Campus Collisions-Beakerhead


How much fun can a banana-piano be?  Well if you are in the right place with the right people – it can be amazing.

The TFDL (Taylor Family Digital Library) on the campus of the University of Calgary hosted “Campus Collisions” as part of the 2017 edition of Beakerhead.  It was suggested I join in the fun with a table in the front foyer of the main library.  And join in the fun I did!

First, the banana piano with the help of the Makey-Makey kit, attracted many, many students who were, clearly, trying to get from one place to another through the foyer.  The same as it is an attraction for K-12 students, the visual presentation of having a dozen bananas attached by alligator clips to a Makey-Makey in turn hooked up to a MacBook was irresistible for most passersby.

There were people waiting patiently for their chance to play the banana piano.  It was wonderful to see the reaction of students of all ages.  Many had me SnapChat a video for them to send to friends.  “Look what I did at university today!”


I also introduced many students to the blue-tooth enabled robot, Sphero 2.0   that rolled on the floor, controlled by various people using my ipad.

Just goes to show, science can be fun and interactive.  One student went away and came back later to tell me that he had figured out that the bananas were not really the most important part of the banana-piano.

Pull out some fun makerspace activities and have students experience and talk about the magic.  Look for great Beakerhead events around Calgary.


Okay, friends, I have been away from you all summer.  However, that does not mean I have been idle.  On the contrary, so many things have been happening that this seems like the busiest summer on record.


I’m only here for a very short time to offer you one good resource recommended by a friend of mine who is queen of the whole school schedule.  We are recommending for scheduling classes and effective planning of your year, just a month or, perhaps, your whole life.

This website can be customized in so many ways including a 5 or 6 or 7 day schedule.  Use it to partner plan or to plan your own classes.

For the pre-service teachers, get started planning for yourself and others.  Do you know the unit plan you are working of for your practicum?  Start with just that schedule and build a timetable that captures topics, lessons, outcomes and assessment.

Stay tuned for a fun filled year with various educational technologies including Adafruit Flora, more adventures in Arduino, Ozobots, and Bloxels.  I’ll be learning how to have fun coding with Dash and Dot, two robots aimed at the elementary grades.

Learn about all sorts of educational technologies, games and low tech makerspace ideas to use for planning great adventures in the classroom.

New Maker Resources

After all that Design Thinking work, making seems to be an easy topic to go back and look at.  Two new series are interesting for teachers who have a bit of money in invest in some great resources.

The first series, Be A Maker! Maker Projects for Kids Who Love … (Games, Animation, Robotics, Graphic Design, Music) by various authors feature complete analysis of the area in the title.  For example Maker Projects for Kids Who Love Games gives a brief overview of a few skills, like collaboration, that you will need to be a game maker.  After a two page spread on the history of games and another about the development of Monopoly, discussion around what a games needs to be a game begins.  The first real maker challenge is a “hack,” take apart an existing game and investigate why is works.

After a section that discusses the design process, the next challenge features a few pieces from home or classroom and helps learners develop a game using the pieces.  Through various steps to invent the game, makers are pushed to create with what is available.  In the “Make it better!” section, makers reflect on the constraints of the activity.  Would fewer or more pieces help or hinder the design?

The final section of the book discusses prototyping and testing.  The final task sets makers up for designing a game from beginning to end, testing, revising it and testing again.  In this way, most of the books work through a design thinking process to show students about making.  This series would be great to have in classroom that is set to make.


The second series, Connect with Electricity, contains titles like How LED’s Work, How Batteries Work, How Sensors Work, and How Conductors Work .  These resources would work best in a grade 4 – 7 class with interest on either side of these grades. These books are considered a very thorough introduction to the subject areas with a table of contents, glossary, answer key, selected bibliography, further resources and index.  Photographs capture the essence of each component as well as the historical context it can be viewed in.  And, I learned things from these books that would help set up a foundation for using electricity in various formats in making activities.  These books would make an excellent addition to your Maker Library of Resources.  They include some projects to build skills and others to promote a maker mindset in the classroom.


Get your students thinking about making by having resources like these in your classroom library.  Both series make for interesting browsing.

Coding in an Elementary Classroom

Is coding the new literacy? Even if you are not sure of the answer to that big question, you can begin to introduce your elementary classroom students to programming.  Some of the resources listed need technology and some just need your time to set up some centers to spark interest from your students.


Scratch Jr. as a website or an app is a great way for students to start to understand the “if you program this, then that happens” type of logic that is necessary for programming.  Some may not even catch on that they are learning actual programming due to the game atmosphere of this app.


Kids Get Coding is a series of books aimed at the K-3 grade level.  Each book explains one aspect of computer programming that will provide a foundation for students to begin to code. They also include tips about being a good digital citizen and how sites collect information about your identity to tailor sites to your needs.  It also cautions students about the importance of privacy and what information sites are looking for that you may not want to give out.  Although each book is only 24 pages long, each has a table of contents, and index and clear definitions of terms that are used in each book.  A website gives access to further content by book title to help educators further work with each subject area covered in each book.


Robot Turtles and Code Master are both board games that don’t need any technology to run them. Robot Turtles is for very beginning programmers and teaches logic as a introduction to the steps needed for good coders.  Code Master is a one player game and will challenge you students to code instructions on the board rather than into an app or website.  Both good options in a classroom to spark an interest.

Introducing the notion of coding and computer programming into your classroom is not as daunting as it may seem.  There are many books out now to challenge students to learn the rudiments of coding by playing games or working through actions of a robot or character.  Start with these resources and work through this next level thinking with your students.

The Horizon Report K-12, 2016 (Preview)

2016-09-02 10.57.40

Horizon Report K-12, 2016 Preview

The Horizon Report compiled by the National Media Consortium is the report that names the trends in education that are most important to pay attention to in the coming year, 5 years and 10 years.  It will be published on September 14, 2016 in its entirety but the advance sample or preview is available today.  NMC also collects information for the coming report in a comprehensive wiki and you can join to view the background information.

This Horizon Report will focus again on the adoption of the makerspace model of learning and teaching into classrooms.  It has moved to the “one year or less” category and teaching students seem to be adopting this model through their studies.  Many workshops and ideas are introduced during their time in the teaching program.

The second trend to on-line learning also remains on track for adoption in the next year or so with the continual changes in the open-source resource market.  Many contributing trends are also affected like blended learning where students are responsible for the background work of watching videos and reading resources in non-class time.

Long term trends in education are generally accepted as more evolutionary than revolutionary, happening gradually over time in schools that are creating new spaces for students to learn in.  Because re-designing spaces takes huge budgets, “re-arranging” of learning spaces in more the norm in most school districts. Here, screen installation for collaborative learning areas, and more flexible work spaces are technology use and general group work adaptations schools can make without a large investment of cash.

Another long term trend in education is the “rethinking how schools work”  and this trend addresses the move to a more authentic, multidisciplinary environment for learning. Teacher education is also meshing with the mid-term trends focused on collaborative learning approaches  based on the four principles: “placing the learner at the center, emphasizing interaction and doing, working in groups, and developing solutions to real-world problems.” And the other mid-term student-centered trend delving into deeper learning approaches in the classroom.

It is exciting to see the acknowledgement that coding is a new literacy to be addressed by educators in the short-term and the notion that students are becoming the creators of their learning rather than consumers.  These two notions are coming to the forefront of education practice especially from a teacher education viewpoint.

The report is rich in topics that are so important to our students as they enter or continue their education to become teachers and to practicing teachers who provide mentoring for our students.  More news when the complete report is released next on September 14, 2016.

Money, Money, Money…

Investing in your maker space is a great first step in having a forum for students to nurture their curiosity and inventing skills.  Every maker program has a budget.  Some are more than others but all types of budgets can be used to supply an interactive, hands-on space.

The worst question I get is, “The principal gave me $1500 and I need to set up a maker space.  What should I spend it on?  I have 48 hours!”  I actually had that question last weekend.  Speed spending on a new program in a school, no matter how much money or how much space is a really bad idea.  It leads to tools and supplies that lie dormant for long periods of time in storage areas that are rarely visited while other items of interest languish on a waiting list until another amount of money is available.


Having a budget and planning to purchase for your maker space takes some time, collaboration and sober second thought.  Ask teachers what projects they are interested in doing and what curriculum connections they are focused on.  This information may help in planning for circuits rather than low tech planet balls.

Planning for design outcomes or prototypes means that teachers should look ahead at possible materials necessary to make inventions inspired by the lesson connections.  Not all eventualities can be accounted for but many materials can be considered basics.

Save some of the money for “consumables.”  Things like batteries, copper wire and low tech making supplies get used up.  Since, generally, the current maker space plans are usually included in the Learning Commons or Library space, it may take a couple of conversations to ensure that consumables are budgeted for.

Technology is not forever.  Even when you purchase kits like littleBits or Hummingbird Robotics  kits, they are useful but also contain consumables and components that break. And, keep in mind, that educational technology kits are a growth industry and new kits are being produced every day.  Even the most thorough researcher may buy a kit that is a clunker.  I know. I’ve done it.  Robotics kits are a fine science. Matching the building skills to make the robot with the coding skills to make the robot work is a beautiful symphony when it is in tune and an expensive mistake when it is a mismatch.

Start small. Make a plan. Save a little aside for consumables. Add what you need.  Collaborate with other teachers and staff.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Invent to Learn Workshop


Last week I attended a two day workshop with those maker experts, Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager.  The authors of the pivotal maker book, Invent to Learn, were in town for this workshop and one in Edmonton.

In a school learning commons setting, 100 of us listened, played, experimented and collaborated.  We used kits on the first day to experiment with programming (Hummingbird), circuit completion with sticky LED lights and copper tape, and with fabric and conductive thread.  Makey-Makey kits were also available to create with.  Our table had a large kit of littleBits with various extra components.

The second day was a bit of talk then we walked the walk.  Each group created a bird programmed using Snap and the Hummingbird sensors and motors.


Did we get direct instruction? Were we guided into the kits with warnings and directives to follow? Nope, we were challenged to dig in and see what we could come up with.

I think everyone learned plenty from the experience of using the kits rather than sitting through “learning how to use the kits.” To be wholly engaged in learning without the mammoth instruction that usually precedes the use of new technology was a refreshing experience.

Our group had 4 teachers, and 3 “specialists,” that is, not classroom teachers.  Everyone had expertise to contribute to our project.  None of us had worked with the Hummingbird kit. All of us contributed in some way to the design, creation and automation of our bird.

How did we learn? We talked to each other and other groups.  We concentrated by ourselves on the logic of the problem.  We googled (a bit). We observed.  We wired and re-wired, clicked and dragged code and then clicked and dragged different code.  We were loud and messy.  We laughed and cheered.  And we all thought how exciting it would be if this sort of learning took place in every classroom.

To see the results, click here.



LEGO Digital Designer 4.3


Instead of an app of the week, I would like to review a wonderful free downloadable software from LEGO.  The LEGO Digital Designer 4.3 would be a great addition to any school desktop.  For the creative design of prototypes or just to support building units in curriculum, this free software is super for the K-12 classroom.  There are downloads available for both Apple and PC products and the response time for designing is quite fast.

Designs can be saved in a gallery and modified and presented for assessment.  Instead of missing just the right piece, all the building units are available in an infinite number.  Also both structures and vehicles can be build.  This software presents an opportunity for students to work with a real design software package but with something quite familiar to most kids.

It is hard to say anything bad about this software, unless, of course, is that getting some students to stop designing may be a problem. The original development of the application was in 2004 so the graphics are a bit simple but that doesn’t take away from the design possibilities.

It’s a LEGO product, and for the most part, always dependable and sturdy – even if it is software.

Sphero Sprk and Coding

Okay, Sphero Sprk is a ton of fun, just on its own, without the learning and coding part.


So my advice is when you get one (or 25) for your classroom is to just let the students experiment with the various apps and the robot for a couple of days.  It will settle down after a week or two.  Maybe.

Initializing the Sprk with your ipad is the first step and I started by pairing my Sprk to someone else’s MacBook who happened to be in the library so my advice for pairing is to read ALL the instructions.

There are 5 apps that I downloaded to facilitate the use of the Sphero Sprk. The SPRK app helps to initialize the robot, pairing it to your ipad, and learning some simple coding information.  Use this one for the coding part.  Try some pre-written code in the sample programs and then try coding and adding some new programs. “Jump” was my favourite.

The SpheroCam app is very fun.  Using a “joystick” type controller on screen you can “drive” your robot and control its movement.

The Sphero app contains the game type format for Sphero Sprk but, while not being terribly educational, is so much fun.  For example, by Level 10, your Sphero Sprk has mastered the Hokey Pokey.

Sphero Draw&Drive and SpheroGolf also have many game-like qualities but are fun for the very young to learn how to manipulate the robot.

With the emphasis on having students experience some kind of code writing in elementary school, this robot affords this opportunity for a fairly reasonable price.  All in all, the total price for one would be about $200 Cdn.  Did I mention it flashes patterns of colours?  That is another programming part of the app.  Have fun.

App of the Week – Robots

Robots from IEEE (Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers


  • Free
  • Version 1.6
  • 521 MB (big)
  • Grades 6-12

Robots is available for download on iPads from the App Store.  Beware of the large app size.  That being said, it would be a worthwhile download for all grades – not just the grade 6-12 range that is associated with the app.

Robots contains specs and video or moving photos of 150 robots from 16 different countries.  Students have input through the ratings system, up to five stars, questions like would you want to have this robot, and an appearance rating based on relative creepiness.

Robot “News” requires an internet connection but updates recent inventions and developments in technology that are important to robotics.

“Play” is not very exciting.  It mostly pits robot against robot and students pick the one they think would win.

“Learn” begins with what a robot is, and documents various pivotal inventions that contributed to the development of modern day robots.  There is also a Timeline and a Glossary of Robotics.

This app would be great to have on ipads that students use to learn but also for them to browse for information.  It would appeal to those with robot knowledge but even to those without much robot knowledge.

Robots has a very attractive topic but does it justice with the information contained within the app.