Summer Joy

I’ve definitely figured out my zippered pouch pattern/process.  Still waiting on supplies so I can add a little wrist strap, but I feel good about these and have really enjoyed the process of making them.

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Also been doing some reading.  I read Shadow by Michael Morpurgo, which is a selection for this coming school year’s Virginia Young Reader’s Choice award.  There were things I really liked about the story, but I wasn’t thrilled with the way it was set up, so I can’t give it a glowing review.  I’m curious to see what kids think of it.  Now I’m partway through Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg, and I am liking it much better. (Thanks to fellow librarian Allison for the recommendation!)

Last but not least, I’ve been trying to write every day–for an hour or two if I can. It’s kind of challenging writing to do at times, but it’s the kind of challenge that feels good in the end. I don’t want to get into any details about the project itself (I can be weirdly private and protective about works in progress), but suffice it to say, I’m writing and I feel happy about it.

So, yay for summer productivity!  Next week is another coding camp, but unlike the 22 kids we had in the last session, we currently only have 6 signed up for this next one.  That will be a very different experience, I suspect!

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Prototype!

Alright.  So there’s still one problem with my zipper ends (that’s the crunch in the upper right corner of the second photo), BUT I think I’ve figured out what I did wrong (I sewed through the tabs when putting it all together, when I should have sewn right up to them.  Which is going to be harder to actually do than it sounds, but at least I am aware of the problem!).

But look at it!  Isn’t it cute?  (Those pics are not the same size, but it’s the front and back view of one pouch.)

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It’s a perfect size for carrying a few things, like a wallet and phone, or sanitary stuffs, or whatever.  Once I get the supplies I’ve ordered, I’ll add a little strap that clips on to make it a wristlet.  Future versions will use fabric for that D-ring tab instead of ribbon–I thought I’d like the ribbon, but I don’t.

I’m excited to make more of these! It was fun to watch it come together.

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Failure: It’s a Good Thing

I’m not keen on failure in the moment when it’s happening. It’s irritating and discouraging. Yesterday and today have been full of sewing failures as I try to work out a prototype for a kind of zippered pouch I’d like to make and potentially sell. (They are fun to make when they work out well, and I need to find a way to make a bit of money to pay for fabric for my sewing habit!).

I have, in the last two days:

-cut fabric wrong more times than I can count; my scrap pile is getting fed steadily

-made a pouch that was way too big, and one that was way too small, and one that was just oddly shaped

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Cons: Too big. Lopsided. Pros: Learned to do the zipper tabs (little bit of blue at ends of zipper); braved patchworking even if fabric choices weren’t so great

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This one is just sad. The idea was to have a small strip of linen at the top and mostly patterned fabric, but you can see what happened to that idea. BUT, I topstitched the zipper! And the fabric was a decent choice.

-sewn a zipper in upside down

-twice sewn zippers in with the ends turning up wonky (still trying to figure out what is causing this problem, but have a good idea, I think)

-sewn some very lopsided edges because of my stubborn refusal to pin or use clips

-made dubious design choices; oh so dubious

-sewn a tab with a D-ring with a gap that is waaaaaay too long to make sense

(And I also burned a whole pan of cookies.  But that did not stop me from eating them–a burnt cookie is still a cookie.)

But, the bright side of all my failure is that I learned a lot, like:

-I am getting a sense of how cut fabric sizes will translate to the end product–how much is lost in the sewing itself. I’m not there yet, but I get closer each time.

-I can now sew zipper tabs, which pretty up the ends of the zippers.

-I maybe used clips a few times.

-I know how to topstitch zippers, and how to sew zippers on my machine without the zipper foot (that I can’t seem to locate).

-I used fusible interfacing successfully for the first time.  (Have used it unsuccessfully in the past and was afraid of it, but after all the other stuff going wrong, I figured I had nothing to lose.)

-I think I can fix the tab on the D-ring, and next time I’ll know to make it shorter.

-I learned how to do applique, which kind of scared me, but again, I had nothing to lose.

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Applique! But yeah, weird shape and super long D-ring tab. The color is weird in this picture–the bag is a natural linen color. This one has zipper tabs, but they got swallowed up by my overabundance of seam allowance, I think.

My point (and the sewing details are probably boring) is that, with each failure, I learn something.  (Aside from sewing the zipper upside down–I apparently am doomed to do that once in a while, regardless of how many times I’ve done it already.)  I try, when I’m feeling bummed about the way a project turns out because it so radically contradicts my mental vision that started it, to focus on what caused things to go wrong and how I can fix it next time.  It’s like debugging in coding, I guess.  My zippered pouches have a lot of bugs in their code right now, but one by one, I’m cleaning them up.  And I hope that, in the end, maybe over the next week, I’ll end up with a solid process for making these pouches, and maybe even learn some new ways to add some flair, and MAYBE even make a few that would be good enough to actually sell.

One step at a time.

In the meantime, meet my best friend:

seamripper

Seam Ripper 

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Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

(Read this via Netgalley.  Comes out in August.  Cover image taken from Amazon.com.)

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I love Rebecca Stead.  I love how her novels manage to capture the complexity of being a kid without dumbing things down or ramping up the drama.  They just feel real in a way that a lot of middle-grade realistic fiction doesn’t.

There’s a lot going on in Goodbye Stranger plotwise–friendship drama, crushes and first love, family problems, a sexting situation (handled fabulously, I think–if you are going to write about sexting for a middle school audience, you need to take great care, and Stead does), a mysterious high school character who is hiding out for the day for unknown reasons. Yet, for all that’s going on, it’s a quiet, reflective book.  It flows smoothly.  I felt like I entered a world when I started reading, and it wasn’t a world of high drama–it was just a world like I imagine my own child (of similar age as the characters) must live in. Confusing, funny, sad, interesting, and ultimately defined by love.

I highly recommend this one.  In my imagination, the perfect reader is a 13-year-old, boy or girl, who could stand to feel a bit less lonely in the chaos of being 13.

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Time

I’m a few days into my second camp of the summer.  A few weeks ago, a colleague and I did a Sewing camp that ran 3 hours a day for 5 days, and now a different colleague and I are doing a Scratch programming camp that is also 3 hours a day (but this one will just run 4 days because of the July 4th holiday).

These two camps are very different experiences for me.  The sewing camp was a smaller group (13 girls, I think?); the coding camp is 22 kids (mix of boys and girls, but mostly boys).  Both are creating a product, but there’s something very different in creating something you can hold versus something on a screen.  I love both, and enjoy teaching both, but it’s a different kind of experience.  With sewing, you do a lot of ripping out in order to fix mistakes, but you also, at a certain point, are forced to just let it be, and I kind of have a soft spot for projects (my own and others’) with visible flaws.  With coding, there’s always that opportunity to tweak things and see what happens.  Makes it harder for me to feel like something is “done.”  And sometimes those little flaws cause the entire project to fail!

It’s interesting watching the kids in terms of that difference.  Some of our sewing campers had a hard time with even a single wonky stitch, while others were happy to just fly through a project so they could get to the next thing.  Of course, the latter group then learned about how to repair something that has come apart–when you fly through too fast, it doesn’t hold!  We have a few coders who are working deeply on single projects, really trying to match their visions and get things right from the start, and others who embrace the shorter challenges, diving in with lots of code and then debugging until the project works (or abandoning it in favor of something else, but usually persevering!).  There’s no “right” way to do it.  In the end, both approaches lead to an increase in skills, and I can see both in myself, so it’s easy to empathize.  As long as everyone is completing projects and learning, it’s good.

Both groups of kids are remarkably self-motivated and curious and fearless.  Middle schoolers are just the perfect age for this kind of stuff–old enough to take a bit of instruction and run with it, and young enough to embrace the joy of making unselfconciously.  The main difference between the two camps is just number of children.  But also, the helping with coding is more demanding than the help with sewing, or at least more varied.  The kids are in very different places in terms of their previous exposure and skill levels, and also in terms of how complex their projects are.  With sewing, there were variations, but not as extreme.

But, what I am really thinking about right now is time (thus the title of this post).  3 hours a day, and it FLIES.  We have a snack break, but basically, we are going strong that whole time.  I can’t speak for the kids, but my sense is that the time is going by fast for them as well.  When you have a chance to really just settle into a project, whether tangible or digital, you lose track of time.  For me these two weeks, the project is teaching and helping kids troubleshoot (very little time spent doing all-group instruction; the vast majority is one-on-one assistance).  For the kids, it’s of course whatever they are making.  I know we benefit from the fact that these kids are here because presumably they want to be–they have some interest in the topic/skill. But I’m wondering about time. I know that sometimes during the school year, 50 minutes can feel like a long time, but maybe that’s partly because you can’t really settle in.  Once you start to settle in, it’s time to be thinking about when you should give a heads-up for clean-up, or whether you have time to start on or introduce some new thing.  With 3 hours, it just feels so much looser, and in a weird way, that looseness lends itself to kids being far more focused and on-task.  The hardest part of each camp day for me is that last half hour–not because I’m worn out (although I might be!) but because I’m suddenly aware of the clock. Wondering, with each question, whether there’s time to answer it today or if it should wait until tomorrow. Trying to make sure I don’t lose track of time and miss getting the kids to the pickup area. I think the kids become aware of the clock as well–once the few kids who leave a bit early to go to lunch leave, everyone is restless.

What’s interesting is that nobody seems to be watching the clock during those first two and a half hours.  Today I got to school at around 7:30 to start getting ready.  I didn’t look at the clock until the first kid arrived around 8:45, startling me out of whatever I was doing at that moment.  Then I didn’t look at the clock again until 10:45, and the only reason I looked then was because I wondered about snack; none of the kids had asked about having a break, but I guess my internal clock knew it was about that time.

Between 11:30 and 12:00, I can’t even count how many times I looked at the clock.

I don’t think there’s an answer in terms of class times changing, but I do need to reframe my own relationship with the clock.  I think I’ve even posted about this before! But these camps are really highlighting for me what can happen if you aren’t worried or thinking about time.  If I could capture that spirit faster, and teach myself to push the clock out of my mind for longer stretches of the 55-minute class periods we do have, it could be pretty powerful.

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Project Zero Atlanta: Random Thoughts/Impressions/Reflections

So, I went to this conference:  Project Zero Perspectives: Think Create Innovate.  Here are some initial impressions and notes.  If I wait until I have time to really dive in, this will never get done!

Agency by Design.

Agency by Design is a research strand of PZ focused on maker culture.  There were several parts of the conference (speakers and sessions) that hit on this strand, and it is the one I keep coming back to in my mind.  Key ideas:

  • Slow looking in order to see the complexity of parts and how they interact.
  • “Sensitivity to design.” I keep thinking about this.  The idea is that, when we look at an object in the world, we reflect on how it was made and designed, and we encourage kids to slow down and do this same kind of reflection. This is powerful stuff.  “Drawing on interviews, site visits, and observations of student work, AbD formed the hypothesis that fostering young people’s sensitivity to the designed dimension of the world may be a powerful way to increase their sense of agency.”  YES.  If I understand how something works and how it was created, I have more power/agency when it comes to my own creations/designs.
  • “Do It Together” (versus DIY).  Importance of community; standing on the shoulders of giants even when working alone.  Maker culture as not anti-individual, but emphasis on community, no person an island.

Culture of Questions (David Perkins)

David Perkins gave a talk on questions, defining Big Questions and what they do.

Big questions:

  • Are open; reflect insight, action, ethics, opportunity
  • Energize and organize learning
  • Are enduring and universal; can make progress on them, but no easy answers
  • Wonder AT things, not just ABOUT things.

The big takeaway from this for me was, like above, this concept of slowing down and wondering.  Instead of trying to dive in too fast to answers or building, taking time to look at what’s there first, or think about design.

Mindful Looking

I did a shorter session on mindful looking, where we looked at a painting for about 15 minutes, then came up with questions about it, then talked about our questions.  This was that idea of “slow looking” put into practice. It was really interesting to see, not only what questions I came up with myself about the painting when given an opportunity to really look closely, but what questions and observations other folks had.

In thinking about applying this to the Makerspace specifically, I could imagine having kids take apart a common object and look at it silently/mindfully, and then discuss their questions. I see an activity like this leading to some really interesting making.

And those are my thoughts for now!

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Time for Reflection

It’s not accurate to say that I don’t have time to keep up with this blog, time to reflect on what’s going on in the library.  I just don’t take the time, and as I sit here at the end of another school year, I have regrets about that!  I know that regular reflection makes me do my job better; serves as a record of what’s going on; helps me to see and understand more; opens up the possibilities for other ideas/opinions/input.

When I do try to write, after not doing so, I feel all this pressure to make up for lost time.  But I can’t really do that.  So I need to just write what I can.

I went to a Project Zero conference last weekend.  I still haven’t processed it. I need to do some writing just for myself, and then I’ll try to turn that into a blog post.  It was a quietly powerful conference; it will change how I do things, particularly in the Makerspace but also in reading classes and in the library as a whole.  The main thing I took away from it, I think, was the importance of reflection, so that’s why I’m here again, even though I’m not writing about PZ just yet.

Highlights from this past week at school:

When my Tinkering activity was due to meet this week, all but one of my kids were away on a field trip. So Emily (the one kid) and I had a chance to play with Make!Sense sensors by adding to and tweaking a Scratch program. I don’t often get to focus all my attention on one student and one project at a time, and it was very enjoyable! We tested out a variety of sensors (motion, sound, heartbeat, touch, tilt, light, proximity), having them trigger various movements and visual effects on our Scratch project. I am now inspired to spend more time with the Make!Sense materials, and possibly use them this summer in my Scratch camp.

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My school has created a new STEM coordinator position for grades 7-12, and I got to spend some time with the new hire.  He came to observe Makerspace for a bit, and I seriously got chills listening to him chat with some of the kids about possibilities for next year with robotics and other cool engineering kinds of stuff. I had a thought later that night, as I was thinking about the meeting, that while I feel really good about what I’ve been able to do in the library with the Makerspace and how much I’ve learned and will presumably continue to learn about coding and making and whatnot, it will be SO wonderful to have someone who knows a ton more about it and who can meet these kids where they are.  I feel very good about having been able to provide a safe place for these kids, and (I hope) some inspiration and access to materials and guidance. But I know there is a lot I can’t do, and I am looking forward to working with Dan and being both a witness and (I hope) a contributor to the work he will do with these amazing kids. I’m getting chills again just thinking about it.

Finally, books!  I don’t write as much here about books, and I’m not sure why.  Maybe because books aren’t as new to me as the whole making thing is. I did read a good one this week, though–Paper Things by Jennifer Richards Jacobson.  I’m a sucker for a good middle-grade problem novel, and this one delivers.  Ari and her brother Gabe are homeless, and Ari is trying to manage keeping that a secret while dealing with the regular issues of 5th-grade life. I really liked the voice of this novel, and frankly, I liked that it managed to both challenge misconceptions that kid readers might have about homelessness and avoid topics that I’d worry about exposing my younger students to. That can be a tricky balance. I immediately handed it off to Miriam, one of my students who loves those problem novels like I do, and she came back the next day saying she couldn’t put it down.

Now I’m reading a pretty terrible YA zombie novel that I downloaded from the upper school ebook collection while I was away at the conference and wanting something I could read without bothering my roommate with the light, and I’m wishing I’d remembered to bring home something from the new book shelf at school!

One more note: as summer approaches, my own kid is nearing the end of her middle school years.  I think this is making me extra nostalgic and emotional about my job–partly because she will be going to a different school next year, but also, I think, because I’ve enjoyed this odd intersection of my parenting life and my work life, this hyperawareness (thanks to my kid) of what middle school life is like for the kids. I guess that awareness will continue, because once you know what something is like, you pretty much know it, but I am going to lose something of it, I know.  It’s hard to articulate, but it has me feeling a bit tender about the whole thing.

And that, my friends, is that!  Thanks for reading!

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