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Michael Shiloh, DIY workshops and how to get adults involved

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to meet Michael Shiloh, highly involved and experienced maker and teacher. That was a crazy day indeed (that needs a few articles!). I was with Veronique Routin, who is working  at the FING, one of the most influential French non-profit who helps cities adapt to the new digital world. We met Michael at Mission Creek Cafe on Valencia, on a quiet Tuesday morning (I spend a lot of time working there now).

We had a great discussion about how big and diverse is the makers’ community and how to make adults involved in making things through kids and workshops. Michael Shiloh is a teacher specialized in electronics and DIY workshops. He has acquired a long experience working with kids, students and adults in both academic (SFSU, Art Institute of California) and non-academic worlds (Noisebridge, Exploratorium, The Crucible). He teaches in a lot of different places all around San Francisco and Oakland. With his wife Judy, they created, “curiosity based learning” workshops. He gives Arduino classes at the fabulous Shipyard, in Oakland, on Tuesdays (I hope I will have a chance to follow on of his class before to go back to France).

A DIY workshop is a class to learn how to make things with your hands and your brain. You can learn for example how to solder LEDs lights on a board, how to fold metal and create little sculptures, how to make light painting…. Tons of possibilities!

DIY workshops are most of the time oriented to kids. But because adults bring kids to the workshops, it seems that these classes are also a very good way to get everyone involved! Most of the makers that I met who were giving workshops shared this same thought. Making things is not only a kid activity… after a few minutes of watching what is going on, the vast majority of people want to participate and try to create something. Most of the time, it seems that adults hesitate to participate right away because  of a lack of confidency in their creative skills. One of the biggest challenge for teachers is to give participants enough confidence to give them the desire to create and experience.

Some key advices that makers gave me about this recurring problem:

– be tolerant and patient

– bring some guidelines and a few patterns to give everyone a pre-introduction of what could be done

– pay attention to each personality: some people are more creative with a lot of guidelines, some people prefer to experiment by themselves. A good workshop teacher is someone that knows how to help enough without stifle creativity.

There is still a lot to say about DIY workshops, but I think this question of guidelines vs. freedom is important. What is your experience, as a teacher or a participant?

I definitively learn by copying first. I love to watch and see how people do before to try by myself. I’m a fast-learner when I apply this method, but way more slow if I have to apply theory without concrete examples!


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