Stephanie J. West-Puckett

writing, teaching, studying digital writing and rhetorics

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Pop Up and Make: Student-Designed and Facilitated Makerspaces

Let’s set the scene with a school snapshot:

  • Number of Students: 1,439
  • Per Pupil Expenditure: $9,500
  • White: 36%
  • African American: 55%
  • Hispanic: 6%
  • Free and Reduced Lunch: 50%
  • Makerspace Funding Sources to Date:
    • LRNG Challenge: $20,000 ($6,000 for materials and supplies + $12,000 for teacher PD stipends)
    • Academic Booster Grants ($5,000 for materials and supplies)
    • Lowe’s School Grants ($5,000 materials and supplies)

Makerspaces: Low- and High-Tech

Now let’s ask: What might school look like with no bells, no walls, and no limits on learning? The Educator Innovator collaborative posed this question to educators across the country in 2014, spurring the design of interest-driven and production-centered learning opportunities to deepen students’ passions.

In response, teachers and students from the above-mentioned school, J.H. Rose (JHR) High
 School in Greenville, North Carolina, in conjunction with the Tar
 River Writing Project at East Carolina University, received
 funds to design and implement pop-up makerspaces during 
the 2015-16 school year. These makerspaces include the 3D 
Fabrication Lab, Upcycling Shop, Music and Beat-Making Studio, Robotics and Hacking Space, Digital
 Storytelling Workshop, and Clothing and Fashion
 Design Closet. Each makerspace “pops up” in either a
 classroom, computer lab, commons area, or the cafeteria 
during the school’s Smart Block, an open period for eating lunch, attending academic sessions, practicing sports and music — and now for making things. With high- and low-tech materials, with digital and analogue tools, each space offers leveling-up curriculum pathways that are meant to scaffold tinkering, playing, experimenting, making, and learning.

In the Remake Lab, students and teachers upcycle furniture, old tires, and other discarded materials, transforming old dresser drawers into pet beds and selling them to raise more funds for supplies. A student works on a lamp project, combining an old basket with a donated light assembly to make a place for studying in her living room. Another student tears sheets from a wallpaper sample book and glues them to a barstool, contributing to a decoupage project that multiple students have worked on all semester — a low-barrier project that almost any student could “Pop Up and Make.” “In here,” the student says, “it’s mandatory to make something. It doesn’t matter what, but you have to get jiggy.”

In the RoboHacker Lab, students mix and match littleBits circuits, troubleshooting with teachers and Maker Mentors when lights don’t light up or fans don’t spin. Howls of laughter echo in the hallway as students race neon-colored Spheros, ribbing losers while helping them optimize for closer races. A student is learning to code in Python to make formulas for his math homework while his friend, a Maker Mentor, builds a car from Lego Robotics.

In the 3D Lab, students browse light saber designs in Thingiverse, set up new portable Micro 3D printers, draw with 3D pens, and fold Cubecraftcartoon figures. Maker Mentors and teachers help students reload spools of filament, scale digital objects on the computer, reinforce X-acto knife safety rules, and greet new students at the door. “When the makerspace first started,” reports one student, “I became well acquainted with the 3D pen, coming every Monday and Friday to work on an Eiffel Tower — I love its architecture and design. Eventually, I started working with the 3D printers. There’s always something new and interesting to make and learn.”

Participatory Design

The popularity of this Pop Up and Make educational model is due, in part, to its participatory design. To begin, faculty surveyed the students about their interests, asking, “What do we make together that will make school responsive to your needs?” After reviewing survey results, faculty read and discussed case studies of maker-centered learning, thinking through local affordances and constraints. In summer, they convened at East Carolina University’s campus, making together in a pop-up fabric hacker lab and planning their makerspaces. Here they developed open curriculum materials, budgeted for tools and supplies, and recruited student leaders. Fifteen students joined the event to make, co-develop, plan, and become Maker Mentors. School leadership also attended, offering support such as reassigned time, access to space, and other assets. During the back-to-school orientation, Maker Mentors staffed the spaces, demonstrated making, distributed information and created a buzz of excitement for the new year.

Space to Learn, Play, Make, and Grow

After a year, it’s clear that makerspaces are making things happen at JHR. Students like Austin in the video above are developing their passions and technical
 capacities –taking pride in exciting
 others through their roles as Maker Mentors. Students who haven’t yet
 discovered their objects of excitement 
are forming new nodes — people,
 places, tools, practices — on their 
learning networks. One student reports,
 “I first came here to help my friend 
print some vinyl for a sign. I met kids 
who were drawing on tablets and 
printing phone cases. I had never seen that before, so I came back. Teachers 
helped me, and I want to take their
 classes to learn more.” Finally, makerspaces are providing safe spaces for positive peer-to-peer social interaction. A student in the Remake Lab quipped, “Really, we just started coming down here to talk and eat lunch together without anybody bothering us, but then we saw we could eat, talk, and make new things with old stuff — stuff that makes us happy.”

Follow #RampantsMake on Twitter and Instagram, and check out the school’s website Rampants Make. And in the comments below, please share your own experiences in building a maker culture at your school.

Content cross-posted from SWP Edutopia guest blog.

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Making in the Media Center

Yesterday I had the privilege of leading a workshop at North Pitt High School on making and MakerEd with 40 or so media coordinators from Pitt County Schools.  The district media coordinator has provided real leadership and inspiration for transitioning the county’s media centers from quiet, solitary, read-only spaces to learning commons where students are making, sharing, collaborating, connecting, and contributing using a variety of digital and tactile tools and materials.  North Pitt media coordinator Laura Mangum is also leading the charge locally, integrating small-scale spaces for 3D printing and video production, demonstrating how school media centers can refashion themselves for making despite limited space and funding.libraries are for making

During the morning session, media coordinators shared their own interests and maker know-how, leading pop-up maker space activities like crocheting, snap circuitry, and stop motion animation.  After lunch, the media coordinators were still making, figuring out parallel and simple circuits, asking for another demo on how to drop a stitch, and playing with timing and frame speed in their animations.  If my work with making has taught me one thing, it’s that once you get folks started, it’s nearly impossible to get them to stop. That’s engagement, and that’s where the conversation about school reform should focus.

As folks continued to stitch, I moved us into a conversation about making, why making is receiving so much attention these days, and how making builds both personal and communal agency.  We watched Dale Doughtery’s TED talk about making as an American ideal, we enacted a call-and-response reading of Mark Hatch’s Maker Manifesto, and we looked at how and where making is happening in classrooms and in extracurricular or third spaces in schools.  I was excited to share some of the great tactile and digital projects my colleagues Danielle Lewis at Centennial Campus Middle School and Jennifer Smyth at Hertford County Early College have been working on with their students and share the ways making and a writing-as-making approach to college-level writing informs my work in first-year composition.knowledge building process

We talked about Jenkins’ notions of participatory culture and the literacies necessary to participate in maker spaces. Then I had coordinators reflect on the literacies that they activated to participate, make, learn, and share in the morning maker-spaces.  We made connections to Common Core State standards, AASL Learning Standards, Mozilla Web literacy maps, and various disciplinary literacies.  We discussed Kalantz and Cope’s Knowledge Building Processes and talked about how making can be paired with more traditional schooling practices to build knowledge through recursively doing, analyzing, conceptualizing, and applying.

Next, we talked maker space design, and I introduced the group to the Connected Learning (CL) framework, using the learning and design principles as guides for thinking through locally-responsive model building. The design principles of production-centered, openly networked, and academically-oriented prompt us to consider the ways we use networks, both local and digital, to support student making and create learning pathways that port powerful learning from informal to academic spaces.  We discussed the importance of productive peer culture, having young people take ownership of maker spaces, and I cited both the You Media Project in the Chicago Public Library and the Artlab+ at the Hirshorn in Washington DC as exemplar programs in this respect, both of which I’ve had the opportunity to visit and learn from over the last couple of years.  And we thought through ways to engage youth and adult partners from local communities to support cross-generational learning that enables young people to level-up with more experienced mentors.Frobel's gifts

Finally, we read and discussed Mitch Resnick’s piece on the MIT Lifelong Kindergarten, sketching out visions of serious play and interrogating the restrictive notions of “college and career-readiness” that are often touted in schools but bear little resemblance to our most innovative academic, professional, and civic institutions.  We took the idea of Frobel’s gifts as a starting point for thinking about the tools, materials, and resources that can feed our youth makers, and I implored folks to work first from their own interests and passions.  As I reminded them, we have to bring our own unique maker moxies to school with us and flaunt them unabashedly, demonstrating what it means to be “hot” in places that have conditioned us to “be cool.”

MakerEd ResourcesThe media coordinators’ response to the workshop was enthusiastic, and I am looking forward to ways Tar River Writing Project can continue to work with the district to support their plunge into MakerEd.  Several of the coordinators expressed interest in attending the TRWP MakerSpace Design Institute we’re hosting this summer, and I’ve already received several emails asking for more information about the maker projects and resources I shared.  We are all finding the MakerEd Resource Library extremely valuable in this work, and I’m continually humbled by the power of making to create community and remake the world around us into a more equitable and humane place– one stitch, one frame, one educator, one connection at a time.

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Aleatory Writing with Buzzfeed Quiz Results

click to play

click to play

One perk of having the flu is that you get to lie in bed and make stuff.  Rarely can I spend eight hours on my laptop writing with digital media, so today I took advantage my doctor’s directive and make a user guide– for myself.  A queer blend of technical and expressive writing, this user guide is meant to explain to others how I learn best.

Inspired by my colleagues at JH Rose high school who designed and blogged about this project on Edutopia, I set out to see what would happen if the raw material for my user guide was randomly generated by taking popular buzz feed quizzes.  I’ve been reading Deleuze and thinking about Jonathan Hilst’s call to use aleatory teaching methods in composition as a way to displace self and allow writing to follow new lines of flight from oppressive structures.

Mechanistic understandings and instantiations of the writing process are all too common in composition and often move from useful heuristics to oppressive structures.  Like Hilst, I’m wondering how we might write and teach writing by leveraging chance, deviation, randomness, and play as powerful invention strategies that open up new possibilities.  Since I’m also reading Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology, I’m wondering how we might re-orient towards expressivism and writing processes, looking not at Whitman’s barbaric yawp, but instead at other possibilities that might be within our reach when we take up practices and objects of play to write with.

So check out my user guide– written with Mozilla’s popcorn maker.  Let me know what you think and remix your own.

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Hacking Federally-funded Prof Dev with an Open MOOC

Open all the Learning MemeIn mid-January, the Tar River Writing Project (TRWP) launched TRWP Connect, a professional development partnership with EB Aycock Middle School to engage faculty in exploring connected learning theory and practice.  With SEED II federal funding allocated for high needs schools, we brought six our of most innovative teacher-consultants together to develop a scaffold for and to facilitate an online professional development experience that foregrounds participatory learning through making, connecting, sharing, and reflecting in a constellation of digital spaces.  Our TRWP Connect model builds on and remixes the National Writing Project’s Making Learning Connected Massive Online Collaboration (CLMOOC), which I helped facilitate in summer 2013, by using many of the same digital tools and conceptual practices to engage participants first as makers and learners and then as teachers who can critique, appropriate, and adapt connected learning for their own classrooms.

As a connectivist MOOC, TRWP Connect, like CLMOOC, is designed to build teacher capacity, leadership, and innovation using open platforms like Google Plus, Google Hangouts on Air, Twitter, and WordPress Blogs.  Open to anyone who is interested in connected learning, making, teaching or learning with digital tools, TRWP Connect is providing an interface for EB Aycock partnership school teachers to engage a variety of educators in our network from different schools, grade levels, subjects.  Similar to the hallmark NWP summer institute, this model operates on the premise that every new node we create on our professional network is a site where cross-pollination and empowerment can occur.  Through these connective nodes, we are sharing our passions for making, creating, and teaching; leveraging our on-the-ground expertise in the form of teaching activities and  strategies; collaborating on difficult problems facing our students, our schools, and our profession; and learning what it means to learn and teach and in a digitally-networked world.  Instead of a top-down approach to school reform, this model assumes that the best answers and ways forward will emerge from the collective as we build strong peer networks coalescing around shared purposes, interests, and issues in the profession.

Sounds cool, right?  Sounds like we’ve designed a system of professional development with the goals of promoting creativity, professionalism,  sustainability, and empowerment, right?  Yes, but…

The federal SEED grant funds for professional development are earmarked for high needs schools and include some particular, and I think, particularly insular provisions .  For example, the request for proposals stipulates that we partner with one high needs school, plan extensively with the administration to address the school’s (not teachers’ or students’) needs,  and engage a large cohort of partner school faculty in at least thirty hours of high quality professional development.  According to DeSimone, whose article Improving Impact Studies of Teacher Professional Development was circulated widely during last year’s SEED funding cycle, crucial elements of high quality pd involve flexible structures (workshops, informal conversations, reading groups, etc.), active learning methods, a duration of at least one semester, relevancy to classroom issues and concerns, and participation by faculty who share affiliation to one department or school.

The first four elements of DeSimone’s findings resonate with my own knowledges of effective professional learning practice, but it’s the notion that we work with homogenous groups (one department or one school) that strikes me as antithetical to what I know, as a writing project teacher, about transformative learning.  And this gets even more codified when I read the white paper from the US Department of Ed called Job-Embedded Professional Development which calls us to close down the learning borders, focusing our attention “inside the building ” to target (and as I read indoctrinate) a critical mass of school faculty through hierarchical train-the-trainer models.

If we take these SEED directives and the documents circulating around them as a mandate for how we, as writing project sites, should do our site work in the current climate of per-project funding, then we are at-risk of re-inscribing organizational silos and reifying school politics as opposed to providing spaces, like the NWP summer institute, where teachers can make new connections and use those nodes as places to make, play, experiment, and try on new identities and positionalities.  In my experience of writing project, intersectionality and openness are central to who we are and what we do, and if we are to hold onto this ethos, then we’re going to have to think together about how we can exploit these prescriptive federal grant guidelines.  TRWP Connect is but one example of how we’re making connections happen on the local/ not-local level, and I’m curious as to how others are receiving and refiguring these constraints to strengthen and grow teacher networks.

Cross-posted to NWP Digtial Is.

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Writing as Making

Join the Conversation

Watch Elyse Aidman-Aadahl, NWP Director of National Programs and Site Development, make beautiful connections between writing and making in the Writers at Work Series that originally aired July 2, 2013. Add your comments in one of two ways:

  • Watch the video on the big screen. Make comments on stickie notes using one stickie note per comment. Make sure to note the time elapsed so you can add it to the corresponding time on the physical video timeline.
  • Put in your earbuds, and cue up the video here at Vialogues. Sign up and login to leave comments at any point in the video.

Gallery Walk: Physical and Virtual

Take a look at the comments others have left in both the digital and analogue conversations. What resonates with you? What should we discuss?

Discussion Points

Make an Introduction

We are all makers, and the maker movement asks us to unabashedly flaunt our maker moxie. So to get us started in this pop-up maker space, let’s start by making an introduction. There are several materials and tools in the room, including your peers. Use them to make a statement about who you are and what you make in the world. If you choose to go digital, consider using some of these digital writing apps that folks made with last summer in the NWP Making Learning Connected #clmooc.
When finished, share our a link or snap a pic and tweet it out to #NWPAM13.


The maker movement helps us think about how we can spark creation, iteration, and collaboration in process-centered writing spaces. Maker logics disrupt the ideas of textual ownership and deconstruct the notion of a lone writer working inside her head to make meaning in the world. Instead, maker logics acknowledge the collective power of shared purpose and invite continual riffing, reworking, and, oftentimes, repurposing and remediating, of products.

Let’s Try It Out

Randomly–because change and ambience are always part of any composing process– pick someone’s introduction to remix. If you chose a play doh introduction, maybe you’ll want to remix the arrangement or the elements. Maybe you’ll add something new or take something away. Perhaps you’ll take a picture and annotate the picture in Skitch or another tool. If you choose someone’s Visify bio, maybe you’ll use Mozilla Xray Googles to hack and rewrite their webpage. Permission yourself to completely unmake and remake something new from the base elements of the text.


What was that process like for you? How did that feel to unmake someone else’s make or have your own make unmade? Was it different for analogue and digital texts? How might this work (or not) in other writing spaces?

Additional Resources

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Making with the Crazy Mofos

Last week, I had the awesome opportunity to accompany a few of my National Writing Project colleagues, Christina, Chad, and Peter, to London to participate in MozFest–a production-centered gathering of “Crazy Mofos” who believe the web should be open, accessible, and collaboratively built.  As teachers, we  were there to make teaching resources or “hacktivity kits” as part of the Teach the Web strand– and to feel and reciprocate the Mozfest “love bombs” of inspiration, collaboration, and appreciation.

maker wallTo facilitate these making sessions called “scrums”,  the intrepid space wranglers Laura and Kat from Mozilla detailed our make ideas on colored cards and posted them on the wall under the “To Make” category.  As the weekend progressed and we worked on our own and other’s scrums, we moved those cards into the “Making” and “Made” categories– a brilliant color display of the innovation happens when the right people form cross-functional teams and plug into the right tools.

During the scrum sessions and during the Friday night science fair and the Sunday night demo, I floated around the floors of the openly-designed Ravensbourne College building (with the ghost of David Bowie, their most famous alum) talked and made with folks in Open Science, Open News, Make the Web Physical, Open Badging, Teach the Web, and Open Gaming.  As a grant writer, I am thankful I met the folks from Census Reporter who are making the latest census data accessible, usable, and visible. As a teacher, I’m happy I met Sam and Elsa from Hive Chicago who are embodying connected learning theory and letting young people lead the way.  As a digital writer, I am stoked to have had good conversations about new media with and mentoring in Popcorn from Patrick who was patient while I made an animated gif with a new British grunge soundtrack.  As a maker and a parent of a maker, I am thrilled to have met Super-Awesome Sylvia and her parents who were kind enough to put the watercolor maker-bot to work in service of a custom Doctor Who tardis painting for my son, Calder.watercolor makerbot

In terms of my own make, a hacktivity kit for teaching critical storytelling with Mozilla X-ray Goggles, I riffed off of Doug Belshaw’s session of Mozilla’s Web Literacies and benefitted from good feedback from NYC Hive Teacher, Jeannie.  At Doug’s session, both Peter and I were interested in the making of this framework and struck by what appeared to us as a functionalist approach to thinking about how we make the web.  We talked with Doug briefly about this noting that, to us, the framework seemed to articulate a core set of web skills, not web literacies, which we think about as socially-constructed and wrapped up with the interplay between tools, humans, and cultural meaning-making practices.  Doug argued that the framework was bounded in web-only practices and noted that these were not digital literacies but web literacies–core practices that were essential to building the web, as opposed to living an being in a digitally-mediated world.  Still not satisfied, Peter and I pushed at this, asking about the critical and rhetorical lenses that we bring to web-building and teaching the web, practices that are never neutral and are always already wrapped up in questions of audience, purpose and context as well as questions about power and privilege.

I asked Doug if I could remix the web literacy standards and re-situate them in a more humanist framework that considered functional, critical, and rhetorical approaches to web-building.  Citing the consensus Mozilla had finally reached over this framework, he said no.  So I used Thimble to create a hacktivity kit called X-ray Goggles for Critical Web Literacy.  My objective– to remix the framework and situate some of the functional skills detailed in the “Building: Creating for the Web” inside a meaning-making framework that acknowledges making as a rhetorical act and forces us to ask, “Who gets to make?  Why?  And how?”Ravensbourne College

While focusing on the critical and rhetorical aspects on the web, people will also learn basic concepts of HTML, CSS and the Open Web, building critical, rhetorical, and functional web literacies…Participants will understand that web making involves making choices about audience and purpose (rhetorical), who and what gets featured and what doesn’t (critical), and how to combine and remix the building blocks of the web (functional).

To me, these practices, such as remix and hacking, are not limited and bound by the web.  Instead, they are practices inspired, facilitated, enabled, and/or proliferated by the web and grounded in an open ethos that guides the way we play with others and their compositions.  And this is the ethos I experienced most passionately at Mozfest– a collective identity and socially-constructed webbed literacy generated through the use of human codes to negotiate our relationships and meaning-making practices, both on and off the web.

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Twitter vs. Zombies: Pondering Humanity

steph zombifiedYesterday was Friday the 13th– the official start of Twitter vs. Zombies Part III. My buddy from the Making Learning Connected #clmooc, Kevin Hodgson, baited me on G+, and I signed up for what turned out to be a pretty quick slaughter.

In the morning, I lurked. There were lots of zombies already prowling, and the humans brave enough to mingle were quick with their #dodges and protective of their clan with #swipes. Most of the players I knew were already zombies, so I invited other Tweeps to play. Most ignored my pleas for a posse, but Writing Project friends Lacy and Jesse jumped in with a promise to stand by me– unless I was bitten.

I was all set with a human zombie-fighting crew, so I decided to go out for the night. My favorite Piedmont Blues musician Lightning Wells was playing a show nearby, and I thought, with my human protection, my iPhone, and a nail-encrusted baseball bat, I was ready for walkers. So little did I know.

My friends were excited and all a-twitter, calling me out in their posts. Kevin took a cheap shot, and I defended, but before I knew it, they were on Lacy. I was watching her dodge– so quick and nimble. The zombies were hungry, and I was following along frantically on my phone while Lightnin’ Wells wailed away on Little Sadie.

It was an hour or so before I knew. I woke up hungry, but I had a taste for brains, not grains. Before I knew it, I had invited Lacy and Jessie to the breakfast club for a #bite. In my #25wordstory I wrote, “Last night, they talked– amygadalas marinating in fear. While they slept, they didn’t know, I was nibbling their ears.” Action without thought. I felt myself becoming a walker and was welcomed by imagined kin.

“The family that hunts together stays together.” Karen had taken me in. It felt good to be with the powerful and the hungry.

Then the #ds106 ethos intervened and Mariana’s story (like stories do) made me think. Do I have a choice? Can I choose to feed or not to feed? But wait! Another realization. I can still think? Then I must have a brain, right? So what does it mean to know with a body? What does it mean to know with a brain? I’m losing a toe, but the old loaf, it seems, is still intact.

For now…