Welcome to Maker Ed’s “Growing up Making” community blog series that highlights how maker educators have been influenced by family and their community. By sharing stories of what inspires maker educators, we’re excited to showcase the impactful and multigenerational human history of making.
This post was written by Kevin Jarrett, Grade 5-8 STEAM educator, Edcamp co-founder, design thinker, and lifelong learner. Share your own #GrowingUpMaking story with us online via Twitter.
My Maker Origins
By Kevin Jarrett
While I don’t have a crazy workshop with a million tools, an endless collection of projects (some half-finished), or any real work experience with or training in the trades, I have developed skills and confidence with tools and for that I owe my dad.
There isn’t much photographic evidence of my youth in the late 60s, but I do have memories helping my dad with various home repair projects. My older brother and I were “gofers” — as in, “go and get [something] for me,” usually some kind of tool or piece of equipment. We’d assist my dad with all kinds of work — carpentry, electrical, plumbing, you name it. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t tackle. It was out of necessity; we were a young family without a lot of money, so when something broke, we either fixed it or we did without. The same went for building things; more often than not, we’d make before we’d buy.
As I grew up, I got more responsibility for doing actual work and this meant using basic hand tools. Through this, I learned about electricity (wiring junction boxes), carpentry (how to cut straight), construction (how to use a plumb line), and more. As I became more skilled with the use of various tools, I’d start to attempt my own projects. Taking things apart was easy for me; putting them back together … not so much. This, understandably, was not viewed favorably by my Dad, and as a result, I got in trouble regularly for it. But along the way, my confidence with tools increased, and I began to see other opportunities to change the world around me. I recall in Metal Shop (it was the 1970s after all) there were often these cool “droplets” of excess white metal left over as a result of our sand casting projects. Some looked almost heart shaped; I decided to take them home and use a metal file to fashion them into heart pendants, to which I attached red yarn and dutifully gave to at some of the girls I thought were cute. The lockets weren’t returned, but, the feelings weren’t either. Ah, middle school … good times, good times.
I’d also get in trouble for using my Dad’s tools when he wasn’t around. Sometimes I’d need a screwdriver to open the battery compartment of a toy, or maybe use some electrical tape to connect some wires, or work on my bicycle. (By the time I was in high school, I could strip my Motobecane Grand Touring 10-speed down to the bare frame and reassemble it in just a few hours. Back then, for me, my bike was my most prized possession, and being mechanical enough to take it apart and put it back together was kind of a big deal.)
As an adult now, with a toolbox at school that is constantly raided (and often has things missing as a result), I understand why he locked it. Unfortunately for him, I’d learned how to use a nail to remove the hinge pin that locked the toolbox, enabling me to open it, get whatever I needed, use it, then return it and replace the pin — so he’d never notice.
I learned lots of handy skills from my Dad, though I never got good enough with them (or was interested enough in them) to choose them as a vocation. Instead, I went to college, worked in the business world for a while, then became a teacher. Though my childhood making experiences with my Dad weren’t always fun, they provided my foundation skills as a maker (and fixer) that I have now. We’re talking way beyond “lefty loosey, righty tighty.” I now know what most hand tools are and what they’re used for (correctly). I now know how avoid cross-threading a screw. I have a healthy respect for things that can kill me, like, electricity. I have the confidence to take things apart — like the extruder on my Makerbot Replicator 2 — and to put them back together. Never really appreciated that before. Thanks, Dad!