On Saturday, November 4, 2017, LaCreole Middle School, held the first ever community-led make-a-thon in Dallas, Oregon. The idea was brought to the community by A.J. Foscoli, the economic development director for Dallas and a seasoned veteran of previous Innovate Oregon make-a-thons. In an interview with the Itemizer-Observer, A.J. stressed the word “transformative.” LaCreole principal Jamie Richardson knew of previous Innovate Oregon initiatives in nearby cities and recognized the opportunity it might bring to students and Dallas. Plus, Jamie had participated in the Stanford d.school’s School Retool, a program brought to Oregon with the help of the Construct Foundation. This program introduces the hacking mindset to educators – a mindset critical to implementing “Agile Learning” into the classroom.
The make-a-thon was organized and supported by Innovate Oregon, Sparkfun and OnlineNW. The participants included students, educators and community/business volunteers – teams were created with a mix of each. The goal for the day: provide the participants the skills they needed to ideate, design, and make a prototype product from one of three categories: automated chicken coop, automated greenhouse, and the “toy of the future.”
Sparkfun instructor Derek Runberg, started the day with a crash course in writing code and electronic circuit design. Besides the Sparkfun kit, which includes a computer and maker-board that lets designers connect and actuate mechanisms like LED lights, directional servos, and motors – using Arduino software programs – the teams received other “maker materials” such as cardboard, tape, and glue. The given: everyone will be creative and knows how to cut, paste, tape… The challenge: can the teams, with minimal training with the Sparkfun platform, learn enough to hack an idea together, make it work, then perfect it, or watch it fail, then try again – all at the speed of a few hours with a team just met.
In all cases, the Innovate Oregon-inspired make-a-thons result in proving to all the participants that they can all learn faster than they think they can, and for the teachers and other adults, that the student can learn faster than educators can teach – especially when allowed to make mistakes, then try again, in rapid cycles called “sprints,” just like in professionals do in high-tech companies. “I wonder why we had to show up here on a Saturday and learn 17 times more than we would learn in a normal school year,” said Tim Ray, Dallas High School’s career-technical education coordinator. And Morgan Helfrich, a seventh-grader said it best: “I liked that some of us failed a couple of times and, because we failed, it was easier to fix our mistakes and go back and do it again,” said. “That’s one less mistake we would make.”