Learning Sweet Spot

Last week I was able to get a Carbide3D Nomad 883 Pro Desktop CNC Mill for the great folks at Carbide 3D. I wanted to put the full title to make it sound extra fancy. Simply put, it is a machine I can send a file to and it will carve it out of wood, metal or a host of other products. I, along with some of my 8th-grade tech crew, unpacked the machine, set it up and instantly couldn’t get the machine to start. We kept getting an error that we had to look up and then fix what turned out to be a simple issue. Our first cut was a prefabricated file product that came with the machine. We then tried to get into cutting something we created and it got ugly.

I went to my local hardware store and picked up 12 linear feet of pine boards that I was sure would last me for quite some time. I was wrong. Currently, in our makerspace, I have a healthy pile of scrap and a list of problems we’ve encountered thus far.

  • Wood not adhering to the board and flying off (wear your safety goggles)
  • Miss-aligning the vise and scoring the brand new metal vice
  • Breaking drill bits off due to user error
  • 3D file not the proper scale/size and wasting large chunks of wood
  • Doing bad math and entering cm units when we should’ve been using mm units
  • Not using the right drill bit
  • Miscalculating every aspect of a model in the software

I could go on, but I won’t. 🙂 Bottom line, we were failing left, right and sideways. To have an expensive machine taking up space in the makerspace and not making anything was not ok by me. I was getting increasingly frustrated with failing but if I am being honest, I was really digging it.  With every failure, we learned something new and it was exciting. My tech crew was excited the first time we actually got our school logo cut into a piece of wood. We then figured out how to scale it to fit perfectly on our stock wood and even how to manipulate the depth of each cut.


There is something about that sweet spot between frustrated with your own ignorance and excitement for the learning and new skills you are right on the edge of. I would like to make some grandiose connection to a classroom, but I would be making it up. What kids are learning in content areas are typically not the things kids are jacked about learning. When they are frustrated with their ignorance, they often shut down, get off task or become apathetic. That is always the frustration about teaching forced and mandated content. I taught English and History for 13 years and can’t say I saw the same commitment to learning as I do within the maker activities in our library. Yes, I recognize not all kids are into woodworking, 3D printing, robots, etc. However, I know and work with a lot of kids who are and their resilience towards learning is always inspiring.

When I can struggle through learning a new tool or skill set with kids, those are truly moments I treasure. As we work through the frustration and excitement of acquiring a new skill it is evidence of learning as it should be. It is the unfiltered learning grounded in interest and born out of curiosity.It is truly the learning sweet spot.