Squishy Circuits with Conductive Dough

Jumper wires are a staple for anyone working with electronics.  Jumper wires for solderless breadboards, jumper wires with alligator clips, jumper wires in oodles of different colors and lengths.

But, wires can be boring.  Wires are extremely functional, but they can leave a lot to be desired in the aesthetics department.

Enter “Squishy Circuits”!

In their 2014 book “The Art of Tinkering”, Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich give more than just a set of directions for nifty DIdemo of a squishy circuitY projects.   They pull back the curtain at The Exploratorium to reveal a world, and a process, just as curiosity-piquing as the projects themselves.  In this book, there is a recipe for a conductive dough that can be used to make circuits.  That is what I used to make the green globs in the animated gif here.  Watch the full-size video to see the green LED much easier.

(I haven’t requested permission to reprint the recipe for the conductive dough from Exploratorium’s book.  But, the “squishy circuits” section of the book comes from AnnMarie Thomas, and she is the “Squishy Circuits” Project Director at St. Thomas University. You can find the recipe for conductive dough, and for insulating dough, at the “Squishy Circuits” project site.)

What sort of things might be made from this dough, so that electricity can be conducted through them to light lights or turn motors?  Only the limits of one’s imagination could say!  What sort of projects might you use conductive dough for?

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Chickens**t Club”

The July 11 morning Marketplace radio program featured an interview with journalist Jesse Eisinger, promoting his new book “The Chickens**t Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives.” [Amazon link: No affiliation]

I listen to the Marketplace Morning Report because, well, because it happens during NPR’s Morning Edition during my drive to work.  I don’t typically find myself enthralled by the Morning Report content.

This one caught my attention – not because of the content, but because of the story that Mr. Eisinger told about where the NSFW title came from.

Go listen to the Marketplace interview.  (Mr. Eisinger was also the featured guest on the July 11, 2017, episode of NPR’s “Fresh Air”.)

Back in 2002, when former FBI Director James Comey was named US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, he gathered his corps of bright, talented, young attorneys.  He asked them to raise their hand if they had never lost a trial.  Numerous confident hands went up.

“My friends and I have a name for you,” Mr. Comey informed them, “you’re the ‘Chickens**t Club.'”  In blistering fashion, Mr. Comey pointed out that the best measure of their job was not about whether they were always winning, but about whether they were standing up for the right causes.

As educators, we have a parallel experience.

I have never met a good teacher who never had a lesson fall flat on its face.  I have never met a good teacher whose students didn’t misbehave sometimes.  I have never met a good teacher who didn’t have a student who failed an assignment, a quiz, a test.

Why?  Because they were willing to try something beyond what they were already comfortable with, something afield of what they had done every year before, something they didn’t already know would succeed.

Those are the best teachers I ever met.  Those are the best teachers I’ve ever had.  Those are the teachers who are willing to try whatever it takes to help all of their students learn to define and achieve what the highest level of success means for them – not just to pass a test or earn a credit.

Teachers: if everything you do in class works just the way you expect it to, it’s time to resign from The Chickens**t Club.

 

#ISTE17 in San Antonio

IMG_0104The 2017 International Society for Technology in Education conference was held June 25-28 in San Antonio, Texas.  The event brought together over 20,000 people from around the globe to advance the cause of technology’s role in education.

I was privileged to be part of the team from my employer, Forward Edge, to attend ISTE.  Here is my “Mount Rushmore” of takeaways from the event.

  1. Listen to Stories – From the keynotes by Jad Abumrad, Jenny Magiera, and Reshma Saujani, to the hundreds of presentations, playgrounds, and poster sessions, one message kept coming back – Tell Your Story.  Human interaction as a learning experience in itself, and not just a vehicle for conveying information, is a foundational ideal in the world ISTE is pointing toward.  Technology makes it easier than ever to tell our stories.  While encouraging others (and ourselves) to tell our stories is important, a corollary to this postulate is needed to make it work – we must be willing to listen.  Many of the Ed Tech Coaching sessions I attended gave attention to this detail – we must be willing to listen more than we speak.  If everyone is constantly telling their story, nobody is listening. [More about the importance of telling one’s story at StoryCorps“New Yorkers Share Their Story for $1”, and the ISTE-featured table session “Humans of Education”]
  2. Include Everyone – One lingering question I had from my experience at ISTE 2016 Me, with student presenters Iker and Sebastian.was “All this stuff is great, but how in the world can you do some of these things in something other than large, suburban districts with multi-million dollar budgets?”  #ISTE17 fostered more of a global perspective, featuring far more approaches, mindsets, and even technologies that not only permit, but encourage, the “non-typical” participant.  The newly redesigned ISTE Standards for Educators do not just include “accessibility” as a standard.  Access for all, regardless of socio-economic status, disability, gender, race, or any other personally-identifying factor, is a sine qua non of the new standards, and of any equitable educational effort.
  3. Leverage Passions – “We want to learn. Make it fun!” was a pervasive theme of the student presentations at ISTE17.  In the midst of mounting frustration over a culture of hypertesting, educators are finding the resolve to flip the script.  Rather than starting with standards and herding students toward them (compliance-based), educators are finding joy and effectiveness in starting with student passions IMG_0140and exploring ways to make progress on standards within those passions.  There is zero evidence that standardized, boring instruction improves scores on standardized, boring tests.  So, whether it’s implementing coding, “making”, virtual reality, augmented reality, project-based learning, flipped classrooms, or any of a number of technological supports and instructional frameworks, it all feeds off the premise of connecting with what already resonates with our students.  And that requires taking the time to learn about them before asking them to learn anything from us.
  4. Build Efficacy – Expertise is a wonderful thing.  I know people who can do things better than I can.  As a matter of fact, there is absolutely nothing I can do that I am the best at.  The wrong thing to do with that realization is to stop doing them.  A much better response would be for me to learn from them in order to get better.  I will never be as good as they are, but I can be better than I am now.  And then, if I see my role as a Technology Integration Specialist in that same light, I can be a much more effective support for the teachers I have the privilege of working with.  I will learn from them.  And, with practice, they will learn from me.

 

Product vs. Process

Do you know who these two guys are?Norm Abram and Roy Underhill

 

The man on the left is Norm Abram, host of PBS’ “The New Yankee Workshop” and “This Old House“.  Norm is a master carpenter.  Norm also has a penchant for using a wide range of common and exotic power tools to create masterpieces.  It is not unusual to see him use a variety of tools, bits, and jigs in his projects.

The man on the right is Roy Underhill, host of PBS’ “The Woodwright’s Shop“.   Roy is a master housewright.  Roy focuses his efforts on time-tested, traditional woodworking methods.  Roy uses no power tools at all, sticking to hand tools and human-powered machines.

If I offered you a piece of furniture that had been made by one of these two master craftsmen, would you care which one made it before accepting it?

No?

Neither would I.  And that’s the beauty of how technology should work in education.  When “use of technology” is seen as the product of our educational efforts, we get unnecessarily distracted from what the real goal should be.  When “use of technology” is part of the learning process, then we are better able to decide when and where it makes the most sense, to support what we are truly trying to accomplish.

For example, “creating a Google Slides presentation” shouldn’t be the goal.  “Deliver a presentation to convince an audience to fund your project” is a much better goal – and if the student can use Google Slides to support that work, so much the better.

Technology can help us do some things faster.  Technology can help us do some things easier.  Technology can help us do some things better.  But, technology should not be the “end game”.

When you consider infusing technology into your instruction, do it for one of the following reasons: 1) technology makes a task possible that wasn’t possible otherwise, or  2) technology makes the task more engaging and results in a better product.   Anything else is just a distraction from the real end product.

It’s an old axiom in marketing: “When you buy a drill, you don’t really want a drill.  You want a hole.”  A great drill can help you make an exceptional hole, much faster and more accurately than a hand-drill would.  But, a great drill is not the goal.

When you start with a great real-world authentic learning goal, infusing technology to support that goal stands far less chance of being a roadblock to real learning!

 

The Power of Stories and Storytelling

I heard this story on a radio station.  I have looked for it online, but am coming up empty.  Let me know if you know who I can attribute this story to.

A man opened a coffee shop in a nice little town.  Eager to get to know people in the town, and drum up some business, the shopkeeper put up a sign in his window.

cuppa_joe“Free coffee, if you listen to my story.”

The shopkeeper was very proud of his new shop, and wanted to share the story of his dream with everyone in town.  But, when he opened the doors, not a soul came in.

“What a terrible, unfriendly town this is,” bemoaned the shopkeeper to the bank’s business loan officer, who was there for the opening.  “I’ll never make it here!  You might as well take the deed to the shop now.”

“I have an idea,” the loan officer kindly offered.  “I think your sign needs a little change.”

He took the sign out of the window, found a thick marking pen, and changed the text.  He placed the sign back in the window and told the shopkeeper to get things ready for the next morning.

When the next morning came, the shopkeeper was stunned when he raised the blinds and turned the “Open” sign in the door.  The line was around the block!  As he fumbled to unlock the door for the crowd, the shopkeeper looked to the side at the changed sign in the window:

“Free coffee if you tell me your story.”

Everyone has a story.  And, they’re all worth telling.  If we want people to tell their stories, we have to first be willing to listen.  In education, in work, in life.  You have a story worth telling.  Be ready to tell it.  But first, be ready to listen to the stories of those around you.  They are worth hearing.

That is the first and biggest lesson I have learned in my new job as an educational technology coach this year.  I should probably say “re-learned,” because it’s something I already knew.  But I have not been doing a good job of putting into practice.  I often felt like there was too much to do to invest that time.  I felt like I needed to focus on the technology.  I felt like I needed to work in the short-term and go for immediate results.  In short, I made all of the mistakes I see some teachers make in allowing external pressures to steer us away from what we know are effective practices.

The problem is, even when focusing on the wrong things results in success, it is the wrong kind of success.  Fireworks are dazzling, for an instant; but a pilot light can be called upon to do its work at any time, and it will roar to life… only because it was always there, calmly and quietly waiting for the moment of need, and responding accordingly.

Everyone has a story worth hearing.


For further investigation, see Dave Isay’s TED Talk about his StoryCorps project:

And Karim Jovian’s “New Yorkers Share Their Story for a Dollar” project:

The Opposite of Tech Integration

“Technology Integration Specialist” is the title on my business card.  I like it.  It speaks directly to what the primary focus of my job is – how to use technology to intentionally increase achievement for all learners and close gaps for historically underserved subgroups.

Explaining what that looks like can be difficult.  It’s as difficult as explaining what “good teaching” really looks like, especially once you get beyond definitions that are all about compliance (“students are quiet”, “desks are in neat rows”, “assigned work is turned in on time”) and get to definitions that actually reflect learning (intellectual, emotional, and behavioral advances made by the students).

Sometimes, we can get a clearer picture of what something is by defining what it isn’t.  So, what would be the opposite of Tech Integration?

How about “Tech Segregation”?

“Tech Segregation” separates the technology from the learning process, or relegates it to its own learning path.  Learning to use technology becomes a separate subject, like English, math, social studies, or science.  Or maybe even more like a foreign language.  And anytime learning in one field helps a student make advances in another field, the effect is a happy accident instead of an intentional outcome.  We are misusing students’ time when students in a Technology class learn to create PowerPoint presentations about topics with no explicit connection to the curriculum, and then type or hand-write a book report for Language Arts.

“Tech Segregation” relegates technology to extension activities, only for students who have already achieved the day’s academic goal.  Or, the technology becomes a reward for compliance – something students get to do after they finish the stuff they don’t want to do.  In that system, students have to find a way to perform without the technology before they can use it.  It’s as senseless as making kids prove they can walk all the way to school before they’re allowed to get on a bus.

“Tech Segregation” makes kids achieve a standard or pre-qualify before they can have access.  Access to technology is seen as inherently motivational for students, but that attribute is used as the carrot on a stick to get kids to do things the old way, instead of transforming the way we teach to take fuller advantage of the way we learn.

“Tech Segregation” preserves the rank-and-sort, label-and-identify system that has resulted in significant gaps for students who don’t fit typical socio-economic and cultural norms.  Kids who are “good at school” get the bells and whistles.  Kids who don’t are told to try harder, while we turn away and suck our teeth at the sad state of their homes and families.

Conversely, Tech Integration acknowledges that quality tools in the hands of practiced learners makes amazing things possible.  When that position is paired with the belief that every student can learn, then it becomes unconscionable to keep those tools out of the hands of the very students who need the most support when it comes to accessing the general curriculum.

End Tech Segregation.

 

Why I blog… and why you should, too.

In February of 2014, I made a decision.

I started a blog.

This one.

A little over three years later, I have to admit that part of the reason I did it was because it seemed like all the cool kids were doing it.  I didn’t really think I had enough to say to make a blog worthwhile.  Anything I could say was already being said by other people who already have established blogs with large numbers of followers.  I had lots of reasons why starting a blog wasn’t a practical thing to do.

But, I did have some good reasons to try it.  I told myself it wasn’t a lifetime choice, I could easily stop doing it at any time (but isn’t that what smokers say?).  I knew I wanted to become a better writer, and one of the best things a person can do to become a better writer is to, well, actually start writing.

There have been some additional benefits that I was not expecting.  First, I found that my own blog was a great place to organize and archive things that I wanted to go back and access later.  Resources such as links to my previous presentations and snippets about news stories or other online materials go in posts or pages that get categories and tags.  Spending a few extra seconds setting categories and tags for my posts makes it much easier for me to go back and find things later when something reminds me of a useful resource.  And, I don’t have to try to remember if I saw that resource on Twitter, or Facebook, or in an e-mail, or….

Second, I have been able to incorporate the practice of reflective writing via blogs with my college students.  Reflective writing assignments in the form of neatly typed paragraphs or pages are a staple of many education courses, but I wanted to take it a step further with my students.  My class (Communication Tools and Strategies for Students with Moderate to Intensive Special Needs) was reading Ellen Notbohm’s excellent book “Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew”.  Rather than having the students write reflections on the chapters that would only be seen be me, I asked them to publish their reflections on a publicly available class blog.  Years ago, I heard Rushton Hurley tell a room of educators, “If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good.  If they are sharing it with the teacher, they want it to be good enough.”  There is a big difference between good and good enough.  An authentic, global audience can be the key to making that leap.

Third, when I go back and read some of my old posts, I am noticing changes to my writing style and the language that I use.  I hope I am also becoming better at getting my ideas across.

Enter “Blogging Buddies!”

ISTE’s Ed Tech Coaches’ Network is starting a new program called “Blogging Buddies”.  The idea is based on Jennifer Hogan’s “Compelled Blogger Tribe” idea from her blog.  I am committing to producing at least one new blog post each month.  I am also committing to visit the blogs of four specific individuals and leave comments on their posts once a month as well.  The second part is the “new adventure” for me.  There are a couple of blogs I peruse regularly, but most of my blog-watching comes from links I happen across via Twitter.

I look forward to getting familiar with not just the ideas that my “randomly selected” blogging buddies will produce, but getting to know something about them as people as well.  I don’t just want to know what they know about what works in educational technology, I want to know why they do what they do.

More to come….