Monday, February 19, 2018

Micro-Credentialing in our Makerspace #MakerEd #BadgeChat

It has been half of the school year and I thought it would be a nice time to reflect on the badging process I have started to implement at the Middle School. These are the big things that stand out to me.

  • While some students started to use the space to "get a badge", the students that were obsessed with the badge and not the act of making rarely followed through. 
Earning a badge is not enough to drive someone to do something they are not truly interested in doing. The fancy sheen of a badge they can place on their device is not the lure that some people feared. Students will not have inflated achievements and forgotten skills because they were obsessed over a sticker. Making is a multi-step process that requires time and energy. While some students might put in some time to earn low level badges, truly mastering different skills takes too much time for those not fully committed. The truly passionate makers stick with it and hang out in the makerspace.
  • Students that just love to make will come in and make whatever they want and then ask if there is a badge for it after the fact. 
I have found that it is tough to keep up with the type of badges I should be creating for the space. So much so, that I stopped. I'm just taking lots of notes. Students are coming in and exploring different tools all the time. It might be littleBits, Makey Makey, 3D design, or just building with cardboard boxes found in the room. The students that want to make are going to make with whatever peaks their interests and that is a GREAT thing! Badges are not the drive for them, the making experience is. The badges are the bonus to learning something and making something awesome. The students like the fact that they can earn something that will recognize the skills they are mastering and do not mind showing it off to their peer and family.
  • The physical badges do bring in new students every so often. 
I hadn't planned on using physical badges as part of my program, but the students asked for them and I was happy to print out stickers they used to adorn their devices. The plus side to this was that other students would see the stickers and ask what they were all about. It was free advertising for the makerspace. I thought that all of the badges would live in a digital world and shared with students in a digital backpack of some kind (work in progress) so it could be shared with parents and others as needed. The power of the physical badge is something that should not be that surprising. Look at Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. They have been using physical badges to represent skills for decades and that extra branding works great for them. There is something to be said for physical badges moving forward. I'm curious to see how this aspect of the badging system will continue to change and grow. 
  • Student schedules make it tough to build consistency in the makerspace which does impact badging. 
The makerspace is new at my school and I am working out the hiccups with the entire staff. Everyone is very supportive and talks around student schedules are something every school should do to find the right balance of core content areas and electives based on student interests. Sports and other activities take time away from the makerspace for some students, so there might be large gaps between visits and that makes retaining knowledge tough to keep progressing in different areas. There is never enough time for everything we want in schools, so this is not something that is going to be solved over night. I wonder if creating a Maker class would help with this issue and students would earn badges instead of grades. Hmmmmmm. 
  • Female students seems more interested in the makerspace overall and have earned more badges because of it. 
The makerspace is regularly filled with young ladies exploring different aspects of making. Some like to put on their headphones and work on their Scratch games and others are working together to build cardboard box homes. There are young men that frequent the space and are making amazing things as well, but the numbers are slanted toward women. This is a great thing for me to see because I wanted to make sure that female students felt the makerspace was a spot for them as much as it is for the guys. It looks like I might need to work harder to have the guys invest their time in the space to see if a balance can be found. 
  • I have to remind myself that this has only been 5 months and there is plenty of time left to try new things with badging. 
I have a three year plan in mind that allows for steady growth of the space and new programs to encourage students to explore making in ways that are meaningful to them. 5th graders have visited the space and they were so excited about the ability to design for the 3D printer and to build in Minecraft and to earn badges. This is exciting to me because a steady flow of new students every year will allow for new ideas to help the makerspace evolve as needed. 
  • I'm excited at what I have been able to do and I can't wait to see what the future holds with badging in the makerspace. 
The badging program is still in its infancy, but it is heading in the right direction. Student feedback will be key as it grows and evolves. 

If you have any experience of rolling out badges for your makerspace, please leave a comment below or email me at

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Making Room for Cardboard #MakerEd

I was working in the Makerspace yesterday and a group of regulars came in to continue to work on an impromptu project. a few 6th graders saw a couple of large empty boxes that were just sitting in my room. They were the boxes for a couple of Inventables Carvey CNC machines. I was excited to receive these new machines because some students expressed an interest in design that went beyond cutting poster board and really wanted to explore what could be possible with different tools.

The Knight's Forge, our Makerspace at University Liggett School, was a messy delight as these students decided to take the big boxes and make houses out of them. They saw boxes and immediately decided to make houses. Here is a shot of the building process,

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Three different students have come together on their own to design and build a box home. I sat back and watched as they problem solved on how to make a roof and then how to make the room have a point to give them head room. They cut out a circular, Hobbit-esque, door into the side of one box and then did a matching one on the other box to connect the two. Everyone did their part and just had fun building. During the build, a student turned to me and said,

"I bet your annoyed that we are using cardboard instead of all of the technology in the room."

My immediate response was that a Makespace is for making anything using whatever you want and that I LOVED that they were just using the cardboard in the room to create something amazing. The tools are available for whatever type of project you want. The student smiled and went back to designing his roof, but I felt bad.

Reflecting is something we should all do, but try to avoid because it can sometimes give us a hard truth that we do not want to face. However, with reflection, we can grow and become better for ourselves and our students.

The Knight's Forge has started to fill up with different types of technology because of a grant I wrote that was supported by CTN and Detroit Public Television. These new tools will offer students and teachers the opportunity to explore project based learning in ways not possible before. Independent student projects will have more options now because of these tools. After reflecting on the student comment, I realized that there needs to be equal conversation about the analog tools that are available to students and teachers in the Makerspace. It is something I believe and have shared before, but it is something I need to be more vocal about in my setting. Just because I know it and think something is obvious, doesn't mean that others do. This is something I know I can do better and will moving forward.

As an inspiration, I generally turn to Colleen Graves and the amazing things she is doing in her library. Here is a short video from Instagram of students creating with cardboard.

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Colleen takes some cardboard, adds a Makey Makey, and the creativity explodes with the students. If you are exploring Makerspaces, it is important to make sure that there is room for great tools to support a wide range of creative interests. Don't forget that cardboard can take students on amazing rides with their imagination.

Students in 6th grade Math are working on their own Scratch based arcade games and some are going to build controllers for their games. Cardboard is a perfect place to start the design fun. Here is my Makey Makey cardboard controller creation.

I hope my misstep and reflection helps others as they look to explore making in their own spaces. Learning is a lifelong adventure and I'm glad I have a place and community to share the ups and downs. Have an amazing day everyone!

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.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Next 10 Words #Next10Words

I had an amazing conversation on Twitter (Click for the thread) about actual change in education and not just cute Twitter quotes. Whenever I see those Twitter cards, I'm always drawn to this clip from the West Wing.

President Bartlet is right. What are the next 10 words? What is the actual plan to make things happen? It will be much more than 10 words and it should be. Real change is nuanced and important ideas need to be discussed. Education is not going to be changed with a cute hashtag and a link to a book. What are the real plans to disrupt education? How are you taking specific actions to make education different and better? As educators engaged in social media, are we doing enough to push back? Are we too polite? Is that why teachers are so easy to push around?

I know I have been guilty of not wanting to start a "thing" on Twitter by pressing certain people for the next 10 words. Heck, there is a very good chance I've been guilty of sharing the first 10 and nobody asked me for the next 10. I try to use my blog as the place for the next 10 + words, but are people devoting the time to explore nuanced issues on blogs anymore? Are teachers too afraid to push themselves and read things they do not agree with because they are afraid to challenge their worldview?

We need the next 10 words right now. I want people to challenge other educators for the next 10 words when you see these passing tweets. If we want to make needed change, we need to embrace the fact that it is going to be hard and that there are going to be disagreements. As long as we can be civil and can push each other to think and grow from these discussions, good things can happen. If we can't do this, we will continue to live in our digital silos listening to the echo of our own ideas and then complaining that nothing ever changes.

I want to encourage people to write a post or share a comment where you want to hear the next 10 words. Better yet, share your next 10 words on an issue. Add the tag #Next10Words and let’s see if people are willing to dive into nuanced conversation to see if we can move forward in our goals to improve education.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Connecting Through Coding #MakerEd

I had the privilege to attend BETT 2018 and I spent my time in the Kano booth connecting with educators and students about using code. It was a tiring, but very exciting time in London and I really gained a nice perspective on what Coding looks like in other countries around the world.

The same.

That is what coding looks like all over. There are teachers that are interested in coding, but are unsure of where to start. There are students that love to Minecraft and work on Scratch. There are expert technology teachers that love to code but have never used Scratch or seen Minecraft in action. It is not like I was expecting things to be so vastly different in other schools around the world, it was just something I never really thought about before.

I've been spending lots of time with 6th graders as they have been building arcade games on Scratch and a fun little interaction took place as I was trying to help a student with their code. I was going through a string of blocks to make a ball bounce and another student walked over and said there was an easier way. He sat down and walked me through the easier way and I learned a couple of things along the way. The student I was trying to help said, "This is so funny. A students is teaching the teacher who is trying to teach me. I love it." I simply responded that we are all lifelong leaners and I will listen to anyone that has something new to teach me. When it comes to code, we can all connect and speak the same language no matter how young, or old we are.

I met some amazing educators from all over and I look forward to connecting with them and seeing how we can engage our students in the process of coding together on teams and creating some very fund and exciting games. I'm not quite ready to tackle this project, but I know it will be something that is going to happen down the line. If you code with other countries, please share it with me and the community on Twitter so we can all check it out.

Here are some pictures of me having a good time in London.

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