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
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Dr. Pauline Dow (@PaulineDow), an Associate Superintendent in our district, shared this recent TED Talk by Steven Johnson, “How Play Leads to Great Inventions,” in a tweet this week. Steven Johnson, you may remember, is an author I’ve mentioned on this blog because I was fascinated by his book, How We Got to Now. Johnson is adept at tracing innovations back through time to discover the (often surprising) building blocks that made them possible.
In this October, 2016, TED Talk, Johnson claims that necessity is not always the mother of invention – and that play may be just as, if not more, important when it comes to generating new ideas. I’m pretty certain that Sir Ken Robinson would approve this message.
I will be adding this video to my Pinterest Board of Inspirational Videos for Teachers. Click here to see more.
Joe Tedesco, the man behind SA Makerspaces for Education, posted about CoSpaces a couple of weeks ago. CoSpaces is available on the web, and as a free iOS or Android app. My students and are still investigating its features, so I may be incorrect about what we’ve discovered so far.
Using CoSpaces on a computer (desktop or laptop), you can register for a free account and then create projects. To experiment, I created one account that my students could also use (if you do this, make sure each student knows how to start a new project or collaborate with someone else on one). There are tools on the web browser version to “build” 3-dimensional scenes, somewhat Minecraft-ish. For those of us who are spatially challenged, it’s good practice for using other 3-d modeling programs like Tinkercad. You can also add your own images as well as audio files.
The scenes can be viewed on mobile devices as 3d by walking around with or moving the device to explore the scenery. If you have a VR headset, you can also experience the scenes this way. The video on this page is the best way to understand how it works. At this time, you can only create CoSpaces projects using a web browser and experience they are best experienced through mobile devices.
CoSpaces shows a great deal of potential for use by students to create – which is one of the main purposes for technology in my point of view. I have a feeling there are going to be some exciting advances made by this company as it evolves, so you should definitely check it out.