How to Use the Maker Movement to Celebrate Diversity and Culture

 

Tired of waiting for his school to acquire a 3D printer, Josh Ajima, an instructional facilitator for technology at Dominion High School and Londoun Academy of Science, took $500 of his own money and bought one himself. What resulted was Ajima himself becoming a pre-eminent evangelist for digital fabrication and Making in the classroom, inspiring educators and creating communities of Makers all over the world in the process.

Last winter, Ajima wanted to create a 3D printing project that would help his students celebrate Black History Month. He was motivated in part by the opening of the National Museum of African History and Culture on the Washington Mall, just 30 minutes away from Dominion High. He wanted to create something that honored Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson — three African American mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race, and are the focus of the book and film Hidden Figures.

Ajima created lithophane models – artwork etched on porcelain that is largely invisible until it’s backlit – of the Friendship 7 spacecraft. The models themselves are in the likeness of the space ship, and showcase images of the hidden figures when a light is placed underneath. The Friendship 7 models that Ajima 3D printed are a brilliant mash-up of the concrete and the metaphorical, and the designs have been downloaded thousands of times.

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Ajima’s 3D printed Friendship 7 model

 

Ajima realized that if he wanted digital fabrication designs that celebrated his students’ backgrounds, they’d have to create them. He wanted to 3D print something for the school library’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day display, and he went online to find a design. “There’s a 3D printing repository called Thingiverse,” Ajima says. “They literally have millions of designs.” He searched for Martin Luther King and found “. . . zero things,” he says. “The next month I searched for Black History Month and I found . . . zero things. A year later, Women’s History Month . . . zero things.” Ajima points out that if you search the site “for Yoda, for example, you’re going to find hundreds of designs. But if you search for designs related to identity, history, or culture,” he says, “you find nothing.” To Ajima, that was a challenge that he enlisted his students—and the larger educator community—to tackle.

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Josh Ajima’s 3D print of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial

Dominion has about 225 students who are English language learners, many originating from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. In advance of National Hispanic Heritage Month, says Ajima, “I searched Thingiverse for ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latino’ and ‘Latina’ and I found . . . zero things. Rather than see this as a problem, however, I saw it as an opportunity.”

Ajima launched the National Hispanic Heritage Month Maker Challenge, calling on educators and students around the country to create and share digitally fabricated art pieces. At Dominion, “I had students take Sharpies and draw designs on paper (2D),” he says. They 3D modeled the designs using Tinkercad, printed them, and then shared them online.

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Student created sticker and pendant

Ajima is dedicated to freely sharing ideas and celebrating diverse identities within communities of Making. He has created one such community with his blog, DesignMakeTeach, where he inspires teachers with tips, tutorials and lessons about integrating digital fabrication into classrooms. At Stanford University, Ajima is a part of a FabLearn Fellow cohort of educators who, like him, are committed to sharing Making ideas, best practices and resources. As a Fellow, he is writing a chapter for the next edition of Meaningful Making: Projects and Inspirations for Fab Labs and Makerspaces. Formerly a member of Make magazine’s digital fabrication review team, he is now contributing to a YouTube channel that will be for Maker educators by Maker educators. By engaging in these communities, Ajima models the design, Make, and share process.

To help launch Making efforts in schools, he created the Makerspace Starter Kit, including a host of helpful links to sites such as Tinkercad and InstructablesAjima continues to support students at Dominion while also encouraging educators everywhere to embrace digital fabrication and Making in their classrooms.

Thank you Josh for inspiring and celebrating students around the world!

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Josh Ajima shares his favorite teaching resources for using 3D design to celebrate Hispanic and Latino American heritage and culture:

DIWO Aprendiendo a diseñar en Tinkercad
Tinkercad Learning to design
Inkscape Una potente herramienta libre de diseño
Making Starts Here Autodesk’s comprehensive guide
Smithsonian Education Hispanic heritage teaching resources
Smithsonian Latino Center Supporting research, education, digital content and more
PBS The Latino Americans documentary series

This post was excerpted from EdSurge’s The Next Big Thing: Creating Communities of Making to Celebrate Students’ Heritage and Culture