Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Assessing Making #MakerEd #MakerMentality

The other day, I was doing a webinar for littleBits and I was asked a question I often receive when talking about Makerspaces.

"How do you assess the making that happens in a Makerspace?" This question and slight variations often come up because we are a system that can only understand something if it is assessed. For somethings, I understand the need to assess skills to see improvement. Assessing writing skills and reading skills can help a teacher better support a student in their class. If someone wanted, they could create assessments for soldering, wiring, coding, etc. Every aspect of a Makerspaace could be dissected and assessments can be created. However, that is the antithesis of making.

A Makerspace is another tool that students and teachers can use to accomplish different tasks. Project Based Learning and Makerspaces go so well together because the assessment in PBL is whether or not students demonstrated understanding of the topics assigned. They can do that through so many different parts of a Makerspace. The assessment given by teachers should not be about how well they used an LED or Raspberry Pi, it should focus on how well the students were able to demonstrate understanding.

Badging systems are in place in many spaces and we are looking to expand our badging system this year, but badges are in recognition of student skills, not an assessment. I know this might be semantics, but it is about the mentality of the makers that makes the semantics work. The benchmarks to earn a badge are there for students as they learn different skills. It is not something imposed on them with strict timelines. Students demonstrate their skills when they feel they have mastered them and they receive a badge to recognize that learned skill. No fear of failure or lowering of the GPA. They are learning because they want to learn.

If your focus is on how to assess making in a makerspace, you have lost what it is that makes a makerspace so special. It is supposed to be a place where anyone can come and explore design and creation without the fear of judgement. The minute you start putting assessment around making, you strip it of the purity of learning for learning's sake. With so many things assessed and measured, let's keep the makerspace free of archaic measurements and let people make in peace.

If you want to learn more about creating a specific culture around your makerspace, consider picking up The Maker Mentality to help make that transition happen. If you need to focus on building the space, then Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces is what you need. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Hacking And Making Are Best Friends! #MakerEd

One of the things that I love about Making is taking something older and doing something different with it or altering it in some way. I've done this in many different ways over the past few years. One that stands out is turning this old rotary phone into an Airplay device with a Raspberry Pi.

It was a fun projects that really tested my design skills and my soldering skills as well. It was one of my first big projects using Raspberry Pi that was not just recreating something someone else had designed and made.

I was thinking about doing something kind of fun and retro with an old Nintendo cartridge and came up with something pretty fun. I was able to take apart The Adventures of Zelda and place a Raspberry Pi Zero W inside of it.

A post shared by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on

For those interested, here are the steps.

1. Unscrew the back of the cartridge.
2. Remove the hardware on the inside of the cartridge.
3. On the piece that is the back, there is a little plastic lip near the bottom of the cartridge. You need to clip this away so the ports of the Raspberry Pi Zero W will fit.
4. Secure the Raspberry Pi Zero W in place. I used hot glue in the corners. It needs to be secure so it does not shift when you plug into the device.
5. Attach the HDMI mini adapter, a micro USB dongle, and the micro USB power cord. Make sure the cords you are using fit nicely when the lid is placed on. You can easily check this without screwing the cartridge together.
6. Place your micro SD card in the Pi with the image you would like.
7. Screw it all together and you are ready to go.

It was fun taking something from an idea and getting to work on it in my makerspace at home. I encountered some problems and was worried it would not come together, but it all worked out in the end.

These are one of the types of projects I will be encouraging students to explore in the school makerspace. Hacking something to change it in a way that allows it to be used differently is part of the Maker Mentality and it is a wonderful exercise in creative problem solving and design thinking. How have you hacked different projects in your home/school? I'd love to see them and share them around. Tweet me (@TheNerdyTeacher) and use the hashtag #MakerMentality and we can all share in the hacking fun.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

I Love @Airtame in the Makerspace

I was able to setup my new Airtame in the Makerspace today and play around. I can't wait to get students in the space because Airtame is perfect for the design room of our Makerspace.

Part of the renovation of our expanded Makerspace was to have a specific space for design. I wanted to get to dry erase tables and dry erase boards all over the room so students can sketch out ideas and collaborate as needed. I have had a Smartboard 6065 floating around the Middle School filling many different roles. It is an awesome devices that I think would have a perfect role in the design room. The only issue I had is the fact that students would need to constant plug in and unplug their devices to use it. That type of wear and tear can cause issues for any device. I wanted a streaming device that would be easy to manage and allow for students and teachers to quickly connect, share, and disconnect. That is where Airtame comes in.

We are a BYOD school, so it is important to have something that is device neutral. With Chromebooks, iPads, iOS, Windows, and Android coming into the space, I needed something quick and easy for any student to use. There are three steps to follow out of the box to set it up and you are ready to go. I chose a screen shot of our school website as the background, but you could also choose any website you want or any photo you want to be the background of the main page. It is this page that students and teachers will see on the board when they turn it on. They can just go to the app, connect, enter the pin that appears on the screen, and share what they have.

Another aspect of Airtame this is really cool is the web based backend. By creating an account, you can manage your Airtame from anywhere you have access to the internet. If you were to deploy multiple Airtames in your school, you could manage allow of them from the web browser. 

If you want to use your Airtame to run the monitor in the lobby of your school or in the hallway, you can connect with Google Slides and have a presentation just rotate through the slides. Again, this can all be done wirelessly. The administrator can log in and make any changes they want from the website. No freemium hidden costs or upcharges either. Once you buy the Airtame, you have access to all of the features to get your screen doing exactly what you want it to do. 

I'm already looking to purchase a few more for the Middle School and place them in high trafficked areas so I can help manage the different monitors and make sure the right information is being shared on the right monitor. 

As for the Design Space of the Knight's Forge Makerspace, I am excited to see students and teachers quickly log in and share their designs and ideas with their group as they begin the maker process. 

If you are looking for a solid long-term solution to your screen issues, you have to look into Airtame. It is exactly what I needed in my space and I think it will be the perfect solution for your space as well.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Applied Robotics for Middle School from @WonderWorkshop #MakerEd

I've seen my students play with Dash and Dot as well as the Cue from Wonder Workshop over the past school year. They had so much fun working with the Sketch Kit and learning to code to create art. They loved it so much, they featured it on their new YouTube Channel, The Knight's Forge Maker Show.

My son Leo, was a huge fan of the CUE when I introduced it to him a couple of weeks ago. He could not put the iPad down and just loved making the robot move around the kitchen floor. When I asked him what he thought of it, he said, "This is the coolest robot I have ever seen!" That is a pretty awesome endorsement from The Nerdy Teacher's son. At age 7, he was easily able to navigate the Blockly coding and follow the tutorials on the app to test out all of the sensors and move CUE around. Seeing him so engaged and work on his reading skills as he read the prompts was just an awesome sight. 

I have always been a fan of using robotics as a way to connect students with coding. It gives the students something tangible to work with as they code. Seeing a robot move, sense, or say something because you coded it is something amazing. Just having reactions on a monitor based on the code you wrote can become tiresome over time. That is where the CUE takes coding and computer science in general to the next level. An awesome product and an easy to use app was not enough for Wonder Workshop. They have taken it to the next level by introducing a Middle School Applied Robotics Curriculum

There is a myth that teachers need to be computer programmers to bring coding into their classroom. The idea of considering coding as part of your class could be scary if you have never coded before. Wonder Workshop helps take that fear away by creating a curriculum that can be implemented by any teacher with any skill level in coding. 

Another aspect of the curriculum they have created focuses on the Design Thinking Process. This is so awesome because the curriculum is not just about making a robot move around on the floor, it is about the full design process from start to finish to get students thinking about solving problems with creative solutions. Going through the Design Thinking Process for Applied Robotics lessons will help students in all other content areas as well. 

Wonder Workshop Design Thinking Poster

Unit 1, which is available right now, is about Creative Writing! The ELA teacher in me freaked out when I saw this. Yes, robotics can have a home in the ELA classroom! What a wonderful way to engage students in the writing process. I would have lost my mind if I was able to code robots in my English class growing up. I would have spent hours writing the best story in the world to have my robots do what I wanted. The first unit connects with Geometry and helps students connect with the basics of coding in Blockly and Javascript. It is a wonderful way to introduce the idea of robotics and what coding is capable of doing with a robot.

The full curriculum guide has a rubric, guided lessons, worksheets (Not the busy work kind, the type that allows students to brainstorm, create, iterate, etc), glossary, and everything a teacher would need to implement this into their classroom. I think another part that is worth noting is that the curriculum does not have to be plugged in all at once right away. It can be slid in gradually as your schedule allows. 

Not to rest on their awesome creation, Unit 2 Game Design is coming out in October and Unit 3 Innovation is due out in December. This spacing is perfect for the teachers looking to implement these units in the classroom, but need the time to do it as they become more familiar with coding themselves. 

If you have been on the fence on whether or not invest in a Cue or Dash and Dot for your classroom, I hope you seriously look at the Applied Robotics Curriculum created by Wonder Workshop as a way to engage students and help them learn about the Design Thinking Process. I know this will have a spot in our school this coming school year.