Mrs. Madame the builder: an update

After putting in some work over the last week, I have some project updates to talk about. For the new readers, or maybe returning readers that need a refresher, I’m going to talk about my project a bit first before getting to the updates.

With inspiration from an assignment for my Master’s program at Michigan State University, I decided to get to work on something that my boyfriend and I have been putting off for years: building a decorative retaining wall in our front yard. The main guideline for the assignment is that we have to learn to do something using only internet resources (videos, tutorials, message boards, etc.).

Within that constraint, I think I’ve managed to put together a pretty comprehensive to-do list, which I talked about last week. I’ve also added a discussion board to my list of resources on the chance that I run into a problem and need to ask for help from others who have done this before.


With my dad in tow, we headed to The Rock Shoppe in Plymouth to make a final decision on the stone we were going to use. My dad came with only because he was in town and I didn’t want to leave him behind. He’s wonderful in many ways, but he is not a handyman, so he wasn’t going to be helping us at all.

We looked at a handful of examples…

…and finally decided on this wall called Graphix by a company called Techo Bloc.




So with our minds made up, we headed into the building to talk to someone about buying the materials. After asking what we wanted, the employee Nick immediately told us that the Graphix wall was one of the weakest retaining walls out there and if we’re holding back any amount of dirt (which we are), we should really reconsider.

It is at this point that I should mention that I have a horrible fear of failure and of disappointing people. As Nick explained that the Graphix wall wouldn’t work, and offered possible solutions, I could almost feel my breathing get more shallow and my chest start to tighten up. We had FINALLY picked something and now it was falling apart and ohmygosh everything was going to be ruined! It was a classic case of my anxiety catching up to me. However, it was in that moment that I remembered talking about failure with my MAET cohort, and how it can be just as effective a tool for learning as anything else. I also started to think about this project in the context of the ‘Maker Movement’ and how it relates to education. Researchers and pioneer educators have been talking about and promoting the role of making in learning for decades (Halverson, E.R. & Sheridan, K., 2014). So between making, failing, and making again, I think the whole point is that I am learning new things the whole time. After every failure, I get a little bit better.



the jade-colored bricks

With that in mind, we decided to follow Nick’s advice and use different materials to basically build the same thing ourselves. He walked us through their huge yard, and showed us what he would do to make the same Graphix wall that would be double the strength and half the price. He even suggested softening it up with a row of jade-colored bricks that would match the siding on our house. He went above and beyond to help us pick out our stone and I think our wall, although modified from the original plan, will look just a nice or even nicer than the one by Techo Bloc.

We then had to get down to business with some of the manual labor. The first two things on my Trello list were to clear the weeds and relocate the plants. I think it’s worth noting that although I’ve pulled weeds before, I’ve never tried to dig up and relocate a plant. I had to use a YouTube video as a guide for how to move a plant without killing it.

I’ve included some pictures of the process, as well as a video so you can see me in action as I try very hard not to kill the plants that I’ve somehow managed to grow over the last two years.



Here is the Trello board updated to reflect the changes I’ve made this week:

Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 1.35.37 PM

As you can see, I still have a lot to accomplish and we’re not sure how long it will take to get the stone and backfill delivered to our house. I will continue to do my best though and maybe even fail some more, but I am confident in the fact that I will be learning all the while. How’s that for adopting a Growth Mindset?! 



Halverson, E.R. & Sheridan, K. (2014). The maker movement in education. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 495-465. Accessed from

All pictures and videos taken by me.

2 thoughts on “Mrs. Madame the builder: an update

Add yours

  1. Kate, I love how you recognize that failure is part of the learning process, and you seamlessly work research about that into your story about going to buy the materials. You have a good sense of humor, and that comes through in your writing. You two are serious weekend warriors! I can’t wait to see how it comes out!


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