Tag Archives: Maker Ed

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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Biodesign

In the past, I have taught students about biomimicry/biomimetics, in which designers use inspiration from nature to create new products.  (The Youth Design Challenge is a great place to find resources for this.)  Biodesign takes things one step further by actually incorporating nature, often still living, into innovative artifacts that can be purely for decoration or serve specific purposes.

I first became aware of biodesign when I ran across a website for The Nest Makespace.  The unusual images on the home page intrigued me.  (I admit that I thought the “bioyarn” designs were actually made out of worms, but it turns out that it’s probably more like this material.)

The Nest Makespace offers some fascinating project ideas here.  I am hoping that more lesson plans will be linked soon.  In the meantime, you can find more suggestions on the Resource page.

For a “Peek at the Possibilities of Biodesign,” click on this link, or watch the embedded video below.

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Picture from Fernan Federici on Flickr

Inventing 101

Alexis Lewis is a teenage inventor who is on a mission to inspire other teens to innovate.  You can read her story, and about the products she has invented so far in her young life, here.  Alexis specifically wants middle schools to guide students with inventing curriculum, and has launched a website to help in this endeavor.  Inventing 101 is a good start as a repository of resources with this end in mind.  You can also visit her personal website to learn more about other teen inventors on this page

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Operation Valentine

Operation Valentine is an adorable project on Instructables that can be used for grades 3 and up to teach the basics of electrical circuits just in time for Valentine’s Day.  You may recall the post that I did that included some of the Operation projects my co-worker, Kat Sauter, did with the 8th grade science teacher.  The Instructables project from mathiemom is definitely more manageable with younger students.  Maybe your students can make these for their Virtual Valentines projects, or in addition to some of these other STEM projects for the young at heart 🙂

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The Art of Engineering

There aren’t any fancy graphics on this video, but I love the message that Katie Correll gives in this short presentation.  I keep trying to convince my students that engineering is so much more than math and science, that’s it’s not just about following formulas and rules but about learning how to use them to innovate and sometimes even break those rules.  One of my students pointed out that Katie’s message about thinking outside of the box to problem solve can really apply to anyone – not just engineers.

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Halloween Paper Circuit Projects

I think these Halloween Paper Circuit templates from Makerspaces.com look like a lot of fun.  You can download the templates for free, but will need to purchase the other supplies.  The instructions are excellent.  I plan to try this with my 3rd graders.  Once they learn the concept, I am going to challenge them to light up a picture of their choice to encourage some creativity and give them the opportunity to apply what they have learned about circuits.  By the way, if you are looking for some other paper circuit projects, here is a post I did on ones that our Maker Club did.

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image from Wikimedia Commons
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image from Pixabay

Raspberry Pi

“That’s it?! But that’s so little!” one of my students said, incredulously, when I showed him the Raspberry Pi.  I nodded.  Another student explained, “That’s what a computer looks like.  A lot of people think this [he pointed to the television monitor] is the computer, but it’s just a screen.” The other students, who mostly lived in a world of tablets and laptops, stared solemnly at the small device.

I had just returned from Picademy in Austin.  Whenever I am absent for any kind of staff development, my students demand justification for abandoning them.  They knew, before I left, that Raspberry Pi was a computer, not a dessert.  But just like me before the 2-day intense training, that was about all most of them knew.  It was time for me now to show them that my absence had been worth it.

“You said there was Minecraft,” one student prompted.  I pulled up the Python program we coded at Picademy and asked the students to guess what would happen when I initiated it in Minecraft.  They weren’t quite sure.  Then I showed them how my Minecraft character could walk, leaving a path of gold behind me.

“Cool!” was the general consensus.  I was proud because, before Picademy, I had never played Minecraft or coded with Python.  In fact, I was still awed by the fact that I had hooked up the tiny computer to an old television monitor from home, and that it actually worked.

I had applied to Picademy in Austin with great apprehension.  Raspberry Pi seemed to appear on many of the educational sites I regularly visited and I felt like I needed to to have one in my classroom.  But I didn’t want to have the school invest money on something that couldn’t be used.  When I saw that Picademy was being offered an hour and a half from where I lived, it seemed like I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.  But I was worried it would be way over my head.  The problem is that I am constantly telling my students to take risks, so I would have felt like a hypocrite if I didn’t even try.

Fortunately, the organizers of Picademy have a lot of experience differentiating for a room full of educators with multiple skill levels.  On the first day, they led us through several hand-on sessions, guiding us to “Hack Minecraft,” light up L.E.D.’s, compose music, and make ridiculous selfies.  We were given lots of free “stuff” (including a Raspberry Pi, keyboard, and mouse), introduced to new vocabulary (Sense Hat?), and tons of support from a group of experienced educators.

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Raspberry Pi (the green thing) connected to a speaker, keyboard, and mouse.

On the second day, we were tasked with creating our own Raspberry Pi projects with partners.  We were given 4 hours and extra supplies.  My partner and I decided to program our Pi with Python to allow students to take pictures of their work with the touch of a button, also sending out a random tweet with the picture and a phrase such as, “Look what we did in class today!”  There was a lot of trial and error and frustration.  (Spelling and punctuation are extremely vital in Python, as we learned.) However, we finally got it to work, and got to experience the exuberance our students feel whenever they work through tough problems.

If what I just described to you sounds ridiculously impossible for your skill level, remember that I was (and still am) an amateur.  The key to programming Raspberry Pi is taking other programs offered freely on the internet and adjusting them to do what you want.  Once you get used to the syntax of Python, it isn’t that difficult to “steal” and remix. Also, you are not limited to using Python. Scratch, for example, now works with Raspberry Pi.

If you can attend a Picademy, I highly recommend you apply.  The 2-day workshop is free, and you do receive free breakfast and lunches, a free Raspberry Pi, and other accessories. However, there may not be a Picademy coming to your area anytime soon, so you may want to check out the new online courses.  All training information can be found here.

An incredible number of resources are available on the Raspberry Pi website.  I suggest that you go to this page if you are brand new to using Raspberry Pi.  The site is extremely user-friendly.  However, I think the training is what has made my experience so enjoyable.