Laying the groundwork for Forensic Illustration

Sometimes things just seem to fall into place

Over the summer we took a group of makers from area schools, Betty Brinn, and MIAD down to Goodwill’s E-Cycling facility for a tour of the facility and to do a bit of shopping.  After seeing the kind of material that comes through the E-Cycling program, we sat down with their folks to talk through the types of equipment that would have parts that could be useful to makers.  It didn’t take much time for Goodwill to set aside a pallet full of material for us to play with.

In August we held a pallet party at MIAD for a small group of educators and students to take apart equipment (typewriters, sewing machines, DVD players, old phones, etc.) that had come through Goodwill’s E-Cycling program.  The goal was to find the parts that would be useful in school makerspaces and return the un-used material to Goodwill’s recycling stream.  At the time, Ben Dembroski, our host at MIAD, suggested that it would interesting to see if we could engage Milwaukee area students to document how to take different pieces of equipment apart and where the useful parts are.

In September we took the equipment we had left to Maker Faire where we were mobbed for three days by kids wanting to take stuff apart. A number of educators who stopped by the booth asked if we could do something like this at their school.

In October we connected with Sharp Literacy, a local non-profit that uses the visual arts to build literacy and math skills.  Some of the schools Sharp is working in are looking at ways to incorporate makerspace activity.  They were intrigued by the idea of having students take apart equipment and illustrate it’s function within the device. AKA Forensic Illustration, AKA the first installment of Ben’s student-produced guide for how to take things apart.

We brought everyone together over lunch at MIAD and hatched a plan. We  bring the equipment, MIAD provides student interns to help coach tear-down and illustration work, Sharp Literacy opens time in their program for the effort and works with the students to guide the process. We hope to cap off the project with a tour of at MIAD where students can show off their work. Useful parts can stay at the school or go to another school that can use them; the rest get recycled.

Last Tuesday we went out to Thurston Woods where students took apart DVD drives, a circular saw, printer, keyboard, camera, and a few other odds and ends in our collection.  Today we were out at Browning Elementary to do more of the same.  We were thrilled to see the students dive in and work together with little more instruction than “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey”.

We knew from our experience at Maker Faire that students can get deeply engaged taking things apart.  Our goal for these two sessions was to get a sense of the time required to take apart different pieces of equipment, and what the students found most interesting.  We’ll use what we’ve learned so far to craft the approach we take when we kick off the forensic illustration project next semester.