Make Better Stuff Lab at Ithaca Generator

lasers

Last night my students from the Make Better Stuff lab at Ithaca College hosted a public laser cutter demo at Ithaca Generator for First Friday. The Make Better Stuff Lab is a course that I wrote for IC freshmen in which they learn about sustainable design principles and then design and manufacture a product that uses those principles.

During the demo I fielded a lot of questions from observers there about the students’ project. Great questions. I thought I’d post them here:

WHAT IS THE ASSIGNMENT? This project started with a walk in the woods. In teams of two or three, students picked out a leaf from their walk, researched that leaf, then created designs inspired by that leaf.

WHAT ARE THE CONSTRAINTS? All good projects have constraints. There are many for this project, some that are plain old sustainable design principles and some specific to a class of 20 manufacturing a product. All the constraints function to help exercise the students’ imaginations–constraints help us push materials, processes, and ideas beyond the obvious.

WHAT ARE SUSTAINABLE DESIGN PRINCIPLES? There are many. But with this class we are working with the following:

  • Celebrate nature
  • Use responsibly-sourced materials
  • Optimize your design for manufacturing
  • Minimize packaging
  • Turn something old into something new

WHY DO WE MAKE THINGS THAT CELEBRATE NATURE? Last year we hosted laser cut design studios at the generator where the general public made designs and cut them on the laser. Most folks would make beautiful geometric designs, but every so often someone wanted to recreate a corporate logo. Most corporate logos are designed by large marketing teams, but we don’t want to unselfconsciously promote corporations at the expense of celebrating nature. I’d rather promote originality. What we make is what we value.

WHAT MATERIALS ARE YOU USING? We are using FSC Ash veneer that we ordered from Certainly Wood in East Aurora, NY. Veneer is super thin slices of wood that come rolled up but can be flattened out, cut to size, and cut on the laser. It’s a beautiful material, it smells great, and the kind we ordered is FSC approved, FSC standing for Forest Stewardship Council, an organization that sets standards for responsible forest management.

HOW DO WE OPTIMIZE FOR MANUFACTURING? The laser cutter can cut very intricate designs, but it can also create a lot of waste material as by-product and it uses a lot of energy. To address these downsides, the students lay out their designs so that there is minimal waste. Some even used the negative space created by their primary designs to make more designs. As for efficient use of time and energy, we don’t etch because etching can be very slow and there are too many students. That said, I’d like to know how much etching can be done for the same amount of energy used to cut at 60 speed/60 power/500 frequency for ten minutes. That would be good to know.

HOW DO WE MINIMIZE PACKAGING? Packaging serves two functions: it protects the product (in shipping and in the store) and it tells the story of product. So the students have had to design packaging that both protects and sells the product, using minimal materials. Many of them have creatively used recycled card stock for packaging.

HOW DO WE TURN SOMETHING OLD INTO SOMETHING NEW? There are at least two approaches to this: 1) take a discarded object and create a design that gives it a new use. Some of my students, for example, are taking old jelly jars and designing votive shades that transform them into candle holders. 2) build into one design a second use. Some students, for example, embedded flower seeds into their packaging so that when it’s composted it will sprout flowers.

CONCLUSION

So that, in a nutshell, is what we’re trying to do in Make Better Stuff lab. In December we will have a gallery night sale where students will sell their products. To prepare them, we had Emily Cotman from The Science Center and Stephanie Meyer (pictured above) from Museum of the Earth sit down with them and give them feedback on the types of products that sell in their museum shops. Emily and Stephanie were so generous with their time, and their feedback is just what we need to make it through the final stretch of this project.

Keep an eye out for our DIY Gift Sale in December at Ithaca Generator. Happy making!

‘Great Artists Steal’ and other insights from Chris Rock

Artists who have been at it for a while have great insights on the creative process. This NYTs interview with Chris Rock is from November 2014, there’s some great stuff in here if you listen carefully.

1. Great Artists Steal. This is something I have a hard time convincing my students of. They think if they steal that they are not being original. Not true. Great artists steal. All of the time. There are no new ideas so get over it. Steal. And you might as well give credit bc the phrase “Great artists steal and hide their sources well” is dead in the age of internet. Inspiration is everywhere. Let’s celebrate it.

2. Don’t fall in love with your first draft. Amateurs fall in love with their first drafts. Artists don’t. They push it out like the ugly thing that it is, then they get on with the work of iterating through many more drafts. If you’re a writer, that’s rewriting nd editing. If you’re a painter, that’s sketching. If you make movies, that’s shooting and cutting tons of great content. If you’re an entrepreneur, that’s getting feedback and pivoting. Rarely do you nail it right out of the gate. So do your first draft, then move on.

3. If you hired an actor who doesn’t own their character by the end of the process, then something is wrong. To extend this to other art forms, if the members of your project team don’t eventually own the project, then something is wrong. Either they are the wrong team members, or you didn’t let go of control when they were ready to take it. As a leader, you have to start out by modeling investment in the project, the character, what have you. But then you have to watch out for that moment when your team is ready to take the reigns. Give it to them along with your faith and your support.

There’s a fourth point in here that’s not directly related to creativity, but kind of is bc it illustrates the importance of perspective. Chris Rock loves Kanye West. There’s a lot of criticism of Kanye in the news lately and all I have to say is watch that. He’s an important artist to a lot of people. He may not be for you, and that’s ok.

OK. If you have other insights on creativity, then please share in the comments.

Reflection

It’s coming time to see all my people at the holidaze then hibernate for the winter with a few good projects. It’s time to look back at the year, remember what happened, and process it. Here goes:

LUNAR CLOCK, DEC 2013. This time last year I was finishing up a lunar clock that KR helped me with. This was a project that combined interesting media theory (a bit from Douglas Rushkoff’s Present Shock) with cool technology (laser cutter, arduino, and eagle). I enjoyed turning theory into a designed object–something I could hold in my hands. That’s me in a nutshell. In order to understand something, I have to build it and hold it.

GAME COURSE, JAN 2014. This year started with teaching a pilot course at Ithaca College called “Designing Games for Sustainability.” The class was small but we busted out two cool games. One was an arduino powered waste-sorting game and the other was a laser cut variation of Settlers of Catan called Wasteland. It was amazing to come up with cool ideas and then be able to manufacture and test them. Ideas into reality.

SUSTAINABILITY, MAY 2014. When the semester ended in May, I joined my ASU Sustainability crew at ISSST in Oakland for a great conference. And again in July for a desert retreat. Both gatherings were fun and enlightening in different ways. The former was in an urban setting and academic. The latter was in the desert and spiritual. What I love about these folks is that they value all of it. These people feel like home to me.

MIT >> POP UP DESIGN STUDIO, AUG 2014. In August I traveled with JC to MIT for a Scratch conference. There we met amazing people in the Harvard Grad School of Edu and were so inspired by their work that we came back to our makerspace and implemented a new project called “Pop Up Design Studio.” On the first friday of each month, we open our doors to the public and invite them to make art on the laser cutter. The combination of generosity on the volunteer side with creativity on the public side has been joy to be a part of.

TEACHING, SEP 2014. This fall I’ve been teaching 4 classes in the Integrated Marketing Communications program at Ithaca College and loving every minute of it. As an introvert, teaching 80 students is intense, but there’s nothing I’d rather spend my energy on. The program and the students have this great mix of business and creative thinking going on. It’s a pleasure and a challenge integrating the two – the practical with the wild dreams!

UPCOMING, DEC 2014. In ten days or so I see my family for the holidays. When I get back, I dig into some juicy projects for the winter: product design, electronic music, and a few workshop gigs I’ve got cooking. Winter is a great time for projects. Then when the sun comes out in May, there’s time for being outside with nature and friends. I like seasons and the structure they bring to my year.

LOCAL FOOD. On the local food side of life, I enjoyed a farm share at Sweet Land Farm this past summer and am now a week or so into a winter share from Full Plate Collective. These things keep me connected to the soil, the water, and the air. I’m grateful to the farmers who put it all together.

Let me know how 2014 treated you and what you’re up to this winter.

XO

Repost: 4PS OF THE MEDIA LAB

14862800522_3bf17daae2_z

 

This post originally appeared at http://ithacagenerator.org/

Last week a fellow IG member and I went to the Scratch Conference at MIT Media Lab. Scratch is a visual programming language developed by folks in the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT and the Graduate School of Education at Harvard. The goal of the project is to help kids (and adults) transform themselves from “consumers of stuff” to “makers of stuff.” (Sound familiar?)

What impressed us about the conference is that it wasn’t only focused on technology, but on the social aspects of engaging with technology. The Media Lab has four principles that guide their techno-social-creative process: PROJECTS, PEERS, PASSION, and PLAY.

PROJECTS

Makers don’t just talk about ideas. They make stuff. So PROJECTS are the physical manifestations of making. We participated in two project-oriented workshops:

1. DIY CARDBOARD INTERFACE https://vine.co/v/MVmqeOYPP6b
by https://twitter.com/adlogi
2. ARDUINO + SCRATCH https://vine.co/v/MVKUblOhZ6X by https://twitter.com/qramo

Both workshops were scaled well and effective. Something that stood out to us was how the participants, who are educators from around the globe, interacted with each other. We helped each other troubleshoot and explore. All of us seemed comfortable with rapid trial and error. Which leads to the second principle – Peers.

PEERS

In the keynotes, there was a lot of emphasis put on the role of peers when we are learning to program or make things. In the keynote on Day 2, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl https://twitter.com/ElyseEA of the National Writing Project said something that hit home. Now, her project is to transform “readers” in to “readers who write” but you can see the connection to transforming consumers to makers. Elyse pointed out that hour-long workshops have their place because they introduce people to writing. But to become a writer, one needs to engage with a community over time. They need to share their work. They need to get and give feedback. They need to mentor and be mentored. Something to think about as we look at our programming at the makerspace. How do we nurture our community so that more Ithacans can go through this transformation?

PASSION

One thing we think about at IG and in tech overall is how to foster more diversity and inclusion in our community. One way to help more kids and adults learn technology is to offer experiences that enable them to tie technology – which is new and foreign to them – to something that they are already passionate and knowledgable about. Then the technology becomes less of a scary thing that newbies can’t do and more of a new tool for expressing ourselves. This passion principle is held by Harvey Mudd College where they offer joint majors that allow people to integrate a field they are passionate about with CS. It seems to be pretty effective with women filling over ½ of their CS student slots.

PLAY

There’s a lot of talk about PLAY in the creativity space. At MIT, they make an interesting distinction between PLAYGROUND play and PLAYPEN play. The playground is a social environment where we interact with people and explore our decision making processes. In the PLAYPEN, our activity is more constrained. We don’t have the freedom to reach outside of ourselves. So when we are designing playful environments, it’s important to keep this distinction in mind.

The last session we went to at the conference was a session hosted by women who created the FAMILY CREATIVE LEARNING https://twitter.com/ricarose guide and GUERILLA POPup MAKERSPACEhttps://twitter.com/GuerrillaMakers. Both projects integrate all 4 Ps of the Media Lab. Here’s a secret they shared that we really love, “The aesthetic of these things is that it should feel like a family gathering. We always start with food.”

YOUR TURN

We welcome your insights on the 4 Ps or other principles that have captured your imagination. Share them with us in the comments or on our facebook or twitter streams.

Repost: Encouraging Young Women in STEM

this piece origially appeared at IthacaGenerator.org

Last week, Ithaca Generator makerspace (IG) partnered with Xraise, the outreach program at the Cornell Laboratory for Accelerator-based Sciences and Education, to host a week-long GERLS Camp for middle school girls. GERLS is an acronym developed by the program’s leaders Lora Hine, director of outreach at Xraise, and Claire Fox, education coordinator at IG. The acronym stands for “Girl Engineers Really Love Science!”

The camp had 11 girls participate from a number of area schools in Tompkins County. Additionally, several female mentors* from Cornell University, Ithaca College, and downtown institutions worked with the girls throughout the week.

THE FACTS ON WOMEN IN STEM

According to a 2012 Girls Scouts report titled, “Generation STEM,” women are not well represented in engineering, computing, and physics with only 20% of bachelor degrees in these areas earned by women and 26% of women with STEM degrees pursuing careers in STEM.

The report provides evidence on why these numbers are so low. While interest in STEM among high school girls is high, these same girls don’t necessarily want careers in STEM. They want jobs in which they can be creative, solve problems, work collaboratively, and make the world better. And the way that STEM is taught in many high schools now, it’s hard for girls to see that connection.

Another problem is that many girls don’t have STEM role models. When we asked one of the mentors at GERLS camp, computer scientist Jennifer Westling, why she thought there aren’t many women in STEM, she responded, “As a girl, I never knew any women engineers or scientists. As a result, I just didn’t envision myself in those roles.”

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Research coming out of the Center for Collective Intelligence at MIT finds that there is a positive correlation between the number of women on a team and how smart the team is. So it’s important that women have opportunities to not only get in to these teams but to make sure these places are designed so that women can succeed once they are in.

GERLS Camp mentor Jenn Colt adds this insight, “We’re not going to solve the important problems facing us today if we have half the population convinced that they aren’t smart enough to take on these challenges. We don’t need everyone to be a scientist but we need everyone believing that they have important contributions to make and their gender doesn’t determine the value of their ideas.”

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

In a 2014 interview with Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College–a place where they’ve worked to get over half of the students in computer science to be women–Dr. Klawe lays out her insights on how to engage more women in STEM. ‘First, the intro courses need to be compelling, tying STEM to real world problem solving and creativity. Second is building confidence in the community and encouraging students to ask each other for help. And finally, it’s important to offer joint majors where women can integrate subjects they feel confident in with STEM.’

GERLS CAMP

In line with Dr. Klawe’s insights, GERLS Camp was filled with real, hands-on activities, lots of encouragement to work collaboratively and to help each other, and the girls were allowed to bring their own interests into their projects. Many of the girls worked with the Gemma microcontroller, developed by STEM Innovator Limor Fried, to create wearable electronics that solved real problems they had like a hat that reminded them to put on sunblock or a purse that lit up on the inside when opened in a dark space.

Lora Hine adds, “Research shows that childhood interest in science, not performance in science, has been shown to be a greater predictor of choosing to concentrate in STEM as a career (Maltese and Tai, 2011).  The more we can do to positively influence a girl’s perception of what it means to ‘do’ science or to be a scientist, the more likely she will be to pursue science-related activities inside and outside of school time.”

The experience was great for the GERLS but also for the female mentors. Says Jennifer Westling, “I’d just like to show my appreciation to XRAISE and the Ithaca Generator for making these opportunities available, not just for the girls, but for women like myself, to share our passions with the next generation!”

To see more of our work encouraging Youth in STEM, come to the Maker Expo at Tompkins County Public Library on Saturday 23 August from 11am-1pm.

 

RELATED READING

GIRLS SCOUTS 2012 REPORT

http://www.girlscouts.org/research/pdf/generation_stem_full_report.pdf

2014 INTERVIEW WITH MARIA KLAWE

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/31/women-in-engineering_n_5631834.html

TOMPKINS COUNTY STEM INNOVATORS FEATURED IN THIS ARTICLE

http://www.lansingstar.com/business-archive/10102-women-entrepreneurs-on-the-cutting-edge

Xraise, Cornell University

http://www.classe.cornell.edu/Outreach/WebHome.html

 

MENTORS

Romy Fain – graduate researcher in the Nanophotonics group

http://nanophotonics.ece.cornell.edu/

Saramoira Shields AKA MathematiGal http://mathematigal.com/ Math major at Cornell, Research Assistant in a soft robotics Lab http://www.mae.cornell.edu/research/groups/shepherd/

Eva Luna – MS Biological and Environmental Engineering, assistant at the Engineering Teaching Excellence Institute at Cornell

https://www.linkedin.com/pub/eva-r-luna/19/269/b32

Jenn Colt – UX Designer at Cornell University Library and IG Board Member

www.linkedin.com/in/jenncoltdemaree

Xanthe Matychak – Professor of Strategic Communication at Ithaca College and IG Board Member

https://www.linkedin.com/pub/xanthe-matychak-mfa/57/1a5/37

Jennifer Westling – Computer Scientist and IG Member

www.linkedin.com/pub/jennifer-westling/19/32/645

Dr. Rebecca MacDonald – Swanson Director of Engineering Teams at Cornell Universiy http://www.engineering.cornell.edu/magazine/features/macdonaldqa.cfm

Lina Sanchez Botero – Graduate Student, Fiber Science Department, Cornell University

http://nanotextiles.human.cornell.edu/people.htm

Denise Lee – Coordinator of the Saturday Science and Mathematic Academy, Ithaca New York