Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Learning Math in the Makerspace #MathChat #MakerEd

Over the past few weeks, the 6th grade students have been working on building their own arcade games using Scratch. The origin of the lesson was helping students understand x and y coordinates. It was a very fun and creative lesson that the students have enjoyed very much. Kudos to Mrs. Montagne and Mr. Medvinsky for a wonderful plan.

As part of this lesson, there is an extension opportunity for students to build their own controller for their arcade game. For this, students would be able to use Makey Makey and other materials to create their own personalized controller for their arcade game that will debut during Student Led Conferences in March. The students were pumped and the Makerspace was about to get busy!

I knew that students were going to want to dive into design and use the tools available in the Makerspace. Through a grant from DPTV and CTN, I have been able to outfit The Knight's Forge at University Liggett School with some great new tools. I have an Inventables Carvey CNC machine and a Full Spectrum Laser Muse. I've been setting these up and trying to get a good understanding of the software and design process of using these tools so I can better help students who have asked to use these tools in the Upper and Middle School. I figured building my own controller for a Scratch game is the perfect opportunity to use these new tools!

I started with some basic paper design and figured I wanted my controller to be 5" by 2" and drew that on some paper. I traced it in thick black marker so I could upload the design to Easel, the Carvey software, so I can match the lines for the cuts I wanted to make. After adding my cardboard and running the CNC, I had the rough cut of my controller ready to roll.

Next, I took a blank sheet of paper over the template I created and marked out the cracked design look I wanted. From there, I uploaded that image to the Muse software and traced what I did there. After placing the cardboard in the Muse, I placed the cracked design over the top of the cardboard image on my screen provided by the onboard camera, set the Muse Raster for 35% speed and 100% power and the machine whirred into action. After 17 minutes, I had a beautifully scarred piece of cardboard that will become my controller.

I added some brass brads for the buttons, ran some copper tape for the ground, wired up the Makey Makey, and taped everything down to create my own video game controller. Here are some images from my Instagram account that show the various steps.


After completing the construction, I needed to test it out. I jumped into Scratch and started putting together some simple directional blocks and a space bar action item to see if it worked. I then had a moment where I could not figure out how to make my character move backwards. Whatever the reason, my brain was blank. Luckily, I remembered the lesson from Mrs. Montagne's class that covered the X and Y coordinates on the plane and remembered I needed a negative number to move back and a negative number to move down. I had created a controller that now worked in the digital world.

Some people would say that everything I did could have been done with scissors and a marker. A CNC machine and laser cutter were excessive in creating this controller. I agree that this all could have been done without those tools and I think people should create controllers of their own using whatever tools they have around them, but I used those tools because I wanted to learn about how to use them as part of the design process so I could get a feel for them. While not needed for this specific project, I will have a stronger understanding of how to use them when they are a crucial part of a project. For example, I have been asked to carve our props for the upcoming play. Doing that is easier now because of this process.

At the end of the day, I had a project I could show the students, explain the process of getting it together, and explaining the tools I used to accomplish it, and even demonstrate how I was able to apply the Math concept covered in class to a real life situation. The students now can see how those new tools can be used and it will spark design ideas for them. Making and Makerspaces should be about inspiring creativity in people and showing them that amazing things can be accomplished if they are open to new possibilities. I look forward to seeing the fun and different takes on controllers the students are considering for their projects.