Maker Training

This weekend I was invited last-minute to a really awesome day of training with SparkFun, a company of “electronic enablers.” They’re in the middle of a cross-country tour, presenting workshops for teachers, students, and librarians on different do-it-yourself tech activities, with a heavy dose of Maker ideology.

I must admit that up until now I’ve been a little dismissive of libraries’ adoption of the Maker Movement. Maker Spaces must appear somewhere on the How to Be a Cool Library list. There’s a lot of buzz, and people seem eager to tick the “We’re building a maker space!” box.

This weekend made me think differently.

Remember how trendy web 2.0 was a few years ago? People embraced the concept with kind of an acquisitory spirit: often hopping on top of the latest tool without a clear idea that patrons were interested, or that they’d be able to incorporate it successfully into library service. They wanted on the bandwagon! Now that the initial fervor has calmed down though, web 2.0 enthusiasm has produced some wonderful results. Libraries are more participatory, and are joining patrons in their online spaces. We’re engaging more with our communities, both in virtual and physical spaces.

I think library Maker Spaces will end up with the same type of positive results. After the initial craze has died down, we’ll have made some really positive changes to library service. The Maker movement is about being able to create, evaluate, and change technology, instead of passively consuming it. And I don’t think anyone understands better than a public librarian how important tech literacy is. Library evolution is broadening our traditional commitment to literacy: we must include technology. The Maker movement is an important ingredient in getting there.


Below are some of my notes from the training, as well as some of my terrible photography:


1. e-Textiles: Sewed a circuit to make an LED light up, with conductive thread.

  • Chicks dig it (or rather, “leverages to young women”)
  • approx $6/kit
  • Talked about The Arduino Lilypad
  • Sewing a circuit slows down the time frame and you think about it differently.
  • Thread comes from medical tech – they use silver and nylon because it’s anti-microbial. So happens that it’s also conductive.

2. Squishy circuits: Used conductive (and insulating) playdough to make a circuit.


  • Kids and PhDs love it
  • It smelled really good.
  • Cheap!
  • Recipe online – simple to make
  • Reading is So Delicious connection?
  • If you dropped a cell phone in de-ionized water, it would still work. It is the ion content of the water that destroys the phone. So, use deionized (distilled water) to make the insulating playdough.
  • Long on positivity: the long leg of the LED light is the positive side
  • LEDs in parallel have the same resistance, LEDs in series increase the resistance.
  • Ohm’s law: voltage = current x resistance
  • Build a hamburger with bilateral symmetry

3. Scratch:Easy programming tool. Made a character walk around, spin, etc.


  • “Scratch is programming for artists”
  • Teaches Basic Animation and critical thinking
  • Kids use it to animate meitosis and meiosis
  • When teaching kids and they are having problems, first ascertain what they want it to do

4. Pico Board: Plugged the Pico Board in to the computer to use with Scratch. The Pico Board has different switches and sensors; it has a microphone so you can make something react to sound, a fader, a button, and more. Used in conjunction with Scratch. Could see how you could use the two to make a video game, although I think it would be a long program (or series).


  • Libraries are lending Pico boards
  • Connect Pico board to a laptop and use it to control Scratch

5. E-Origami: Used paper and copper tape to make a circuit switch, which we attached to the Pico board with alligator clips

  • Could also use tin foil
  • Put tin foil all over the floor and then put some on the bottom of peoples’ shoes
  • Made e-origami and used conductive playdough to connect the copper tape (complete the circuit)

6. Makey Makey: (video, no hands-on). Make a banana piano, Water Pan Dance Dance Revolution, playdough Nintendo controller Can use with Scratch.

  • One presenter created a piano like the one in Big with Tom Hanks – used black and white foam, and copper tape with the ground and live wires spiraling slow closely together that your bare foot would make the connection
  • As long as there’s a way to complete the connection, you can do anything
  • Basically it’s checking for continuity, it does not send a current through you. Touch screens work this same way

7. Arduino: Simple computer, with simple programming tool. Made an LED light up. Learned how to change the way it behaved based on changing code,including changing from digital to analog behavior. Never been so elated by seeing a light go on – I did that!


  • Arduino is like Raspberry Pi, but more accessible
  • SparkFun is using them for weather balloons that go to the edge of space.
  • /* */ – bracket code with this to take it out of action
  • Said something about teaching Arduino was like running a cooking show
  • Used Fritzing to demo the boards – a good teaching tool
  • Digital is a switch (on/off), analog is a dimmer
  • Analog writes 0 to 255, reads four times that

Theory/Ideology/Bon Mots:

  • We’re using technology to inhabit new environments
  • We’re generating tech content, not consuming it
  • For SparkFun, the value of the company is community. Everything is open source – even the hardware schematics are online.
  • 3D printing creates the possibility to decentralize manufacturing, to make it a cottage industry.
  • Writing a program is the new literacy
  • Interesting orgs: Farm Hack, Noisebridge, Harbor Freight (cheap tools), Really Useful Box from the Really Useful Products
  • Technology as a raw material
  • SparkFun is building kits that libraries could put on the shelf for check out

There was one suggestion which they kept reiterating: to do the maker activity as a Pop-Up Program. I thought it was a good suggestion, because many of the things were a lot of fun, innovative, interactive, and portable. I can imagine patrons saying, “you can do this at the library!?”

Also, they had the most awesome service dog:


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