Last Saturday I attended my first un-conference at McGill called ReMixEd Camp. Hosted by Learn Quebec, it was a free event for educators.
What is an un-conference, you ask? Good question. I asked myself the same thing. Here is Wikipedia’s definition:
An unconference, also called an Open Space conference, is a participant-driven meeting. The term “unconference” has been applied, or self-applied, to a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as fees, sponsored presentations, and top-down organization.Wikipedia contributors. “Unconference.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 Nov. 2015. Web. 4 Dec. 2015.
Basically, they had organized sessions that you could attend or not. If you didn’t like what was being presented, you could add a session to the board.If you started out at a session and didn’t like it, you could leave and go join another.
My reason for attending the conference was all the Makerspace activities they had listed. I was hoping to get some ideas on how to promote it, some useful tips on how to set it up and hear about some best practices and lessons learned.
Instead, I made something.
It was really uncomfortable at first. I had no idea what I was doing. I kept apologizing for my lack of craft skills, as if the whole room was judging my worth as a human being on how I cut through felt. But then, after a few attempts and a lot of playing, I started to get an idea, a vision that would match my beginner skills.
I spent most of the day in their Makerspace, fiddling with felt, sewing my felt flower into place and learning more about circuits than I have ever known before.I made a circuit with a battery, a LED light, a resistor (now I know what that does!) and conductive thread. I got so into it, I would have skipped lunch if I had not already skipped breakfast.
It dawned on me that I have been so busy coordinating a Makerspace for others, that I was missing out on the true experience of it – how I can lose myself in a project, how learning felt organic and not forced, how satisfying it felt when my project succeeded after many attempts of it not succeeding! How the only thing that mattered, was figuring it out. There were no stakes, no judgment, no pressure. (Honestly, I am inordinately proud of my poor little light-up felt flower).
It made me think of the Brain from The Breakfast Club – remember his storyline? How he was in detention because he thought he would take shop and get an easy A but he couldn’t get his lamp to work? How he couldn’t cope with a lower grade point average and that the obvious solution was to bring a flare gun to school in order to commit suicide?
What if he was graded on his attempt and not on the final result? On his iterations? On the fact that he kept trying and didn’t give up?
I didn’t want to go to this unconference. I was giving up my Saturday for this. I was tired. November was busy and well, November (ugh). Nobody was expecting me to go, it didn’t matter if I showed up or not. But I forced myself and sat down at the stool in front of materials I had never played with before and had no idea how they worked and ended up having a great time and feeling energized by the end of it.
For the first time, I truly experienced the benefits of Maker culture instead of simply talking about it.
Here is my flower:
More than ever I want to promote the Maker concept in our school. The difference now though is instead of always being on the side of coordinating and organizing, I am going to sit down beside the students and embrace all my failed attempts and celebrate my successes along with them.