Makered at ISTE

For today’s ISTE post, I thought I would cover a couple of the sessions I attended that were related to coding and makered.

Leah LaCrosse (@llacrosse) and Jon Jarc (@trendingedtech) spoke about the ways they have used the design process with their classes as the students worked with digital modeling for 3d printers.  They included a great diagram from nngroup.com that my colleague and I like because it uses arrows to show that the design process is often not linear, with many steps repeating.  We are also hoping to, as they have, find more “problems” that students can try to solve with design thinking.  (They gave an example of 3d printing a piece for the school’s long-broken water fountain.)

An interesting suggestion for introducing 3d modeling to students was to have them begin by making something fairly simple with Legos, and to then ask them to duplicate the design using a program like Tinkercad.  One workflow tip is to have a Google Form for students to enter the links to their print files to put them in a queue (after they have been critiqued) for the 3d printer.

The 3d printing project that really caught my attention was one in which the students designed vehicles that had to fit the following parameters: multiple parts, multiple colors, no glue, and able to roll across a table.  As Jarc described it, this project took nearly an entire semester, but the students were taking precise measurements, iterating repeatedly as they learned more from mistakes, and putting their own creative spins on the designs – making this a deep learning activity that they will never forget.  Another fun idea?  Fitting the vehicles on top of Spheros to propel them across the room!

Another makered session I attended was sponsored by Microsoft.  I know very little about the hardware featured on their “Make Code” website, so I was curious to learn more about at least one of the pieces, the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express.  This little kit is actual hardware that you can connect to your computer with a usb cord, and use block coding or java script to program.  Even if you don’t have the physical hardware (only $24.95, but it seems to be out of stock), you can use the simulator on the site to code this fun product to do all sorts of things – such as play sounds and light up.  Here is some advice on getting started.  I had to leave the session early, so I missed out on the awesome magic wands they were making once everyone programmed their Circuit Playgrounds.  However, I loved some of the features of the website – including that you can easily transition between block coding and java, the site can be used on practically any device (though you do need USB for the hardware), and you can even use it offline.  As you can see from the pictures below, there are lots of things you can do with the Circuit Playground.  Since it has a battery pack, you can program it and “wear” it without being wired to the computer.

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Sample Projects from Microsoft that can be made with Circuit Playground Express and MakeCode

Of course, these two sessions were only a small sample of all of the makered possibilities showcased at ISTE this year.  It’s amazing to recall the years when makered was relatively new to the incredible impact it is having on educational technology now!

How About Them Apples?

Monday at ISTE began with me frantically trying to find my first session in the San Antonio Convention Center (not an easy place to navigate – especially for those of us who are spatially challenged), only to discover that I needed a ticket to enter.  Fortunately, it was the one Apple morning session that wasn’t full, so I boomeranged between the usher at the entrance and the ticket stand with admirable speed and found myself one of the last people to be welcomed into a hands-on session centered on Apple’s Swift Playgrounds app.

You may recall that I wrote about the iOS Swift  playgrounds app when it first entered the scene, and I wasn’t all that impressed.  It has had four or five updates since then, and there are definitely some areas of great improvement.

I still stand by my original assertion that students need to be pretty adept readers to take advantage of the app, and I wouldn’t use it with students with lower than a 4th grade reading level.  However, the new “Accessories” tab that allows it to be used to control multiple hardware devices may be a game-changer.  For example, my students could now control Lego EV3, Dash Robots, and Sphero, among other robots, using Swift Playgrounds.  The advantage of this over other apps, such as Tickle, is that students will be switching from introductory block programming to more widely used line/text programming.  There are plenty of tutorials within the app to ease this transition.

Another feature that I like about Swift Playgrounds is that it offers a recording function, so students can work on a tutorial and submit recordings of their solutions to the teacher as a reflection. You can also take pictures of your screen within the app, and export the code to PDF. There are hints within the tutorials, but later levels require that you put a little effort into solving the coding puzzles before you can receive any help.  The app is definitely worth looking into if you are an educator working with students who already have some programming experience and are looking for the next step.  Curriculum resources are available here.

My second session also happened to be sponsored by Apple (no ticket required for this one).  In this session, we learned about Apple Clips, which is a video editing app that may eventually replace iMovie.  This app is optimized for mobile use, as well as social media, and it is clear there was a lot of thought put into its development.   Just like iMovie, Clips allows you to take video, edit it, and add music.  But Clips has taken a lot of the manual labor out of video creation.  Music is automatically edited with intros and outros to fit your clips.  Cropping and “Ken Burns-ing” easily become seamless portions of your video, and you can add layers, effects, and titles with taps of the finger.  One of my favorite features is the “live titles.”  This basically allows you to create a closed-captions for your video – adding text to the video as you record in real time.  The text is aligned to the actual timing of your speech, so if you pause, so does the text.  You can also easily edit the text if your words aren’t interpreted the way you intended.

Clips looks great.  Designed for this generation of “on-the-fly” videographers, it could be the ideal tool.  However, I have heard from a few people and read in some reviews that it can be glitchy.  I have not experienced any issues myself, but I was disappointed when my somewhat older classroom iPad was deemed too ancient to be “compatible with this app.”  Like many new products, Clips may need to age a bit (but maybe not as much as my unfortunate iPad) before it takes off, but I’m ready to give it a try.

For some examples of ways that Clips has been used in schools, check out #classroomclips on Twitter.

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Navigating Uncertainty

In the opening keynote of ISTE 2017, Jad Abumrad, creator and co-host of RadioLab, spoke about the creative process.  He reminded us that all creators regularly oscillate between excitement and self-doubt.  As Abumrad described some of his experiences developing stories for the RadioLab podcast, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the many Genius Hour projects I’ve done my best to facilitate over the years.  Beginning with brainstorming questions, selecting one that resonates, researching the question, and running into obstacles, RadioLab is the embodiment of my students’ attempts to complete their quests for answers.  And, just as my students sometimes run into perceived dead ends, so do the hosts of RadioLab.  But by paying close attention, they may find paths that lead to something even better.  As Abumrad says, “If you commit to the questions, you probably will not get to where you want to go, but you could get somewhere else.  And it could be beautiful.” (This is why I think it’s important to tell students to “Get Lost” and advocate for Trailblazing.)

Our job as educators is to not only help our students “navigate uncertainty,” but to teach them to seek it out.  Abumrad calls this, “The German Forest,” (based on an extremely difficult story he pursued regarding Wagner’s “Ring Cycle”).  Going into the forest is always intimidating, yet exhilarating when you are able to make it to the other side.  The more often you subject yourself to this, the better equipped you will be.  Though the trials may never get easier, you will be able to reassure yourself that you have encountered this before – and succeeded.

During his presentation, Abumrad showed a favorite video of mine that features Ira Glass speaking about storytelling.  Glass’ German Forest is “The Gap,” and it can only be bridged by constantly creating and endlessly honing your craft.

These are the lessons that we must impart to our children:

  • Seek out what interests you, and be willing to take it where it leads you – even if that is not what you envisioned
  • Take calculated risks
  • It is normal to be uncertain, and to question your abilities
  • Allow self-doubt to guide you to improvement rather than to stop you from trying

To those ends, ISTE promotes its students’ standards, which you can learn more about in the awesome Flocabulary video embedded below.

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#WhyIMake

Infosys Foundation has been asking people to share why they make, and including some of their responses on their site.  There are also three videos from famous makers (Nick Offerman, Noah Bushnell, and Adam Savage) who explain why they believe it is essential for human beings to create.  My favorite video comes from Adam Savage, The Mythbuster, in which he says, “I make because in making I’m telling a story.”  As I watch my students in robot camp this week, I get to witness their delight in making  – whether it is making programs, designing robot costumes, recording crazy robot sounds, or fastening bits and pieces together to make their robot props.  And I get to feel the same indescribable joy when I create the curriculum that activates these busy makers.

Jackie Gerstein offers even more reasons for making in her recent post about her “Cardboard Creations Maker Education Camp,” reminding us that making things does not have to involve expensive tools and technology.  The key elements are imagination and a willingness to accept messiness – literally and figuratively – as we go through several iterations to make our ideas into reality.

Whatever our motivation for making, it cannot be denied that most of us feel compelled to do it, and feel accomplished when we succeed.  That is why it is so important for educators to teach our students how to heed their inner desires to create, to persevere through those guaranteed botched attempts, and to make it a quest to improve without becoming bogged down by self-flagellation.

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Even though a makerspace isn’t needed in order to encourage students to make, here is a “Makerspace Essentials” list of articles I’ve published in the past about making.

Chat Pack for Kids

As a parent or a teacher you may find yourself in situations when you need to “kill time.” One tool that I like to use is, “Chat Pack for Kids.”  You can find versions of this from different companies, but I really like this one because it is reasonably priced, the cards are small, and the topics really seem to appeal to people of all ages.  My students who are in robot camp with me this summer enjoy taking out the plastic case that I keep the cards in and asking each other some of the questions, but it’s also a good activity as we wait for parent pick-up.  We all have fun thinking about some of the different scenarios posed, such as what animal we would choose to miniaturize to have as a pet or the one thing that we could change about school.  I try to model creative thinking by offering off-the-wall answers, and we all learn a bit about each other at the same time.  Whether you’re on a long road trip, or just waiting with your class for pictures to be taken, the “Chat Pack for Kids” is a fun way to keep occupied.

I’m going to add this to my Pinterest Board of Games and Toys.

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Chat Pack for Kids

Some Roads are Better Not Taken

Yesterday’s post, “The Trailblazer,” reminded me of an article I wrote awhile ago called, “Tell Your Students to Get Lost.” Both essays carry the message that it is important to give our students opportunities to find their own ways.  Every time I see an innovation, I think to myself, “Now that person understood that we don’t always have to do things the same way.”

One of the readers of yesterday’s post made a good point, however.  How can we allow students to blaze their own trails while still ensuring they comply with non-negotiable rules?

For example, I realized I had created my own monster this year by making it very clear that I wanted my students to do their own problem-solving attempts before coming to me.  One day, when I needed everyone to learn some tricky maneuvers for logging in to a web site they would be using, chaos ensued.  After I told them the first step, they decided to figure out the rest on their own – leading 10 different students to 10 different illogical pages and a quicksand of links that would never take them to the right destination.

And so I learned that, just like life, we need to know when to be adventurous and when to be compliant.  What I needed to teach my students was how to determine the difference.

Now I try to verbally model the inner dialogues that I hope my students will eventually develop as habit.

“Is this a time I can be creative, or do I need to do the exact steps my teacher is giving me?”

or,

“Can I use the loopholes in this task to do something unusual, or do I need to honor the intention of the assignment?”

Just as I imagine Angelique’s trail guide taught important safety rules and basic riding techniques, we teachers need to gently release our students to blaze their own trails as they adhere to certain behavior expectations and learning standards.

I am not advocating complete student anarchy just as I don’t advocate for complete student compliance.  However, I think many teachers rely on the “nose-to-tail” type of journey a large percentage of the time.  I think our schools would better serve our students by preparing them for and allowing them to go off the beaten path – while teaching them to recognize the occasions when it’s better to pay attention to your guide.

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image from Jonathan on Flickr

The Trailblazer

One of my good friends, the incredible @lackeyangie, sent an e-mail about a recent vacation experience, and I asked her permission to share it here.  The implications for education are apparent, especially if you have heard George Couros speak – or read his book, The Innovator’s Mindset.

“Hi!
So yesterday I had an amazing day! We went to the Rusty Spurr Ranch, which is about an hour northwest from Breckenridge. We went to this ranch because they market themselves as being different from the regular “nose to tail” trail ride. They actually do NOT want you to follow the same trail, but pick different trails to get to  destinations on the ranch.  We had a really patient and knowledgeable wrangler named, Tess, who accompanied us on our 2 hour ride. I was riding a beautiful strawberry roan horse named Rosie. About an hour into the ride:

Me: “Do we HAVE to stay on a cut trail, or can we make our own path through the sagebrush?”
Tess: “Oh, we love for our guests to go off the trails! Blaze your own trail; that makes you a ‘Trail Blazer’!
Me: “Really?”
Tess: “Yes! It’s actually great for the horses if you get them off the trail. They get in such a rut following a cut trail. We don’t want them to become complacent.”
Me: “Really!” (Yes, same word, but I sounded more astonished this time.)
Tess: “Yep, if the horse is complacent, then they tend to become stubborn. Then, it’s extremely hard to teach them new things. We want them to wonder what turn is coming next.”
Me: “Look at me! I’m a Trail Blazer!” ( Yes, I actually said this as it was only my husband and kids on the ride.)
Marie: “I want to be a trail blazer.” (And she does with a proud smile.)
Sam: (Already blazing a trail with a smirk on his face.)
Then, before you knew it, everyone was blazing their own trail, and they were all the more excited for it.

Disclaimer: It must be said…Trail blazing did have it’s pitfalls at times! There are more mosquitoes in the tall grass and occasional missteps as the horse had to overcome various obstacles in it’s way like fallen Aspen trees. Moreover, Rosie got spooked by something and reared up! She tried to cut back to one of the trails for safety, but I calmed her down and kept on blazing.”

We often talk about teachers who are trailblazers, but how frequently do we encourage our students to search for new paths?  As George Couros states, “Compliance does not foster innovation. In fact, demanding conformity does quite the opposite.” Yes, there are pitfalls, but insulating our students from those will only make them less prepared when they encounter them in the future.

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imae from Pixabay

Great Minds Don't Think Alike!

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