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WHAT IS GMS?


Guerrilla Maker Space is our attempt at crafting creative opportunities to make and produce in unexpected spaces. We believe in the power of creating. We believe that disrupting your regularly scheduled day with a creative experience might have compelling, inspiring, and impactful results. So, we tried it out. Four times. Scroll down to see what happened.

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WHAT IS GMS?


Guerrilla Maker Space is our attempt at crafting creative opportunities to make and produce in unexpected spaces. We believe in the power of creating. We believe that disrupting your regularly scheduled day with a creative experience might have compelling, inspiring, and impactful results. So, we tried it out. Four times. Scroll down to see what happened.

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SPACE 1


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SPACE 1


In a recent iPhone notes snippet, between ramblings about grad school, I scribbled: "I believe in transformative experiences." Maker spaces, in all forms, have the potential to transform: spaces, communities, identities, interactions with people and with technology, mindsets, motivations, passions, and creative agency. Christan and I launched into this project with the belief that maker spaces hold a sort of transformative magic. We think that participating in a creative act might move someone to be more imaginative throughout the rest of their day, find a new passion, or connect with a potential lifelong friend. We think these transformative experiences have the potential to be at their most powerful when experienced unexpectedly. For the next month and a half, our job is to figure out why and how. And thus, in this spirit, GMS is born.

 

Our first space, we decided, needed to be a completely low-tech, low level version of what we envisioned GMS being in the future. What was created did not matter as much as how. We needed to tinker a bit with the experience before we attempted to hit the ground running. After tossing a few ideas around (finger painting outside, making holiday wreaths, face painting, other painting...) we settled on magnetic poetry in Gutman. Lisa graciously lent us one of her magnetic poetry sets, I went out and bought a small magnetic whiteboard, and we began to experiment.

In our first iteration, we tried out four approaches:

1) Approach people we know (easy)

2) Approach people we didn't know (not easy)

3) Don't approach people; leave whiteboard on table with "play with me!" sign (didn't work)

4) Leave whiteboard in large family bathroom upstairs with "play with me!" sign (kind of gross, but awesome)

 

ONE. Approach One was great. We found a table of AIE friends and completely took over their lunch. The magnetic poetry set we borrowed as especially, shall we say, explicit, which made the exercise even more fun. Our somewhat awkward intrusion quickly became the highlight of the table; our five friends took turns creating poems, fought over whiteboard space, and remixed each others' work. The table quickly erupted in laughter. Liz commented that she wished there were more creative opportunities at lunchtime; she feels like she learns more outside of the classroom space - over dinner, over drinks, walking outside - when she's with her peers. And we helped spark that for her, this day at lunch, with our poetry. It was an energizing thing to witness.

TWO. Approaching people you don't know is difficult. Maker spaces don't really work when making is forced. Making must be voluntary. Making necessitates a safe space. To be creative is to be vulnerable (for creativity often exposes something deeply internal). And that's difficult. Quickly recognizing the awkward social interactions we had begun to generate, our attempt at approaching people we didn't know ended quickly. Christan and I both, I think, believe in the power of our project to attract people by nature of just being what it is. That can't be forced.

THREE. Which leads us to attempt three. Attempt three didn't work. At all. We left the whiteboard on a high-traffic table by the Commons at Gutman with a "Play With Me" sign....and no one came. I think the reason behind this has much to do with what I mentioned above: creativity takes vulnerability, and people are extra vulnerable when they're in a public place. I feel like there's a pressure to, in a sense, perform in a certain way when at Gutman. You should either be ( a ) studying by yourself, ( b ) studying with other people, ( c ) socializing with people you know, ( d ) having an official meeting of sorts. So activities like creating art or watching last night's New Girl episode (it's been attempted...I'd prefer not talk about it) or jamming silently and visibly to music are not as acceptable because they become spectacle. Our small board also did not have much allure; most people would much rather seek out a social situation with people they know then sit quietly and create by themselves.

FOUR. Attempt four was one of my favorite experiments. In our remaining hour at Gutman, disappointed by our covert maker space attempt, we ran around for a bit to find other magnetic spaces we could do up Guerrilla style. Moral of the story: Gutman is not magnetic. At all. Elevator? Nope. Giant metal hot water machine? Nope. Metal frames around doors? Nope. It's worse than Magneto's plastic prison [obligatory nerd joke]. Our solution was simple and wonderful, and addressed the problems of our clandestine Maker Space attempt. We put the magnetic board in a covert space, but a private covert space - the large, unisex family/handicapped bathroom upstairs. Possibly not the most sanitary move, but it was on the sink, so we hoped for the best. And it worked! Poetry was made, and Christan even overheard a "Bro [really], you should totally go into that bathroom, there's magnetic poetry!" It was a covert smash hit. But, again, not exactly what we were looking for.

 

What we want is a community. Of course, making is great, but we think it can be much more. Christan and I both believe in the power of objects, and even more so of objects that are personal, relevant, even transformational, because they are created. We believe in the power of communal creating to bring people together, to relate in a space and in a way they otherwise would not. We believe maker spaces can be magical. Which means they should not be secret, covert, isolated, or forced. They can, and they should, build communities, and from there, a movement.

 

So, on to the next one. (This time, with more wires.)

- Saskia

 
By building onto students’ familiar practices and adding a layer of expressive technologies, a digital fabrication lab, which merges computation, tinkering and engineering, has the potential to augment rather than replace familiar and powerful practices that students already possess, therefore they can recognize their own previous expertise in what they accomplish in the lab, rather than acquiring a new identity altogether.
— Paulo Blikstein, on Fab Labs, from "Digital Fabrication and ‘Making’ in Education: The Democratization of Invention"
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SPACE 2


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SPACE 2


Christan:

Where and when and what was the space?

Sat. Nov. 2, 3pm @ The Harvard Science Center Plaza.

What happened? (Our approach, who came, how they engaged.)

When we first arrived at the Plaza, armed with a plastic tub filled of maker-inspired supplies (clay, pencils, assorted paper, crayons, paper clips, and one banana) we found and promptly took over a large, empty picnic table directly in front of one of the Food Trucks; a prime location, to be sure. While I got busy setting up an example of what people could do in our space [a MaKey MaKey piano using a pre-made Scratch project and a few blobs of clay], Saskia hung up a huge post-it sign reading, "Play with Us!"

At this point my nerves conveniently [not] went into hyper drive and I had a few moments of inward panic. What if nobody wants to explore our space? Can we pack up our equipment/run fast enough if our 'Guerrilla' style of doing things becomes an issue? 

More than nerves, though, I think I was just extremely eager to see how people might react to a pop-up maker space in general. Would the oddity of something like this be enough to spark interest? If it does, how much will people choose to engage in making, creating, or playing? One of my bigger curiosities, though, was to see how people might interact with the technology we had brought along (i.e. Scratch/MaKey MaKey). I found myself wondering about three things in particular: 1) Will the use of potentially unfamiliar technology act as a hindrance toward getting people to explore our space? 2) How will people’s preconceived ideas of / knowledge for / capabilities with technology alter the way in which they interact with said technology? And more importantly, 3) how will this effect (if at all) the way they engage in making, creating, or designing?

Within the book Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, Rushkoff passionately discusses his views on how we, as a culture, have essentially become passive consumers within a technology-driven world, not yet aware of how much control we may have over our digital experiences (2010). The following passage, I feel, provides an excellent example of his viewpoint:

Digital technology is programmed. This makes it biased toward those with the capacity to write the code. In a digital age, we must learn how to make the software, or risk becoming the software. It is not too difficult or too late to learn the code behind the things we use - or at least to understand that there is code behind their interfaces. Otherwise, we are at the mercy of those who do the programming, the people paying them, or even the technology itself.  (Rushkoff, 2010, p. 128)

Despite Rushkoff’s somewhat intense way of framing the situation, I find the underlying message of his work to be poignant. The culture in which we live largely depends upon technology to survive. Desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and media players, among so many others, have become integral to the productivity of our everyday lives. Yet how much do we really know about these technological platforms? How much do we really even know about the programs we use within these technological platforms?

I think the idea of programming can be a scary thing for a lot of people. This, I think, may be especially true for people with no prior experience, and therefore no real frame of reference on what "programming" really means. Rushkoff points to one possible reasoning behind this digital illiteracy when he comments that we “learn what our computers already do instead of what we can make them do” (2010, p. 137). This is something I hope our maker space can help begin to tackle.

Thankfully, I didn’t have much time to dwell on my inner moment of awkwardness as our first potential maker stopped to see what we were doing and asked if he could bring his 5 year old daughter over to explore.

She was a little hesitant to approach the space at first but once she saw that the clay blobs were responsible for controlling the piano, she dove right in. The father seemed equally, if not more, curious as his daughter in discovering all the different materials and methods that could be used to control the MaKey Makey. At one point he wanted to show his daughter that if they held hands, together they could complete a circuit and control the piano [Rushkoff approved high-five!]. They took turns between who would hold the "ground" cable and who would play the piano and she thought this was pretty cool. Although, after awhile she decided it was more fun adding clay to her creation and wanted the use of both her hands [which is captured in the video below when she humorously pushes his hand away, indicating she was ready to move on]. 

Being at the Plaza felt similar, in a lot of ways, to Lave & Wagner's legitimate peripheral participation learning community which "involves participation as a way of learning - of both absorbing and being absorbed in the culture of practice" (Bruckman, 2006, p. 464). We had several visitors over the course of the afternoon. Some only briefly interacted. Some stayed for a while. Many more simply observed. By the end of the day a human drum kit was made, many versions of my clay piano were created, several drawings were connected to MaKey Makeys, and a colorful clay controller was used to navigate a Super Mario game. It was a good day.

What did the experience illuminate about constructionism?

The brilliance of tools like the ones we are using is that anyone can use them, regardless of how much or little perceived technological skill they may have. Through conductive materials, MaKey MaKey allows users to manipulate any number of computer related functions. Through Lego-like blocks, Scratch teaches an intuitive programming language by way of engaging people in creating computer games, interactive stories, and much more. They both offer the opportunity for people in engage in fun, non-threatening ways of exploring ideas of programming through acts of creating, designing, and making. I truly believe these tools are capable of offering people a new way in which to view what it means to be a ‘programmer’ as well as provide people with the confidence in their own technological abilities to learn more. The idea that technology is scary or only those with ‘traditional’ training are capable of creating / designing / making programming content is exactly the kind of mental barrier we were aiming to overcome through our space. [Taking inspiration from Mitch Resnick] it was, and is, our hope that through the act of making participants may learn to program and in return, they may program to learn

Through out the course of the event, people seemed genuinely excited about our maker space. They were also, for the most part, excited about the different technology tools available, particularly the MaKey MaKey. Nearly everyone that participated were eager to find new materials to control with and we saw some really creative / humorous ideas [“Touch my leg! Touch my leg! Wait… is that weird to ask?” – A participant to Saskia as he rolled up his pant leg].

One thing we noticed and talked about afterward was the level of engagement, particularly in regards to making. The piano example I created at the beginning was a really excellent way to attract people to our space and generate curiosity about what we were doing. At the same time, though, we saw a lot of duplicated pianos being made and sometimes people only played with the one that I made. At one point we made a drawing that said “PIANO!” and attached that to the MaKey MaKey hoping to inspire new ways of thinking and we did see some inspired creations through that.

Going forward, I think it will be interesting to consider ways in which we can inspire people to engage deeper in the maker aspect of our space in addition to the playing that we saw today.

What did you learn from the space?

I couldn’t be more excited about the space we chose to explore first! The Plaza is a part of Harvard’s Common Spaces program and is located just outside the Science Center. The program was started in hopes of enhancing a “sense of engagement and community” and this space is truly an excellent example of that. The culmination of its proximity to Harvard Square, Cambridge Commons, and Harvard Yard, among so many others, combined with the presence of Food Trucks, Table Tennis, and often some sort of event [Farmers Market, Petting Zoo, etc.] make for an ever evolving and fruitful population of people. It proved to be the perfect place for us to reach people from a diverse array of backgrounds.

One thing we noticed was that there were a lot of kids that stopped by GMS, which is, of course, awesome ( ! ), but I think some saw it as a ‘kids only’ type event and it discouraged them from participating. After a few people had stopped to ask of if adults were allowed, Saskia put a note on our sign stating that adults were welcome too. All in all, though, it was a terrific space and an amazing way to kick off our GMS project!

What did you learn about yourself?

Approaching strangers to participate in something you've created can be very scary. In those moments leading up to the start of our space, I was definitely feeling very nervous about our project. Now looking back on the experience, I found I actually very much enjoyed interacting with people and encouraging strangers to participate. It was a lot of fun!

What did you learn about Saskia?

Saskia = Solid Gold. Working with her is awesome. And I feel like she will be someone I learn a lot from.

Watching her interact with our makers was, for me, one of the highlights of this space. She was so genuine and responsive with the participants that even our youngest visitor, an 18-month-old boy, felt comfortable letting go of his mom’s hand and focusing his attention on Saskia as she helped him navigate the materials in front of him. The smile on his mom’s face told me this was a big deal for the little guy. The smile on Saskia’s face told me this project has the potential to really do something great.

Memorable moment/person/creation?

"What are you selling?" (This was a fairly common question throughout the event and was always quite humorous for us.)

Saskia:

Where and when and what was the space?

Nov. 2: Christan and I took over a large, covered picnic table next to a Vietnamese food truck in the Harvard Science Center Plaza on a Saturday afternoon around 3pm. The table was right at the intersection of people commuting between the Science Center, the Design School, the Yard, Mass Ave, Memorial Hall...it felt like we were at Harvard's center. There were children and tourists and students and families - a perfect population sampling for our first attempt.

What happened? (Our approach, who came, how they engaged.)

Inspired by a pop up storefront kit idea that our classmate Remy pointed me towards, I decided it was best to make our supplies as kit-like as possible. Thus, we came armed with:

  • A large plastic tub
  • Water-based clay
  • Crayons
  • Giant pencils
  • Paper clips and binder clips
  • Cool colorful tape
  • Construction paper
  • Print-outs of our survey URL
  • Two MaKey MaKey kits
  • Two laptops
  • A huge blue post-it sign that reads "Play with us!"
  • A banana

We spread out our supplies on the picnic table, stuck our sign up on the overhanging awning, and began to play. I ascribed more to the "if you play with it, they will come" approach, while Christan was a bit more dynamic with catching the eyes of onlookers and inviting them over. (Christan's approach worked better. Go team!) We set up one laptop with a Scratch piano, and hooked the banana up to the space key on the second laptop.

Our first guest was a dad who, after a few preliminary questions, asked if he could bring his 5 year old daughter over to play with the banana. While poking the banana/space bar was cool, it wasn't engaging. The piano, however, was a hit. Christan hooked up a series of clay blobs to the various keys, and our guest maker played the piano. Then we asked her if she would like to make her own - and she did! Though she did copy Christan's design exactly, she was totally into making her clay piano. (In the future, I think, it might be helpful to have more of an explanation/guidance game plan for different ages.) Keeping the "ground" cable in her hand was a bit tricky, but she got used to it. Then, after a brief lesson in electricity conduction, her dad came over to show her what would happen if he held the ground cable in one hand and her hand in the other, and she played the piano. All very cool. The three of us then made a musical art piece with graphite, and hooked up the piano to our artwork. Though the science of the MaKey MaKey was a bit beyond our 6 year old maker, I think she really dug the activity. After about 45 minutes, she went back to playing on the nearby rock sculpture. Though by no means do I think this was a missed opportunity to push this child's thinking, we could definitely think through guiding questions/prompts/mini-lessons for our younger makers.

Later on, played Scratch Mario with tourists, built a human drum machine with a research student, had an entire family play with our Scratch Piano, engaged with a visiting mathematician's 3D tic-tac-toe like game, and helped a ton of awesome kids build cool, conductive projects. (What if all tech-minded learning looked like this? Our experiences are indeed reshaping how I think learning might be better designed.)

What did the experience illuminate about constructionism?

Compared with our MVP (minimum viable product - words from my ed tech days) attempt, this GMS was really energizing and encouraging. Its simplicity, I think, is what struck me the most. We gathered a few supplies, occupied a table, were nice to people who stared us down, and minimally facilitated making experiences.

One thing to think through is the idea of making vs. playing. Our sign invited people to "play with us" (I added "grown ups too!" at one point). We set up pre-made Scratch projects to help ease into the making space. Our makers were certainly experimental with the MaKey MaKeys, but not as adventurous with the behind the scenes stuff, Scratch. I think creating - especially on the fly - is easiest when you can touch and hold the thing that you are creating. It's more difficult, however, to invite people (especially people you don't know) to create. People want to play. They saw our colorful sign and our table full of tangled wires and clay and thought it looked fun. I don't suspect they really expected they'd be creating, too. At least at first.

Engineering a making experience without any prior expectations is hard. Most people are suspicious. (We were asked, on multiple occasions, if we were selling MaKey MaKeys, were MIT students, or promoting Scratch). Others are scared - of failure, mostly, I think. People saw a mess of wires and circuit-ish boards and laptops and shied away. Crayons are much less threatening than wires. I wondered how people's relationship with technology prompted them to be interested or disinterested with our space. I wonder how the experience shaped, if at all, how people view technology (something to keep in mind for our next survey iteration). I'm in the TIE program; working with technology is exciting and unthreatening. I wonder how we might change our approach next time to invite people in who are more wary of wires. And thinking beyond that - this plays hugely into problems of access. Technology is inaccessible. It's the man behind the curtain. How can we build spaces and experiences that help raise that curtain up? How can those ideas be applied at a larger scale?

There are also expectations for what being "creative" is and should be, especially at Harvard. Creativity is innovation, ingenuity, and brilliance. It's creating something new that didn't exist before. That's a lot of pressure. Playing is easier. There are rules for playing, guidelines that everyone knows and feels comfortable with. Expectations are low. Playing is safe.

In Self Efficacy, Albert Bandura reminds us that "The striving for control over life circumstances permeates almost everything people do throughout the life course because it provides innumerable personal and social benefits. Uncertainty in important matters is highly unsettling" (1-2). People are more inclined to "bring their influence to bear on events in their lives" to "shape them to their liking." It's the inherent uncertainty of creating, I think, that makes people feel so out of control. (There's an uncertainty in playing as well, but I think the low-stakes nature of play makes that uncertainty less frightening.) The mathematician that was so eager to connect did not want to create; he wanted to analyze. He asked us about the "physics" behind our work; our motivations. He wanted to understand why; we wanted him to create. Instead, we played.

How, then might we encourage people to play and make? How can we create experiences where creating feels as safe and inviting as playing?

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Finally, no one took our survey. Onward!

What did you learn from the space?

Being in the Plaza allowed us to connect with people we wouldn't necessarily encounter during our daily shuffle to and from Gutman. The most memorable moment, for me, was a mathematician from the Netherlands who sat down to show us what he was creating - a 3D logic/construction game - that I was quite bad at playing. But it was fascinating.

Our GMS was definitely eye-catching. Lots of rubber necking happened. But even in the middle of the Plaza, in the center of a communal space with food trucks and trees and colorful lawn chairs, we had an invisible wall around our table. Breaking through that wall took courage and a little bit of love.

What did you learn about yourself?

It's been a while since I've been in the classroom. One of the few unfortunate aspects of our program at the ed school is that we have very limited opportunities to connect with K-12 students. I found myself getting nervous about finding the right things to say to our younger makers - I wanted to ask guiding questions, to prompt them to think about the science behind the MaKey MaKey. I wanted them to feel comfortable and welcomed and loved. But in the end, I stepped back and let them drive. It wasn't easy.

What did you learn about Christan?

I'm so thankful Christan agreed to do this project with me. She's awesome. Where I tensed up and became a bit paralyzed by my fear of talking to people I didn't know, Christan totally stepped in. The majority of our makers came to our table because Christan caught their eyes and invited them in: "Hi! Do you want to play?." I need to be much less wary about how our potential makers are viewing me and more concerned about getting them into the space. Christan showed me that if I pretend like the invisible wall between our table and the rest of the world doesn't exist, then it doesn't.

Memorable moment/person/creation?

A few great quotes (unprompted):

"What is the motivation? To get kids into engineering?"

"I'm wondering about the physics. If you didn't touch this, but these two…."

"Is it ok if I"m over age 6?"

"What are you selling?"

"This is more accessible than Arduino."

"I want to see how many other things in my house I can make with."

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SPACE 3


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SPACE 3


Christan:

Where and when and what was the space?

Thurs. Nov. 14th, 10pm @ Queens Head Pub

What happened? 

Saskia and I both, I think, were eager to see how drinking may impact the general maker space experience for participants. How might alcohol affect the creative process? Could it lead to more creative explorations? What about interactions with other people?

We saw a mixture of answers to these questions as the night progressed, with my favorite creation involving mustard, ketchup, and a squid made from clay (both awesomely creative and messy at the same time! I loved it.) But one thing in particular really stood out to me within this space; the amount of peer-to peer interactions / moments of informal learning that occurred.

In the chapter titled, Learning in Online Communities, Bruckman discusses ways in which learning can be accomplished and enhanced through Internet facilitated communities (2006). Though the chapter refers mainly to online communities, with regard to peer-to-peer learning, I believe much of what the author stated is relevant to GMS. One example of this can be seen through the participation of one of our makers: Jude.

Prior to this event, Jude had never interacted with Scratch or MaKey MaKey. He seemed genuinely excited to participate in our maker space and even came back a little later in the evening to show a friend. (This was the first time the friend had interacted with these tools as well.) Despite this being Jude’s first time using such technology, he felt confident enough in his new knowledge of the tools to show his friend how they work. He demonstrated an example of what he had previously done but then quickly encouraged his friend to explore beyond this example. As the friend tinkered with materials, he would ask Jude questions / run ideas past him, and together they would test things out. It was a great exchange of peer-to-peer learning and amazing to witness! In words of Bruckman, I truly feel our maker space allowed for technology “to bring students together in new types of learning communities, communities that support all students in more effective learning and deeper understanding of material” (2006, p.462).

What did the experience illuminate about constructionism?

At first, we only saw a few participants trickle in from time to time. Most of these were fellow T-550ers, which was awesome and definitely exciting to see all the support from our peers, but as always, we try to engage as many people as possible. And eventually, as the night went on (perhaps corresponding to the number of drinks consumed?), we did see an increase in involvement from people outside the Education School.

Throughout the evening, we saw a lot of variation in creative engagement from participants. Condiments were involved, people created small Scratch projects, and lots of fun clay creations were made. Overall, though, the highlight of the experience, for me, stemmed from the interactivity of all the participants. If not directly involved in the making process, people often encouraged ideas or offered new ways of trying something. It seems the social aspect of a bar definitely contributed to this particular learning community.

In constructionist learning, learners construct their own knowledge while working in communities of learners who share discoveries and build on each other’s ideas.
— Bruckman, 2006, p. 462

What did you learn from the space?

Queens Head is a student-run bar located in  Memorial Hall (a Hogwarts-like building with gargoyle statues both inside and out!) next to Harvard Yard and Science Center Plaza. On this particular night, it happened to be Trivia Night at the bar (a favorite of mine second only to the epically terrible karaoke night). Wine and beer were involved as well as a plethora of different students.

Though Queens Head provided a much different experience than I thought would occur, it ended up teaching me a great deal. The bar atmosphere (noise level, attention span, etc.) forced me to rethink a lot of things. Essentially, I was forced to let go of my expectations on what would happen and instead, had to let the space navigate how things would unfold. Which was such a wonderful thing to realize. In general, I think the fact that I am so excited about the Maker Movement (so naturally hope to inspire others to be excited too) means I have a set notion on what our spaces could / should look like. In the book titled, Deschooling Society, Illich notes “we can provide the learner with new links to the world” once we let go of the notion that these links must first go through the teacher (1971, p. 73). Letting go wasn't easy at first but once I did, it was a very freeing and exciting moment for me. I’m eager to continue to explore this as we move on to the next space!

What did you learn about yourself?

I need to start letting go of my expectations and start embracing the experience as it occurs.

What did you learn about Saskia?

This is not something that I have learned, but it is something I think is worth mentioning - working with Saskia is beyond awesome. I feel like I won the project-partner lottery. Hurray for amazing teammates!

In other news, I did learn that she is on a dodgeball team! How did I not know this before?? I now feel the need to fan-girl one of her matches, guerrilla style, of course. Naturally, shirts will be made and fun will be had all around.

Memorable moment/person/creation?

Here are two of my favorite quotes pulled from our survey responses:

"I loved it! With no electronic/circuit background or experience, it made me want to understand how it worked, and I immediately suggested it as a science activity to my teachers who work at my learning center at home in California. Really fun way to learn :)"

"I now judge all my past bar experiences as lacking for not having this fun thing. It was unexpected, neat (new), and fun."

On an unrelated note, my mom was in town from Portland, OR for this. I love that I was able to share this experience with her!

Saskia:

Where and when and what was the space?

Nov 14th: Christan and I took over a table in the Queen's Head Pub (a Harvard-owned bar with fantastically bad karaoke). It was trivia night and Christan's mom was there. And since we were at a bar, naturally, there was wine. Which was great.

What happened?

The Queen's Head seems to attract a big Ed School crowd, especially students from TIE, so we had little problem engaging people at our table. Christan and I had conflicting expectations about the QH as a venue: our initial thought was that people would be more into a creative experience after drinking (science says so too!), but then we worried about the social nature of being at a bar (conversing over doing) and how the noise level might interfere with Scratch and MaKey MaKey. Indeed, the noise level was a bit of an issue, but once we gave in to the awesome nature of early 2000s pop as our background and adjusted expectations to fit the space, the experience turned out to be a positive one. Though our makers were mostly Ed School students, we were able to engage a crowd of people we had never met before, and the overall reaction of our crowd was supportive and encouraging. Christan and I, I think, both have a running narrative of how we would like GMS to function; being at the Queen's Head was a necessary first step in realizing that we need to let our expectations go. GMS needs to happen organically. We're still putting creating and making into a box; it needs to be, as Ivan Illich might say, deschooled. Opening GMS up is our next step: "we can provide the learner with new links to the world instead of continuing to funnel all educational programs through the teacher" (Illich, 73). Christan and I began as kinds of traditional teachers; we had a vision of where we expected GMS to go (whether we wished to admit so or not), and performed a certain way with our makers to move them in line with our vision. We set up, in a way, a prescribed curriculum (pre-made projects) and would immediately instruct our makers on how to interact with our technology. Instead, moving forward, we need to be guides and facilitators rather than teachers. We should strive not to control, but to create an open space in which learners / makers can create, as Illich says, their own "links to the world."

We're starting to realize that GMS has as much to do with space and community as it does with constructionism. I think we have a lot to consider about how the experience we are offering interacts with and within the environment it is created in. Not only are our makers interacting with the materials we've provided, but they are shaped by their own expectations, the people they encounter, and the nature of the space itself. There's so much about space that's unconscious; so much cultural code is embedded in structure. The fact that we automatically change our behavior when walking from the cafeteria in Gutman to the quiet study tables by the windows - without any explicit clues - is a perfect example. At the Queen's Head, our maker space fit right in to the boisterous bar culture. Because people were expecting to interact with each other in an open (and loud) manner, interacting with GMS was easy. (These findings, eventually, may give way to fascinating insights into how to rethink traditional education institutions, too.)

I'm not proposing that GMS seek to break down these hidden behavioral codes, but I wonder how we might push people to think differently about (or, at least, be aware of) the spaces they occupy. Maybe we should consider how to tweak what we do to suit the particular needs of a specific space as well. It all comes back to what our vision is / should be - but we have a lot to learn first.

What did the experience illuminate about constructionism?

Being at a bar was definitely an interesting space in which we considered the idea of constructionism. Usually, at bars, people are much more concerned with how their social interactions contribute to a community than the potential to participate in their community by creating artifacts. But if we can, as Barbara Rogoff notes in "Developing Understanding of the Idea of Communities of Learners," view learning as a process of "transforming participation in shared sociocultural endeavors," and if one of the most important results of making, to us, is learning, then maybe the product should not matter as much as the process (210). That's the thing about constructionism - there's so much significance in the thing you're creating, but the real learning happens during the creation process itself. Ideally that process happens within a community, where people can work together, build off of each others' ideas, and encourage each other to experiment and tinker. Community learning builds the capacity for supportive learning. While constructing an object in isolation has its benefits, I think one of the fundamental components of constructionism is community.

One of my favorite quotes from Illich is "Technology is available to develop either independence and learning or bureaucracy and teaching" (77). Independence, as Illich writes, is a kind of freedom (intellectual and otherwise), that gives way to free flowing ideas and innovation. I would argue that "independence and learning" complements the idea of communities and learning. Illich, I think, is not arguing for a kind of learning that happens in isolation, free from the binds of bureaucracy. I think he argues instead against the potentially conformist structures inherent in the act of teaching (that is, that students must conform to teacher standards). In GMS, Christan and I aren't teaching our makers. We're creating an environment in which they can begin to learn from the technology (as a kind of teacher in itself, in a sense) and from each other.

Technology is available to develop either independence and learning or bureaucracy and teaching
— Ivan Illich

Our input is minimal; we start with a quick into about why we're here, what MaKey MaKey is and, if there's time, how Scratch works, show an example, and back away. Our hope is that the technology, Illich style, will empower the maker to start creating and learning herself. It doesn't always work. My theory is twofold: 1) there's not enough time to really engage with our technology in a manner that facilitates self-directed learning and 2) people are used to being taught. Because we're a pop up space, and because of that, there are no preconceived connotations about how interacting with us is supposed to work, people shift to the default, to what they know, which is a teacher/student relationship. When a new maker enters into our space, he looks to us first for guidance, which happened often at the Queen's Head.. (See "Memorable moment/person/creation" to see what happened next.) Perhaps with more time we might be able to un-teach a reliance on being taught.

What did you learn from the space?

The Queen's Head exceeded our expectations. Based on my observations outlined above, I think my biggest takeaway is to enter our next space with less expectations about how a space is "supposed" to function. Simultaneously, I think it's important to acknowledge that people arrive at spaces with certain expectations. These are two important things to consider while moving forward.

What did you learn about yourself?

I'm going to take this opportunity to speak for a moment about TIE. One of the most immediate things I noticed about our program, in comparison to other programs at HGSE and to my undergraduate experience, is our strong willingness to create a community of learning partners (students, professors, and TFs alike). We share resources; we offer information freely; we invite others to participate in our work. It seems like we've all recognized that innovation requires collaboration and openness, over isolation and competition, and we're all aligned in that singular vision. We are truly colleagues. So when my classmates saw Christan and I setting up at the Queen's Head, they corralled friends from other programs and led them to our table. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the friends I've made in my short time in Cambridge. I felt a sense of pride to be part of a program and a community that, I think, will absolutely propel education forward. I'm grateful.

What did you learn about Christan?

Meeting Christan's mom was great! One can learn lots from watching children and parents interact. Christan's mom was excited to be there and incredibly supportive of our work. It was lovely to meet her.

I had a prior engagement at the Media Lab and showed up a bit late, but Christan was completely accommodating of my backed up schedule. She helped arrange to pick up my box of maker goodies before I headed out, then scoped out a table at the Queen's Head for a (long) while until I arrived. She's a wonderful teammate. I'm constantly amazed at how well we work together.

Memorable moment/person/creation?

Two events stick out in my mind:

1) Our classmate Peter coming to the space, playing around for a moment, leaving, and returning with a ketchup and a mustard bottle. He proceeded to make a condiment controller for a Scratch Supermario game (condiments are conductive!) and made an absolute mess. I gave him a funny look, and he responded with "I have permission!" and proceeded to play. It was messy and gross and wonderful.

2) Two EPM (Education Policy and Management) students joined in on the making. One played around with Scratch and MaKey MaKey while his friend socialized behind him, then, turned to his friend to join. They both looked at me to fill them in on the next step, and I asked the first participant to tell his friend what to do instead. There was a brief, silent recognition of my teacher strategy move, and then he stepped up to the challenge and did a great job. Empowering others is certainly fulfilling.

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SPACE 4


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SPACE 4


Christan:

Where and when and what was the space?

Wed. Nov. 20th, 4pm @ South Station T-Stop

What happened?

Ohhhhh South Station... 

South Station proved to be a little bit more difficult of a space to break into than I imagined it would be. When we first arrived at the station, two things were very clear to me. 1) There were A LOT of people coming and going. And 2) 99.9% of these people were hurrying to catch buses, commuter rails, and connecting trains with the large majority keeping to themselves, avoiding all forms of eye contact, and generally not wanting to be bothered.

All of these things combined made me feel very hesitant to approach people about our maker space; I’m fairly certain, Saskia felt the same way (I feel this is an accurate depiction of how we were feeling in the moment). But we rallied on regardless, setting up at a large table near the entrance of the commuter rail trains. Admittedly, this was not the most ideal place for us to be but it was the only table available at the time so we made do with what we had.

The start of our maker space saw the most action with a large group of friends kicking the event off. They were awesome and did some really creative things (including stretching out paper-clips to extend the reach of the MaKey MaKey alligator clips). Sadly, they weren’t able to stay very long as they had to catch a train. Which, as it turns out, became a reoccurring theme throughout our time spent at South Station. People showed interest but only had about 45 seconds to figure out what we were doing before quickly running off. Unfortunately, this led to a similar situation to what we saw at the Plaza – a lot of people playing with our pre-made examples and not very many people making.

I can’t help but tie this experience with something Blikstein referred to as “The Keychain Syndrome” in an article titled, Digital Fabrication and ’Making’ in Education: The Democratization of Invention (2013). In the article, Blikstein describes a workshop where digital fabrication is introduced to a group of students. As an initiation to the workshop, an easy task was assigned where after only moments of instruction students were able to make a highly personalized and attractive keychain. The hope was to generate excitement and motivation for further explorations of digital fabrications. The following passage demonstrates what happened as a result:

The workshop became a keychain factory, and students would not engage in anything else. The plan worked too well – it backfired. Students found an activity that was personally meaningful, produced professional looking products that were admired and envied, and used a high-tech device. However, as much as it was a very effective solution to engage them in digital fabrication, it offered a too big reward for a relatively small effort, to produce an object that did not include any computation or complex constructive challenges.
— Blikstein, 2013, p. 9

The scenario Blikstein describes is essentially what our pre-made examples became for our maker space. People had very little time, so when presented with the opportunity to play a paper piano or control Mario with clay versus taking the time to attempt making something of their own with no guarantee they would succeed, the choice was obvious; the pre-made examples won nearly every time.

What did the experience illuminate about constructionism?

The “Key Chain Syndrome” is something that I find extremely interesting to consider not only in relation to GMS but also when considering constructionism as a whole. If you are trying to engage people in learning environments (such as GMS where, for most people, the concept / tools used are completely new / foreign to what they know), how do you introduce these new ideas without influencing the way they interact with making, creating, or designing? Will the use of any sort of example lead to a “Key Chain Syndrome?”

When considering Alfie Kohn’s theories of motivation and how this might relate to participant levels of engagement, I found myself relating the use of these easy-to-use / low-risk pre-made examples as a sort of reward system for introducing people to our maker space. As Kohn would say in his book Punished by Rewards:  The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, “Rewards don't bring about the changes we are hoping for, but the point here is also that something else is going on: the more rewards are used, the more they seem to be needed” (1999, p. 17). While I’m not convinced Kohn’s theories are directly applicable to this particular situation, I do think his ideas are something we should consider as we continue moving forward.

What did you learn from the space?

South Station brought up a lot of interesting questions for me. Of these questions, two stood out the most. The first being how to engage people in meaningful acts of making when very little time is available. One idea I have considered to get around this predicament would be to have a series of small tasks or problems that people could solve during their time within our space. That way we can engage them within the brief time frame they allow while also leaving room to tinker with different ways of solving each task. I would be curious to see what these tasks might look like but mainly, I would be curious to see if it could work. 

I was recently asked why I am interested in spaces where people have very little time; why not host GMS somewhere less challenging? Which leads me to the second question raised: how to engage people in meaningful acts of making when the overall vibe of the space is less welcoming to such an experience. While I understand what my friend was proposing, this conversation lead me to discover that the reasons I am interested in a space such as South Station is not because of the amount of time people have but more about the space itself. How can the culture of a physical location alter the interactions and engagements (this could equate to time) of individuals occupying that space? How much can the environment around us influence our behaviors?

South Station, more so than the others, truly brought this into focus for me. It made me much more cognizant of just how much environment can alter the 'mood' of a space. It is with this in mind that I propose to my friend a focus, not on the time constraints of the space, but on the environment itself.

What did you learn about yourself?

Apparently, when surrounded by semi-angry looking business people at the end of a work day I become super introverted. I had a really hard time approaching people. And when I did, I was either glared at or simply shut down. It was a lot for my normally-extraverted heart to handle.

[insert facepalm here]

What did you learn about Saskia?

Saskia and I have started sharing the same brain. At one point, she and I started to say something at the same time so she let me go first. I asked her if she wanted to try using the MaKey MaKey to take a picture when she looked at me, eyes wide, and excitedly remarked, “I was just going to ask you the same thing!” Laughs were shared all around.

Memorable moment/person/creation?

I found this survey response to be particularly entertaining. You'll see what I mean as you get toward the end:

"It was a pretty dope 15 minutes spent at south station. You guys should do this more often. It would give people something to do in a really boring environment and you also turn it into an educational thing for people with little kids, or just people like me that like that stuff or something. And guys like girls that are electronically savvy. It's pretty attractive. Trust me on this one."

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Saskia:

Where and when and what was the space?

Nov. 20th: Christan, Lisa, and I stormed into South Station, a main Boston transportation hub. This - the South Station space - was what we had been envisioning as the perfect GMS spot since we began our project. Gutman was a no brainer. The Plaza was easy; lots of unexpected things happen there. The Queen's Head was a little intimidating, but then again, there was beer. All three were Harvard-affiliated spaces. South Station, however, was a completely new frontier.

We took over a long table next to the Au Bon Pain and right behind the massive transportation board in the back of the station, and spread out. And waited.

What happened? 

Karen caught me for a brief moment the day after our South Station GMS and inquired about how it went. I think my face, in that moment, said it all (a mixture of "mehhhh" and "eehhhh" and "welll...." if words translated to sounds translated to expressions resonates at all with you). Taking our observations into consideration from before, we approached the space with an open mind and planned on minimally intervening with the work of our makers.

South Station did not go as planned. It's scary. It's intimidating. It's threatening. The collective energy at South Station was abrasive and cold. People don't go to South Station to bask in the present moment of their lives; people go to South Station to go somewhere else. Nourishing creativity, here, felt like trying to coax a plant to grow out of concrete.

We began with a group of teenagers (who Lisa approached; more on that later) who had heard about Scratch and MaKey MaKey and were eager to join in. They utilized a few items we had not seen people create with yet (paper clips!), took turns testing out our two laptop stations, and uninhibitedly began to make. A few others joined in. And then their trains arrived, and they left.

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We sat at our table for a bit and played, looking up occasionally commuters eager to create. No one came. Then we made a sign - no, two signs: "Make with us!" and "Play with me!" and sat them up as tents on our table. No one came. We saw a few turned heads and a few raised eyebrows, and realized our theory of "if you build it, they will come" was not going to work in South Station.

In the center of the room, below the train time board, adults arrived in waves, stared up, and left for their trains in pieces. Christan and I tinkered on. Lisa, documenting, told us that one of her most striking observations was the visual contrast between our making - the foreground - and the sea of numb commuters unaware of the banal backdrop they composed. A bleak picture of human life.

A few more participants (I use "participants" instead of "makers" here) came because we asked them to, poked our clay controller for a bit, asked if we were "gamers," and quizzed us on the "qualitative vs. quantitative" nature of our project. Christan and I spent a good 10 minutes trying to explain our work to a suited up baby-lawyer, who saw a MaKey MaKey piano demonstration and told us he wasn't musically creative, so therefore should not join in. When we explained that you could make anything, he opened up for a brief moment about loving to take things apart as a kid. Then we pushed him to touch (just touch) our set up, and he refused. Back to qualitative/quantitative.

The rest of our South Station GMS experience followed suit.

What did the experience illuminate about constructionism?

Our playing/making dilemma blossomed in full force in South Station. After the first wave of makers, truly, no making occurred. The dilemma shifted from one of "how do we move these people from playing with our materials to creating with our materials?" to "how do we get these people to engage, period?". The potential of our materials immediately moved from what Seymour Papert calls "objects-to-think-with" to "objects to play with" to "look at these cool objects!" (Papert, 11). We relied, then, on games as our primary attractor. A few came, poked at our clay buttons, and then promptly departed to board their trains.

Papert, in Mindstorms, mentions the "suspension of disbelief" that happens to the audience in a theater the moment before a play begins; the necessary, silent social contract the audience agrees to uphold to open the theatrical space to imagined magic (13). As facilitators, Christan and I are essentially asking our makers, mostly new to the idea of maker spaces, constructionism, and being creative with technology, to enter into a space where they set aside their daily expectations to experience something entirely new. We often find that experience to be, like the theater, one of magic. In South Station, I saw slivers of this idea. People are curious. People want to be imaginative. People are intrigued by something that feels innately childlike because it requires a suspension of disbelief. The six and a half minutes someone might have to stop by before running off to their train, however, is not enough to cultivate these slivers into full experiences.

Mimi Ito writes, in speaking of new technologies, that "Change happens as a result of struggles and negotiations between different discourses and institutions seeking to shape a new technology and a set of genres" (4). New technologies and new experiences, on their own, do not have the power to evoke change. Instead, struggles and negotiations between institutions that already exist have the power to create change. Christan and I, alone in South Station, have a minor impact. Our job then becomes not to introduce a new concept, but to facilitate a dialogue between existing structures and cultural discourses so that they might bring about a mindset shift on their own.

What did you learn from the space?

I've talked about space before as our third participant. In South Station, this idea was more present than ever. Edith Ackerman writes, "If it is true that knowledge cannot be divorced from the contexts in which it is built and from the media that allow its expression, then we cannot think of the knower as an autonomous entity" (27). In South Station, the commuters were so shaped by their environment - a symbolic rendering of their daily duties - and a sense of extreme urgency that it seemed nearly impossible to divorce the knower from her environment. We saw a mother and son sitting at an adjacent table eating a bag of french fries, the son curiously eyeing our colorful display of wires and clay and paperclips and crayons. Thinking, "oh, this is a kid and not a terrifying adult with a briefcase and loafers? I got this," I approached and asked if he might like to try. HIs mother answered: "No, we have to catch a train," though I explained her son could spend as long as he wanted (or did not want) at our table. And then they sat there for 10 more minutes.

How can we begin to spark the process of building knowledge in environments that foster isolation over community, urgency over patience, and control over tinkering? Can GMS at South Station, because of the nature of South Station, ever work? How do you foster connections in a place made of concrete?

What did you learn about yourself?

I know I have the capacity to be socially anxious at times, but I was really feeling it at South Station. At one point, I tried to invite an industrious, suited up man next to me to play with my graphite drawing piano, turned to him and opened my mouth to speak, and completely crumbled instead. I ended up leaving the table to buy myself Pinkberry (in spite of my lactose intolerance) to stop myself from completely caving in. Thankfully Lisa and Christan stepped up to the plate.

At one point, I decided to go totally guerrilla style. I ripped up a bunch of pieces of paper, wrote "Come make with us at ABP!," and jumped into the crowd to hand them out. I did one loop and immediately returned to the table without handing out any strips of paper. South Station is a scary place indeed. I learned today that I don't do well when overwhelmed by people who don't seem to be open-hearted or open-minded.

What did you learn about Christan?

Christan, as always, is one of the most approachable people I've met. She is warm and inviting, and is capable of making people feel immediately at ease when they meet her. Though we did not have as many participants at South Station as we would have liked, everyone who talked to Christan, it seemed, felt welcomed. She was even able to move a woman sitting next to us that she had always wanted to be a rock star!

Memorable moment/person/creation?

After about five minutes of working with the teens, we caught the eye of an inquisitive guy sitting across the table. There's a silent, powerful silent exchange that happens when one person is interested and the other is eager to teach them more, and you connect with a mere glance. Connecting, it seems, is the essence of GMS. Constructionism, community, physical/digital materials, motivation, and space are all key elements. But GMS, at its core, is about connecting.

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Reflecting


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Reflecting


Reflecting back / Looking Forward

 

Saskia and I both, I feel, have learned a great deal throughout this process. Each space has offered us unique perspectives, raised interesting questions, presented challenges, and forced us to step outside of our comfort zones. And from this, Guerilla Maker Space has evolved; no longer is it a class assignment but a project of passion. We've succeeded in many respects and failed in others. That's just part of the process. Learning how to manage failure, as Blikstein notes, is an inherent part of constructing (2013, p. 8). We embrace it fully, along with the rest of our learning experiences. As we've learned though our four spaces, iteration (here, the cyclical process of "do, fail a little, learn, tweak, repeat") is a key component to successful failure. Plainly put, in the words of Papert, "The simple moral is that learning explodes when you stay with it" (23).

Throughout our experience, one of the recurring themes we noticed and discussed was the idea of making vs. playing. We wanted to find a way to foster a learning environment in which participants could engage in deeper, and more meaningful acts of making in addition to playing. However, while taking a moment to step back from the project and simply reflect on our experiences as a whole, we both have started to embrace the idea that play, in and of itself, might just be powerful enough to engage learners in meaningful experiences. Perhaps we have overlooked the value that play brings to the maker movement.

While rereading Designing for Tinkerability recently, I found the ideas brought forth by Resnick and Rosenbaum (2013) to hold new meaning for me, especially with regard to GMS as we continue moving forward. Within the article, the importance of incorporating tinkerability in the making process is highlighted (Resnick and Rosenbaum, 2013). The following passage, in particular, truly resonated with me:

Many people see play as a form of entertainment or fun, but we see it somewhat differently. To us, play is a style of engaging with the world, a process of testing the boundaries and experimenting with new possibilities. We see tinkering as a playful style of designing and making, where you constantly experiment, explore, and try out new ideas in the process of creating something. Tinkering can be hard work, and sometimes it might not seem like play. But there is always a playful spirit underlying the tinkering process. (p. 165)

In addition to what we have learned from our four GMS spaces, we have found that thinking through the lens of maker spaces, in general, has resulted in various experiences and interactions we may not have otherwise encountered (Like when Saskia had an amazing conversation with the artist of the Cup Installation at Anthro about her experiences with making, maker spaces, and a conference in New York, where she realized that other countries are more at ease with making because they are used to making something out of nothing on a regular basis. Or when a tweet I sent out reached a local 5th grade teacher and a conversation was sparked about hosting one of our maker spaces at her school.)

We are both eager to continue moving forward with GMS and are currently in the process of planning our next steps. We hope to be approved for a spring residency at Harvard’s Innovation Lab, which would afford us the opportunity of having a dedicated space from which we could continue expanding upon our vision. In the meantime, we are always looking for new and unexpected places to bring a pop-up maker space and would love to receive your feedback on where to go next!

 

Until we meet again, Boston...

- Christan

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References


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References


Footnotes / References

1. Website format inspired by this!
2. Also inspired by this


Space 2:

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control (Chapter 1). New York: W.H. Freeman. 

Bruckman, A. (2006). Learning in online communities. In K. Sawyer (Ed.), Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp. 461-472). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rushkoff, D. (2010). Program or be programmed: Ten commands for a digital age. New York, NY: OR Books.

Space 3:

Bruckman, A. (2006). Learning in online communities. In K. Sawyer (Ed.), Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp. 461-472). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Illich, I. (1971). Deschooling society (Chapter 6: Learning webs). Great Britain: Calder and Boyars.

Rogoff, B. (1994). Developing understanding of the idea of communities of learners. Mind, Culture and Activity, 1(4), 209–229. 

Space 4:

Ackermann, E. (1996). Perspective-taking and object construction: Two keys to learning. In Y. Kafai & M. Resnick (Eds.) Constructionism in practice: Designing, thinking and learning in a digital world (Chapter 2, pp. 25-36). New  Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Blikstein, P. (2013). Digital fabrication and ’making’ in education: The democratization of invention. In J. Walter- Herrmann & C. Büching (Eds.), FabLabs: Of machines, makers and inventors. Bielefeld: Transcript Publishers.

Kohn, A. (1999). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise, and other bribes (Chapters 1). Mariner Books.

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas (Introduction,  Chapter 1). New York: Basic Books. 

Reflecting:

Blikstein, P. (2013). Digital fabrication and ’making’ in education: The democratization of invention. In J. Walter- Herrmann & C. Büching (Eds.), FabLabs: Of machines, makers and inventors. Bielefeld: Transcript Publishers.

Resnick, M., & Rosenbaum, E. (2013). Designing for tinkerability. In M. Honey & D.E. Kanter, Design, Make, Play: Growing the next generation of STEM innovators (pp. 163- 181). New York, NY: Routledg