What does it mean to make something abstract or conceptual?
A number of years ago, someone posed a question about having an abstract experience. In response, I sewed a Möbius strip. Although I knew I would only need to sew one side, when my presser foot ran over the already-stitched down edge, it completely violated my expectations. I made four more, and each time, felt a little frisson of delight as my presser foot approached the stitching. As if it would be different on the third or fourth try. I don't think I learned anything new in doing so, but it was a memorable experience.
Building on that, as I am working on projects, I am also trying to make progress on constructs. As a constructionist, this is pretty normal for me.
So, what have I been making and making progress on lately?
My first Arduino project! I am trying to make a PKE meter. My first attempt at getting my motor to spin was a fail. I had zero idea what went wrong. A friend gave me advice:
And then Chris asked me something about how or why it worked. Well, THAT metaphorical lightbulb did not go on. I have no idea why it worked, or how it worked. Meaning I made progress on my device, and maybe developed a little self-efficacy for following Arduino directions, but not much else.
Still, I plunged ahead, and found directions for making a motor spin. I followed them. And now I have a motor that spins!
But still no understanding.
However, I do now have lots of ideas. And lots of questions.
All of these questions show progress on my framing of the problem. I am getting further into the problem. And starting to see the affordances and constraints of my approach.
So I went and dug through the random stuff in the lab, and this is what I have to work with now:
So, how is this helping me make progress on the construct of framing agency?
A friend offered to just make this thing for me. I said 'Great, but I am still going to try to make one myself.' Others have offered to sit with me and walk me through this. And so far I have turned them down. Part of that is because I want to do this myself. I want to be able to frame and reframe as I go.
But if I am honest, part is because I think it will be clear just how little I know about coding and electronics. I am not worried about that, but rather what might happen as a result. Someone might feel the need to explain it all to me. And right now I am chasing a goal, and learning just the bits I need to to make progress. I think people probably do this quite a bit. I don't want it to become schoolish. I want to puzzle and tinker my way to making what I want to make. This type of need-to-know is found repeatedly when we try to insert learning into making.
This reminds me of the work by Leona & Rich on students' use of engineering versus scientific models of experimentation, and how there might be a somewhat natural progression from engineering to scientific approaches. As a former geologist and current learnign scientist, I do know the scientific model of experimentation. But as a designer, I favor the engineering model, tinkering my way to making it work. I feel more sense of framing agency. Maybe there will come a point where I reframe my goal to be able learning how my PKE meter works. Though I suspect any such framing will be driven only by it not working.
So, what am I making progress on? NOT on programming or circuits. But I am understanding better why attempting to insert learning goals into making goals might fail!
I named this blog 'making space,' which was a rapidly-made decision that turned out to be productive. It felt like it fit at the time. But I didn't know why.
Most spaces where people make things are called "maker spaces" (or fablabs). And that says that you have an identity as a maker. I don't always feel like a maker, and maybe you don't always feel like a maker, but that doesn't stop us from making things.
And we are also making the space into something new. When giving a tour of the space the other day, someone commented on our column, which began as an eyesore—a bug—that we have now transformed into the coolest part of the space—a feature.
So it is a space for making and a space we are making. As a constructionist, (this stance is tied to why I decided to blog about all this, to position it as public), I also see it as a space for making ideas, constructs, studies, etc. Which makes me ponder, in this exploratory time, what are we making progress on?
In reflecting on this with Richard Reeve, I found something exciting in the making: We are developing a practice—not yet formalized—that could be very helpful for eliciting problem framing. One of the big challenges in studying problem framing is deciding what is sufficient evidence, in terms of whether framing is happening, what the frame is, and when it has changed.
Something I have noticed in my own exploratory work is that I began using a sort of think aloud protocol to narrate my work. In doing so, I realized I was making clear my long term problem goals (the larger problem frame), as well as the short term and emergent goals. I have been trying to turn a beater from a stand mixer into PKE meter. And I know I need to learn some programming and some electronics, both of which are (mostly) new to me.
A future PKE meter!
So this tells me I can attend to two frames at once, and I don't think we talk much about this in the study of problem framing.
But it also means we have a practice we can build into our studies, a practice we can scaffold with technology, or with instruction. It is not exactly goal-setting, though it resembles it. (And Michelle Jordan's work on managing uncertainty seems pretty relevant here). It is attending to—and giving voice to—these emergently, in conversation with materials, as reflective practice. Of course, there are many literatures to build on here: metacognition, self & co-regulation, probably others... But so much of those have focused on well-structured problem solving, that I don't know how well they fit, whole-cloth. What I am after here is enhancing peoples' capacities to take ownership of problems, to frame and reframe them, to learn with excitement, and to forge ahead in the face of uncertainty by using resources, tinkering, and generally failing a lot.
Using resources and tinkering, right before failing a lot!