You are never too old…

So, I have a follow up to my last post about my foray into Making. Let’s return to the scene when I had gone back to the site of the first workshop I had fled, where I eventually tried my hand at Scratch and the cute, little Bee Bot. I previously mentioned that I spent some time just tinkering with the Bee Bot. I didn’t see any directions, but jumped in anyway and tried to figure it out. I did get some “peer to peer” mentoring from someone else who stopped by while I was exploring, and I was quite content to just play with figuring out how to program it to take different paths. It is a fairly simple robot, as far as robots go. It has four arrows on its’ back, in the four cardinal directions, with a “go” button in the center of those. From searching the internet, I found out that there are two more buttons, “clear” and “pause”, however, on the one I was using, those words were rubbed off, or it was an older version that had some other symbols instead of the words that were not intuitive to me. To program it, you touch an arrow the number of times you want it to go in that direction, building a sequence, and then press “go”.

There I was, on the floor, by myself, fairly happily trying to make it go in different directions and different shapes. In one of these iterations, I had it turn left and travel off the mat on which it normally runs, as I was working towards having it go in a square shape. At this point, one of the facilitators/presenters for the session walked by and noticed what I was doing. I am sure she had the best intentions of giving me more technical language about what I was doing when she commented “looks like you have a syntax error”, but the effect was to make me feel incompetent. It is pretty pathetic. I am a 46 year old woman, almost finished with my PhD, who has raised two amazing young women to adulthood, and taught elementary and middle school students for over a decade. I am a competent, relatively bright, and accomplished human being! However, I immediately shut down when someone told me, in a way that made me feel “dumb” that I had made an error with an educational toy designed for young children. So, once again, I packed up my belongings and left the room.

It has been interesting to reflect on my reaction. From the first, I felt vulnerable and uncomfortable with so many activities and materials in the room with which I was unfamiliar and inexperienced. Lame as it may sound, it did take an act of courage for me to come back and finally sit down and try some of these things by myself, not just watching others. And, I tried not just one, or two, but three new things that day. Yet, at the first sign of perceived judgment about my “failure” I felt terrible and left. I didn’t react that way when my “near peer” sat and offered suggestions to help me figure out how to “clear” the programs to make a new one, but when it was someone who was in more of a position of authority, I was shut down.

Lest you worry that it curbed my adventurousness, the universe generously offered me yet another Maker experience that day, creating the functional chair out of cardboard. This time, I didn’t even try to resist and claim the offered role of observer. Instead, I just laughed and accepted my fate and went and gathered materials.

I hope I remember the deeper lesson I learned that day – even when I am giving what I think might be helpful language or advice, if a learner does not want it, I might do more harm than good. And when someone is at the edge of their own boundaries, even if it might just be baby steps into something new, that is a vulnerable place and they need extra space and support. Lastly, even grownups, who are competent in lots of other ways, can be insecure learners in that space of trying something for the first time too.


Abandoned Ship

Last weekend there was a wonderful free choice learning event at Lincoln City Oregon – The Remotely Operated Vehicle Competition.  It was so much fun to watch and perform the role of judge.  This is an event that is sponsored by the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center and numerous local and national sponsors.  The most interesting thing to me is the level of excitement that surrounds these events from all involved.  However today I am going to write about one particular participant from last Saturday’s event.  This particular sophomore chaired his team for the Rovers portion of the competition which meant they were competing at the level to win the only slot to move forward to the international competition and prize money to help offset costs.  This particular participant had a serious of events on Saturday that would make any person, young or old most likely walk away from the competition.  In my mind his actions truly embodied what it means to be a good sport, but the aspects of free choice learning.

First of all during the debriefing it was clear that another team his team was competing against had not brought all their materials nor had they read the rules.  I instantly offered to share his supplies and the printed out materials with them which he was not required to do.  When the head judge said he did nto have to do that, the instructions were clear online, he said it is all for learning and fun isn’t it – I’m I allowed to share.  We said sure.  Next thing, his team members did not show up.  This meant that he was instantly disqualified if he did not have at least one more person with him “on deck” for the trails and for the competition.  He enlisted the help of one of his family members.  The judges told him that he still mostly would not advance as the team had changed from the date of submission.  He said ok, but can I still go through the event.  Yes was the answer.  Next his ROV did not meet specs.  He was given 20 minutes to alter it – he did it passed.  He proceeded with the trails and placed higher then I actually thought his ROV could achieve.  Impressive driving for the limited machine.  However this is not all, he watched other competitors, cheered the younger competitors on.  Walked around and read the various posters that other teams produced and encouraged the other teams throughout the event.  When chatting with him, he remarked about how much fun this was and how much he was learning.  All on his own choice!  He didn’t win, he didn’t make the paper, but his actions stood out enough that he was voted to receive a Spirit Award that he did not know even existed.  Congratulations – “Abandoned Ship”