Infy Maker Award
with Karen and Kera, School and Gallery Education Coordinators
Each year the Infosys Foundation gives ten $10,000 InfyMaker Awards to organizations to help give more students access to maker activities. Thinkery was honored to be one of the 2019 InfyMaker Award winners; since last June we’ve used this grant to create amazing activities in Spark Shop, Thinkery’s Makerspace. We interviewed School and Gallery Education Coordinators Karen Wylie and Kera Nellor, who shared how they’ve utilized the InfyMaker Award so far!
Q: What were some of the highlights of this award for you and your programming?
Kera – One highlight of this award is seeing how excited students are to use real, authentic tools. They are eager to explore how a tool works and, despite some difficulties, they are very persevering.
Karen– The InfyMaker Award has allowed us to create quality, tool-based, maker education experiences on a larger scale and with more focus than ever before.
We recently shifted our field trip model from a formal, guided structure—where students spent a strict 15 minutes in each of our gallery spaces—to a student-led, self-guided model. Now, small groups of learners and chaperones determine for themselves where and how to spend their time. This allowed us to re-activate Spark Shop, our Makerspace, in a completely different way. Where before we did quick design challenges, now our focus is on building and safely using a variety of tools. This helps our educators learn, as well!
Q: Can you share some of the projects that students were able to do because of this award?
Kera – Cardboard City– Students who came in with school field trips practiced using real tools with the goal of creating a cardboard city. They used zip snips, hot glue and cardboard cutters to create miniature banks, food stores and homes.
Gingerbread House – To get in the holiday spirit, we build a 6’ tall gingerbread house out of paper mache and chipboard. Visitors to the museum helped up paper mache the armature of the structure and then cut shingles out of chipboard using a modified nibbler tool as a child safe scroll saw.
Community Night Spotlight: Felt Flags– On a special program night, as a museum we wanted to showcase the refugees who have fled to Texas for safety. To honor our growing diverse population, visitors used felting machines and felt to recreate the country flags of our refugees.
Q: What was your favorite thing that you gained in the summer training?
Karen – I loved being a learner again! My favorite moment from summer training was a Circuit Block Investigation that Aaron & Mae led. I’ve probably facilitated circuit blocks more than any other activity in our museum, but as we were prompted to explore, ask ourselves questions, and investigate further… I got the chance to be completely, totally wrong in front of our entire cohort. I took that experience with me as a reminder that learning is never done!
Q: Has any feedback from kids, teachers, or parents surprised you?
Karen – We set one learning objective to be “I can be safe while using tools.” We ordered small safety gloves, safety glasses, and safety goggles. And it turns out… this was the first time, for some kids, that THEY’D EVER PUT ON GLOVES. It’s a small thing, but it was surprising to me.
Kera- As a play-based museum, we’re a space where intentionally tinkering in order to discover new concepts really thrives. We often hear that, because of our open-ended programming, many students are introduced to new tools and how they can be used.
Q: What advice would you give to other organizations that are considering bringing “maker” activities for their audiences?
Kera – Remember that “not knowing” is okay. It’s okay to introduce a tool to your space that, even as an adult, you’re unfamiliar with.
Karen – It’s okay to start small, with cardboard and simple tools. It’s OK to have activities that don’t end in a final product. A big reason that I think maker education is so awesome is that it upsets the traditional learning power structures — who we think of as “students” and “teachers,” even what we think of as “success.”