An Inspiring Story

Hedy Lamarr’s Double life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor written by Laurie Wallmark and illustrated by Katy Wu

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Now here is the kind of book I would love to see in K-5 classrooms.  While reading through a number of new picture books that came into the Doucette Library over the last little while, this one caught my eye.

This story has EVERYTHING! An accomplished woman, also pictured as a young girl, who loved learning and wondering, a great invention that helped modern day electronics, like cell phones, keep texts and calls private, a Hollywood movie star with a contract with Louis B. Mayer. Hedy’s curiosity led to many personal inventions including a cube that changed plain water into flavoured soda, a ladder to help get in and out of a bathtub.

It is really not about the glamorous life she led or the amazing inventions.  This story captures the curious mind of a girl and a woman about things that were happening around her – in her real life.

After meeting George Antheil, Hedy and George came up with the idea of “frequency hopping” to help torpedoes send fragmented messages not easily intercepted by the enemy.  They co-patented the invention together.  Although this invention would have proven useful, the American Navy put it aside to fight World War II.  Hedy used her Hollywood star power to volunteer to sell war bonds and to meet soldiers at the Hollywood Canteen.

A book like this one in every classroom would be a great addition for children who are tinkerers.  They would recognize themselves in the realistic story of Hedy who, as a child, was interested in life and curious about everything including going to the movies.

“Inventions are easy for me to do.  I suppose I just came from a different place.” Hedy Lamarr

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Freeing the Ed Tech

In September of 2018 and all of this academic year, I have been releasing all the ed tech kits to the shelves.  In a wildly successful experiment, ed tech like littleBits, Sphero Sprk 2.0, ozobots and OSMO are left to fend for themselves on the open shelves in the library.

Other years while I was acquiring the ed tech, I had a conversation with almost every student who took out these kits to use in the classroom.  Although this was wonderful in getting to know students and how they were using the tech, it was not sustainable as a model for taking out technology kits.

As I released the kits to the shelves something wonderful happened.  All of the kits were loaned for classroom use and lesson planning, all the time. Not a one left anywhere.

It showed me that students know how to use these kits in the classroom and are just waiting for a chance to integrate them into their planning.  The initial training on most of the kits is self taught by Youtube and by the other resources the Doucette has like the research guides.  Students are beyond prepared to introduce technology into their curriculum planning.

However, I also noticed something else.  Once the kits are gone there is no back up.  Even when I want to teach with the kits to special groups or classes, I am facing the same timelines as students, putting kits on hold 10 days before any time of teaching.

And so, we are adding MORE of the kits that are most popular to the shelves.  More Ozobots.  More Sphero Sprk 2.0 (and their mini partners).  Thanks to the generous contribution of Werklund School and Dr. Lock, we will have more of everything on the shelf.  Hopefully, this will mean that more students will have more access to more ed tech by the fall.  And if more students are integrating more ed tech into more classrooms, the sky is the limit.  Our next innovators and entrepreneurs will be challenged to take the next steps after technology is embedded in classrooms to make education the most interactive and engaging time in a student’s life.  And that is a very good result.

Safety in Makerspaces

Students and staff members who use the makerspace that exists in your school or classroom should have the skills necessary to foresee possible safety issues and it is in everyone’s best interest to anticipate possible dangers.images

Before your makerspace is in full swing, think about setting some boundaries and simple rules around equipment use.  This article, Safety in Makerspaces gives many good examples of simple rules that will make an impact in a small classroom makerspace.

As the teacher, always look at potential problem areas and create short, memorable rules around what could go wrong.  Take time to look at the materials and tools you are using in the space and how students are using them.

Although not all accidents can be prevented, a few critical rules before your students enter the makerspace can be effective at avoiding a mishap.  Stand in your makerspace and walk through what your students will be doing.  How will they access materials?  How many students will be working in a group? Will they be standing or sitting?  What will be plugged in?  Are the cords for the items taped down or a hanging, tripping hazard?  Minimize the amount of clutter and items on each table. It will get cluttered enough during the activity.

Also take a moment to view the room from your students’ perspective.  From that viewpoint you may be able to isolate other problem areas.

Some rules follow the common sense that mirrors being in any classroom.  Walk. Don’t run.  Keep the chatter below “deafeningly” loud.  Watch what you are doing.  Pay attention to what others around you are doing.  Listen and ask questions.  It is okay to fail and learn from what doesn’t work.

Set up your classroom venue for success as a makerspace and then engage your students in making and learning.

 

Tips for Tinkercad

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Tinkercad is a free, on-line 3D design website that allows people to create files for 3D printers and other equipment.  Kids are the target audience so students would be able to jump right in.  Students can have a free account and all of their designs are saved to the web account.  Students can, then, 3D print or render their design on a CNC Cutter (Computer Numerical Control Cutter.)
Teachers be aware that you can set up a classroom account so that you can look and comment on students’ work.  Lance Yoder of Edgaged talks about this feature in his YouTube video Tinkercad Playlist.
I would suggest working through the beginning examples to get a handle on how to design with the website and then spend some time on your own with additional YouTube videos or just the website itself experimenting with the options.
MatterHackers have a number of good related YouTube videos and also have other information about printing your design after saving it in Tinkercad.
Here is a place within the maker world where teachers can introduce a website and not know everything about it.  I think there are a few students in classes from grade 5 right up to 12 that will take the lead on designing and figuring out how to create many fascinating models.

Making in Calgary (and on campus)

We are 18 years into this new century.  Eighteen years.  Students born in this century will be on campus this year.  It is time to embrace the new learning environments that have presented themselves this century.

There are many new spaces to create learning opportunities here in the city.  Learning has never been restricted to the classroom but there are some amazing opportunities out there for some unconventional discovery, design and creativity.

Many makerspaces are now accessible here in Calgary.  Try to visit one a month or a couple on a weekend to investigate which one can help you express that creativity that is bursting to get out.

Protospace has been around for a while and welcomes newcomers every Tuesday evening to look around and see if the space and the peer group fits your needs.

Fuse33 is the newest space in Calgary and you can arrange to go and see it.  It is a bright working space that offers everything from woodworking to sewing in a bright building in the South East area of Calgary.

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The Calgary MakerSpace has plans for an incredible space that will be accessible by many.  Follow their progress on their site.

And last but not least, the newly opened Lab NEXT  here at the University of Calgary.  “Lab NEXT features a makerspace, bookable collaboration rooms, open collaboration space, and high performance computers.”  Also in the space are various 3D printers, Cricut machine and scanners. Workshops are being run during Block Week and into January to familiarize staff and students with the space and resources available on a bookable or drop in basis.

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Lab NEXT not only features state-of-the-art equipment, it also has staff to help you with various questions you may have about your research technology.  It is a very handy place to have on campus for the use of staff and students. It is located on the 3rd floor of the TFDL.  Visit the site and go over to check it out.

 

Does a MakerSpace have to be a Space?

Many schools (elementary, secondary and post-secondary) are including a MakerSpace in their square footage.  People are reconfiguring spaces, libraries, learning commons, classrooms and basement rooms to include a MakerSpace.  People are using grant money, parent council money, and other kinds of budgets to make this happen but I’m asking, does a makerspace have to be a space?

I mean it is nice if students have a dedicated space to do their making, designing and hands on learning but the space is not as crucial to making as the mindset.

Students and teachers may have a dedicated space to make with many fine kits and equipment but if the making is done as a “special” or unusual activity that must be booked and scheduled in, I feel students would not have the kind of making experience I envision.

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Having a maker mindset that permeates a classroom with opportunities to try inventions and ideas out during the natural flow of learning creates an atmosphere where making is not a planned or scheduled event but an everyday occurrence.

The opportunity to embed this type of hands-on learning into each and every classroom suggests that the separate space idea may be just a short term measure to include making in schools.  Teachers may move making directly into their classrooms as a way for students to express the outcomes of their learning in ways other than paper and pen or digital documents.

It’s great to have a MakerSpace but even better to have a maker mindset in every classroom for students who are tackling real world problems to be able to create many types of physical solutions as they continue to ponder solutions and learn original ways to problem solve creatively.

Just Ask…

 

Have you ever run into a problem that is like the writer’s block of learning?  I have been experiencing this feeling lately when it comes to Adafruit Gemma and Flora, two namebrand components that use Adruino open source coding to control LED lights embedded in cloth or clothing. Although I know that all of the components should work together to create a blinking fashion statement, the blink eluded me.

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I sewed with conductive thread. I replaced conductive thread with alligator clips.  I watched YouTube videos, frame by frame.  I downloaded. I uploaded.

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My partner-in-crime asked the essential question.  “Who do we know that could help us?”  We sent out an appeal for knowledge.  Did someone we know, know someone who knows what we don’t know?

My point is that, generally, given a whole university campus, someone knows what you want to know.  And in this case our query was answered with a delightful person we had no previous knowledge of who knew exactly what we didn’t know.

It would seem Adafruit Gemma and Flora are not so easy to get working with conductive thread and the coding is a bit tough to download onto the microcontrollers.  I was having trouble for a very good reason.

Our new contact, from a faculty far, far away, was looking to embed clothing with LED lights, just like we were, but his knowledge led him to create various special components that would make the coding use “Scratch” and he traveled to China to make sure the components were easy to use for makers (yes, I call myself a maker) like me.

What’s my point?  Just ask.  Ask for the knowledge you need.  The world we live in is made very small by social media and email.  Ask if someone you know, knows someone who knows what you want to know.

And I’m very excited to continue to pursue this project with new eyes and new technology and a new person to help out.  The kits and materials we will be using look like they would function well in the K-12 environment.  I’ll let you know what I know when I know it.

Summer Reading

Summer is a time to re-energize and have some time for new learning in a more relaxed atmosphere.  That’s everything I love about summer reading except that the location can and be the beach or the deck.  Set your sights on something you are interested in, get a big set of post it notes and away you go.

This summer, I am recommending two reads to reinforce the notion of the “Maker Mindset.”

Both books, while not published this year, are new enough to speak to the notion of making embedded in curriculum and in school culture more completely than a room called a “Maker Space” ever could be.  That is not to say that having a makerspace in any facility that you educate in is not a great bonus but without a leading edge, expensive maker space, any educator can still advance the notion of making in any environment.

The first book is “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement is changing our schools, our jobs, and our minds” by Dale Dougherty with Ariane Conrad.  Beginning with Chapter 1, “We are all Makers,” this book, published in 2016, gives a generous overview of the maker movement and some specifics about how it fits in education and more generally, how it is changing the real world.  Chapter 7 specifically addresses the nature and conditions needed to adopt a “maker mindset.”  This book is a quick read to give educators a great foundation in what maker is and what is looks like within each community.

The second book is by Edmonton’s own, George Couros, “The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity.”  This book speaks directly to educators no matter what stage they are at in embracing the maker movement.  He addresses, because of his own experience, just how difficult it is to lead a revolution in a school system.  However, the information contained here will give educators much to talk and think about.  Many questions will be addressed, like how to create meaningful learning while having innovative students and educators leading the way.

Have a great summer and allow these two great books to help inform your practice in September.

Both books are currently being catalogued and will shortly be available in the Doucette Library.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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

Design Thinking – Day 2

By: Paula Hollohan

Today, for the first time, we gave our Elementary edition of the Design Thinking workshop and then another iteration of the Secondary version.  The only difference is the task that the students work through.  In the Elementary version, our task follows the story of the Three Little Pigs.

Here’s the thing.  Students are requesting that we supply curriculum connections and that our task be something they can experience and then replicate in their classrooms.  We are not trying to connect design thinking to a specific part of elementary or secondary curriculum simply because we want students to create those links themselves.  In order to show some examples of these links we are collecting information about various tasks on our libguide and we will be adding to them as we come across other great examples.

Using Design Thinking in the classroom will require students to choose the curriculum content that they feel best suits this process.  They can then plan what the process will look like in their classroom and see how it develops.

Design Thinking lends itself to the study of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects very well but is harder to imagine in Social Studies or English Language Arts.  Our rationale, in tying both workshops to familiar stories, is to show how design thinking can be used in the humanities.  The work around this use of design thinking is really just in its infancy and showing students the example connected to these resources shows them a path less traveled.

Why don’t we prototype something practical like a toothbrush or a play structure?  We are hoping students see that it may be easier to plan for design thinking within the science curriculum.  In grade 4, Simple Machines, students can be given tasks like playground design that will include most simple machine illustrations.  This process would take some time and developing a prototype would definitely be at least a class on its own.  Unfortunately, in our 80 minutes, we can introduce students to the process but would have to give up too much to include the prototyping.

And so we come to Thursday. Tomorrow we will teach 4 workshops in a row and will try to publish a blog by the end of the day if we are still standing.