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.

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.

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.



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.

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