gifted and talented learners and elementary and middle schools, really engaged with the engineering design process that's involved in building prosthetics. We batted around ideas and batted around ideas, and one of the students finally said, well, couldn't we just let the students build a prosthetic, it would seem like that would be a good model. To capture both the engineering design process, the nuts and bolts of what the content was. And a great connection to the core curriculum, the students had to learn. So we we put together our first makerspace type of activity. It was literally blood pressure cuffs and nuts and bolts and metal bars and springs and pulleys, and even a little electronic winder. And the learners had to work as a team to create a biomechanical prosthetic device that would help support an elbow joint, but also allow it freedom of motion, and to assist with springs or pulleys, or this little motor, lifting and raising of arms. In this case, while we were building this unit, and experimenting with a few of our pilot groups, we realize that students didn't have the experiences needed to put things together with tools to actually use tools to be able to build something, they just didn't have those sorts of experiences.

Ashley O'Neil:

So after sharing his why with us, Eric was always really intentional about giving us practical details about what it is he did next. So as I was listening to Eric explain his first maker space to me, I was furiously jotting notes because I found these tips to be really practical and relevant. When it came to us building our makerspace back in Michigan.

Eric Carpenter:

We built our first ever portable maker space program. And this was back in the beginning of makerspaces, when it was relatively new, to have a designated space in a school that is for making and for engineering and for engineering design. So we created a portable system that had table based activities at each station. So there's a table that is consolidated with coping saws and nothing made a clamp system that allowed it to be fairly safely clamped onto a table. They could clamp their went to the table and then cut and use drills, our drills and hand drills. In elementary school. There's a station that has electronics and soldering irons and le DS, and wire and basic battery systems. There's a station that has three arts and crafts, being things kind of paper and pens and nuts and bolts and all sorts of interesting things all the way through to some of the more advanced workshops that we ended up creating, that had robots and Makey Makey devices and photo origami. The idea really was to give students opportunities to create on their own in a free pattern to form the foundation for their making.

Ashley O'Neil:

This is one of my bigtakeaways. When I talked to Eric, he spoke a lot about giving students autonomy over what it was they were making. And it was about the making, and not about what their end product was. And so he made sure that inside of every makerspace experience that he designed, he had opportunities for students to just explore and try the materials out for the sake of their own learning. And the thought that was so great and interesting. Now, before we panic and think that it was a free for all, he did have some great parameters put in place.

Eric Carpenter:

So we ran it as a, okay, let me show you how to use all these tools safely. Let me show you what you might be able to do with this. And your job is to make something you can work together work in a group, what I really need you to do is have experience creating something. And using these tools as a hard skill, the soft skills we would apply later in other workshops. And it was amazing, we did about 10,000 learners through they're using coping saws and power drills and Exacto knives and soldering iron sometimes, and we never had an injury, which is amazing. A lot of teachers are concerned about this, the risk and the liability we associate with that, when properly facilitated. When given clear instructions on how to use the tools, the kids approach was always great, the learners really engaged with it. And they learned some fascinating things.

Ashley O'Neil:

Eric also had a knack for pointing out spots in which abstract content could be taught and really practical ways.

Eric Carpenter:

You try to build a wooden box, all four sides are not the same size. It seems like a fundamental thing. But when the learners have an opportunity to experience that?

Ashley O'Neil:

this was a really important moment for me, a moment when I realized that Eric sideways path into teaching was such a benefit. My education taught me that I should teach my students about shapes and then measurement in the fourth grade, right. And then I tell them that someday they will eventually need this math. And they might apply it to building their own back someday when they're older. His experience and mindset had him teaching kids to use tools and build boxes now, with the readiness to teach them all of the math along the way, and the ability to ground it in something real.

Eric Carpenter:

In the first year we did the maker space, we realized both teachers and students have very limited experience using tools. We have a lot of learners who have been teachers, too, who had never used a hammer, never used a screwdriver. So getting over that hump was the first PC, just become familiar with it. Try it out. Okay, you tried to build something awesome. Let's improve on that. How would you do it again? What's that next step? You had more time? What would you do?

Ashley O'Neil:

This was another aha for me. So tool use is a skill set and making decisions about when and how students and teachers will practice that skill is important. I've seen it both ways. Some people say that students will pick up and learn tools along the way to reach their goal, Eric how to use as a skill set as important as content. He also helped me to understand that great learning can happen through to expiration. So for him, when students had little practice coming in, the tools became the practice and the final outcome was great. And it was also secondary.

Eric Carpenter:

And the great thing about that particular open ended maker space with very limited structure is the learners can't be wrong. It's about experience. It's about giving them opportunity to develop and practice those hard skills. So really, it didn't necessarily matter what they made. Could be a game could be a flashlight could be a little wooden box. The point was actually the making and that sense of empowerment.

Ashley O'Neil:

Like a lot of places, the success that Eric's team saw for students became the start of something bigger.

Eric Carpenter:

So that original open ended maker space model became the foundation for a lot of the programming that we did, both with the university's outreach program. But as my company developed, we really latched on to this and it became almost what we are known for and what we did. Here, you'll hear Eric use that second approach I mentioned, students have a large complex school, and he gives them the basics upfront, but then lets them really learn much of it on their own. Along the way, you wouldn't believe some of the things these learners would come up with. In an hour and a half program, we would teach them how to use a Makey Makey. The fundamentals of scratch enough to move forward and be able to be successful in coding. And they can literally create a few examples would be a soccer court with little players. And when they would kick the ball through the goal. It would cheer the Makey Makey would close a circuit or they would close a circuit the Makey Makey would pass it through the computer and scratch would create a cheering sound. It sounds like a very simple thing to do but for a learner or a team of learners to conceptualize. Okay, we need something to kick the ball. We need the ball to conduct electricityso it's wrapped in foil or something like that. And when it hits the back of the goal, it completes the circuit.

Ashley O'Neil:

I want to point out that the tools here are a little bit different. So there's a little less of a safety concern about students using hand tools. A lot of these are digital coding pieces or symbol electronics. And that hacking or figuring out electronics and coding materials on your own really lines up with some tenants of computational thinking. So there's some clever decision making that Eric is using here to say, this is a time when students should explore without much support, guidance and support. And then this is when I really need to teach a tool and how to use that tool directly. Another important point here is when Eric talks about the divergence that happens within groups.

Eric Carpenter:

That also allows a little diversity in experiences. Some of the learners are more focused on the tactical side of things, while other learners are more focused on the coding and selecting the sounds and doing the recording. But it all has to be integrated has to happen together. And that's really exciting.

Ashley O'Neil:

When we think about group work as adults, it works when we allow individuals to use their strengths and interests to benefit the whole team. We don't expect all the members of a work collaboration to make every aspect of a project, we lean into and benefit from everyone's strengths. It's efficient. Projects like these also allow for the same model. Sometimes I know, we worry that student a didn't code as much as student B, because they were hard wearing the soccer ball. So did they really learn the same standards as the rest. It does, however, really allow the students to function in a healthy and realistic group model, where student a is exercising their understanding of coding by building a complimentary component to work with the code created by the group.So while Eric may not expect that every student coded every aspect of a project, he does expect that they all communicate together. And you hear that and the really clear expectations that he lays out to students at the very beginning of any project.

Eric Carpenter:

With the disclaimer, then I would tell teams openly tell them as part of the directions to the activities. I'm going to come around and ask your group a few questions at the end, I'm going to warn you part of this process is ideation sharing ideas, like come around to your team and ask Did you get to share your ideas Did you get to share your idea, and one learner did not get to share their idea, you have to start again, need deliberate processes here to make sure everybody feels included. And the learners reacted really well to it, they can resonate, it resonated with them. That sense of belonging to a group and accomplishing something together. And what not being included feels like most people know what that feels like when you set them up for success. And tell them that we need a process that deliberately avoids it, it does come right up to it and they engage and grab on to that which is really powerful.

Ashley O'Neil:

There's a rhythm To the flexibility Eric offers in his programs, he lays out the necessary parameters.

Eric Carpenter:

So we would again, present them with the drone, basic instruction, how to code and how to fly it safely from some parameters to work inside

Ashley O'Neil:

Provides any direct skill instruction relating to a new tool,

Eric Carpenter:

Then show them the Makey Makey how the scratch interface worked.

Ashley O'Neil:

and leaves the intended outcomes open ended.

Eric Carpenter:

And literally open it up to them. What would you like to do?

Ashley O'Neil:

He relates the work the students do to some of the foundational concepts that help him build his programs from the beginning.

Eric Carpenter:

And the goals were always the same. Demonstrate engineering design, show me that you guys can work together, they can idea or a number of ideas, mash them together and decide which is often the hardest part.

Ashley O'Neil:

I want to wrap up this first episode with some thoughts on failure. When asking kids to try something new, or to be a creator, were really expecting things to go wrong a lot. And that doesn't often align with a student's definition for success. So it can be a real trick to build insecurity to try and to help them redefine what success means. Eric's approach is simple.

Eric Carpenter:

In our case, we put a disclaimer on the front side, it's really about learning about giving you guys hard skills, the whether it works in the end is not the most important part. The process is the part.The most challenging time in any maker space is that first prototype and when that test fails, and the students start to go down the rabbit hole of who did what and Oh gosh, and it's your team. It's everybody. But what are we okay, yeah, not important. What are we going to do? How are we going to fix this? How can we address this challenge and to almost hate to use the word train them but to train them to go right back into the design cycle again, and probably the most one of the most important pieces is always reiterating that the experience doesn't end here. So if this was a coding and robotics, we would always end with Sure. This is Edison, this is the fundamental coding. Here's where you can go with this. something truly inspiring. If this is the Tello Edu drones, we would show them high end drones and drone mapping and all of these interesting applications. So the students could see where they are and understand where they're at right now, and maybe potentially see a pathway of getting to those next steps and when they need to be.

Ashley O'Neil:

Do you hear that two pronged approach to failure, normalizing failure while honoring that it's an uncomfortable experience for most of us, making it about the process and the learning and encouraging students to re enter the design cycle to work on another solution or another approach to their original solution. Also, though, there's this embedded exposure to the idea of more sharing extensions is sometimes thought of to be the card that we play for our learners who need a challenge or who are ready for the next step. But here sharing the idea that the process is never ending serves a different purpose. It frees students from the neat and tidy wrap up that they're familiar with, and reminds them that life is a work in progress. iPhones, for example, are functional, but new models are proof that the process is never done. Helping students see that their final draft can always be the launching point to their next iteration frees everybody from the pressure of finishing something. One of my favorite parts of maker spaces is how it has redefined failure for me. If everything can be improved upon, then failure is really just a stepping stone to a new draft and a great learning experience. So that's a wrap on Eric's thoughts and my reflections for this episode. The second part is available now. And in it, you'll hear Eric discussing how he thinks makerspace learning should happen in schools. I'll share his direct experiences creating stem and makerspace models in schools. And I think you'll be surprised to his approach. He'll share more insights into how students learn in this format and several really great stories from his own work with students. Links to his company and some of the tools mentioned today are in the show notes. transcripts for all episodes are available on our website.