The first thing that I wanted to make was a database with my family’s birth-dates in chronological order on a Commodore 64, or so my grandparents tell me. I was about three at the time and have no actual memory of this happening, but they assert that this was a thing that happened, and as such, I am inclined to believe them. Soon after, I graduated to calculators, VCRs, and video game consoles, and was firmly entrenched in the electronics game.
These small devices opened portals to new worlds – environments that came from the imagination of just a few minds. As I grew older, finding inspiration in the natural environment spurred my interest in creating things and flexing my own imagination. An overnight retreat with my Cub Scout group would generate some design documents on fictitious golf courses, for example, or something as simple as watching a drain flush would generate an experiment on how to replicate that cyclone effect in a larger body of water, like a pool. One constant I was always interested with how systems of objects interacted with each other to create patterns.
But I wasn’t the most dexterous child. I am left-handed and struggled at a young age with basic tasks like cutting with scissors, mainly because I didn’t know how to learn by doing. The abstract, mathematical stuff came easily and instantly, but the manipulation of real-world objects was much more challenging. I’d get impatient and stop before giving things a fair effort, and a lot of my pursuits fizzled out before they could truly get started. It took a very specific project to convince young, stubborn me that failing was okay – building a bridge out of toothpicks.
The challenge was simple: span a gap with a bridge designed of only toothpicks and glue. It would need to bear a load, but the load would be measured. Lots of us have done it: it’s a classic structural project. The prospect interested me, and I got to it. I designed different truss systems on paper, but when it came to putting together the little sticks into a usable lattice, more troubles arose. How can these things stick together with glue? If I put a few together, they would sag quickly and wouldn’t be able to retain their shape. Frustrating! I turned away for a little while to regroup and went to build something that made a little more sense to me – LEGO spaceships – and struck inspiration: the toothpicks need to fit better together!
So I manipulated the toothpicks: by scratching one end with an X-Acto knife, I could fit one end of one toothpick into another toothpick. A little dab of glue, and the pieces fastened well! I did the truss design harped on in class and textbooks and the design worked as predicted, but it was that moment of insight on the how of things rather than the why of things that really stuck with me. If I tried enough and keep at it, eventually I would figure it out.
Everyone learns differently. Some of us take more time with the conceptualization of new ideas and tasks – others with the implementation. Everyone also excels at different things, and providing the opportunities to be able to combine those familiar, comfortable skills that we all acquire with challenges that provoke persistence and perseverance are what I intend to do as the Makerspace Coordinator at THEMUSEUM. All it will take is a little imagination!
– Brent Wettlaufer, MakerSpace Coordinator