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Automata Maker in Residence

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When planning the Maker-in-Residence for 2019, I was inspired by a story I wrote my youngest daughter when she was in preschool; it was a story about an automata. Automata is a life-like machine made from wood, metal, and clockwork. The story was one of love, seeking connection, and creative making.

An old toy maker, working alone in his workshop, wishes he had a friend. He makes a complex machine that, upon coming to life, appears to mock him, tracing a circle around the side of his head. The machine points to its head, shoulders, knees and toes and then begins to sing the classic children’s song “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” At first the toy maker is sad, thinking he is being teased. However, he soon realizes that the toy is making a playful gesture; they sing the song together and embrace. The old toy maker wakes from his dream with renewed determination to use all of his maker skills to realize his vision.

Using this story as the foundation for our maker work, we designed a project-based curriculum to focus on empathetic storytelling through machines. Students and teachers alike utilized the broad and demonstrative functions of the Turning Point Maker Lab to bring stories to life.

For the first phase of the project, I designed five complex wooden machines that were laser cut in the Maker Lab, using the laser cutter. Middle School students learned to follow the maker instructions and, with the support of their teachers (who had attended a professional development workshop), they built all 60 of the sophisticated wooden machines that you see on display today.

After the machine-boxes were constructed by Middle School, we began the Elementary workshops. Each class attended three workshops where they wrote a collaborative story, built characters and props using reclaimed materials, and animated their characters using the machine-boxes. Students were asked to raise an issue in their story, examine a potential conflict between characters, and bring the story to a conclusive ending. All this action had to take place over six scenes, which became the framework for the diorama on display in the Lobby Gallery.

Primary students learned to develop early maker skills by placing extra laser cutouts and found objects into story-like timelines. Using the Toy Maker story prompt, our young friends created their own dream sequences and made them come to life using reclaimed materials.

This project manifested only because of great and positive community engagement and focus towards a common creative endeavor. Students garnered new building and making skills and applied those skills to creative problem-solving. All this wonderment is present in this exhibition. In the wake of this project there are students and teachers excited about making, creating, and learning about new maker materials and tools in the Maker Lab. Success!

Aaron Kramer Artist

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