With Crazy 8s, Future Design School, and Sharpen for STEM

I run a makerspace. This year, we’re learning under extraordinary circumstances, so I’m documenting the journey. “Teaching Kids to Brainstorm” is a play-by-play of our makerspace session on empathy, brainstorming, and ideating. If you’re interested in stories like this, check out Making a Crane and Making a Paper Slide.

At our makerspace, we start each session with circle time. This is a great opportunity to check-in, socially, and recognize the humans in the room. For us, this usually means doing a greeting, share, and activity.

Circle Time

This week, we said “hello” to our neighbor while clapping our hands like a sea…

A get-started guide

I am the sole UX-person for a startup. I have never been in a role like this before. But, I tend to figure things out. I taught myself code, after all. Here’s how I learned to build a user persona. Thanks for being interested in my journey!

Me and my user persona (via GIPHY)

Understand the value

If you’re working on a team, you will want to share why you have endeavored to create a persona. Otherwise it might look like you are trying to engage in some imaginary play.

Here are some benefits to building a user persona.

  • It’s easier to talk about than raw data
  • It’s a quick…

purple tiger
Photo by my niece, with permission

In second grade we had open house with Ms. Norwood. It was not open nor a house. It was a dark school. The playground was ready for bedtime. Lights out, wrapped in blankets. I was behind stage waiting for a performance. Was I supposed to be quiet? Would there be xylophones?

Adults with their smells, hair, and complicated jewelry mulled about the classrooms. Their bodies drifted like planets in orbit, dwarfing anything close. They paused at shelves, display boards, and desks to tilt their heads, to consider. “Guess how many beans are in this jar.”

Ms. Norwood gave me a…

a paper slide

A Covid-Friendly Makerspace Activity

This is part of a series on Makerspace activities that require few materials. Check out the last one, Making a Crane.

I run a Makerspace. We have a dedicated lab, but we cannot use it. Microwaves, cellphones, irons, and iPods sit in boxes labeled ‘Makerspace.’ To observe health and safety guidelines in age of coronavirus, we have had to get creative. And scrappy.

These days, I travel to the classroom where my students meet for contact tracing. This creates practical constraints. I cannot use all the materials and spaces I was used to, which is appropriately a very “makerspace” thing…

I am the one not in uniform

A playful critique on camping, scouting, and the future

The magic show

A woman in leather boots and thick socks padded onto stage. She skipped like a comet. Gentle branches embraced her at a distance. People huddled under the blanket of a warm night, in aisles, with an assembly of southern live oaks aching in their wisdom and invisible creatures warring in clear skies, hiding in hallowed trunks. Ants carried off carapaces. Snakes digested things. The wind whipped stretches of fire gathered in torches. The stairs, the platform, and the podium were thick wood. They resembled a meat, a marbled slab. Frogs rustled the leaves of quiet corners. …

a crane activity in action

A Covid-Friendly Makerspace Activity

I run a Makerspace. Usually, we dig into buckets of electronics. The kids explore microwaves, iPads, CD players, laptops, cell phones, blenders, drills. They take things apart and put stuff back together using shared materials in an area just for us.

With Covid, I have had to rethink the way things are done. For starters, kids are restricted to their classrooms for contract tracing purposes, which means the Makerspace Lab is off limits and I have to travel. The Makerspace Lab became a Makerspace Kit. I also had to think about transfers to virtual learning. …

(Fixing stuff that doesn’t look right)

I taught myself HTML/CSS during my winter break in 2019.

That year, I was teaching beginning code and makerspace (thanks to a friend), and I wanted to know more about how all that worked.

While I was learning more about areas like education technology, the maker movement, and computer science, I discovered freecodecamp.org, which I absolutely recommend.

screenshot of bookmarks
I really recommend starting to bookmark useful resources like freecodecamp.org and roadmap.sh

I learned that front-end web development (“web dev”) is a popular entry to object-oriented programming, physical computing, server/database management, and other tech stuff of personal interest (thanks, roadmap.sh)!

I felt good about what I had learned in my research (“scoping”) and decided to…

Thanks, yale.edu


I recently started working as a User Experience Designer at an education technology start-up in the Bay Area. I’m the dedicated, full-stack UX person. I validate the products we’re building and make sure we’re meeting real needs. It’s great!

So, my first order of business was to understand the people we’re building for. Instead of developing and shipping new products out of the gate, perhaps proving myself as a capable and fruitful designer to my team, I went to the start-up’s Facebook page, which has over 40k active members, to ask for help (aka beta testers).

This was an essential…

Posters filled with sticky notes

and finish with a funnel that leads to action

I was speaking with a friend, a translator, about the culture of work in his industry. “Translators spend a lot of time by themselves,” he said, “and there are different translators: technical, literary. They care about different things.”

I held to the idea of solidarity.

Moments at work alone feel tinged with magic for me. The isolation presents a zone of controlled, frenetic opportunity. The bubble of safety makes construction and deconstruction a joyous exploration. …

Phil Mendez

Teacher | Designer

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