Workshops with 826 Valencia

Earlier in November we were lucky to collaborate with 826 Valencia (our local pirate store/writing center extrodinare) to particiapte in a series of workshops. The first workshop was held here in the Tinkering Studio where we facilitated Marble Machines for the 826 Valencia staff and volunteers, then a week later the tinkeirng crew headed to the pirate store to do a creative writing workshop there. 

The first workshop began with the customary prompt of "try to make the marble travel down the board as slowly as possible." From there, everyone broke into teams to start working on their marble machines. Some groups took the prompt to heart and tried to engineer the perfectly slow system, and other groups were inspired by a particular material or technique they wanted to focus on. There was a noticeable feeling of excitement in the Tinkering Studio as people built their machines. During the sharing time at the end people shared their joys, frustrations, and surprises they encountered in their process.

Marble Machines Workshop with 826 Valencia Marble Machines Workshop with 826 Valencia

After the workshop we headed to the Learning Studio for a reflection conversation. Here are some direct quotes that people shared during that discussion. What amazed me the most was how similar our processes are for both approaching activities and the attitude we try to encourage in participants.

Always having to rejigger is very similar; if something becomes an obstacle how do I turn it into an advantage. This is a physical manifestation of what we have to do with people. The biggest revelation for me is learning to work with other people, I have to put my ego away, I can’t control the situation and incorporate other people’s ideas.

Discussing and adjusting very much happens with writing and coaching the students: what were you thinking, what are you thinking now, how would you express that? There is a lot of talking with writing, it’s not a solitary endeavor, and we use a lot of conversation.

Marble Machines Workshop with 826 Valencia Marble Machines Workshop with 826 Valencia

At the outset of the assignment I didn’t feel like I was in competition with anyone, there was a sense of play and that’s something we strive for with the students. Sometimes there is a grade attached to the work they do but we try to lower the stakes for them.

The role of a tutor is supporting a student no matter where they are in the writing process.

 Marble Machines Workshop with 826 Valencia Marble Machines Workshop with 826 Valencia

We recognize that students are not going to walk away with a big new chunk of knowledge, but perhaps they will be more willing to engage in writing next time.

At first I thought “oh no!” I am not good with my hands, and I thought this was going to be too much time doing something I wouldn’t enjoy, but through facilitation and by the end of it I was completely into it.

I wanted to end with that last quote, because it exactly reflects a conversation that Dana and I had about how felt about writing before going to 826 Valencia. We were super nervous about putting words on paper, but the way the 826 team scaffolded the process (which I'll share more about below) made it approachable and really fun!  

Since 826 Valencia's work centers on the power of words (and Luigi took copius notes during our debreif discussion), I thought it'd be interesting to see what a visualization of that conversation looks like. The word cloud shows the frequency of words used by size. I love that idea, frustration, process, and work are some of the most commonly used words. Building marble machines is definitely fun, but can also be really challenging!  

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The following week we headed to 826 Valencia to try our hand at creative writing. I know quite a few of us were apprehensive about the workshop because, aside from emails and blog posts, most of us don't do much writing. Our fears were quickly put aside as we were transported from a quirky store in San Francisco to a fantastical ship captained by the stern Ms. Blue. The introduction to the workshop was surprising and genuinely funny, which made us feel comfortable and ready to get started.

The first activity was scaffolded in a way to get us writing as a group. We collaboratively brainstormed a setting for a short story we titled "Everything Will Change in 3 Minutes." We broke into smaller groups to develop characters and come up with a climax to the story. There was even someone to illustrate our story as it developed. We were having so much fun we forgot to take pictures, but Mike did snap this one of Luigi and me improvising dialogue between the two main characters. After the dialogue we each got a page to write our own ending to the story.


Our stories were compiled and bound into individual books we got to take home, complete with an author photo on the book jacket. One fun part of the workshop was getting the approval of Ms. Blue. As an un-seen facilitator of the space, she provided a way of safely voicing a lot of the nervousness around writing that we felt, and made it feel fun and silly instead of daunting.

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After writing a story as a group, we got the opportunity to free writing on our own. As a way of getting started, we were given a list of ideas to draw from our memories as potential stories. Once we had a long list of ideas to choose from, we got to pick one and delve into getting that memory onto paper. First we worked on getting our first draft down, then we went through a guided revision process. I liked that during the revising times, we had the choice of reviewing on our own or asking for help from a facilitator. Having someone to bounce ideas off of or just pose an issue in a different way was hugely helpful, and took something that could be considered solitary and made it social. At the end of our free writing time we got to go on stage in the workshop space and read our stories. We were all definitely a little nervous, but it was great to have the support of the 826 team to encourage us to get up and share.

The thing that struck me the most about both workshops is that, even though we work in different modes, we're asking visitors to our spaces to engage in similar ways. Our environments are a little weird and out of the ordinary, and we ask people to do things they might not feel comfortable with, but we provide a welcoming environment and supportive facilitation to draw out the learner's/student's/visitor's ideas into a tangible object. We take thinking and make it visible. I can't wait to continue to collaborate with 826 Valencia because I know we'll have so much to learn from each other (and have fun doing it!).


Sound Cups!

Earlier this week we posted a recap of the annual ASTC Conference. Here's a write-up of an activity called Sound Cups that we used as an ice breaker at our pre-conference workshop. It's a great activity to encourage careful observation and lots of testing and iteration.

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Sound Cups [A tinkering activity developed with Artist-in-Residence Diane Willow]

1) Gather a bunch of little objects that make different noises when shaken in a cup (see list below).

2) Put some stuff in one cup, and tape another cup to it, mouth to mouth.

3) Make two, or three, or four of these shakers all with the same stuff in them. Shuffle and mix up all the shakers to separate the matched groups.
Distribute them to participants (make sure that there are at least pairs distributed/ i.e. nobody is the only one with a certain item).

4) Give each participant one shaker, and ask them to listen to the sounds it makes.

5) Next encourage people to find their “mates” by walking around, talking to each other, and listening to each other's shakers. You may notice cups will sound different when shaken up and down versus side to side or when swirled. How fast or slow you shake the cups will impact the sound too!

6) Once they’ve found someone with the same sound – ask them to work together to recreate their sound cup by making a new one.
(Have a few extra materials on hand that aren’t found in the cups - but mainly it’s the materials from the cups.)

7) Once everyone has more or less matched their sound, have the pairs or small groups take apart their shakers and see what is in them.

Some questions that can help focus reflection on the activity:
What surprised you?
What were some different solutions to the "reproduced sound" problem?
What other materials would you like to try this with?
Why do you think certain objects make certain sounds?

Two extension ideas –
• draw what you think it in the cup before you start trying to make it
• try making a new cup and giving it to someone else to try to recreate

Cool comments and insights that kids have had:
“Can you hear color?....no way, but what if you could”
“I can hear metal”
“Mine sounded like hers, just smaller”
“If you can’t figure it out, slow down and show it to someone else…then you will”


Materials to try:
1. Q-tips

2. Rubber bands

3. Folded or waded up origami paper

4. Balloon

5. Plastic letters (like fridge magnets)

6. Craft pom poms

7. Pipe cleaners

8. Soda lid(s)

9. Plastic lid

10. Milk ring

11. Binder clips (2 small ones)

12. Golf pencil

13. Safety pin

14. LEGO

15. Straws

16. Corks

17. Cotton string or yarn

18. Foamies

19. Clothespin

20. Aluminum foil

21. Wire

22. Washers


Scott Weaver's on TV Monday night

Scott Weaver, who built the Rolling Through the Bay toothpick sculpture on display here at the Exploratorium out of 100,000+ toothpicks and Elmer's Glue is at it again.

This time, he's going to be part of a TV show called The Great Christmas Light Fight - showing off another amazing construction that he's dubbed Weaver's Winter Wonderland. This one uses plywood instead of toothpicks and thousands of LED light strands, along with hand drawn characters like the Giant Genie from Aladdin, Waldo and even the Christmas Poo.


If you're local, it's well worth a drive up to Rohnert Park to check it out in person, otherwise enjoy the show from the comfort of your home.


Made in the Tinkering Studio: Cardboard Automata (and more)

Continued from Karen's post about Automata and related to the CoP hangout "Let's Talk Automata" from two weeks ago (you can watch the recorded hangout here on YouTube), I wanted to share some more automata that were created in the Tinkering Studio. Some are in photos, some are in videos.
Here we go!

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(Left: Sea monster and drowning man, Right: Goooooooal!)
Each mechanism is very simple but the decoration on the top is narrative and tells you a story when the motion starts.

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(Left: Automata made from only scrap foamie, Right: Doodling automata)

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(Left: Bear wash shower, Right: Chattering teeth)
They make me laugh each time I crank.

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(Left: Big spider vs bee, Right: Flower and bugs)
These are both made by our volunteer Michael. Starting from very simple automata (first we asked him to make simple motion samples for the floor activity), now he has made lots of cool complex automata for the Tinkering Studio.

Here are some more automata in motion!
Check out Michael's frog and birds in the video below. The wire linkage adds an interesting motion to the automata, and both are using a straw to make sound (especially I like the sound with the birds).

Automata fire hydrant from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

Automata picking nose from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

Automata Michael's frog from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

Automata Michael's birds from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

Michael's dog from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

Michael's enthusiasm for automata took the cardboard automata to the next level! Inspired by Keith Newstead's life size theater dog, Michael created this mechanical dog and it works really well.

Nicole's alligator from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

And here is one more! The Michael's dog inspired Nicole to make this pull toy for her nephew. Nice to see the inspiration goes around!


ASTC Conference 2014

This year’s annual ASTC Conference was held in Raleigh, North Carolina. We wanted to share a (very belated) recap of some of the sessions and events we participated in at the conference!

Like last year, we started off with a full-day pre-conference workshop called “Making and Tinkering: a CoP PD Opportunity.” It’s so exciting to see how conversations about making and tinkering in museums are continuing to grow and evolve year to year.

We wanted to start out the day with a fun ice breaker that would get people interacting and making right away! We decided on trying an activity called sound cups to get the ball rolling. This two-part activity started with each person receiving a sealed set of cups with mystery items inside. The first goal was to find your sonic “mate.” Depending on how you shook, swirled, or tapped the cup you might hear different sounds. Once you found your “mate,” the next goal was to try to recreate your sound using a wide variety of materials. Whether or not you perfectly recreated your sound maker, it was a fun way of meeting other workshop participants and getting into the tinkering mindset of testing and trying right away. (If you’re interested in trying out sound cups, we’ll be posting more information on the activity in an upcoming blog post soon!)

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One highlight of the day was a presentation by Summer from Scienceworks Hands-On Museum who shared how their space DaVinci's Garage has transformed in the past year since participating in last year’s workshop. Lisa and Peter from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh shared some of the formal research being done on learning in makerspaces, as well as introduced MakingandLearning.org, a field-wide initiative to understand, advance, support, and connect makerspaces in museums and libraries.

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There were two sets of activity sessions at the workshop. The morning session focused on using cardboard as a material to explore construction, circuitry, problem solving, animating linkages, simple machines, and narrative. The afternoon activities focused around ways plastic could be worn, fused, inflated, illuminated, engineered, and more! In both sessions we experimented with having signs at the tables sharing the pedagogical and design goals behind the activity. We used these points as the springboard for our debrief conversations we had after each activity.

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One thing I love about ASTC is not just the activity inspiration, but the environmental set up and materials ideas that we learn. David from NySCI's Makerspace shared these amazing plastic fusing stations at his activity, and Keith from the Science Museum of Minnesota shared that EMT trauma shears make great cardboard cutting instruments.
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It was an amazing day of inspiring conversations, making connections with colleagues, and engaging activities. It was the perfect way to kick of the conference!

During the regular conference sessions, Monika from the Lawrence Hall of Science organized a CoP session called “Making Space for Innovation.” This session showcased making and tinkering activities hosted by several institutions around a wide variety of themes, with a chance to debrief and explore what makes them work.

Elena from Explora! and Keith collaborated to share these three-dimensional circuit sculptures.

Janella from the New York Hall of Science and Lisa collaborated to share an activity on circuitry for early learners. And sticking with the circuits theme, we facilitated paper circuits and circuit boards (highlighting how these were both featured in our Coursera course this past year).

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Monika shared their Hydraulics activity. Check out this video of a creation in action!

There was even more going on at that session, and the energy in the room was incredible. In the breakout conversations it was clear how thoughtful everyone was about their practice of facilitating, maintaining, and curating making and tinkering spaces at their home institutions.

That evening, after a day jam-packed with sessions, we had an unofficial Materials Nerds Meet Up. It was a great opportunity for folks who love the joys and challenges of maintaining materials-rich environments to come together share ideas. Over 30 people came to chat about, literally, stuff and how to store it!


The conference wrapped up with a fresh perspective on two sessions we participated in last year. Karen, along with Lisa and Paul Orselli, met once again to participate in a lively debate on the subject “Where is the Science in a Maker Space?” facilitated by Hooley McLaughlin of the Ontario Science Centre. Like last year, it proved to be a spirited, thoughtful, and provocative conversation that both sides were passionate about.

Lastly, we facilitated our traveling version of Light Play at the annual Indie Style session. It was great to prototype and share a version of an activity we love that can be taken on the road. We had three stations set up in the room, but people were so eager to try it out, some even used the wall as a projection site!

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As always, this year’s ASTC conference was an informative, inspiring, and invigorating event (or as Dana put it, the best family reunion ever!). We can’t wait for next year, and are already brimming with ideas for new sessions to propose!