06 April 2007

scotland thoughts pt 2

on the reactions of girls to the workshops:

The first 2-day workshop went wonderfully. Afterwards, the kids all wrote personal little essays about their thoughts. Two of the girls (out of the 30 total kids) specifically said that they loved the workshops and had never thought science could be so fun. I was especially excited at this, because the girls who said this had shown real understanding about mechanisms and the building. In fact, one of these two is one I'd say understood things best out of the whole class, both this workshop and the shorter three hour one I did with this same bunch back in February. She seemed really keen to design and build things, coming up with the idea of making a track and having a pulley through a straw to pull Jack up the hill.

More generally, the girls in all the workshops seemed to be involved and engaged and on talking to them, most seemed to have a reasonably good idea of what they were doing and what the group was doing. In all-girl groups, it was good to see that the girls had to make things. In mixed groups, sometimes it ended up that the girls did the crafty part and the boys did the mechanisms, but that wasn't always the case. Particularly, in one group, the boys were the ones doing all the crafty bits and the girls were working on the structure and the mechanism to make a disco ball drop down from the sky. Another mixed group was more united, with everyone doing bits here and there. Some doing structure and would then start decorating the structure. This group (made a jewelry box) had a very mixed distribution of tasks. The group with the flying car also had a nice way of dividing up things evenly. There was one girl in one of the classes who was great. At the final class discussion, she really asked a lot of questions and was happy to talk about things. Definitely no shyness there.

Many of the teachers and helpers who came along commented that quite often the groups with girls and the all-girl groups tended to make a better thing overall. More care was paid to the making of it, and getting it to look how they wanted. I had thought this myself, so it was good to hear this from some source other than myself.

scotland thoughts pt 1

On having autistic/special needs kids in workshops:

These were the first workshops I had any sort of special needs kids, which was quite the experience for me. Mostly so, because I was amazed at how compassionate and accomodating the other kids were. But also because I was pleasantly surprised at how they got on in the workshops.

There was one kid who was autistic who insisted that everything be yellow and that it had to have a clock. He was working in a group with four other kids. They all wanted to make a car. So they talked with him, and he was insisting clock, so they came up with making a car driving around a yellow clock. They started making the car, yellow car for the boy, and he set off making a yellow clock. He made the structure to hold it and they all worked together to get it all together. In the end, it was a yellow car flying around Big Ben. During the two hours I had with them, they were all engaged and happily working.

At another workshop, there was this kid who had a hard time doing anything. One of the helpers I had was really good with him, though, and would sit and talk to him about what he was doing. The kid set about making a scoop to pick things up (like... the motor spins around and has a scoop to grab things at the bottom). He stayed busy the entire time, though I don't know that he was really able to do much. His teammates were very nice and tried to give him things that they thought he could do, and included him on everything on the project.

Another girl, the last day, was this special needs kid who also had hearing aids. And apparently when she got bored or didn't want to do something, she would switch her hearing aids off and then they'd take her back to the special ed part of the school. She had done just that earlier that day at a K'nex workshop, so I was worried about how she would take mine. But she stayed until the very end, working away on making a basket full of easter eggs and helping make this chicken popping out of an egg. She seemed really happy to work on what she wanted, and her group was happy to have her do that.

And the last kid, somewhat autistic. A little slow seeming when you talked to him. He was the guy who helped everything but who didn't really come up with anything on his own. But he was really useful for the group getting their thing done (a penguin with a fish in its mouth with flapping arms and chewing mouth). When one of the visiting teachers asked what he had been working on, he said "nothing," but the rest of the team started saying "no no no... you did this and this and this and you helped with this. you were kinda the manager." Which I thought was really sweet.

Anyway. It was interesting for me to see how they worked and how they worked in the groups. And it was good to see that, for the most part, they all found something to do to help the overall progress of the projects.

01 April 2007

maybe i should write things down here

Thoughts on Geertz's Local Knowledge: "Art as a Cultural System"

If art is, as Geertz says, something that must be viewed within a cultural framework, if "to study an art form is to explore a sensibility," if art "materialize[s] a way of experiencing, [and] bring[s] a particular cast of mind out into the world of objects, where men can look at it," (Geertz, p. 99), then art, as such, goes hand in hand with engineering, with science, at least if one is to follow a more critical theory of technology. As Feenberg says in The Critical Theory of Technology, "[m]odern technology is no more neutral than medieval cathedrals or The Great Wall of China; it embodies the values of a particular industrial civilization and especially of its elites, which rest their claims to hegemony on technical mastery." Engineering... conceiving of and making an object... is a way to bring an internal experience, an internal knowledge, "out into the world of objects." David Nye in Technology Matters discusses the history of technology and story, saying the two are inextricably intertwined to the point where it's impossible to know which came first. Story is intrinsic to technology, and also to art. If we had no reason to make something, we would not make it. Whether that reason is "expression" or "to do such and such" is immaterial. A rudimentary story is the drive, at least to the point of "I will use this material and that material and possibly this other one, go through this process, and come out with something that (hopefully) resembles my conception." These stories are influenced by the values of culture that one comes from (to influence what seems "worthwhile"), by the perceived affordances of the materials, by the personal experiences of the maker, etc. and, as such, engineering, technology, and art are should be viewed within and understood through the cultural framework of the maker.

And, really, if you look at it as such, art and engineering aren't so different, after all. One just pretends to be objective (to the point where some people believe technology to be deterministic), where the other admits its subjectivity outright. But both are the using of materials to make a final thing... only the story, the process, are different.