When 'making', failure isn't an option; it's a prerequisite

December 14, 2015

The Maker Movement has moved steadily into the consciousness of educators and parents alike. The proliferation and reduction in the cost of entry for equipment such as laser cutters, 3D printers and software accelerated the adoption of such technologies. All this is fantastic but in my opinion, we shouldn’t lose sight of two fundamental ingredients: an idea and the resilience to see it through.

 

The idea of learning in the making is as old as the first tools of our ancestors. From the humble twig used to fish termites out of a hole to more advanced weapons such as the stone axe affixed to a sturdy stick that I observed our third graders making in class, both require the maker to have an idea and the resilience to work through setbacks and failures until the final product is “perfected”.

 

To reflect upon my own experience as a maker, it was roughly eight years ago that I started on the slippery slope of hobby marine reef keeping. On impulse, I purchased an All-In-One tank system. It was marketed as having everything a hobbyist needed to maintain a marine reef. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, the stock equipment lacked power to grow a thriving marine reef. I turned to the vibrant online reefing forums and began a two-year journey of tinkering and fabricating do-it-yourself projects. My first idea: to design a high power light that fed my light hungry coral. Through trials and many errors, a number of prototypes were built and every single one had some type of critical flaw. Eventually through those failures, the high-powered LED lamp you see in the image attached was created. What started as a simple marine reef tank turned into a powerful experience of tinkering and learning that resulted in the creation of a two-colored, dimmer-controlled, high-powered LED light system encased in black acrylic. The DIY light system flooded my tank with enough light to grow any type of coral.

 

What I gained from the experience was more than just a pretty reef tank. It was an immersive learning experience based on a self-directed urge to complete a project, my project. I felt like I could build anything I found online. What I forgot along the way were the many frustrating setbacks such as the time I blew out a power driver, wired my circuit incorrectly or miscalculated the salinity killing a mantis shrimp in the process ... and many other follies.

 

The fuel to all this self-directed learning is that it was essentially play. The learning was actually the byproduct of play and I gained deeper understanding through failure.

 

All this was done before 3D printers or other fancy tools were readily available at the consumer level. What’s new isn’t the idea of making something. What’s new is that the design process time can now be shrunk and the precision of the tools available to pretty much anyone allows for products that might actually turn out to be closer to the dreamer’s dream than ever before.

 

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