Making in High School

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Yesterday, I attended a webinar hosted by Michele Luhtala, Head Librarian at New Canaan High School, Connecticut.  The webinar chronicled the first year of her maker space in the high school in which she works.  The many ways she used to introduce materials and kits into the space was interesting and how she used the space over time may just give you the encouragement to start one in your own classroom or to plan maker activities for your practicum.

A few of the highlights for me include the use of freezer paper on the tables to act as part doodle pad, part idea planner.  Introducing a few activities at a time seemed to work well for her instead of making it a materials free for all. Having students as “Texperts” worked well in that, although Ms. Luhtala could troubleshoot with most of the making, each student texpert leads the way with special technologies.  What a great leadership model for many students.

Also, keep in mind, this is a maker space on a very frugal budget.  Instead of spending on the furniture and decorating, the simple act of emptying out the space opened up many possibilities for making.  Notice the evolution of desk placement for her during the year.  This one migration of her personal space speaks volumes about her commitment and passion for the students and their independent and collaborative work.

This one maker space example shows the investment of staff and students in this one unique space in a school can change the whole tone within the school.  This is a space that accepts students unconditionally where they are at (notice the blogger who talks about scouts against the unchanging green screen) and where students exceed expectations while finding knowledge.

I think this kind of learning could do called “doing knowledge” as students experience and “play” with materials to create and invent unique prototypes.  There is not enough of this type of unstructured, constructionist learning  in most schools.  Introducing space and time with materials can encourage great learning.

Michele Luhtala’s blog can also offer insight into her success and learning about this first year of making.


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.

“Evil Genius Hour”

Many schools and libraries in the United States created Genius Hours as part of their technology outreach time.  Although appealing, I wanted to attract the student who, while embodying genius, also has a high risk threshold.  Aren’t these some of the most interesting students? The ones who, not naming names, attach their LEGO Robot to as many sensors as a certain librarian will provide.

We have scheduled 3 “Evil Genius Hours” on consecutive Thursday afternoons. In the first week, we will be discovering what kind of genius gamers we have among our students.  In a collaborative setting, students will create a game, rules and all, and play it with their counterparts.

Week 2 will provide a Hot Wheels Challenge.  Remember the small metal cars with the giant orange loop-de-loop track? We will find out how to use new kits like MaKey-MaKey to engage students in some time/distance experiments.

Week 3 will experiment with a Survivor type challenge.  From ideating to prototyping, students will work through the process of design-thinking.

All of these workshops are aimed at learning how to imagine, design, construct, and innovate.  We will not be providing the answers but each learning experience will be just that – an experience. Hopefully students will replicate this experience in their own classrooms.


Making at the Doucette

And the pieces of our Maker Space are finally coming together just in time for students to return.

The mindset to adopt this type of teaching into our library experience is certainly in place. To showcase and involve students in the creation of higher order thinking task design, they must experience the process and outcome of doing such tasks.

The Craftsmen workbench was the first Maker task that staff attempted and successfully made all the pieces fit, wheels, handles and all.  Within the drawers of our Maker Space are littleBits, MaKey-MaKey, Arduino and FisherTechnik building kits.  Added, in time, are the craft and “found” pieces that can be included in the task building maker experience.

Students collaborate on the design of tasks, linking curriculum to questions.  Students are looking to push learners to explore, experiment, construct, and re-visit their designs.  Embedded in this problem-solving is the deep learning resulting from trial and error.

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Now the crucial ingredient in the task will be the design thinking that works between the time the question is posed and the prototype is developed.  Look for more information  about design thinking in the next post.

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In the meantime, come build with Lego to get your creative juices working.

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.

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.

Naming Names for Makerspaces

There are many, many kits advertised for a makerspace area.  Although we don’t have our “space” yet, we are moving forward to equip the library with some of these kits to heighten awareness of hands-on STEM teaching.  Our initial purchase of LEGO Mindstorms kits have been used twice in classroom wide teaching and in workshops throughout this year.

It’s a great start but there are loads of other kits out there.  The Littlebits kits seem to target the younger classes, perhaps grades two to six, teaching foundation concepts of circuits.  I think these sets, especially with the Arduino Coding Package, would be a great place to start for an elementary school.

For the more advanced students in middle and high school, I think that an arduino computer with some additions would be a great start.  Starter kits are also a great way to go since project instructions and accessories are included. Arduino and Raspberry Pi seem to be competing for the school maker market.

The sky is the limit in terms of technology and programming but a makerspace can include less pricey options.  In my next blog post, I’ll look at some non-technical materials that can be included.raspberrypi