Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Knight's Forge Maker Show featuring @3Doodler

Students have published a new video on their YouTube channel, The Knight's Forge Maker Show. These students spent time with the 3Doodler pens for a couple of week and share their thoughts on using them in the makerspace.

From the teacher's perspective, I really like these pens and the entire Edu kit. It comes with example projects and lessons for teachers to explore with their students. A 3D pen can seem a bit crazy to use at first because it does not seem like an easy tool to use. However, my 6th graders were able to pick up the pens, load the filament, and get creating in no time. How easy a tool is to use out of the box is a big deal to me when it comes to finding the right tools for the makerspace and the 3Doodler was super easy for the students to use.

One of the ways that a 3Doodler can be used that the students did not touch on is to fix 3D printed objects that might have broken. Think of it as PLA solder for 3D printed objects. It is a fun lifehack for a makerspace. Check out the 3Doodler site for more examples of projects and the different start packs you might want to explore for your space or home. 

Making With Purpose #MakerEd

Last week, I published a post on Maker Fatigue. I felt like I was in the spot where I couldn't think of anything to make. It was frustrating because I have spent so much time working with students and their projects, I had the motivation /want to Make, but no ideas.

As I reflected more on the feelings, I decided to take the time and clean up my workspace at home. My space has been dormant the past few months because I have been so busy at school and it looked a bit sad. Cleaning up the space was very helpful because a my organized space can sometimes help me see things more clearly. Is that weird?

During the cleaning, I came across a mini thermal printer I bought over a year ago for a long forgotten project. All of a sudden, something just clicked in my brain. I should make a Raspberry Pi powered camera that prints the pictures on the thermal paper. I got all excited and started researching how this would be possible. Not surprisingly, there were some great examples out there already and they will be perfect to help guide my creation. I had a purpose and I was ready to get started. When it comes to Making in school, are we giving students a sense of purpose with their making?

When students are given a chance to make, are they just thrown in a space and told to make something? That would be frustrating for someone who just doesn't have a sense of purpose for their creation. You spin your wheels and get frustrated because you want to make something, but nothing seems to drive you. How much time is given to students to find a purpose or how much time is spent helping students explore what that means? I felt this way about coding as well. Just sitting and writing lines of code for a game is not going to truly inspire someone to become a coder. Learning to code to make a project that you want is purpose driven learning. When I coded my first lines of code, it is because I wanted to make that LED turn on when I pressed a button. I knew if I learned that, I could make a button do whatever I want. That was my purpose, my drive.

As I think about our makerspace next year, I need to make sure that there is something in place to help students with finding purpose in their making. It could be as simple as wanting to make something beautiful with paints to want to code their first robot. Not matter what the purpose is, as teachers, we need to make sure we help the students find it or recognize it as a driving force in their making.

I'm not sure what my thermal printer/Pi creation is going to look like,  but I'm excited to see what I will learn along the way, and that is my purpose.

(Editor's Note: If you are reading this and are thinking of the movie, The Jerk, you are not alone.)

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Maker Fatigue? #MakerEd

This has been an amazing year for me as a Maker Educator. I've worked with students and staff to create a new makerspace at my new job and have worked hard on plans to expand the space three fold next year. Project Based Learning and Making have taken hold in some classes and expanded in others. I have had the joy of working with so many different students and teachers on creating amazing projects and lessons to showcase understanding and engage students. I sit at home on this holiday weekend proud of what I have accomplished, but exhausted.

I was hoping to dive into some making this weekend. I have tossed around some ideas, but nothing seems to be sticking for me. I look around my workroom and all of my tools lay dormant, almost mocking me. I have been so hyper focused on helping everyone at school, I feel like I have lost the creative oomph that I have that sparks my maker impulses. Is it possible to have Maker Fatigue?

I'm not tired of making, I feel like I'm missing the creative flicker that drives my creating. Is it possible I am dealing with more of a Maker's Block and not a Maker Fatigue? I want to dive into some fun Raspberry Pi project and there are some sweet projects on Adafruit right now, but I can't seem to find the drive to do them.

I can see this a huge metaphor for student engagement. If I don't WANT to make something, I do not have the drive or passion to do so. The same is true for students. The ones I have worked with that were excited about their projects were in the space all the time and could not wait to iterate the next version. Those that were just completing a project had a hard time following through on their work or always placed it on the back burner. Maybe the same is true for me?

I wonder how many makers our there have dealt with this type of fatigue or block? Is this something you are not supposed to admit? Does this make me a "bad" or "flawed" maker? I'm not sure of the answers to this, but it can be frustrating to want to make, but don't seem to have anything that appeals to you.

If you have been here, I'd love to hear how you dealt with this.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The #KnightsForge Maker Show Checks Out @MakeDo #MakerEd

Students from the Knight's Forge Maker Show explored Makedo and how it can be used to create amazing things with cardboard. Check out their latest video on Makedo in the Makerspace.

I'm a huge fan of Makedo and think it is perfect for any classroom and makerspace. Cardboard is all around us and duct tape can be so expensive and wasteful. Makedo's reusable screws make it possible for students to prototype and then reuse the screws as needed. The full toolkit is phenomenal and in constant use in the space. Students can use the cardboard saws to trim their pieces to the size they need and then just use the screwdriver to connect the cardboard pieces with the screws. The 6th graders think they are perfect for their cardboard fort and are planning some large construction down the line. If you want your own set, check out Demco for all of the different packages from Makedo.  

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The #KnightsForge Maker Show Shows of SAM Labs

The third episode of the Knight's Forge Maker Show is up. In this episode, Gabby shares her thoughts on building a car with the SAM Labs Alpha Kit we have in the Knight's Forge.

From my perspective, I love having the SAM Labs Kits in the space because it gives students a chance to connect their creations and control them from their device in a very easy process. Each part of the SAM Labs Kit needs to be charged, so it is important that they get a full charge every few days because kids enjoy using them and I'd hate to have drained parts of the kit. The pieces are easy to connect and the design is simple to build things around. A simple square is easy to work around if building a cardboard housing or designing something on the 3D printer.

Check out the video and please feel free to share, comment, and follow to support the students as they explore the Makerspace and build fun things.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Playful Ways to Help Students Transition from Tablets to Laptops

Today’s students grow up with smartphones and tablets in their hands. By the time they get to school, they’re comfortable using these devices on a daily basis, so it makes sense to meet them where they are and use touchscreen computers in the classroom, too. In a blog post called 10 Benefits of Tablets in the Classroom, Scott Winstead celebrates the advantages of tablets, but also points out some of their limitations, especially for older elementary school students.

As he writes: “Tablets do not support multitasking, so several files or windows might be a challenge to lesson integrity….Not to mention the trivial fact that tablets run on batteries, and batteries tend to run out of charge at the least appropriate moment.” He also mentions the non-trivial fact that tablets can be more expensive than Chromebooks.

To give their students the best of both worlds, many schools provide tablets for their youngest learners and Chromebooks for the older ones. This progression of devices is logical: many states require older elementary-age students to use devices with keyboards for assessments. Also, according to at least a couple of studies, when used properly, laptops can have a positive effect on students’ attention and learning.

Making the Leap to the Laptop

The tricky part is the transition from one device to another. Using a finger to touch an icon is very different than typing on a full-sized keyboard.  It was crazy watching Leo encounter a full computer for the first time because he just assumed the screen was a touchscreen. He looked at the keyboard as if he recognized it from the iPad, but thought it was weird that it just wasn’t on the computer. I started working with him on using a mouse and keyboard in Kindergarten because the state tests he had to take are online and he needed to be comfortable navigating a computer using a mouse and keyboard. I can be annoyed all I want that students in Kindergarten are taking these tests, but I still need to prepare him so he doesn’t get frustrated and anxious about the test. It is not a tough task to start exposing young children to typing. It can actually be fun AND educational.

One way to help kids make the leap is to have them use their touchscreen skills to gradually learn the layout of the keyboard. Games like the ones from TypeTastic, which can be played with a mouse or with a single finger, teach kids as young as kindergarten to recognize letters and remember their positions on the keyboard. With a cast of characters that features brightly colored frogs and bugs and cupcakes, games like these fall firmly into the category of “teaching through fun.”

Moving from one device to another can be a challenge for both students and teachers, but with a little playful planning, it can go smoothly.

This is a sponsored post, but that doesn't mean I don't believe that students need to start exploring typing at a young age so they can be comfortable exploring the digital world as they go through life.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

ELA + PBL + Makerspace = Awesomeness!

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to cover a 7th grade English class for the week and I was allowed to do any mini unit I wanted. I decided I would dive into symbolism using one of my favorite short stories, "The Yellow Wallpaper". It is a wonderful gothic story that symbolizes the oppression of women in society in the early 1900s. It is a short enough story that it can be read or listened to in a single class period and the next couple of days can be used to dive into the details that make it a powerful story.

As a class, we read the story, discussed theme, and annotated looking for symbolism. All of the traditional aspects of an English Language Arts class was there, but instead of a multiple choice test at the end, students used time in the Makerspace and at home to create something to share with the class. These artifacts are tangible representations of their understanding of the material. As a teacher, that is what I'm looking for in any unit I present to students. Here are some of the student examples that have been submitted.

Here is a bed designed by a student, cut out of baltic birch on the laser cutter, and the student used their sewing skills to create the mattress, blanket, and the pillows. 

A perfectly measured house cut out of baltic birch and assembled using hot glue. The little "Life" character is the lady from the story. 

The bars were designed and then cut from baltic birch using the laser cutter to create prison bars. The yellow hands represent the narrator trying to break free from her room and society. 

A board game designed and etched on baltic birch using the laser cutter shows the complex path the narrator would have to achieve freedom. 

The scene of freedom within sight, but unattainable due to the bars of society. 

A depiction of the narrator in a dress that resembles the wallpaper she hates so much shows that she is becoming something she hates. 

These are just a few of the examples that students have submitted and there will be more in the coming days. The students all wrote a brief 8 sentence paragraph explaining their artifact and how it was connected to the story. The students really enjoyed the freedom to explore and create something different. The teacher I was covering for really liked the lesson and artifacts created by the students and we are going to collaborate on some fun lessons in the future.

Overall, this lesson shows what is possible for students in ELA classes if given the chance to explore project based learning with the support of a maakerspace. Some students chose to create with the laser cutter and others took colored pencil to paper. The projects were meaningful to the students and demonstrated their understanding of the story and what it meant in the big picture by deciphering symbols and connecting them to the theme. As an ELA teacher, what more could you want?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Are You Grading Understanding or Artistic Ability? #PBL

Last week, I was teaching a 7th grade Language Arts Class. I was covering for a teacher gone on the 6th grade camping trip, so I was given the freedom to do whatever I wanted with the students. I took this as an opportunity to introduce the students to different tools of the makerspace after reading and discussing one of my favorite short stories, "The Yellow Wallpaper".

The purpose of the project was to create an artifact that they viewed as an important symbol found in the story. They would then write one paragraph describing the importance of the symbol to the story as a whole. I told students the could draw or design whatever they wanted. I could see some students' faces at the thought of having to design something, then I told them the one thing that changed everything for them, "You are not being graded on your artistic ability. Only on your ability to convey the symbol to the best of your ability through the creation of the artifact and the paragraph explaining it." Faces brightened up when I said this and they hurried away to start thinking of designs. I wasn't always like this, my rubrics used to grade artistic talent more than the understanding of content. 

I can look back now and see how rubrics I had created that inflated the value of "neatness" or "drawing images to match the poem" and other art based guidelines really students in terms of grades and motivation. If you viewed yourself as a "terrible drawer" would you get excited for a project that required you to draw? It wasn't until I took the time to review all of my lessons and assessments and asked a simple question, "What is it I want to know from the student?"

That question is the guiding force behind the assessment. If I want to know if they understand what the power behind the symbol of the bed in the story, should I care about the fact that the bed looks uneven and disproportionate? Should it matter that the colors clash? Should I mark them down for ever so slightly coloring outside the lines? Or do I focus on the fact that she was able to identify the symbol, talk about, and write about? Too many times, I gave students more of an art assignment than a Literature assignment. That hurt students and I feel terrible about it. 

As a way to improve my practice, I moved away from the projects that detailed every aspect the students needed to create (The Recipe Project), and allowed students to explore projects that were meaningful to them and would still allow me to assess what I needed for that lesson. 

Do not be swayed by the glitter glue. Assessments need to be about understanding, not flair. 

Here is an example of the bed a student designed for their project. They will be creating the rest of the best this week.