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.

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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.

Design Thinking Workshop Prototype

And this is the last peaceful moment we will enjoy at the Doucette for some 5 weeks.  Beginning on Monday, what seems like the sprint to the finish for 2nd year Werklund pre-service teachers will begin with the shot of a starting pistol (only figuratively) and continue at a break neck speed until February 14th.

Not that we, here at the Doucette, have been quiet.  Quite the opposite.  We have been developing a workshop for those same 2nd year students as they test the process of Design Thinking within their grade level and specialty teaching areas.  In order to end with a bang that we are metaphorically beginning with, a Maker Faire will be held here to showcase all of the prototypes of their learning on that final day, February 14.

Back to the workshop.  My partner in teaching, Tammy and I have been generally frustrated by each Design Thinking Workshop we have attended.  We began to visualize what the perfect workshop would look like in order to savour the language and process of Design Thinking.  During the brainstorm of our successes and disappointments, the number one reason for most of our frustrations was TIME.

In infomercial style, many workshops offered complete Design Thinking Training in 30 minutes or less.  And in order to experience Design Thinking, we bought into these workshops to soak up the process we had been reading so much about.   Let’s face it, spending two minutes to empathize with a real world problem is not enough.  Coming up with ideas to alleviate said problem with a 5 minute deadline is dreadful.

Developing our own workshop using the Design Thinking process embedded us in the steps to create a great learning experience for our students.  We decided, (listen carefully), to develop the workshop using the Design Thinking process making the workshop our prototype and having students test and give us feedback.  With me?  Okay, then we developed two humanities based scenarios to work with students through the first three defined steps of Design Thinking: Empathy, Definition and Ideation.

And so we begin the journey of walking 300+ students through the Design Thinking process using our workshop as prototype.  Beginning Monday, I will try to blog at the end of each day to let you know our successes and inspirations to change for new iterations. Notice how the word failure does not appear in this blogpost.  “Inspirations to change for new iterations” is the new failure where failure is, clearly, not an option.

Hang on, it is going to be a bumpy ride!

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

App of the Week – Lightbot Jr.

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Name: Lightbot Jr.

Price: $3.99

Size: 51.8 MB

Version: 1.6.7

Age: 6-8

Although I am not in the age group suggested for this coding app, I must admit I did enjoy it.  I am also not a gamer but a technology user for education, work and social purposes.  I never thought I really needed to know how to code and I’m not sure Lightbot Jr. will get me coding in any real sense but it does have value.

It is a very highly recommended app for introducing early grade levels to the logic of coding.  It took me a little more than an hour to work through the first of 5 levels of lighting up various squares with increasing complexity and I will admit that my only coding experience is with Daisy the Dinosaur. Lightbot Jr. seemed to be easier. Not as much reading was necessary and trial and error was the name of the game.

In a classroom, this app would be a great addition for all students but I can see it especially attracting the student who is very logical and can whip through each stage successfully.  The kind of student (more like me) that is not all about linear thinking and logic would also enjoy this game. There are no wrong answers just chances to try again.  And the logic of coding is built into the fun.

Download and try it on your own and share it with your class.  Make it a Friday afternoon option for some of your students to work in groups.  It would be a fun activity and it will build the capacity for the logical thinking so critical in coding.

Also included in a more expensive app package is Lightbot.  I’ll let you know how I do…

 

LEGO Digital Designer 4.3

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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.

#IWD2016 and STEM Learning

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I remember the very first celebration of the United Nation’s International Women’s Day in 1975.  I was 11 but I had three older sisters and that made all the difference.  There were t-shirts, buttons and stickers to show that you recognized your power as a woman and you were not embarrassed to show it.  Now in 2016, I reflect on some of the things that have changed and how opportunities are opening up for young women coming of age today.

The field of Computer Science is populated with 1% women.  This is a missed opportunity.  The education of women so they find STEM careers attractive is really only in its infancy.  Students in elementary school today can be exposed to many STEM opportunities in a very gender neutral way.  No pink or blue computers.

STEM opportunities can be attractive to girls and women if they have not caught the bias (more prevalent in my day) of parents and mentors who felt a woman needed an education AND a husband. “Don’t seem too eager to learn, Sweetie, it will turn off a prospective husband.”

We are still behind when it comes to wages. In Canada, it amounts to $0.72 to every dollar of a man’s salary.  It’s getting worse, not better.  Pursuing a career with a STEM specialty would do something towards wage equity.  This is the theme of #IWD2016: Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality.

In many STEM areas, our expectation of being accepted as equal contributors to individual fields is sabotaged to some extent by those who populate the levels above us.

So, here’s the challenge:  as teachers and educators, we can encourage every student to reach their potential, through discovery and practice in the STEM subject areas.   STEM topics can be taught by making interdisciplinary connections across subject areas and using innovative teaching methods.   Exposure to STEM learning gives every student a hands-on, memorable experience in science, technology, engineering and/or math. Who knows what fire you may ignite?