Using Zorro Astuto

In the last two posts, I’ve talked about our “makerspace” at Advanced Learning Academy, Zorro Astuto Studio, and how we have incorporated a new badging system.  Today I wanted to give an overview of how the space is used.

ALA at Fox Tech serves students in grades 4-12.  Zorro Astuto is located on the 3rd floor, where we currently house grades 6-12.  Our goal is to give all of our students access in some way to this unique area for creation.  Because there are many tools that need training and supervision, this can be a bit tricky.

The first way that we give students access is through classes they can take.  Grades 4/5 have are currently doing a 3d design class using Tinkercad (1/2 are doing it first semester, and 1/2 will do it next semester).  They are taking the classes in another room, but will be learning how to use the 3d printers that we have in Zorro Astuto and one that is in their wing.

6th and 7th graders can choose from 9 week electives that we are offering such as: Intro to Design Lab, Carpentry, Robotics, 3d Design, and Electronics.

8th-12th graders can also choose from these electives, which also utilize tools in Zorro Astuto in Project Based Learning activities: Principles of Applied Engineering, Principles of Arts, and Engineering Design and Presentation.

The second way students may use Zorro Astuto is through interdisciplinary projects within their other classes. ALA offers Genius Hour, Wonder Courses, Tech Theater, and opportunities within core subjects to create artifacts that often involve fabrication on all levels.  In addition, we offered several “Teacher Tool-Ups” at the end of last school year to introduce some of the tools to teachers so they could consider possibilities for future Project Based Learning products.

And, lastly, we have Open Studio time twice a week after school.  For an hour and a half on Mondays and Thursdays, students who have signed Safety Contracts can come to Zorro Astuto to make whatever they want from the scraps we have.  Whether they are in a registered class or not, they are welcome to get certified on our tools and to use them for passion projects or school assignments.

In these ways, we hope that every student at ALA is inspired to learn and create.  As most teachers know, technology and required skills may change over time, but problem solving and creativity will always be needed.

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Zorro Astuto Badging

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we have made some changes to our makerspace this year, one of them being to rebrand it as Zorro Astuto Studio.  Another major improvement we are implementing is a badging system for all students who create in Zorro Astuto.  Throughout grades 4-12 (all of the levels that attend our school on the Fox Tech Campus) students can earn badges when they reach certain criteria for each of three levels.  The criteria for Level 1 includes students getting a 100% on the relevant safety certification test and creating a project with that tool or software.  Levels 2 and 3 increase the expectations, and students who reach a Level 3 in any area will be prominently featured on our “Studio Masters” bulletin board, which is in the mall area outside our space.

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Once a student earns a badge, we laser-cut a physical one using special acrylic from Inventables.  We provide them with a small chain so they can hang it on their backpack.

In addition, we wanted to digitally manage the badges.  Our intention is to keep a running record for students as they move through grade levels.  We also want teachers to have a quick reference.  This will allow teachers, when students ask to use Zorro Astuto resources (like the 3d printer) for projects, to know if the student already has experience or will need to spend time learning a new tool or software.

I researched many digital badging systems and ultimately decided that the Flippity Badge Tracker would best serve our purpose.  Although it is does not have as many features as Mozilla Open Badges or others, it does have simplicity going for it.  With as many students as we have going through Zorro Astuto, we needed something that would work with multiple users and could be easily accessed by teachers across campus.

Tomorrow I will talk about who comes through Zorro Astuto, and the many ways we are trying to make it a place where all of our learners have multiple opportunities to create.

Zorro Astuto Studio

My colleague, Kat Sauter, and I teach in what used to be the Cosmetology classroom at Fox Tech High School.  In the newly formed Advanced Learning Academy (this is its 4th year), our room has become known as “The Makerspace.”  Kat and I felt like this generic term, which has come to mean many things to many people, did not quite fit our learning environment.  We set about to rebrand it.

The building where we are housed was named after the principal who was a strong advocate for technical and vocational education, Louis Fox.  In honor of him and our shared beliefs in hands-on, place-based learning, we decided to call our space, “Zorro Astuto Studio.”  “Zorro” means “fox” in Spanish.  “Astuto” means “clever or crafty.”  We think it fits our program perfectly.

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After much blood, sweat, and possibly a few words of mild profanity, Kat and I got one room of the studio repainted before school started.  With the help of Kat’s sister-in-law, our larger room is almost done.  Students who used the space last year have been very complimentary about all of the changes we’ve made.  We  have several areas that showcase past student projects – such as 3d printed Fiesta medals, skateboards, and inspirational signs – but we are also trying to leave room for future ones as well.

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So, what’s happening in this transformed space?  Stay tuned to this blog, our Twitter account (@StudioZorro), and our Instagram (@StudioZorro) for more on how our students in grades 4-12 will be using this space to create!

The One Word Project

One of the challenges I faced this year in the Makerspace was that our classroom got double-booked for the second nine weeks during 7th period.  This meant my Principles of Applied Engineering Class met in a Spanish classroom – and the students who were eager to use large tools like the saws were disappointed at the temporary change in venue.  (We ended up doing a 3D Design project that nine weeks.) I knew when we returned to the Makerspace at the beginning of January that the students would not want to be put off any longer, and racked my brains the entire Winter Break for a project with a purpose that would finally allow them to explore the tools.

Our Makerspace is relatively new, set up in the school’s old Cosmetology classrooms, and it’s definitely a work in progress.  With upcoming renovations we will be getting another space, but we’ve been trying to make this one functional and inspirational in the meantime.  Other than tool storage, our walls are somewhat blank.  With that in mind, and everyone’s New Year’s Resolution tweets about their “One Word” for their year flooding my Twitter feed, the idea came to me that the students could practice using most of our tools while creating signs to hang up on the walls.

The students brainstormed words that they felt represented the Makerspace, and each group of 2-3 students chose a word.  They made construction paper prototypes of their signs, planning out the measurements of the letters and the plaques.  In the meantime, they did some flipped learning with online videos and safety tests for each of the tools they would be using.

All of the students used the table saw and miter saw to make their plaques.  I have to say that this is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my job.  Like me, many of these students are fearful before they use these powerful tools.  After watching a few people do it without chopping off any fingers, they hesitantly try.  Their smiles afterward remind me of my daughter’s reaction the first time I convinced her to ride roller coaster.  “Let’s do it again!”  The female students, especially, seem the most empowered after they finish.  There is a noticeable difference in their self-confidence as they continue with their projects – some of them asking to cut other people’s projects so they can repeat their experience.

Once the plaques were made, the students were required to learn how to use at least 3 out of 4 other tools for the more precise designs of their letters.  Each tool requires  different software for design, so that was a bit challenging.  The students could use: 3d printer, laser cutter, Silhouette cutter, or CNC mill.  I encouraged them to use different fonts and types of “stock” for each letter.  They could use acrylic, plywood, vinyl, cardstock, copper, aluminum, and filament. (Students could “earn” access to more expensive materials by meeting certain benchmarks on time.)

One of the cons of this project was that many students needed my help or supervision for different things at the same time.  If I do the project again, I will plan more “mini workshops” about the software and schedule times to use certain tools.  Another con was that our brand new CNC mill has a huge learning curve, and we lost a lot of time and material to mistakes. I think I’m finally learning its idiosyncrasies, so that shouldn’t be a huge problem in future projects.

Despite those issues, I felt really good about this project when we finished.  I decided not to assess the actual signs, or to give any kind of team grade.  Instead, students were assessed individually on their safety tests and on their final reflections of the design process.  These reflections, which required pictures of different stages of the project, will be included in the online portfolios our school is required, and were very informative about how much the students understood about problem-solving and learning from mistakes during a project.

Here is what one student wrote, after describing some of the challenges encountered during the project, “That was all fine because that is how life is. You never truly know what is going to happen next and it allowed me to think on my feet a little better and reevaluate my plans; it was a reality check between what was possible and what I could accomplish if absolutely nothing went wrong, which isn’t life. Life is messy and that is beautiful.”

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San Antonio Mini Maker Faire

One of the advantages of my new school is its location.  We are in downtown San Antonio – steps from the Riverwalk, downtown courthouses, parks, museums, and the Central Library.  Our students go on many walking field trips, and we try to take advantage of our location whenever possible.  Last weekend, the Central Library hosted the San Antonio Mini Maker Faire.  A couple of my colleagues who also teach in our Maker Space at Advanced Learning Academy have been working with their students for a couple of months to design projects for the Faire.

Our school emphasizes exhibitions of student work, but this event had the added pressure of being open to the public.  The students did not disappoint.  Their projects included: a “Soc-Car” game with remote control cars on a soccer field moving ping pong balls, laser cut lanterns, upcycled toys, masks, ornithopters, wooden robots, and screen-printed shirts.

One highlight was “Fruit Guillotine,” admittedly a nerve-wracking demonstration every time as the aluminum blade whooshed down to decapitate bananas.  Children were delighted, begging for multiple turns, as anxious parents stood nearby.

Watching the students interact with guests of the Maker Faire was wonderful.  I heard descriptions of their design processes, details of failures and problem-solving, and obvious pride in what they had accomplished.  Some of them were already prepared with ideas for what they will do differently next year.

Watching my colleagues conduct this project with the students was inspirational, and I am already determined my own students will participate next year.  If you have the same opportunity (many cities host similar events), I highly recommend you consider guiding your students through this experience.  It is a lot of hard work, but making for a genuine audience is always rewarding.

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Support for Diverse Readers and Speakers

There are many tools out there for students who struggle with reading.  There were several I gathered at TCEA 2019 this year, and I have been meaning to share a curated list.  Here is a quick rundown (a big thanks to Leslie Fisher, who demonstrated these in her multiple sessions):

  • Immersive Reader – Microsoft offers this free suite of reading aids through OneNote or directly through it’s Microsoft Edge browser.  If you install the extension on your browser, you can change the background, break words into syllables, search for certain parts of speech, focus on a line, access a picture dictionary, translate, and read text out loud.  Thanks to Leslie Fisher for demonstrating all of these features!
  • Rewordify – You can change complex text to simpler language by pasting it into the box on this page.  Even better, there are several free learning activities that you can customize and print that offer matching, quizzes, etc…
  • SMMRY – Get a summary of the text you paste into the box.
  • Google Docs Voice Typing – Just go to the Tools in Google Docs to access this feature and make sure you give access to the microphone.
  • Closed Captioning in Google Slides – Did you know that you can offer closed captioning as you present a Slides presentation?  Click here to get the instructions.
  • Microsoft Translator – Download this app to your phone or just use it in your browser to start a conversation with anyone anywhere.  Among its other features, you can use multiple microphones for a conversation, which can be translated into multiple languages at the same time!  You can also use the app to take pictures of text (typed, not handwritten) and translate it.

I hope at least one or two of these tools is new and helpful to you!

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Embracing Change

This is Yeti, the 3-year-old bulldog we adopted last September.  As you can see, Yeti likes the laundry basket.  I kind of like it, too, because when Yeti falls asleep with his head propped up he doesn’t snore as loudly.  Win/win.

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Unfortunately, Yeti has some kind of leg injury still to be determined.  Despite his pain, he insists on climbing into the laundry basket.  He has also chewed one side of the basket down to sharp plastic points which make it very possible he will re-neuter himself if he isn’t careful.

My husband pointed out, as I bemoaned the lack of a perfect bed for a bulldog who likes high sides but needs a lower entrance that won’t slice off any appendages, that I do work in a Maker Space now.  And I have tools.  And I teach students how to solve problems using Design Thinking.

I guess you can tell where this is going.

We are beginning the last nine weeks of this school year – my first year in this secondary maker space.  It has been a year of a lot of learning, and I am about to do a whole lot more.  My students are selecting their own projects this nine weeks, and chances are I won’t have the slightest idea how to do any of them, much less my own project on designing and building a bed for a finicky bulldog.

But that’s how I roll.

All of the horrible teachers I had in my life had a couple of things in common – they were pretty sure of themselves and were terrified of change.  I don’t subscribe to the notion that teachers need to be experts or that rigidity improves learning.  It helps to know your topic, of course.  But it’s more important to have relationships with the students and to be willing to learn –  with them and from them.

So, we’re all going to be applying what we’ve learned this year.  The students will give me feedback, and I’ll do the same.  We will consult experts and try not to cry or give up when we make mistakes.  I will be chronicling my engineering design process just as I ask them to keep their own journals.

By the end of May, Yeti will probably still be sleeping in his dilapidated laundry basket.  Because that’s how stubborn bulldogs roll.

But no one will be able to say that I didn’t try.

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