Sunday, January 16, 2011

Exploratorium Open Make Session 1

"Behind this is just a natural curiosity in what's around us."—Dale Dougherty
Yesterday was the first of the Exploratorium's Open Make sessions in conjunction with the Young Makers meet up. There is so much to see and do at the Exploratorium that it was hard to make it all the way to the Tinkering Studio in the back, but eventually we got there. C was drawn to making a membranophone from a film canister, pvc pipe, a piece of latex glove, and the top of a small water bottle. It actually makes a pretty wonderful sound.
We got so caught up in doing things that we were late to the plussing session, arriving just in time to hear Tony talking about a rough timetable: exploring ideas in January, narrowing them down by February, having a pretty clear project plan by March, and making good progress on the project by April.

Every Young Maker at the plussing session received a Maker's Notebook in which to track their project. The notebook is like a Moleskine with graph-paper pages, a sleeve in back containing two sheets of maker-oriented stickers, and a short reference section which encompasses everything from common technical abbreviations to adhesive charts to lists of Mercury Retrogrades and best places to dumpster dive. The kids were all over these.
After lunch, we headed for the McBean Theater to listen to the Featured Maker Interviews. The tiny auditorium was packed; you can actually get a better view via the webcast here.
At the end, the floor was opened for questions for the Makers, among which were:

1. What is your favorite tool?
  • Answers: wire stripper, vise grip pliers, hot glue gun, my fingers.
2. What inspires you?
  • Two of the makers were quick to mention their dads.
3. Have you ever made a working miniature car?
  • —which drew laughs from the audience, until two of the makers answered 'yes' and a third mentioned his Beagle Chariot!
4. . What's the biggest creative challenge and how did you overcome it?
  • Shawn talked about the importance of iteration, meaning you do the project as many times as necessary, acquiring new information and reworking after each attempt.
5. What is your success-to-failure ratio?
  • Lanny: "The iterative process means you never fail. One hundred per cent success rate!"
The focus of this year's Open Make sessions will be on materiality. All the makers interviewed yesterday worked in some way with plastic, and plastic was the theme in the tinkering area, as well. 

In February, the featured material will be cardboard; in March, it will be metal; and in April, wood. This reminded me of an upcoming Nova series that we were thinking of following: Making Stuff, which premieres January 19 on PBS. It might coincide nicely with upcoming Open Make sessions.

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