Category Archives: Creative Thinking

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!

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

Pool Noodle Projects – Reblog

I was at a dollar store this weekend, and saw a plethora of pool noodles.
It reminded me of this post I did a few years ago, and I thought it would be the perfect time for a repeat!

from http://www.babble.com/home/20-clever-ways-to-use-a-pool-noodle/#marble-run
from:  http://www.babble.com

After coming across one article on ways to use pool noodles, I did an internet search, and found a lot more creative ideas than I dreamed could exist for using these long pieces of foam!

My students use every spare moment they can get in my classroom to build elaborate marble runs, so the above picture caught my eye immediately.  You can find it, along with 19 other ideas for pool noodles here.

You can find the idea for pool noodle flash cards here.  To kick it up a notch for gifted thinkers, why not call out a word in a foreign language, or a definition, and have them find the noodle pieces that spell its counterpart?

Along with the Pool Noodle Super Sprinkler, you can find 29 other ideas here.

Of course, with all of these innovative suggestions I did not find any that matched the one drawn by one of my students!

from my Summer Pool Party packet
from my Summer Pool Party packet

Once an Artist

A couple of weeks ago, my Kinder students were working on their #Awards.  One boy looked over at another one, who was carefully drawing details on his paper.

“Are you an artist?” the first student asked with admiration in his voice.

“I used to be one,” the five-year-old responded, matter-of-factly.

“Really?” asked his awestruck fan.

“Yes.  When I was 2 all I did was scribble-scrabble, but then when I was about 3 1/2, I became an artist.”

“Wow!” Fanboy said.  “Why aren’t you one anymore?”

“Well, I ran out of paper,” Once-an-Artist said.  He paused.  “And ideas,” he added.

Then he looked me straight in the eyes.

“But I’m working on getting more,” he solemnly vowed.

I was reminded of this conversation when one of my tweeps, @TEKnical_Lit, shared the link to this powerful video.  Like my Once-an-Artist student, it makes me sad – but hopeful.

Alike short film from Pepe School Land on Vimeo.

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image from Pixabay

PicCollage Game Boards

The PicCollage (or PicKids) app is a versatile tool that my students have used for reflection, creating visuals for a report, and telling stories.  Recently, I’ve seen a couple of different articles on the web about students and teachers using PicCollage to make game boards.  This can range in educational value from creation for fun all of the way to another way to assess learning.  In all cases, creativity can be a part of the activity as students can personalize the boards with photos, stickers, and text.  For some examples and specific integration ideas, check out these two blog posts: “Digital Game Boards with PicCollage” and “Creating and Playing Games on PicCollage.”

Mindset Monopoly
Mindset Monopoly Game created by some of my 3rd Graders (using some Mandala images made by my 4th graders!)