Is Making Gendered?

I’m at EduCon today, skipping the opening keynote.  The thing I like about EduCon is that it always makes you think.  On the train ride in yesterday, I checked the Twitter stream fro the #educon hashtag and noticed a link to an article called “I Am Not a Maker”.  As a self-proclaimed maker myself, I had to see it.  I was expecting an argument about rejecting tech for say, meditation, walking in the wilderness or something along those lines.  I could handle that. Making isn’t for everyone, though I would argue it doesn’t have to be all about the tech.  Instead, it was an argument about making as a masculine domain, one that was fairly deliberately hiding the behind the scenes work of primarily women.

Of course making rises from our current culture; it’s not separate from it.  So that means it takes with it the racism, sexism, classism and other -isms inherent in our existing culture.  But claiming to be a maker does not mean that you’re advocating for some kind of return to a 1950s masculine-dominated mindset.  Chachra puts it this way:

Describing oneself as a maker—regardless of what one actually or mostly does—is a way of accruing to oneself the gendered, capitalist benefits of being a person who makes products.

I just don’t think that’s true.  First of all, I would say that makers are not interested in making products.  Most makers I know are interested in the process of making and what they learn from it, and empowering themselves not be beholden to the marketplace.  They want to make stuff for themselves that doesn’t exist in the market.  They want to fix the things they have so they don’t have to buy something.  So, I see makers as running counter to capitalism.  Now, I do think making has been somewhat commodified, but I think many makers are uncomfortable with that.

Just prior to the quote above, Chachra says this:

The cultural primacy of making, especially in tech culture—that it is intrinsically superior to not-making, to repair, analysis, and especially caregiving—is informed by the gendered history of who made things, and in particular, who made things that were shared with the world, not merely for hearth and home.

Making is not a rebel movement, scrappy individuals going up against the system. While the shift might be from the corporate to the individual (supported, mind, by a different set of companies selling a different set of things), it mostly re-inscribes familiar values, in slightly different form: that artifacts are important, and people are not.

Now, yes, I do think we should be critical of the world of making and to be thoughtful about how it does or does not reinscribe cultural norms.  And indeed, there are ways that it does, certainly if Make Magazine is your primary insight into this culture.  And, I think it’s important to have a conversation about that.  I teach Computer Science and I’m always having a conversation about the male domination of the field and how it got there and how it affects the tools we use every day.

And maybe because I’m approaching making from the angle of education, I think making is all about the people; it’s about using the maker process to engender a mindset that is resilient, independent, and thoughtful.   And I also don’t devalue caregiving and other “non-making” activities, but as an educator who teaches “making”, making has to happen in my classroom.  It’s just like a math teacher who might value English as a subject, but they’re not going to include much, if any, in their classes.  Education and learning is about having students be a little uncomfortable and try things they wouldn’t.  If my students leave my class and don’t become “makers”, I’m not only okay with that, I fully support it and often suggest careers and fields to my students that fall into the “non-making” category.  But I do hope that being a maker, or if people prefer, participating in the process of making, for a while in my class has some kind of impact.

I understand Chachra’s discomfort with the maker movement as a cultural phenomenon and especially the connections that have been made with Silicon Valley.  What I don’t understand is her complete rejection of it, instead of pushing for change within it.  Her field, engineering, is extremely skewed gender wise and maybe doesn’t have the hype of the maker movement, but certainly has issues, issues similar to CS.  It’soften unfriendly to females, certainly privileges certain kinds of work over others, and yet, she doesn’t reject it and say, I’m not doing that.  If female scientists had said that science was male-dominated and capitalist and unfriendly to women, so I’m not going to do it, we’d have no female scientists.

The maker movement deserves our critical eye, for sure, but it should be changed and not rejected.  Its focus can’t be on what makes white middle aged men happy–robots, cool gadgets, cars–but we need to point out when this is happening and correct it.  Fix it from within, I say.

Friday Fun: Cat/Dog Door tracking

Ten or so years ago, when I was working part time and trying to decide what to do with my life, I declared Fridays as a day to learn something new.  I taught on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so my week was done, but I was in the process of retooling myself, so I usually learned some kind of new techie thing.  I taught myself Flash and some CSS stuff and searched for new Linux software, among other things.  I’m going to try to go back to that this year. And some of it, I’m going to share with colleagues, which is another thing I used to do regularly.  So today will be the first of those.

For Christmas, I got the WeMo Maker kit.  I have it set up, but I hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do with it, until today.  A while back, I started working on an Arduino-based cat/dog door tracker.  It was just a simple tilt sensor and I had that all connected and working, but for the logging part, I needed several other parts, an RTC shield (real time clock), which then required a battery.  I got all those, but never got them connected because, well, work.

With the WeMo plus IFTTT, I should be able to attach a tilt sensor to the door and log it in Google sheets.  We’ll see how it goes!

Summer, Day 3: Making

I skipped the usual PD portion of my day yesterday because I couldn’t bear watching more videos about programming.  They are interesting and they are broken up with activities, but my brain was fried after 2.5 hours of course prep and building a site map.

Instead, I decided in honor of the National Day of Making, to fix my 3D printer.  That, however, was unsuccessful.  I’ve now replaced two sets of cables and been in the guts of the machine, but cannot fix the problem.  I’ve also searched forums, YouTube and other places for the answer.  The problem is I know the symptom, but not the cause.  And it’s hard to search “weird shuttering in back corner”.  I have better luck making up causes.  Well, that will have to be dealt with later.  And I may just have to buy a new printer.

Today, I’m headed in to school for about an hour to assist with the construction of the MS Makerspace.  It’s apparently coming along nicely and we need to decide where storage will go, where ventilation will go, etc.

I must, must, must complete most of my tweaking for CS I today.  Wherever I get today, I think I’m going to have to put it aside until I get through some work on the new courses.  I’ll return to it in August.

Tomorrow, I head off for vacation, which I think I’m going to need after a week of fairly intense work.  And I haven’t even started the hard stuff.

Weekend Making

For some reason, I was feeling super productive this weekend.  Yesterday, I did some work around the house and then spent a ridiculous amount of time on the fish simulation my class is working on.  They’ve each made their own classes of fish and now we’re putting them all together.

CS II Fish Tank Sim
CS II Fish Tank Sim

I added the ability to feed the fish and fixed a couple of problems.  There’s still a few more things to fix, but all in all, I think it turned out well.  I’m planning to project it on the large screen outside my classroom.  Related to that, I tried to get my Raspberry Pi working; however, I’m failing badly.  Right now, I can’t get the Pi to power up.  So I have the boot disk loaded, but there’s no power.  Hoping to get that fixed soon because ideally, that’s what I’ll connect to the screen.  I’m pretty excited about it.

In my 6th grade class, we’re working on games and building arcade boxes to outfit the lab with for an Arcade Day to be held in a couple of weeks.  The kids started building their boxes out of cardboard and duct tape last week and this weekend I bought spray paint so we can make them uber awesome.  Their games are pretty awesome too.  We have breakout, a unicorn racing game, a horse jumping game and a maze game, all built in Scratch.  I’ll share as soon as they’re done.

arcade box

Finally, I picked up supplies for my next Crafty Tech Club project.  We’re going to make an electronic origami flower garden.  I’ve been thinking about this for a while and even ventured to The Hacktory with friends to work on it.  Today, I picked up the origami paper and a green tri-fold to use as the “grass”.  My idea is that each student will make an origami flower with an LED in it and then we’ll affix it to the poster board with copper tape incorporating a switch of some kind so that people can make it light up.  We might create two circuits so multiple parts light up.  We’ll see.  At our next meeting, we’re going to plan the circuit(s) and fold the flowers.  When we’re done, I’m going to hang the garden somewhere in the school where people can see it and play with it.  I’m kind of giddy about the whole thing.  I just hope it works.


Making + Computer Science

Making, maker culture is closely related to Computer Science.  There’s the obvious Arduino/Robotics connection where one makes physical objects that then need to be programmed, but I also think the approach is similar.  The way Computer Science is taught at the beginning levels, the point is to make something: an app, a web site, a program that does something.  There are a few other disciplines where this seems to be true: English (papers, stories, poems, etc.), Art (paintings, sculptures, photographs, etc.), Drama (plays, films, sets, etc.), Music (performances, compositions, etc.).  Other disciplines like Math, Science, Social Studies/History, and Languages don’t have an obvious maker connection, though I know plenty of people who do things in those classes that are maker like.  The difference, I think, is in attitude.  In the former disciplines, it seems, one has to make something in order to learn the subject.  English could be taught in a non-maker fashion (lecturing about books, grammar, etc.), but since about 1980, it hasn’t been.  Students are encourage to wrestle with books by making their own thing: a critical piece of writing, a fan fiction piece, a film, something.  I think English folks recognize that the discipline could be passive and so work to make it active.*

Likewise, art, drama, and music have obvious artifacts that need to be created in order to learn the subject.  CS is often lumped with math and science and I’ve often bristled at that a bit.  Yes, there’s a math underpinning to CS.  I’d call it applied math to a degree.  And certain areas of CS certainly have the observation and discovery elements of a science.  But, as I said at EdCamp STEAM, I often find myself more closely aligned with the creative disciplines like art.  I wish I had more of an artistic eye, visually, but I what I enjoy most about CS is the creative problem solving, finding a solution that *I* thought of and that maybe no one else has.  Isn’t that what making is all about?

Maker Faire, Here I Come

I’m headed to my first ever Maker Faire tomorrow morning, bright and early.  Despite having just returned from a 3-day-long field trip today, I’m getting up before 6 a.m. and heading to NYC. I’m very excited to be going and even participating in the Tales from the Front Lines panel organized by Jaymes Dec. I’m just beginning my official venture into making.  Looking back, I feel like I’ve approached both my learning and my teaching from a Maker point of view.  When studying English, I liked to sit in the library stacks, exploring call numbers near books I had found in the card catalog in a kind of analog version of doing a Google search.  I learned to build web sites and code at first by just trying stuff and seeing what worked.  Working with physical objects is new to me, but I’m enjoying learning.

One of the things I like about the Maker movement is that learning new things is always part of the equation.  People are expected to always be learning and trying new things.  While there are always more experienced folks around, there’s really no such thing as an expert.  That’s because everyone is building their own thing.

I’m looking forward to learning at tomorrow’s Faire and seeing some really cool things in action.  I can’t wait to visit robots, see some cool 3D prints, and have some fun.

cross-posted at K-12 MakerEd, a new adventure and a site for makered resources.

Resources for #Makered

Making and MakerEd

Tomorrow evening at 6 p.m., I’ll be hosting, along with Andrew Carle (@tieandjeans) a Twitter chat around the idea of Making, MakerSpaces, and MakerEd.  These ideas are loosely tied to Make Magazine, the publication that inspires people to make their own stuff.  It returns us to a time when instead of throwing something out, we make something out of it or instead of buying something to fill a need, we make it ourselves.  My personal interest in Making goes back a ways, but I have two pressing projects that bring me back to seriously examining how to approach this.  I’m teaching a Physical Computing class where students will primarily be working with the Arduino platform.  And our school is embarking on creating a DREAM Lab for 1st-5th grade that will be a MakerSpace like space with a hands-on, multidisciplinary curriculum.

So, what are these terms, and what do they mean in an educational context.  Andrew and I touched base this morning to chat about these things.  Andrew has a Maker class already in Middle School, something I hope to add here.  Making is not just about making stuff, but it’s also a philosophy.  It’s a way of approaching teaching that really does put a lot of control in the hands of the students.  The approach is NOT, I would argue, to come up with a project with a specific set of instructions and expect the students to end up in the same place.  One may start there, sort of, but the idea is that students will solve problems by making something directed by their own interests and using their own way of getting there.  They have questions and something they make can answer it.  For example, my own question that I want answered is: where does my cat go at night?  The answer will be found, I hope, from a GPS tracking device I’m making.  So making is the idea of creating something that solves a problem or answers a question or perhaps demonstrates a concept more fully.

A maker is someone who seeks to find answers and solves problems.  They are not trying to get the “right” answers.  This is what I want my students to be.  I want them to be curious and explore their world through these projects.  I do not want them wait for me to give them the answers.  I’ll talk a little more about my role momentarily.

A MakerSpace is simply the space provided for this to happen.  It’s part art studio, part computer lab, part electronics lab, part whatever you need it to be.  MakerSpaces can have supplies as simple as cardboard and tape and glue and as complex equipment as 3D printers, laser cutters, and soldering irons.

Teaching in these spaces and with this philosophy is a challenge for sure.  I’m experiencing a little of this in my tech and CS classes, though we’re not dealing with physical objects there.  But students are allowed to go in whatever direction they want.  How do you help 6, 10, 20 students who are all doing different things?  How do you encourage effective use of online resources?  This is an area I’m finding I need to work on the most.  I do want to guide my students, but I don’t want to answer the question, “What should I do?” or “What am I supposed to be doing?”  What I want to answer is: “I want to do x, how do I do that?”  I’m also thinking about structuring classes around things like badges, so that students can move at their own pace, and perhaps be more encouraged to do so.

What is MakerEd then? I think that’s what we’ll be exploring in these chat sessions. Is it just about creating stuff with your hands? Is it a philosophy, and if so what is that? How does one take this approach in an environment that is often very counter to this approach? What about testing? What about grading? What are our students learning?

I’m looking forward to finding my way and learning from folks out there who are already doing a lot of this.

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