Tag Archives: Maker Ed

Don’t Be Bored. Make Something.

Available on Look What Joey's Making!
Available on Look What Joey’s Making!

No one has ever accused me of being artistic.  And, though some might call me “crafty” I’m pretty sure that they don’t mean it in the complimentary sense.  When it comes to technology, I am comfortable. When it comes to Scratch programming language, I’m all over it.  When it comes to making things from scratch, I’m at a loss.

And yet, I sense the need for many of my students to explore the depths of their creativity.  And I realize that, with our ever-increasing reliance on technology, many crafts are becoming lost arts.  This is why the “Maker Movement” has started to become so popular.  It’s why my students embraced the Global Cardboard Challenge so enthusiastically last year (and I have even bigger plans for this year!).  And, it’s why I decided to offer an online class this summer for my students that is all about being off-line and creating. (5 other awesome teachers are offering courses as well – more about that in a future post!)

Make a Theme Park

Since I am, by no means, an expert at making anything but blog posts, I realized that I would need some help if I was going to pull this off.  So, I enlisted the help of some people who actually know what they are doing.  How did I find them? On Twitter, of course.  Joey Hudy is the famous marshmallow cannon maker – now working at Intel.  Michael Medvinsky is an awesome middle school music teacher who integrates technology and making into his classes on a regular basis.  And Sylvia Todd is the amazing talent behind Sylvia’s Super Awesome Maker Show (and has a book coming out this summer!)

I want to introduce you to the youngest “teacher” of our class this summer.  His name is Braeden.  If you follow @rafranzdavis on Twitter, then you know her nephew, Braeden.  Rafranz is a must-follow for all of the resources and insights about education that she shares.  But, I was immediately captivated by the pictures she would tweet of Braeden’s creations.  You see, Braeden is developing the skill of making puppets.  We’re not talking sock puppets or putting a drawing on a popsicle stick.  We’re talking Henson-type creations.  You can view some of the amazing puppets he has made on his YouTube channel.

Braeden will be giving tips during one of our “Theme Park” weeks on making a mascot.  He will, through Edmodo, respond to questions from the participants and give advice.  At the end of the week, he will choose a “winner” from the individual and family categories. I am so glad he (and his aunt) agreed to help out – especially after I saw the video below.  This young man knows what he is talking about, and will definitely be able to offer a lot more guidance than I could ever hope to contribute.

Braeden obviously receives incredible support from his family, especially his aunt, who all encourage him to continue in his endeavors.  He is well on his way to becoming a professional puppeteer.  And these are obviously not skills he has learned in school.

If you have, in any way, observed the Rainbow Loom craze that has swept the nation, then you know that young people really want to make things.  What’s exciting is when they stop following instructions, and start venturing out on their own.  That is what we, as adults, should galvanize them to do.

So, if you are a teacher or a parent, and you have any influence over someone who is about to have two months of freedom to do just about anything they want to do, be sure to give them this message from Joey Hudy, “Don’t be bored. Make something.”

Here is a link to my “Make” Pinterest Board in case you need some inspiration.

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MaKey MaKey

screen shot from Makey Makey video
screen shot from Makey Makey video

If you want to spend the best $50 ever on a classroom supply or birthday gift, then I would highly recommend Makey Makey – touted as “the invention kit for everyone.”

For today’s Phun Phriday post, I bring to you the most versatile piece of computer hardware that I’ve ever used.  I’ve seen MaKey MaKey demonstrated at several conferences and STEM events, but yesterday was the first time I set one up out of the box.  The good news for anyone who doesn’t think that you are technologically gifted is that setting it up is astoundingly simple.  Don’t be fooled by the complicated looking circuit-board thingy and ten thousand wires.  Seriously.

To get going with MaKey MaKey, hook up the included USB cord to the board, and the other end to your computer.  There are no drivers or software installations.  Hook alligator clips (ato the board and to whatever you want to use to conduct electricity to the board.  When I say, “whatever,” I mean it.  As long as it conducts electricity, you’re good.  Bananas, Play-Do, people, pencil drawings on a piece of paper, and stairs have all been demonstrated on various videos to be good crowd-pleasers.

The MaKey MaKey instructions give you a few websites that you can go to, but you don’t have to use them.  Basically, you can do anything with the board, that you can do with a computer keyboard.  Just attach the alligator clips (and be sure to hold one that’s attached to the “Earth” section) to whatever commands you want to give the computer.  There are different spaces on the MaKey MaKey board for the arrow keys, space bar, etc…  You could even attach a clip (assuming you have that many) to each letter in the alphabet.

Of course, you can type your name with a set of bananas.  But my students were immediately fascinated with the piano on our first try.  I’ve embedded a video below of one of my students using Play-Doh as the piano keys.

I’ve learned with these types of things that the best thing to do is just stand back and let the students explore.  They tend to do the same thing at first, but once they get comfortable the magic happens. That’s when they start getting creative, and popping out crazy ideas that might just work. We just got the MaKey MaKey, so I’m really looking forward to next week when they come back to class after mulling over the possibilities in their heads.

I am very thankful to the parent who donated our Makey Makey, and urge all of you to find a way to get at least one for your classroom.  You might want to invest in some extra alligator clip wires ( I know that’s not what they’re called, but that’s what I call them) so you can hook up as many parts of the MaKey MaKey as you like. The kit comes with 6.

MaKey MaKey was developed by the M.I.T. Media Lab, the same group who created Scratch.  M.I.T. Media Lab is currently running a free online course that I posted about a couple of weeks ago called Learning Creative Learning.  They also currently have a Kickstarter project for Scratch Jr., an iPad app.

MaKey MaKey Links:

MaKey MaKey Website

THE MaKey MaKey Video

21 Everyday Objects You Can Hack, from a Bacon Sandwich to a Pencil to Your Cat

MaKey MaKey Lesson Plan from Educade

You Might Be a Geeky Teacher if You Introduce MaKey MaKey to Your Students

Cubelets Update

Cubelets

Last November, I published a post about an interesting product by Modular Robotics called, “Cubelets.”  It was included in my “Gifts for the Gifted” series, which I try to do every November and December.  (You can find a collection of these here.)

Cubelets are a bit pricey for a birthday gift, but they make a wonderful addition to the classroom.  If you can get a grant for the large set, I highly recommend it.  Even the smaller set is great for a pair of students to use.  You can find a detailed description of how they work on my previous post.  You can also purchase Cubelets separately.  After some experience with them, I would definitely suggest that you order at least one extra Battery Cubelet with any set you purchase.  Every robot you make with the other cubes needs a Battery Cubelet to power it. The best ratio is to have at least 2 Battery Cubelets for every 4 students.  It makes a great center activity or station in a Maker Studio if you cannot afford more than one set.

S.T.E.M. and Maker Spaces are hot topics in schools today.  Cubelets are great for both.  You can combine the cubes in hundreds of ways, and they are fascinating to use for building all types of robots.  I love listening to the invention ideas and problem solving conversations that arise when my students use them.

You can now purchase “Brick Adapters” for your Cubelets that will allow you to use them with Legos.  That’s going to be the next item in my shopping cart!

Modular Robotics is also about to start shipping their new MOSS product this April, 2014.  I backed MOSS on Kickstarter, and can’t wait to get my kit.  There are 4 mobile apps expected to be released soon for this system.  You can learn more about it here.

I got really pumped a couple of days ago when two of my 3rd graders made a drawing robot out of the Cubelets.  It was completely their invention, and we were so excited to watch it work! I’ve embedded the video below.

Sometimes We Just Need to Throw Out the Instructions

Quote from Randy Rodgers
Quote from Randy Rodgers

In his TCEA 2014 presentation, “Failure to Innovate,” Randy Rodgers stated the above quote, and I realized that it really says a lot about the problems in education today.  Our students are far too reliant on following directions, and so many are afraid to deviate in order to do some creative thinking.  I remember my daughter being the same with an old Lite-Brite we had inherited from a friend.  She loved it as long as there were papers she could stick on it to make the designs.  But as soon as we ran out of the papers, she didn’t know what to do.  When I suggested she make up her own designs, she looked at me like I was crazy.  As parents and teachers, we need to find ways to encourage creation, rather than only rewarding products that basically just prove our students know how to follow directions.

Even though I feel this in my heart, I still catch myself squelching innovation sometimes.  In our new Maker Studio, the students have a Little Bits station.  I downloaded task cards from the site that give suggestions for exploring the different parts.  Ten minutes after one group started with the task cards, I walked by the table to find the cards strewn about and various “Little Bits” being connected in the spirit of complete exploration.  I had to bite my logical, sequential tongue to stop from saying, “Wait!  But you didn’t do the task cards in order!  You didn’t even do the task cards!”  One of the few times my students didn’t consult me to find out what they were supposed to be doing, but dove in without fear, and I almost blew it!

If you’re looking for tools for innovation, check out Randy Rogers’ presentation, as well as his website.  He has a great list of all kinds of fabulous resources for those of us looking to bring more creativity into our classrooms.  A couple that I am hoping to add soon are: MakeyMakey and Hummingbird. (Watch the MakeyMakey video that shows bananas being played like a piano, and you’ll be sold, too!)

Whether it’s high-tech or low-tech, try to resist telling your students what to do with everything.  Sure, they need to know how to follow directions in certain situations.  But they also need to know how to lose them.

B.O.S.S. HQ is Now Open for Business

Working on our sign
Working on our sign

 

BOSS HQ

At the beginning of this school year, I found myself working next to an empty classroom.  I thought, “Hey, now we can spread out a bit more during Robotics Club meetings.”

In the meantime, I had been reading about the surge of Maker Spaces in libraries and schools.

I decided to move the gigantic executive desk I had inherited into the empty room to make more space in my classroom.  I thought, “Now that the top of that desk is cleared off, it looks like a great space to spread out a fun art project.”

I kept reading about Maker Spaces.

I’m not exactly sure when the idea hit me – probably in the middle of a Tae Bo workout, the usual time I get inspired.  Finally, I thought, “What if I make that empty room into a Maker Space?”

There’s not really a rule or blueprint for Maker Spaces.  Some are heavy on technology, with 3-D printers and such.  While others seem to lean more toward craft-type making, such as sewing.  The common thread, so to speak, seems to be that they are all designed with the idea that people need an inspirational place to create.  And, now, with so many requirements for what students must know, many feel we should offer them some outlets for their imagination.

When my students participated in the Global Cardboard Challenge near the beginning of the school year, I saw how completely engaged they were in “making.”  I knew I needed to reproduce that experience as often as possible.

Our PTA offers a grant to teachers.  I applied for some money for some materials for our Maker Space: Little Bits, Cubelets, Roominate, Goldiblox, Squishy Circuits, and Play-i.  We have a Green Screen and iPads (hoping to add a tripod and green screen software or app at some point). In addition, I had already bought a 3Doodler with my own money, and we have a proposal for a 3D printer on Donors Choose (not going well, so any donations greatly appreciated!).

My goal is to make this a place for the students – and not just my GT students.  So, in my proposal I suggested that my students would pilot the space this semester.  Next Fall, I will start a “Maker Club.”  And, hopefully, we will open the room for teachers to sign up their classes to visit.

The students voted on the name for the space.  They eventually settled on B.O.S.S. HQ.  That stands for “Building of Super Stuff HeadQuarters”, for those of you who have a hard time translating Elementary GT-speak 😉

This week was our “soft” opening.  We started with the Little Bits center.  I explained to the students that we are piloting this idea, and I’m not sure how it’s going to go.  One of the 3rd graders said, “So, we’re beta testing it?”  We’ve been doing that with some apps lately, and I guess the idea fits!

In my room, students “Level Up” for privileges.  Maker Studio is Level 3.  And not everyone has made it there, yet.  But you can bet there are going to be some fast risers in the next couple of weeks now that they’ve seen what’s in store for them!

By the time I left school today, 2 of my 4th graders had already shared their blog post with me on Google Docs about class today.

It concluded with, “Today in G.T was a good day to show the creative side of yourself.”

That pretty much said it all.

Here are a couple of resources about Maker Spaces if you are interested:  Invent to Learn, Making a MakerspaceMaking a Makerspace (Almost Finished), Maker Education: A Good Trend.  I also have a very new Pinterest Board on the topic.

A student works with the Little Bits kit
A student works with the Little Bits kit

Extreme Creating with K’nex

Ferris Wheel at Night

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 3.36.06 PM

World's Largest K'nex Ferris Wheel - created by Austin Granger
World’s Largest K’nex Ferris Wheel – created by Austin Granger

I decided to make up a new phrase for today’s Phun Phriday post.  (At least I think I made it up.)  To me, “Extreme Creating” is when people take something that is usually used as a toy to pass the time, and devote days, weeks, and even months to making something remarkable with those toys.  The K’nex constructions made by Austin Granger fall into this category.

The ferris wheel pictured above took 12,000 K’nex to build.  You can see more stats when you watch the video on this post from Visual News.  Granger’s most recent project, which took over 100,000 pieces, is also featured on the post.  It’s a Goldberg-ish type machine that resides in The Works Museum in Minnesota.

You can visit Austin Granger’s blog for more pictures and information.  He also has a YouTube channel, Austron, with more videos of his creations. And, here is a great article about the creator, himself.

My 2nd grade GT students are about to embark on their own K’nex journeys using the Bridges kits for our Structures unit.  I think I’ll wait until we finish before I show them how Granger uses K’nex.  It would not surprise me, however, if some of them could take it to this level some day.

Math Monday

Last January, I confessed to being green with envy that New York City was getting a Museum of Mathematics.  My jealousy has slightly abated only because some of the resources are accessible online.  One of those resources is a partnership the museum is doing with Make magazine called, “Math Mondays.”  If you are excited by activities like “The Global Cardboard Challenge” or shows like “Design Squad” and “Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show,” then you may enjoy the integration of math into making that is featured here.  (By the way, I now have a Pinterest Board for “Make” resources here.) Here are a few of the neat projects your students might want to attempt:

Penny Sierpenski Triangle
Penny Sierpinski Triangle
Ball of Cards (template provided)
Ball of Cards (template provided)
Geometry Takes Flight
Geometry Takes Flight
Octahedron in a Balloon
Octahedron in a Balloon – See if your students can figure out how this was done before you show them the answer!