This is a series I am writing based on questions gathered from a makerspace workshop I ran with educators and administrators. Please feel free to chime in with your own ideas as these posts are designed to get you thinking about your own makerspaces and learning environments.
How do we move this out of activities and into the way we do business? How do we know it’s MakerEd and not just crafts?
For me, this is all about actually doing. So often in education we spend countless hours reading, discussing, talking, and planning, but never actually getting to the implementation part. We will never have that perfect moment nor will it ever be the “right time”. The right time is now. Start. It does begin with activities. Start small, but build momentum. We don’t start a fire by tossing in the biggest logs we have. We mix a little paper with kindle and let the flame grow. Over time we add the bigger logs to keep things working for a while. Same thing in education. Easy and cheap activities. Find what works. Find what the kids gravitate towards and how they think and operate. As you experiment yourself you can then start to develop plans to move projects and ideas forward to how we do business. Culture and mindset don’t develop overnight. Anything new or anything that could potentially cause disruption for the ways things have been will come with resistance and question. You have to provide people the space to sample and dabble to slowly build up to scale where you see things going.
If you want this to be the way you conduct business, then you simply must do it. It really is that simple.
Even more importantly, what is wrong with crafts and activities? We cannot lose sight that the goal of makerspaces is NOT to have standards, assessments, and measures of learning like schools currently operate. Yes, it is a problem that makerspaces are taking off because they don’t feel like school BUT don’t ruin the magic of these environments because we don’t have a test score and some spreadsheet documenting every single skill and thing that students do. So many decisions in education are based off spreadsheets that we often lose sight of the child as real breathing thing that is more than a spreadsheet of numbers and conditional formatting.
Last week I reviewed the book TinkerLab which I found to be a required reading for anyone looking to work with students in creativity, problem solving, and developing that maker attitude.
I would like to add another essential reading to the collection and that is the book, Zero To Maker, written by David Lang.
I consider myself a maker wannabe and newbie. I am learning a great deal this year in both my personal adventures as well as operating a engineering program for students after school.
Reading this book reminded me that we all start from somewhere. The book basically follows David and his journey with this underwater robot and how it all came to be. Along the way he breaks down resources, how to connect with others, types of tools, tips, and other great ideas to help anyone get started. This is not a manual for each tool and resource. Rather it reads like a story and it is up to you to figure out what your next steps will be.
A key part to this book was his emphasis on what is important. There are so many new tools and devices being created and promoted. At the end of the day you can start small with the tools that brought us up to this point. Start with what you have. Don’t feel like you have to have it all. Don’t worry about knowing everything. David talks many times about seeking help, going to the experts, and learning from the best. Asking for help is a quality that we must all have and many of us are afraid to ask for help.
Overall, his story is an example of his message. We must share and continue to help one another explore, learn from mistakes, and keep that growth mindset. This is a great read to get you started. The best part was it was not a tutorial. It is about the message that anyone can be maker. We are all makers in some aspects and we can develop at our own pace and our way to accomplish what we want to do.
Finally, something that I think gets lost in the many discussions of Makers, DIY, Makerspaces, etc. is that it is a team sport. I love the book when he states that making is not actually a DIY(Do It Yourself), but DIT(Do It Together). Making is a team sport that requires a community to do things. I witness this with every engineering lab where students work together to work through problems whether it is soldering, coding, or building ancient engineering weapons.
After battling bronchitis and feeling very under the weather the last couple days, I am glad I decided to make the trip to Dubuque to present. I was up late finalizing slides and packing everything. As I shared with so many educators at the conference what I love most about presenting is not so much being up front, but I love working and networking with so many awesome educators. I have met more people who have inspired me through presenting as opposed to sitting in audience. Today I had one hour to have educators make BrushArtBots. It is a great hands on activity getting them to think about how to incorporate this lesson or something similar in their classroom. Even more it reminds us how to think and be a kid again. We started with a few slides because I wanted this to be interactive and chance to play, tinker, design, hack, and explore.
Below are some images from the session today as well as from a few previous trial runs. Today I was amazed by the variety of designs. Some crafted some really cool looking bots like the butterfly. Some focused solely on designs to make them go straight. We had to work through types of paper, weight of the bot, amount of paint to use, etc. Educators were constantly in a problem solving state of mind. It was so great to watch. It was even better feeling inspired by all the new ideas. I was so pumped watching them come up with ideas I never thought of before. I chatted with some great people. It was so good to connect and hear about their schools, projects, and ideas. So a few things I learned specifically today. 1. I need to pack wax paper or a smoother type of paper to help bots move. 2. I need to pack string or dental floss. So smart! 3. Must find something besides Play-Doh as temporary glue. It works, but not as good as I want it to be. 4. I want to develop an obstacle course for the bots. 5. I LOVED the 4H idea of Eco-challenge of bots sweeping up debris using Dixie Cups. 6. Create piece of art and cover with sand. Bots brush sand away to see if students can clear enough away to identify work.
Last, here are comments and questions posted in the Todays Meet group. I have eliminated names and want respond to concerns. My responses are in bold.
Brush Bot Awesome engagement activity for studentsI agree. What I want to know is how teachers can use this in different classrooms and age groups. Would like to develop specific challenges.
Lots of applications.
How do you work around the frustration factor?(those that just give up ~ or won’t try)This is going to happen. The key here is to know the child(relationships) and check out their bot. Look at what is causing the issue and start asking them questions where you are guiding them to the solution, but they feel like they came up with the answer.
How do you store your materials? (Are they portable or placed on an established makerspace?)I have a large bin where I house the materials for this activity. The art supplies are just part of my room that are on tables and shelves for anyone to use for any projects. I am working on a new file system where all pieces are in one big storage unit, but for now they are organized by activity in tubs.
Love the fact that students can create a bot to take home and continue their creativity.This is the key to this activity. It is cheap enough to allow them to do so. What I would love to do and am working on are new activities that are cheap and allow students to take more projects home.
Great to just sit back, have a convo and really think about how this could b used w the 4 Cs… thanks!I would love to know more about ideas connecting to the 4 C’s. I really like this mindset and would love to develop more.
hardest part was stopping. Wanted to keep tinkering… How do you get the kids to move on when time is up?I think you keep up a timer or counter on the board so they know that at x amount of time we have to stop and clean up. The bonus of this activity is that those kids that want to keep playing will be able to take it home and keep tinkering. If they come up with something great, then they can bring it back to school to share out and possibly teach!
Loved the hands on and try it!
Thank you to everyone who took time to come to my session. I really appreciate it and hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed working with you all. Thanks for a great start to the conference.
Today I traveled to Johnston Middle School in Johnston, Iowa to present as a Master Teacher for Iowa Public Television. This was a small conference as this is something new for IPTV.
I decided to challenge myself by presenting in a new way. I did not use any slides and I did not use my computer or any tech. What I wanted to do was create more of a hands on workshop. I have sat through enough sessions and keynotes and PD where we sat, listened and walked away with intention but not IMPLEMENTATION.
This was a bit tough because I was not sure how many people were going to show up. In the end I had probably around 20 of the 30+ people here at the conference. What I wanted them to do was play, tinker, and experiment. In order for that to happen I had to talk less and let them do more.
I briefly talked about who I was and what I do. I then explained the materials in their baggies. Very quickly I explained how to assemble the brushbot.
Keep in mind they all had access to my lesson plans as well as the page on my website to see everything if they wanted.
What I found interesting was that like our students in the classroom the audience was quiet and bit hesitant to experiment. However, as soon as one guy had his bot moving everyone decided to move. They all wanted their bots to move as well.
Cheaply, I set up some board to create a short little racetrack so they could race their bots. They loved this. During this time I talked about the various extensions and connections about how we could connect these to any subject, any grade, and any learning from circuits, electricity, art, design, wiring, science, math, etc. I told them how they could create challenges about fastest by moving the motor, the battery, weight, etc. This really got their gears turning a bit.
Next, we had about 18 minutes left so I challenged them to the true design of converting their brushbot to an artbot. I had everything laid out for them to play. It was great to watch them try and make it happen. We had some success of bots painting some patterns. It was so fun to watch them go.
One thing that I was bummed about was having enough time to share with them how to connect the dots to true learning and standards. This is more than just a “fun” activity. True learning could occur with adding elements of a design notebook and the specific content you teach. This is something I will have to do a follow up video on to help with those that continue to use this project.
Additionally, I need to create a database of bots created. Some really wonderful designs were created. Also, I need to add more layers of challenges and post those videos online as well. I have several videos to add and finish editing.
In the end I was satisfied more than what I thought I would be. It was a great test run for this idea with many things for me to think about, fix, enhance, and improve upon.
I present at a conference next week and was not thinking about using this project, but I might change things to add this as part of my Tink Tank because the interest of the audience was high. To prepare is not cheap, but if I can excite teachers to add new ways of teaching, then it is worth the cost.
I was searching around on Quora as I do for interesting ideas and conversations. One concept I never searched was PBL. So I did and I came across this thread: What are the shortcomings of project based learning?
As our school has moved to this model I gave this question some great thought because I think it is a good question to reflect upon and work to overcome those shortcomings the best we can.
One of the contributors to this question suggested the following four shortcomings
Teachers have to be taught to use the method.
Time and resource scarcity. Project based learning requires more classroom time to present (often).
Challenge and/or difficulty of assessment. What skills to assess? How to assess them? How to be fair and just on more subjective projects?
Its possible to water down PBL to be just “fun” without learning
These four items are spot on. I wanted to expand my thought on this topic a bit. In the Quora discussion I shared the following:
I agree with a lot of what is shared here. As our middle school has transformed our teaching the PBL model we are working very hard to help shift the thought in learning for students, parents, and the community. PBL looks much different than how we all learned. However, the best learning memories are from programs after school that had elements of PBL so the question becomes why is it so hard to deliver in the classroom? It takes time to develop the culture and the mindset to make it happen. Many students have been trained for that one right answer and to follow a formula for success. PBL is open ended and the journey to an answer is where the learning takes place.
Over the course of this year we have to take time to celebrate all progress no matter how small it might seem. It does take time, effort, and special attention to help teachers move to this system if they are not used to it. The hardest part is helping them realize that their prior ways are not wrong, but can be tweaked to develop deeper learning opportunities.
PBL does take a lot of time. The projects are time consuming to launch, implement, and wrap up. Creating and developing that authentic audience is essential. However, I don’t believe that you have to have every student present to the class. That gets old real quick for everyone. Give them a real audience like the community during an exhibition night, invite professionals, have them present to a panel, etc. Move away from just the class.
The hardest element is assessment because the learning is invisible. What I mean by that is the learning takes place during the journey. A student could end up with an ugly looking project, but that does not mean he/she did not gain extensive knowledge about the topic and themselves. We have to be careful when assessing to make sure we are looking at everything to ensure the grade does reflect the learning.
Finally, I think you avoid the projects just being fun when you do project tunings and do the project yourself before you launch the project. We have students on our project tuning groups to give teachers feedback before they launch the project. It is important to critique and offer feedback prior to the project so that you make sure a crappy project does not happen.
Yesterday I delivered my presentation to my staff in an attempt to help them think differently about projects. I offered two HOW suggestions
1. Use the Common Core Appendices to work backwards in project development
2. Walk the hallways and think location of project first before planning
Speaking to your own school is tough. I always think it is the hardest audience to prepare for because they all know you. I think it is much easier speaking to strangers. I always reflect upon my presentations and share out. I think this one went pretty good. This time of year is tough for educators as students start to shut down, weather is up and down, and we are in the midst of final exhibitions and making sure we dot the i’s and cross the t’s.
My goal was to help educators think in a new perspective. Often time when we are stuck we cannot find the answers we keep searching for. We keep resorting to the same path of thinking that has always worked in the past. We sometimes have to go a different route. It does not mean that our original mode of thinking is wrong or invalid. I am not suggesting that we add one more thing to our plates that are already full. Rather, just taking a step back and looking at things differently. As I watched my high school art teacher do the other week when I visited her classroom sometime you need to take your art, step back, and rotate the work to gain new insight.
I suggested working backwards. I hope it works. I think it caused some gears to turn. I would love to share more and learn from others who are doing this type of thinking. The hardest part of HOW is that there is not a formula. The only way to discover HOW is to do it. It will never be perfect, but you won’t know how good an idea is unless we try. Teachers must be given time to think, learn, fail, and experiment. We must be given the same opportunities as our students. If classroom instruction is going to improve, then they have to feel comfortable stepping out of their comfort zone.
This is a great topic and I wish I had more time to dig deeper on this. I was brainstorming last night how I could easily make this whole topic a workshop. Perhaps that is my next goal to develop my first workshop. I have achieved the goal of making myself present a session and now maybe it is time to plan for something a bit larger in context.
My slides are above. They are not my best work as my Macbook Pro died and I am waiting for my new Macbook Pro to arrive. I had to resort to Google Presentation. But, they got the job done. If you have any questions please let me know.
And now it is back to finalized my keynote to the National Honor Society students coming up in a few weeks on leadership, service, scholarship, and character. My first keynote and the most stressful of all things I have done.
As part of Coffeechug Cafe Hackshop series I gave an arduino kit to a student to play with over Spring Break. I simply asked him to play and tinker around. Adam is a great kid who does have a bit of coding knowledge that he self taught himself.
Over break he sent me two videos. I just had to share because he is an example of simply giving someone time and tools to play and tinker.
I gave him free reign to play and tinker. His first project was just learn Arduino. He had never used it before and it was all brand new to him. He sent his first video of just getting the LED light to work which he did a great job doing.
A few days later he sent me another video to learn more programming. He created a Morse Code Converter program all on his own.
How awesome is that? We have plans to meet a few days a week to work on some projects together and see what we can come up with. I have much to learn from him and he is just another example about what can happen when you give kids time and a place to play and tinker. Something that we need to figure out how to bring into the school day more.
We have two more kits and I will be working with students after school a few times a week to figure out ways to use Arduino in our school. One idea I have is to incorporate Arduino programming into our LEGO World Build Challenge that I have going on in my school. You can read some prior posts on this to gain a sense of what we are doing. I want LED lights, stoplights, and inter-activeness to the city once we get it built and established.
More importantly, I want to figure out more ways to get this type of free play built into schools to help students find their flow and new ways of thinking learning.
What will Adam come up with next? I cannot wait to find out.
Yesterday I presented a short 40 minute session on Teacher Tinker Time. This is something that I have created in my school as an instructional coach. The goal is to create a fun and very stress less challenge every few weeks to get educators thinking like a kid again. More importantly it is to bring various teachers together in hopes that new ideas grow out of the activities and conversations.
I was moved to the Commons area for my session after they realized I was going to have dough and other hands on materials for the attendees to use and play with. I had a fairly nice size turnout. Actually, I had more than I expected and something to note would be to have more supplies on hand next time.
For my setup I had a few slides to get them going, but the projector was not working. For those interested here are the slides, but they won’t make much sense unless I am present because I hate slides with a lot of words.
Because I did not have these I did a very short introduction explaining Teacher Tinker Time and how I operate the system. I realize that most of the teachers do not have this at the elementary and high school. Hopefully, they saw the value in it and will push to have this implemented in their school. I am a firm believer that as teachers we must remember what it is like to think and be a kid. We should have opportunities during our day to do this and not be expected to do so on our own time.
To get them thinking like a kid again, I brought in 7 sets of Squishy Circuits. I had enough batteries, alligator clips, and LED lights to break them into 7 groups. I had over 40 people in the session so the groups were a bit too large, but it worked.
The only rule I gave them as you can see in the slides(which they did not get to see) was to not put the light on the battery. Like every great class we had a teacher test it out and they were able to witness the POP and exploding power of a LED light!
I challenged the teachers to make the light turn on and once they achieved that to go ahead and make a creature or sculpture to challenge their thinking.
I really enjoyed the conversations, questions, and just good old tinkering taking place. Many probably did not realize how much they were learning. If I had more time I would have made them share their creations and explain what went on with each group. The dynamics of the space was not ideal to do this so I let it be and cut it from the session. Lastly, I would have explained the science of the Squishy Circuits so they could see what they actually created and tinkered with.
My goal of this activity was to remind educators a few key things.
1. Play is learning – we need time to play. We need time away from instructions and an end goal. Just let ourselves go. As teachers we forget to give ourselves permission and time to just play. We want answers, answer keys, and as little to do as possible because we are so busy. Don’t forget to craft this time out of your schedule. The best ideas come when you are not thinking about the actual idea/topic.
2. Different Pathways Lead To Success – we had groups of various levels of accomplishment. It took some longer than others to get the lights on. Some claimed defective parts. Some thought they had it figured out to only learn they really did not. Had I just given them the answer zero learning would have taken place. In the end every group had a light turn on. Don’t forget that we as educators as well as our students can chart our own paths in learning and still reached the desired goal. It is okay to be robots and follow the same scripted path. Go out and explore. Don’t be afraid of being wrong which is a mindset many educators and students struggle with.
3. What is next? With a bit more time I would have challenged the teachers to this question to get them thinking about new ways of tinkering in their own classroom …and then? (beta – may be improved later) http://stager.tv/blog/?p=3214
Here is the handout from the session. I hope that you consider joining our group of amazing people where we are always in discussion about Play and Tinkering in the Classroom. We run weekly chats and Google Hangouts to challenge our minds and thinking.
Here is my draft for my first after school hack activity. My goal is to create a weekly workshop class where students can come in and new ways to tinker, hack, play, and design. I would love any feedback on this first project. I am charging money, but only to cover costs as well as raise funds to reduce costs of bigger and better projects down the road. If you have any suggestions, thoughts, or ideas I would love to hear them.
Hack a Greeting Card
Exploring what circuits and switches are in your everyday life, beyond your wall switch. We will briefly discuss circuits, switches, and how we can take a standard greeting card to hack something else. We will sample how to set the audio up elsewhere and then let students leave the workshop to set up their own surprises.
What are predictable things that your friend does every day? (e.g. – eat cereal at breakfast, get their books from their locker, etc.) How could you booby-trap those things with a circuit surprise?
When: March 13th after school from 3:00 – 4:00(will run up to 4:30 if extra time needed)
Where: Coffeechug Cafe Room F4
Cost: $10 to cover cost of materials and supplies. Materials: Musical/recordable greeting card, and other useful junk (e.g., string, tape, paper, paper clips, aluminum foil, etc.)
Materials: Please come with a greeting card that plays audio when you open up the card. Mr. Maurer will have some on hand if you need one, but this project will be much more enjoyable if you pick out the audio that you want.
What: We will be cutting up and taking apart a greeting card to understand how it works. Once we establish this basic foundation the challenge will be to take that audio device and link it up to something else and document what each student has done.
How: To sign up simply bring $10 down to Mr. Maurer in room F4 to hold your spot. Space is limited and is a first come, first serve basis. No spots will be held unless paid for. All money goes towards covering costs and planning future projects.
Below is our first part to a global project that we are doing with 7th grade social studies. I wanted to share our experience so far because it has really opened the eyes of our students to catch a glimpse of the world outside of Bettendorf, Iowa.
This will take time to properly develop, but I wanted to keep a running log of what we are learning and doing. We have connected with a village in Uganda, Africa where we are examining success, education, and life between our location and theirs. It is becoming very powerful as we learn that not everything operates like it does in our little bubble in Bettendorf. This is so powerful and when connections are made, the kids really gain a sense of what the world has in store.
The question that we are working with for the unit on Africa is something like this
“What does success look like to you?”
Our goal here is to force students to look at what traits or values they believe personally captures the essence of success. We will then move them towards looking at people they know, local, country, and then global. We would then like for them to find a country or location in Africa that is successful based on their personal definition. The goal here is to connect their personal beliefs and ideas with a country they know very little about and to try to bring down the walls to some of their American mindsets.
As I worked with Eden we started to think deeper. Here is an email from Eden where he really ups the thinking to the project. This showcases the power of collaboration.
That is a great question to start a unit with. There are so many levels to it.
Perhaps you could ask your students to do an video interview type project, they could interview their peers or teachers or members of society focusing on that question. Then wrap it up in a short video.
Then, you could ask what success means to people in an African country focusing on the children and/or adults.
I think the contrast in answers would shock your students and be a good education to them. Also, it is a realistic project that your students could do. They could develop skills in interviewing and video work.
As part of the project, you could also turn the question around and ask “Who does success look like?” They could point out their hero and then research why they became successful.
Example of Success in Uganda:A boy who I taught to in Uganda in 2007 called Ronald met my friend Crystal who came to visit me. Crystal was impressed by this boy and decided to sponsor him. He didn’t disappoint, five years later he came second in the entire state in his exams recently.
The reason for his success: he got up at 4am everyday to start studying and didn’t finish until 10pm at night.
So that is how you get some of the best scores in the state, get up before dawn and start revising, stop studying when the electricity is switched off in the evening at your boarding school.
Ronald = Focus, determination and the understanding that he was given a chance in life which he took with both hands and didn’t look back. You could even turn the question around again and ask “What does failure look like to you?” For Ronald it would have been ‘missed opportunity’ if he hadn’t done his very best he would have missed a great opportunity to do well in life. He plans to become a teacher in the future.
Eden shared with us a video of students talking about their school from 2008. This was a good video to give us and our students a sense of school in Africa where we would be communicating.
We started communication between teachers. We were working on the issues and how to make sure we could connect.
Over the summer the Atiira School was being built and updated when a lack of funds has kept it from being completed. Below are some images of the village and school.
The teacher’s accommodation that fell down.
How far we have built:
We prepared our materials, packed a camera with batteries and memory cards as well as some other goods and mailed off a package to Uganda.
Atiira Primary school is located in Soroti, central Uganda. It is seven hours north of Entebbe. Entebbe is where the largest airport in Uganda is located. It is a nice town and many rich people have their home there, including the President. It is half an hour from the capital, Kampala City.
We were trying to figure out the mailing system and this is something our students are still intrigued with. We learned that the post can be unreliable and the process can take a long time of sometimes months to reach certain areas. We had learn patience which is a good thing in our culture of instant and now. We wanted to make sure we provided money to send goods back to us. We learned that teachers make about $100 a month so shipping costs of $5 – $10 are just not feasible for them. It was interesting packaging everything and hoping we hid money and the goods properly.
As we waited for our package to arrive we viewed another video to teach some lessons about Uganda. Students received a complete view of what Uganda is like and began to understand the reasons why the meaning of ‘success’ is different.
We watched Midian’s story. This video had a huge impact on students and really opened their eyes and lead to some great class discussions. Most have no idea what the life of a child in Uganda is like day-to-day.
Here is what I shared after viewing the video.
I am eternally grateful for what you are helping us do. We have one of our students who is considered one of the biggest bullies in the grade completely absorbed in this project. It has been an eye opener for her in ways that no other platform has been able to reach her.
I showed the video you linked of the beautiful Midian to the teachers doing this project. They were caught off guard a bit by what they saw. We have decided to show this in our 7th grade classes as well as the 8th grade group working on soccer equipment.
We were discussing a few things today and not sure if you have any answers or insights.
1. What are the possibilities of establishing a pen pal type structure to this project? I think if our students can connect to one person at the school they will be emotionally connected. I was thinking a picture and letter(very basic) might be something we could pull off if we supplied the materials and template of a letter. I don’t know enough yet of the school and community to know if this would be too difficult or not.
2. We were also talking about transportation. How often does vehicles come to the village? We were on Google maps and just trying to make sense of the area. Do people in the village leave and travel elsewhere or remain permanently where they are located?
Thanks again for everything. I love it when the teachers are as excited and devoted to the project as the kids. That is when you know you have something special developing.
We later learned that the School location is here
All the children walk to school. Some walk for up to 45minutes to an hour to get to class. There is a main road near the school that vehicles pass along. This school is lucky in that fact, some schools are miles away from the nearest good road.
If a family is very rich they may have a car, rich family = motorcycle, middle class = bicycle, poor = no transport. People travel to the nearest town for supplies, using a friend’s motorcycle, cycling, or in the back of a truck.
On November 2nd the package finally arrived! We were so excited because we were starting to worry about it not making it to our friends.
As we continued to move forward with our project here locally we watched
Hans Rosling: Let my dataset change your mindset
On November 22nd, 2013 we received their video. It is AMAZING! and I cannot help but watch with a smile each and every single time.
The video was sent by a young man named Eddy who is helping with video, editing, and communicating. He is working hard to ensure things are being done between schools. He has been fantastic in helping despite our minor setbacks in language barrier and technology needs. I am hoping to help him out as he is working hard to rise above and make something of himself.
Due to crazy weather, winter break, and other things to wrap up first semester the project stalled a bit
We worked to capture photos and videos of our area and what success means to us. Students brought in thousands of images and videos. After sorting through it all, a computer crashing, then crashing again, and issues with audio we finally had our video ready in……
2.13.14: Our video in response to our friends in Africa