Category Archives: Maker Movement

Active Learning

My role as a Technology Integration Specialist with Forward Edge has taken a twist this school year. I am supporting teachers in the Felicity-Franklin Local School District for the third year in a row. Two years ago, I was there two days a week. Last year, I was there three days a week. This year, I will be there every day they have school!

So, here’s the twist: I will still be supporting their implementation of educational technology, K-12. But this year, Felicity-Franklin is implementing a new makerspace, and I have been so fortunate to see it grow from an idea to a reality.

Our first two projects in the Active Learning Center are complete, and they were a great way to get started.

Student green screen video, standing at a crime scene.The Forensic Science high school class researched careers in the field, and created brief informational videos about them. They recorded their videos in front of a green screen, and used OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) to superimpose their videos on backgrounds that matched each topic.

Students build their prototype catapult.Several Agricultural Education classes participated in a Catapult Challenge. In this project, students had to design and build a device that would perform three different tasks.

Design Thinking and Learning-by-Making is built upon exploring questions that do not have a “one right answer”, and students get plenty of opportunity to brainstorm, build, test, refine, as many times as they need.

I heard students say, several times, “Let’s try both ways and see what works better.” “Can we try again?” “What if we…?” I never heard one student speculate about what their grade might be. They weren’t worried about a grade.

It was a little noisy. It looked a little chaotic at times. But, we had zero behavior problems.  Our makerspace is a little under 900 square feet, and our biggest class was 27 students.  It felt a little crowded at the “build space” when four or more teams wanted to use it, but we weren’t stepping all over each other.

Some students had the idea of using their school-issued Chromebooks (or their personal phones!) to research catapult designs to get ideas for where to start or where to improve their designs.  They were a little nervous to let the adults see them doing this.  They’ve grown up to believe that looking up an answer is against the rules.  But, when the question is constructed properly, looking things up is “research”, not “cheating.”

Perhaps my favorite observation came from the class using the green screen.  They were fairly hesitant to get in front of the camera to record their first video.  I had visions of the students “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing” over the technology and the opportunity to do something different!  In reality, everyone wanted to go last.  Eventually, the teacher imposed a list of who would go when, and the students complied. However, when they came back the second day, it was a completely different story.  I posted the videos from their first day in their online course management system, so they had a chance to see them before coming back.  When they returned to the makerspace, they were all ready to have a chance to do their video again.  They saw what they had done, and they saw that it could be watched by everyone else in their class.  Now, they wanted to do it better, and they knew where they needed to make improvements.

Try. Review and reflect. Refine. Try again. That type of approach to learning results in remarkable achievement.

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Picademy 2018 Reflections

The Raspberry Pi is an inexpensive (about $35) credit-card-sized computer, designed to make access to coding and digital-and-physical making much more accessible.  To support this mission, the Raspberry Pi Foundation conducts two-day “Picademy” workshops, to give educators of various experience levels on board with the power of Pi! I was honored to be selected for one of this year’s workshops, in Jersey City, NJ.

Picademy is not about having the most skill, or aptitude, or experience with programming.  Instead, Picademy is all about being willing to learn something new, and find ways to apply that newfound skill to solve problems.

I made the light turn on!I had a good bit of experience with the Scratch blocks-based programming language going in, and that helped.  I had almost no experience with the Python text-based programming language going in, and that was okay.  I had some experience with other text-based programming languages, and that had its advantages and drawbacks.  Drawbacks: I found myself thinking first of how I would accomplish a task with other programming languages I know, and I felt like I didn’t have enough time to break down and understand some of the sample code snippets I was typing.  Advantages: programming concepts like loops, functions, and variables were familiar to me, and I was prepared for the sometimes-frustrating process of troubleshooting a snippet of code that is not working properly for that one little mistake that is breaking the whole process.

"Two Live Mikes" - Mike Marotta and me.As luck would have it (it was pure luck, unless the application reviewers did a lot of homework on the applicants), I happened to be at the same session as Mike Marotta, someone I have followed on Twitter for a long time, and learned many things from over the years.  Mike is an Assistive Technology expert, the 2017 ISTE Inclusive Learning Network Outstanding Educator award recipient, and he serves schools in the state of New Jersey as an Assistive Technology resource. We had never met face-to-face that either of us can remember, despite so many common interests, so this was a treat on multiple levels.  We got to work together, and get a chance to get to know each other face-to-face.

You might think that an event like Picademy would be filled with people who have largely the same background, interests, and ideas for using the Raspberry Pi.  But the group was exceptionally diverse. I met STEM teachers, university educators, media specialists, classroom teachers, published authors, tech directors, and professional development coordinators, and having a chance to hear some of their stories was a great benefit of the time spent there.  I met some wonderful people, and my Twitter family has grown!

Building the book-holder-page-turner.The group work time made this even more powerful.  Day Two of Picademy was focused on groups developing their own project ideas.  One workshop participant (a classroom educator from Detroit, MI) had an idea for a device that would help turn the pages of a book for someone who was unable to do this on their own.  Mike Marotta and I thought that sounded like a great idea for a project, with lots of opportunity to put our newfound knowledge to work on a problem we were both very familiar with. So, we joined that team and began working with the physical materials we had available.

My Picademy project group, with our book-holder-page-turner!

If you are looking for a fast-moving workshop experience to challenge you, I certainly recommend applying for a 2019 Picademy.  And, if you don’t want to wait that long, there are lots of free online tutorials available right now!

I am not sure where all this road will lead me next.  I want to infuse some of this into the Coding Across the Curriculum workshop I have developed.  I want to make much of what I learned an integral part of the makerspace I will be helping to implement at Felicity-Franklin Local Schools starting in the 2018-2019 school year.  I’ve already been asked to develop a presentation on more possible uses for the Raspberry Pi as Assistive Technology.  And that’s a large part of what the Raspberry Pi is about… plenty of valuable options.

Everyone can learn to code – not just the kids!

 

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?