My favourite assignments to complete, assign, grade, and celebrate have always involved building or making. I loved the spaghetti bridge in Grade 11 Physics; I happily built a Rube Goldberg machine when I was in Elementary school; and Grade 9 Science was awesome because we built terrariums: I had a Cuban Knight Anole that enjoyed a pretty sweet life inside an old wooden HiFi cabinet.
I love watching student-made music videos, exploring ancient Mesopotamian cities built in Minecraft, and listening to design plans for straw towers, paper airplanes, or any other maker challenge. These are the student’s personal creations I highlight in assessments of learning and ask to be shared with parents during conferences. These are also the times when my students are most universally engaged in their learning. Making is Learning.
When asked to produce something creative for a Master’s course – I jumped at the opportunity. I am a maker. I am a creator. I like woodworking (building boxes, lathes, experimenting with different techniques), stone carving (so far just animals – but I’d like to branch out to abstract and non-traditional forms soon), and writing. But this assignment needed us to step out of our comfort zones and to try new things. This creation also needed to be both new and useful… however we defined those qualifiers.
I asked myself what is both new and useful to me? New: I have no experience in wiring or pipe fitting. Useful: I need more lighting. Answer: A pipe lamp.
I love the raw pipe furniture aesthetic, but it wouldn’t work in my home. I’m not going to totally outfit the living and dining rooms with industrial light fixtures, piped chairs, steel and wood benches/coffee tables, or have shelving which looks like it could double as a Super Mario brothers level… but I know that I can get away with a lamp. It’s small, functional, and satisfies the need to have a bit of an industrial feel while maintaining the character of our old home.
I also really like robots. I have this gauge (as pictured above and below) which makes for a cool robot head – so I’ll build a robot pipe lamp. Or a pipe robot lamp.
I made the lamp by putting together different pipe lengths and fittings, disassembling it to feed the wire through the insides, epoxying sockets and gauges to pipe, splicing electrical cord taken from an old chandelier, affixing a plug to the works, and positioning the bot such that it gave the appearance of motion: leaning on it’s right side, head turned, holding up a torch in its left hand… and voila – Lamptron 3000 has been created.
I’ll find a suitable location for the lamp and find a way to hide the wire coming from its right foot (by either building wooden base or drilling a hold below its home in our home). I may spray paint the pipe and switch out the bulb. But those are minor tweaks to this process. I was successful in my goal: it looks like a robot and it lights up. (Looking at ETSY, I could probably go into business making these things for $60-250 a pop! So, if this whole teaching thing doesn’t work out…)
This process helped me as a teacher in a few ways:
- I need to give my students some direction, some parameters. Students need a starting point: “make something useful for your room” or “trying something new, build a solution to the following problem.”
- I need to still allow students to bring themselves into their projects. I incorporated a lot of my likes and interests into this project. While I feel that I provide opportunities for students to incorporate their passions, ideas, and interests into their work – this experience reinforces the power of that choice.
- I need to be open to aesthetic differences. My lamp isn’t for everyone – but it works for me. What students produce, if those creations work for the student, need to be honoured. Again – I think I do this already, but I’d gladly take a reminder than to screw it up and judge someone’s interests instead of their work.
- Building and creating is fun. If a learning outcome can be achieved by creating something – why in the world would I deny my students that opportunity? I love essays as much as the next fella – but a physical artifact is tough to top!
I’m going to light up my classroom with more opportunities for student creativity.