Maker Voices: Abigail
A Reflection on My Maker Experience
I was introduced to Makeries only earlier this year when I was at SMU (Southern Methodist University) finishing up my Master of Education degree. I had taken a few classes on STEM education, only because I had to as a STEM teacher. I never liked science or math when I was in school. I wasn’t bad at either subject, but I never thought they were very exciting. I preferred English and History, where there were never “right” answers, where different results could arise from different interpretations, and where I could be more creative in solving problems and answering questions. So, when I began teaching and my school told me that I would actually be serving in the role as science teacher, not as a social studies teacher, I grumbled. At least, I told myself, the 7th grade science was about plants and animals. That was somewhat interesting to me.
The pandemic hit and both teaching middle school and learning in a graduate program looked stranger than ever. So, summer 2020 I decided to take a class in SMU’s education school on positive psychology. The class, which was supposed to be about how to incorporate a growth mindset in your pedagogy, responded to the pandemic by turning into a course that aimed to instill a growth mindset in us as educators and people. Through the class, I gained the confidence to try new things and to fail. So, as I approached the end of my time at SMU, I chose to take a class I never would have taken otherwise: Maker Education in STEM.
The class was both frustrating and rewarding. I spent long nights playing around on Tinkercad and whole weekends with my group project members troubleshooting the Arduino. The tasks were arduous, but also much more fun than I had anticipated- even when I failed. I found that I loved working out all the problems I encountered, so much that I worked on my classwork constantly because it was so mentally enriching. I completely shifted my 7th graders’ final project to give them the opportunity to work on Tinkercad, too, and watched as they created monsters and explored the same trials and failures that I had. Students who struggled in their online classes suddenly were my most engaged participants, finding Tinkercad to be challenging, exciting, and fun.
When I began my PhD at Stanford, I was apprehensive about visiting a Makerspace. I had only begun to feel comfortable in the space at SMU, and I felt intimidated entering a STEM space while being at Stanford in Silicon Valley. But when my friend Brandi told me she had finished the first week of the Maker Tools Learning Lab, I decided to join her. I started in the Maker Space by making my partner a nametag, a project that was easy enough but gave me the first taste of failure and problem-solving. As someone who enjoys having a plan, I decided I wanted to come up with one project that I would do throughout the quarter.
My friend Krish from SMU had always said he wanted to 3D print a Catan board. Now that I had experience 3D printing and knew that all the files could be found on Thingiverse, I thought that’d be too easy. I still liked the idea of a Settlers of Catan board, so I chose to make this my project. One thing that I particularly liked about the idea of this project was its many pieces. I had to make the base boards, the top layers, the number tokens, the robber, the ports, the borders, and all the player pieces. Each of these components I knew I would have to troubleshoot. I found a couple examples as inspiration but strove to make as much as I could myself.
As is common in a Makerspace, I ran into problems. I spent an entire 2-hour class trying to figure out why the border I wanted to engrave and cut wouldn’t translate onto the Glowforge. Then I spent another 30 minutes waiting for it to cut out and realizing I had set the final outside line to engrave, not cut. I had many, many failed prints due to some finnicky 3D printers. I had a sheep lose a leg. I cut out maybe 7 copies of wheat because something was off every time. I spent so much time just trying to get the hexagonal pieces to cut out correctly. But none of these setbacks deterred me. Instead, I used them as an opportunity to learn why the failure happened and build from there.
In graduate school, you are constantly putting 110% into everything you do. It’s something I enjoy but is also very exhausting, especially when you’re working on classwork that doesn’t quite fit your interests. At the end of a long day of classes, working on my Catan board became the one thing I really wanted to do. Even though it was work, the iterative practice, problem solving, and the feeling when I finally got something right was both exciting and even therapeutic. In between paragraphs for essays, or after reading an article for class, I would pop into the Makery to make sure my boxes were still printing correctly, or quickly run to the Glowforge to print out another port. It gave me the opportunity to work on something that still felt productive but was really a work of art and project that brought me much joy.
When you finish a project in a Makerspace, you never really feel like it is finished. There is always more you can do. I could now make a box for my Catan board. I could make the card deck. There’s more I could print, more I could cut out and engrave. The Catan board may be finished, but there is more I could create. I look forward to more projects, and more failures, in the Makery in the future.
See more photos of this project on Instagram.
Abigail Miller is a doctoral student in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University. She wrote this reflection for EDUC 211A: Makery Tools Learning Lab.