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Embracing the Weird to Build a Culture of Making: Father, Daughter, e-NABLE and a TED Talk

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Ten-year-old Torrae Owen has received a priceless gift from her father. It is one that was handed down to him by his father and that she hopes to one day pass on to her children. It’s not a piece of jewelry or money held in a bank account. In fact, it isn’t anything in particular. Instead, what has been given is the license to explore and the tools with which to express her creativity. And recently, she and her father, Ivan Owen, were invited to talk about their gift that keeps on giving at TEDxFoggyBottom in Washington, D.C.

When they took the stage to give their talk, Ivan brought with him the ever present clicker to advance the slides in one hand. In the other hand, he was carrying something slightly more unusual: a very large hammer. This hammer served as the launch point for their conversation about the importance of hands-on interaction with the world. Ivan received this hammer from his father, one hot summer day when there was nothing better to do, with instruction in how to use it to break open rocks and find the secrets that some hold inside.

PIGLAUNCHER-768x269That little boy did not grow up to be one of the world’s foremost geologists, this isn’t that kind of story. Instead, it’s the story of how a child’s interest can be stimulated and how they can be equipped with the tools to continually make their own discoveries. Further, it is about how that gift can be passed along and have its benefits manifest themselves exponentially. Ivan’s comfort with hands-on experimentation developed alongside his father’s willingness to guide him and he now plays the same role with his daughter. There has been a great deal of discussion about how to interest girls in making, mostly involving school programs or other structured educational experiences, and in a father-daughter team, these two have worked together outside the classroom.

GUINEAPIG-768x461Together they have developed a number of entertaining devices such as a cereal eating machine and a piggy launcher, the value of which lie in their pure enjoyment. Not all of their creations are so lighthearted, but they are all approached with a joy in making. Ivan explained the development of a 3D printed prosthetic hand for a child named Liam:

“Back when Torrae was too young to use power tools, I got into making puppet hands. A video of one of these hands was seen by a finger amputee named Rich from South Africa and he asked me if I could help him create a DIY design for a mechanical finger…As our design progressed, we were contacted by the mother of a little guy name Liam…Due in part to having a willing test subject at home, we eventually developed a design for Liam. First a metal prototype and eventually one that could be made with a 3D printer.”

After developing this device, they released all of the files into the public domain with the hopes that anybody who needed or wanted to could modify, improve, and create their own. Ivan participates with e-NABLE as a volunteer designer and Torrae has learned how to make hands and how to teach others to do so.foggybottom-1

“Combining humor, fun and play is a great way to learn things. Silly projects are a lot of fun but so are the more serious kind. My dad has taught me how to interact with more dangerous materials like glowing hot steel when blacksmithing and molten metal to design and cast my own ring. I’ve learned a lot about safety, attention, focus and even as a kid…there is a lot I can do,” Torrae explained.

 

“In a way, when we learn and build projects together, we’re also helping to build each other. We hope to continue this learning and keep finding ways that skills that we learn can be helpful to the world, like the e-NABLE Community and 3D printable hands. When I grow up, I have no idea what I will do with all of this crazy knowledge…but I know it will be something good.”

Telling this story is important to dispel the paralysis often brought by the pervasive myth of genius. The myth of genius leads us to believe that something, akin to divine intervention, grants one person something exceptional that allows them to interact with the world in a different way. What Ivan and Torrae Owen show us is that this ability to create can be cultivated. Discuss further in the Kids & 3D Printing forum over at 3DPB.com.

[Source/Images: e-NABLE]

 

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