Let’s kick things off, 80s style. Because, why not.
Confession: I kind of love MacGyver. The show is amazing. It features problem solving, engineering, SCIENCE (of a dubious nature), Richard Dean Anderson, fly 80s fashion, Cold War antics (darned Russians), and one of the best theme songs ever. It’s the best.
I’m always endeavoring to make my classes somewhat entertaining (I teach research methods which can be admittedly dry for the uninitiated), and, to that end, I’m always seeking out pop-culture tie-ins, hands-on activities, and the like. So I was pleased to see that LifeHacker has something called a MacGyver challenge. They give you an object (in true MacGyver fashion it’s something like a paper clip) and you have to do something cool with it.
I love stuff like this – encouraging people to be creative, have fun, experiment, and explore. This captures the spirit of making and hacking, which is increasingly making its way into higher ed and has already found something of a foothold in museums, public libraries, etc. (Check out this great post over at The Ubiquitous Librarian about Hackathons). I think libraries and schools would do well to have their students participate in the MacGyver challenge – it’s a ready-made STEM activity, delivered to your doorstep. Learning environments, whether they are in a classroom or a library, should be places of experimentation and innovation and wacky inventing and fun.
MacGyver did absurd things to get out of equally absurd situations, and he was pretty much always successful (unless he wasn’t for dramatic reasons; this was a TV show after all). But his counterpart, SNL’s MacGruber, couldn’t escape a paper bag.
To have a Maker Space, I actually think it’s important to embrace both. MacGyver promotes the use of engineering, science, critical thinking skills, and, dare I say, information literacy skills (MacGyver could take in a situation, assess the tools at hand, and synthesize things into a solution in like 10 seconds – he was like a literacy ninja) to solve problems.
But MacGruber can actually teach a valuable lesson about failure. Things don’t always (or even usually) work the first time and, in engineering especially, you often have to return to the drawing board. Problem solving (whether it’s building a device out a toothpick and a tic-tac or tackling a research question) is an iterative process and having open-ended engineering challenges in spaces like libraries, where you can create, experiment, and also fail, is a good thing.
The great thing about maker challenges is that even if you don’t do an actual hands-on challenge itself, you can still apply the creative spirit of making and hacking to learning, both inside and outside the classroom.
Also, can Maker Spaces with MacGyver become a TV Show? Someone call Richard Dean Anderson.