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  • How might we remind our community that we are all makers?
  • How might we make students’ creative ideas tangible?
  • How might we design a space that invites creative and industrious behavior?
  • How might we create a space that communicates our culture of making?
  • How might we make a learning space that is magical.
  • Industrious. Buzz. Collaborative. Transdisciplinary. Shared purpose. Shared learning.

At MVPS we start with questions and divergent thinking. The how might we’s listed above are just some of the questions terms our team is wrestling with as we work toward creating our maker-community. We’re not designing maker spaces; we’re building a maker community.

A maker space might be considered any space with the tools and materials to create – the art studio, the science lab, the writing lab, your kitchen. In that regard, there is nothing much special about a maker space. A maker community, however, requires more. A community includes spaces, identities, and an embedded culture. It was with the above brainstorm and galvanizing of language that informed the design of the physical space more than anything else.

Designed to be a flexible creative and creating space, the HIVE will be home to 5 distinctive work areas. Leveraging common language from MVIFI’s own Jim Tiffin, Jr. and the Studio(i) space which is already in action on our school’s Founder’s Campus:

  • “Agency” is the workshop space where our community can fabricate their designs with wood tools, a Crawlbot CNC machine, Glowforge laser cutter, and various other material choices.
  • “Platform” is our digital creation space with access to 3D printers, vinyl cutter, micro electronics, and workstations for CAD, animation software and more.
  • “Joinery” is a common space that fosters collaboration, ideation, and assembly.
  • Learning spaces that instigate our community to experiment with their ideas and explore possibilities through the lenses of Art, STEM, or Humanities are located at the center of the space. They are central to not only the space butto the ethos of continual experimentation and seeking of new understandings.
  • Flexible space at the entrance to invite inquiry, research, and sharing of ideas with both internal and external experts. It is also space to hangout and manifest ideas.

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Central to our hopes and dreams for the space is the idea that we are all makers. Especially if we broaden our definition of making to include art, design, writing, etc. To help scaffold that idea for students, we are working on various pathways – not labels – through which student can engage in cross-disciplinary inquiry, experimentation, and fabrication. Students may view their builds in progress through the lenses of:

  • Artisans – those who create for beauty;
  • Tinkerers – those who create for function;
  • Hackers – those who (re)create for a purpose.

Below are some “before” pictures of Bo Adams and I finishing clean up before construction. In January, we look forward to opening the HIVE and continuing the MVIFI design work of building our Maker, Design, and Engineering program.

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Quick Post: DIY Biology and Design Thinking

I wanted to quickly share two sources of inspiration.  I’m reading a book called Biopunk.  You are probably familiar with the stories of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.  Brilliance disguised as uninterested students; sequestered to home garages to innovate the personal computing age.  They “hacked” a scientific revolution.  Now imagine a similar story, but instead of hacking circuit boards they are hacking their own DNA or medical devices.  This underground DIY Bio culture is happening and is the basis for Biopunk.  From the book description:

You’ll meet a new breed of hackers who aren’t afraid to get their hands wet, from entrepreneurs who aim to bring DNA-based medical tools to the poorest of the poor to a curious tinkerer who believes a tub of yogurt and a jellyfish gene could protect the world’s food supply. These biohackers include:

– A duo who started a cancer drug company in their kitchen
– A team who built an open-source DNA copy machine
– A woman who developed a genetic test in her apartment for a deadly disease that had stricken her family

It’s fascinating, check it out.  If it’s too close to the end of summer to start a new read, do yourself a favor and watch this episode of “The Next List” from CNN.  Jose Gomez-Marquez uses component parts from toy stores – legos, a motor from a toy helicopter, silly putty, and bicycle pumps – to create medical devices that are effective and affordable for the poorest and most remote areas of the world.  Jose explains that he uses smart recombination (the using existing technologies and engineering design in new ways) to innovate affordable medical options.  He “tinkered” with his ideas as a hobby, and then went on to enter and win MIT’s Idea competition 3 times.  A doctor that Jose works with says Jose moves rapidly from an idea to prototyping and has an ear for problems of third world doctors and patients.  Sound much like bias towards action and empathy?    My wheels are turning now, how might we make a lesson plan that captures the spirit of DIY Bio?

Updates to the DT Library

One of my original goals of this blog was to be a sort of clearinghouse of information on the topic of Design Thinking in education.  To that ends I’ve finally updated the Links/Library page with a portion of the articles and links from my desktop.  As I revisit these, hopefully it will spark some new posts and commentary.  Enjoy and share!

Props to Project H design/build Students!

I’ve been following the @projectHdesign feed on twitter and wanted to pass along the awesome work they are doing.  I truly believe this is one form (of many) that design thinking can take in K12 education.  In case you haven’t noticed I’m a fan of the TED and TEDx conferences (or lectures, or events, or engagements…WTH would you call it?!!).  Anyway, Emily Pilloton gave a fantastically engaging talk a year ago about her project – Project H. This thing is the manifestation of exactly what I want this blog to explore.  Project H is part shop class, part STEM, part social innovation, and lots of empathy and creativity.  In a nutshell – it’s design thinking.  In a piece written by the NY Times, Emily said they teach “design thinking, leadership skills, shop skills and citizenship” and students in the class said “Oh my God, this class is crazy awesome.”   Hallelujah!!

Please check out their website as they describe their inspirations and intended outcomes better than I.  BUT, basically, Emily teaches HS students from and an extremely rural area of N.C. all about design, modern construction techniques, some engineering and some architecture ALL within the concept of improving the local community.  Yes, these students get their hands dirty.  They build stuff.   Real stuff, like public chicken coups (told you it was rural!!!).  Their latest effort – their Pièce de résistance – is a farmer’s market building that will bring the community together in a meaningful way.  All this by high school students – barely with a driver’s license.  So inspiring!  Their project is apparently being filmed for a future documentary.

Truthfully, my short narrative cannot adequately describe the context and extent of their work.  So if you have a minute to be inspired please follow this short recipe:

1) Watch Emily’s TED talk or read this piece in the NY Times for an overview of the concept

2) Visit to get a sense of the scope of their work

3) Visit the Studio H student blog for pics of the new ‘market’ project

4) Applaud and spread the word!


(Attempting to) Define Design Thinking

So here is the elephant in the room.  What is Design Thinking?  You might intuitively know that it’s not a thing but a process.  That’s a start.  Since Design Thinking is indeed a process – let’s attempt to define it in a systematic way.  So, the first question is:

What is Design?

::humphhhh::  I’m only just starting this post and already realize I bit off a big one here.  Design is everywhere.  LITERALLY, EVERYWHERE!  Some soul out there determined that the very keyboard I’m using at this moment should have the keys arranged as Q,W,E,R,T,Y, etc, etc.  (I bet that’s your password for something.  I jest.  Not really).  The epitome of innovative design – the iPod – plays next to me.  The armoire, sharpie pen, TV, colorful book jacket, lamp in my immediate vicinity were all thoughtfully designed by someone to serve a function, elicit an emotion, or just look pretty.  In short –STUFF is design.  In fact this is the predominately accepted definition.  Designers create things. Objects.  If you were to browse through the design section of Barnes and Noble – itself a product of design thinking (stay tuned) – you’ll find volumes of illustrations and photographs of objects that transcend function.  It’s the chairs and toasters that reside at the MET or MOMA not in your home.  Somewhere along the way designers seemed to feel dissatisfied with function alone.  Take the  Laz-e-Boy for example- great for napping, watching the game, rocking the baby, and anchoring grandpa –  is somehow not thought of in the same way as the crisp lines of a clear, acrylic, chair that is sure to leave your ass sore.

But design comes in a much more conceptual flavor as well.  Designers are influential in both the look and function of libraries, banks, museums, and a host of other services.  And, how do we classify the world’s oldest and most experienced designer – Mother Nature?  Humming birds’ hover and geckos’ sticky feet are amazing examples of function, but they are hardly stuff.  Interestingly, the highly useful adaptations in nature have given rise to another subject for another day – biomimicry.  The point is that design so consumes our world that it’s difficult to ascertain where it stops.  It’s easier to define what is designed than what isn’t.

What is thinking?

Well that’s a good one for Socrates or someone a whole lot smarter than me.  BUT, since I’m here I’ll just call it:  the way we organize and make sense of our experiences.  I’d guess that means I lean more toward the Piaget social constructivist approach to cognition.  :: I digress::   If I go with that definition, though, and we agree that we each have unique experiences unto ourselves, then perhaps we can conclude that thinking is more about perception than processing.  The way you think about Italy (art! Romance! Gladiators!) may be wholly different than the way I do (mmmmmmmm……Gelato).  But if I, as a designer, actively work to see the world through your perspective, then that is acting with empathy.  Empathy is a key theme that I’ve seen recur in various articles, books, blogs, etc. about design thinking.

Put it together and what d’ya got?

To conclude this exercise I’d be happy with a definition of Design Thinking as: A process of looking at the world from different perspectives in order to affect positive change.  I’m happy with that, but it’s a bit clinical.  I recently read a book by Warren Berger called Glimmer (released under other titles as well).  It is absolutely a must read if interested on this topic.  In the book, Berger dedicates a section to the defining of Design and the difficulty therein.  Lots of designers contributed their personal working definitions – many of which I like – but don’t necessarily translate to design thinking in a K12 classroom.  Regardless, design firm IA Collaborative produced a brilliant illustration that summarizes the varying degrees of design definition (say that 5 times fast):

(picture from IA Collaborative – downloaded from Glimmersite Blog)

Note the credit to  This is the companion site for the afore mentioned book full of LOTS of good stuff.  Check it out, think about it, and please comment on what your own working definition of design thinking would be.