Makerspaces Today

Do you think you could convert your classroom to a makerspace today for, say, 30 minutes?  I would bet the toughest thing about the plan would be keeping it at 30 minutes.  Look around your classroom.  Use the recycling.  Do you have #Lego? K’Nex? Wooden blocks?

Making is not always about the technology you have. Sometimes, it is putting the discovery in the hands of your students.  Every curriculum year has many opportunities to replace the learning with some doing.

Learning by doing is where education is headed and most teachers already have put in place some of this type of lesson. Building bridges in grade 3 or classroom chemistry in grade 4 are both examples of some hands-on learning in the classroom.

Are you looking for a successful outcome? Yes, but, keep in mind that the outcome may be the experience and not the artifact.  Building a dream home out of recycling may be quite interpretive and need some talk time with the teacher to explain the vision.

Many students spend their creative time on-line with games like #Minecraft so, in the absence of a whole classroom set of technology, learning can become reality, replacing their virtual reality.


Give it a try! Many maker moments will be what students remember from their classroom time.

Evaluating E-Book Apps for K-12

I’ve been looking at e-book apps for almost a year now and I have to say, evaluating them is an involved process. It is getting easier but e-book content is evolving at the same time.  Here is some advice for evaluating e-book apps for a class set of iPads:

1. Find an e-book that you feel exemplifies what you are looking for. Many evaluators  look at  Bats! Furry Fliers of the Night for a great non-fiction e-book app that exemplifies great augmentation while not being distracting.


2. Strike a balance between the basic book as a hard copy and the enhancements of the e-book app.  Are the add-ons truly enhancing the reader’s experience or distracting from the enjoyment of the book? In this case, you must know your reader or the kinds of readers in your classroom and the amount of interactivity present in the app.  Test out Even Monsters are Shy to see activity, music, and a story. I thought this e-book was mostly balanced but, depending on your readers, it may have too much going on.imgres

3. Are you looking for an e-book app that you can be embedded in your curriculum or are you looking for technology to check off in the :”I am a technology forward teacher” box?  Adding an e-book app is great if it means that the book is an embedded part of your teaching. Many students learn differently and an enhanced e-book app may reach some very visual students.  For example, Water by Edward Burtynsky can be used across many curriculum areas and grades. It is very visual but has interesting information embedded for units on climate change, environmental responsibility, global citizenship and many social studies and science topics.

imgres4. Think about how you choose great books for you classroom library. Most of the same criteria apply to e-book apps.  Do you love the illustrations? Can the story be used to model writing? Is it interesting enough for students to go back to again and again.? I would be extra careful with e-book apps. I would experiment with many and read reviews but the ones that you feel are keepers for your classroom may differ from what the critics say.  Can you see yourself recommending an e-book app over and over to different students? Then it is a winner. Do you need one copy or a series of copies on ipads throughout your classroom? That is more expensive and may need to be refreshed from year to year.

5. Have fun! Experiment! Download apps for a panel of students to try.  They are so experienced with technology, you will find out pretty quickly which e-book apps are engaging and which ones are not. And like a hard copy book, an e-book app has a lifespan within your classroom and can be deleted when students are no longer using it. There is no shortage of new apps appearing each day.

LEGO Mindstorms Robots

LEGO Mindstorms robot kits were the focus of the workshop last evening.  Although our robots had already been constructed by another class, we enjoyed the programming aspect of the kits.images

The programming software that accompanies the robots is fairly straight forward, especially if you have been experimenting with Scratch Jr. or any of the other beginning programming apps that I recently suggested.  The touch sensor and colour senor gave us an idea of how we could program directions for the robot in case of hitting a wall or following a path on a mat.

Our instructor had patience to allow us to experiment with changing many of the programming variables and testing out the results.

I am convinced that these robots, although costly, would be a great addition to any middle or high school setting.  As students watch the immediate effects of their programming changes, they are learning programming logic and design.

I will also learn how to build the robots and send them on various tasks to develop an idea of how far the robots and their programming goes but for now, it looks like they are a great investment. It was totally engaging and hands-on. I was absorbed by the learning and never looked at the clock.

I can imagine the excitement in a grade 5 or 6 class when these kits are introduced. It would be hard to concentrate on anything else.  I would suggest setting aside time each day to work on the building and equipping of the robots before the programming ever starts and having LEGO mentors from among your class to help facilitate those who are less familiar with the steps to build LEGO.

The kits offered amazing engagement for all of us.

Is Every Student a Maker?

As with every “new” education buzzword, “making” is becoming an appealing idea for educators to gather around.  If you have spent any time at all in the education community, you know that ideas like “making” have their 15 minutes of fame and then move out of the limelight for a newer theory.

Making, though not necessarily in Makerspaces, has been around for many years under the clunkier title, “constructionist learning.”  In many classrooms, educators gravitated toward this type of teaching and learning to engage learners who were difficult  to reach otherwise.

In my opinion, making is here to stay.  It will become a natural part of the school library or, hopefully, even the classroom to engage students.  Making will become another tool for educators to use to engage learners, much the way they now introduce learning in a variety of ways to reach out to many learning styles.

With the unprecedented access to information that students have, educators must move forward from knowledge holders and presenters to information mentors.  Students can freely access the information necessary for most of their learning. Educators will guide students to use this information to build curriculum foundations as well as lifelong learning skills supporting curiosity and imagination.

The notion of creating STEM learners from making is a natural conclusion.  Most STEM learners are innovative and engaged in some hands-on activity.  Once all students are exposed to a maker environment, many more will follow their learning into experimentation and design.  In this way, educators will give wings to students’ curiosity.

Are all students makers? Yes.  All students have the capacity to take knowledge from most environments.  Each student should not be expected to create an innovative, never-before-seen artifact but to acquire skills and knowledge that moves their learning forward and tempts their curiosity. If a student willingly makes the makerspace a comfortable place to investigate and experiment, then, yes, all students will be makers.

Osmo for Ipad

Osmo is a set of interactive games to add to your iPad.  With the use of the camera installed in the iPad, a stand, and a small mirror device, an iPad becomes a reflective surface for 3 free Osmo apps.

With a Canadian retail price of $100, it would be a great addition for school age children who spend time with an iPad anyway.

Tangram works with the shapes that come with the Osmo kit to help children build various tangrams.  A child works through levels to achieve dexterity choosing shapes to match the image on the screen.  Need a clue, Tangram shows hands placing the shapes to help you along. imgres

Words is the app that works alongside the letters contained in the Osmo kit.  From a series of photographs, a child must spell the word implied by the picture.  Not as easy as it sounds sometimes.  Challenging and interesting.

Newton is the third app in the Osmo series and the most engaging in my opinion.  Set a blank piece of paper in front of the on-screen Newton app and look for the target.  Draw on the paper the lines you plan to direct the balls to hit the target.  It was very fun to find out what works and what doesn’t.

I just noticed a fourth app associated with Osmo called Masterpiece.  It was released today so I will review it soon.  This relatively small kit has some growth potential.  A stand and reflector that is easy to set up and many activities to challenge any child from ages 5 to 11.  I’m predicting as more apps appear on the scene, the age range will also grow.  Masterpiece is a drawing app that may have greater appeal to students up to 15.

Look for more innovations from this creative team of inventors.


Programming Apps for Elementary School

Along with the literature promoting hands-on learning in a makerspace, there is a movement afoot to have kids understand programming.  It makes sense that if students are going to use Arduinos, Raspberry Pi microcomputers, and other programs for designing and inventing, then learning “coding” logic would be a extension of maker learning.

Coding also feeds into STEM as an additional way for students to augment their technology learning.

Daisy the Dinosaur is a good place to start. Although it is rated at ages 4 and up, a 4 year old would have to be a good reader.  Words like “repeat 5” and “shrink” would take a few minutes to distinguish from each other. It is a “drag and drop” app so controlling Daisy quickly becomes a game. Daisy is a free app.

Tynker is riding the coding wave as well with an app for the ages 9 to 11 crowd.  After solving some coding puzzles, a player can move on to building games.  Although the initial download is free, there are many in-app purchases to enhance programming of games in various themed virtual scenarios. Not limited to the 9-11 crowd, I found this app challenging and less intuitive than Daisy the Dinosaur.

ScratchJr, aimed at the ages 6 to 8 crowd seems to encompass my coding age.  This app is free and, for my coding ability, taught me more about programming than any of the others.  I could work through the various challenges with programming directives that appear like puzzle pieces. Although complex in results, it was the most intuitive to use.

In addimgresition to the app for ScratchJr and the website, books like Learn to Program with Scratch are beginning to hit our library shelves. For a beginner like me, this book gives me tips to go on using the program to challenge my coding ability.

Hour to Code and other initiatives may be a way to introduce coding into your classroom or school in a small way to see how it catches on.   Your students are already playing games, why not get a little learning in with the play. Coding apps may be an engaging way to start learning about programming.

Connections to Education

The discussion about Arduinos, innovation, and changes in business was not, seemingly, education related.  As is sometimes the case, what is intrinsically connected in my mind, may not be apparent to others.

Dealing with real world solutions through authentic learning is the connection that can be made from The Maker Movement Manifesto to education.  If we are teaching students to go through the process of idea, design, making, re-design, and eventual invention, we must offer them opportunities to work through real life problems with credible solutions. The Maker Movement Manifesto cited many success stories where business’ R&D costs were a fraction of what they would have been 15 years ago. Now, we must prepare students for this new world of innovation.

Arduinos would be a great addition to a high school or even middle school makerspace where those born to be programmers would be challenged to invent with micro-controllers. Their knowledge would also make them an integral part of the maker community, teaching programming to other makers.

Engageimgresment in all levels of education is a desirable outcome of curriculum.   Educational spaces that contain inventories of materials used to create real world solutions to issues that students identify themselves would generate engagement at all levels.

Completing the Circuit – Arduinos and Making

I recently attended an Arduino workshop to get introduced to this micro-controller that is all the buzz in making circles.  At the same time, I have been working my way through the book, “The Maker Movement Manifesto” by Mark Hatch.

In order to understand how innovative the Arduino and other micro-controllers or Raspberry Pi and other mini-computers are within a makerspace, we must also understand the evolution of inventions in the last, say, twenty-five years.

Mark Hatch traces the changes in research and development within industries that rely on parts invention and manufacturing as innovation. Now, inventors can join a makerspace in their local area and design and work through the creation of a part or machine to change how their business is done.  The price of research and development of these parts has dropped considerably in light of the work being in the hands of individuals and not within companies. Now, this is a very simplified view of the total picture of current changes within some companies but it shows a trend towards making as a hobby with the potential of making a difference in industry.

Enter the Arduino.  This small micro-controller has capacity to allow programming and experimentation beyond most expectations. Reviews and comparisons often mention that the truimagese value is in the accompanying manual.  The manual leads a beginner through the most basic projects with circuit wiring and programming information.  I am proof that you can learn the basic information in a couple of hours with some guidance.

Read some reviews.  Look at some kits.  Follow up considering the projects you have in mind.  Take the plunge.  An Arduino Starter Kit retails for under $100.