Friday, October 20, 2017

Vinyl Cutting in a Maker Space

When you think about maker spaces one often imagines  tools like 3D printers and laser cutters.  And even though I would eventually want both of these tools in a school maker space, there is a starter tool that I would get in my school maker space immediately - a desktop vinyl cutter!

My first impression of a vinyl cutter was that it was 'just' a sticker machine;  but that was BEFORE I saw it in action!     Here is a quick video of what happened when I brought a desktop vinyl cutter to Tech Savvy Girls Camp! 

The AHA I got from that experience is that this tool INVITED these middle school kids to make in ways that I think MANY maker spaces are looking for. 

The experience with the vinyl cutter left our users wanting to MAKE more! 

  • It was easy to learn - low threshold.
  • It sparked the imagination into thinking of possibilities. 
  • It provided students with an opportunity to practice creative thinking by thinking of constraints and how to work with and around the constraints.
  • It helped students gain confidence working with both manual and digital tool and processes. The students got a chance to build skills  measuring,  working with precision,  planning carefully,  and using design tools. 
  • It provided a quick win -  that had them thinking of new ways to use the tool.
  • It made learning personal!  
  • It naturally lead to the EMPATHY stage of design thinking - How might I make ____ for _____. 
  • It lead to thinking  about  sustainability in that they could repurpose, redesign, recycle many objects using their new skills and available tools and materials. 
  • It provided  a first experience with design tools and the process of designing for computer controlled machines.  
With their new understanding of how design tools can be used to create and send information from the computer to control a piece of equipment they not only provided foundational skills but also confidence to venture to other cutting tools that have require a bit longer on boarding like a laser cutter or CNC router.

Although Vinyl Cutters often have their own software to control the cutter itself,  we encouraged students to design on tools like Google Draw  or -  both of which can export as SVG.

In this short video,  CeCe shares how she designed her water bottle using Google Draw.

While an entry level machine like the Cricut or Silhouette provide an easy entry point for smaller school maker spaces,  increased use  may lead a maker space to look at more serious vinyl cutters like the Roland cutter found in Leah Joly's classroom/maker space. 
     Leah's students weeding vinyl designs for
     classroom stool facelift project

More student projects below:

Looking around at her classroom and the student projects on her blog is evidence that this tool can really make a difference when working with students on putting forth and sharing quality work. 
Educator Ron Berger essay on creating a classroom culture where students are given the tools and time to do BEAUTIFUL WORK  is one of the justification I share for including a vinyl cutter in your classroom/ maker space. 

Student work from Leah Joly's students 

Is there a more profound lesson than taking pride in creating work of importance and beauty for a real audience?  .... Ron Berger (Beautiful Work)

Once a Vinyl Cutter becomes part of an available set of maker tools, it will work its way in other maker projects adding elements of 'beautiful work" to the project. Imagine your students putting their maker skills to use to Rebuild a Kid’s Bike like this project by @Woodshopcowboy

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Turning Young Inventors into Coders

Shannon Walters @shannonwa and I @techsavvygirl were super excited to connect with the Vermont Code Community at Vermont Code Camp 2017 to share how we encourage young inventors to learn to code in Vermont schools!

Here is the slide deck from our workshop

We were surprised and honored at the attendance in our session at Vermont Code Camp 2017   This certainly made a statement that there was an interest in this topic.

Polling the room, we discovered that some people attended because

  • they were educators
  • they were interested in what's happening in education and supporting education in its role
  • they had children or relatives whom they wanted to influence
  • we had fun stuff to play with in our session

Shannon and I started by  briefly sharing why we felt that physical computing offered a low threshold, high ceiling, wide walls approach to learning to code.  The feedback loop from creating a sequence of code to seeing the results was not only shorter, it was also strongly reinforced with fun blink lights or motion and sound!  How quickly can you celebrate with a high five when learning a new coding language?

We selected three of our favorite tools because they offered an invitation to play, make, invent, and code to a diverse audience.   Examples of what you can make with these tools appeal to artistic creative types as well as logical analytical types,  to both girls and boys, to young and old,   to inventors and tinkerers, and to people who just want to have fun.

We threw a Makey Makey to two young boys seated towards the back of the room and challenged the room to notice how long it would take for them to create a musical instrument.   

They had one up and running in 17 minutes.  

Little Bits  quickly drew participants to engage with the tools we had set up.  Participants  could just grab pieces and start to make- no computer needed.  The fact that you could code them, too, was a surprise to most.   

Shannon's first  challenge was to change the code on her Little Bits creation so that it displayed a new message instead of the “VT Code Camp”  message that Shannon had already set up.  Bonus points if you could change the color, too!

Shannon’s also challenged participants to create a circuit that play a familiar tune. Bonus if you could add a sequence with lights to your tune.

I had one  of my  Birdbrain Hummingbirds  set up on my Raspberry Pi running in a PiTopCeed
with a challenge to modify the code on a dog collar prototype so that the lights blinked when the dog was out at nighttime.   

Meanwhile on a different Hummingbird set up on a Chromebook,  the challenge was to change the motion of the  ears as you approached the partially built cardboard prototype of a puppy dog set up with servo motors and a distance sensor.  

I made a conscious effort to include partial builds to  spark the imagination  and encourage  participants to start thinking of “what next”  in the build rather than ‘what was’ created.   

I’ve recently been setting up incomplete builds as challenges in  school makerspace  as a way to more quickly engage students and teachers in jump in and tinker and  experience the high from completing a coding challenge.  I hope to hook them and convince them to come back and spend more time in the makerspace playing with the possibilities of creating, inventing, and coding.

We ended our session with an invitation to the coding community to support local schools in their efforts to provide more coding opportunities to students.
We suggested checking with their schools to see if they need help during the annual December Hour of Code event. 

Another way to help might be to donate an inexpensive robot to our statewide Robot Rodeo Project - which was designed to help schools extend coding opportunities beyond an hour of code

We also invited the community to to be mentors to Vermont teachers and students who are taking on coding challenges. It does not take long for students to imagine a project that is beyond their current skill set.  With our lack of advanced coding experience, we, as teachers,  could use more resources for our students when they reach and hit a wall.  A second set of eyes that could help a student troubleshoot their code would be a huge support to teachers who are trying to bring more coding into their schools.

The community did not disappoint!  We left with several offers to help!  Even the Press showed up and featured our efforts to bring coding into our schools on WCAX-TV’s evening news as part of their Code Camp coverage.

Thank you, Vermont coding community  for welcoming us and for your willingness to help us create the next generation of innovators.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Reconnecting with Sewing as Making

What  I thought was going to be a stroll through Burlington's Art Hop yesterday, ended up to be a HANG at the Generator (Burlington's maker space) reconnecting with SEWING as Making!

I love the fact that many maker spaces have sewing machines ranging from standard sewing machines to industrial sewing machines.  I had recently picked up a new portable sewing machine for EMMA - my mobile studio for creating and making,  but I had yet to hop on any of those sewing machines until yesterday.

Watching some fellow Generator members gathered around sewing machines and fabric in the Learning Lab, I decided to join the fun.

I picked up a red T-Shirt, laid down the Pillow Body People pattern pieces that Adriana had for us, and started to trace and cut! It has been 40 years since I had used a sewing machine.   Since the sewing machine was 'ready to go', I didn't have to futz around with the dreaded threading of the needle!

The directions were minimalist, so I spent some time with 'close observing'  of the Pillow People in various stages of creation around me.

As I was going through my 'making' I got to watch a magical process happen.  A young girl approached the sewing machine, but stayed at a distance.  Karen (one of the Generators sewing experts) invited her to join us and make with us.  The young girl kept her distant mumbling that she didn't know how to use a sewing machine.

Within minutes, Karen had engaged her with the colorful upholstery samples and piles of available T-Shirts as they looked at some of the T-Shirt Hack bags on display!  She started to imagine and talk about the type of bag she would like to make.

It didn't take long for her reluctance to transform to fully engaged and then to confident maker!   By the time her bag was finished, she was begging her grandma to stay longer so she could make a pillow person, too!

Again the magical maker formula of Inspiration, available Tools and Materials,   and inviting Mentors were at play in turning an observer into a maker.

Nice job Generator for setting up an inviting place to Make with just the right tools!
Nice job Adraiana for setting up accessible maker materials in a way that inspired!
Nice job, Karen for being the perfect welcoming mentor!

The whole process reminded me of a tweet I saw recently with a 3 questions to help you assess the accessibility of your maker space.  I wish I remembered who tweeted these, but because the questions were spot on and are firmly ingrained in the way I look at maker spaces and access!

I've been invited to join the Generator members during some of the maker sessions around sewing. Yesterday I felt very welcomed (no matter what my skills were).  And suddenly I'm eager to find out when the next event is so that I can show up!

As for my Pillow Person?  Well.... I got it all cut and mostly sewed up.  I picked up a copy of the pattern and directions from Adriana and  took the partially complete project  home so that I could add some e-textile components to it.

And as soon as I got home I took a recently purchased portable sewing machine, out of the box and made room for it on my home maker bench!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Learning About Maker Spaces in our Schools

EMMA - Lucie's mobile studio for Creating and Making
Last week  EMMA (my mobile studio for creating and making) and I had the pleasure leading a two day workshops for Champlain Valley Educator Development Center (CVEDC) for educators who might want to create a makerspace in their school.

I had just finished my annual  five day Create Make Learn Summer Institute  and I was filled with ideas of what I might want to include in this two day event.  The biggest problem was that I wanted to include TOO much!  Stepping back I reached into my teacher toolbox and used  a backward design approach to think about  WHAT I wanted them to leave with at the end of the two days!  I decided that what I really wanted them to be able to do is to “articulate WHY a Makerspace in MY School?”  or at least be ready to lead that conversation with their colleagues.

Video Summary of Two Day Workshop

Too many educators approach me with one question -
“Can you give us a shopping list of things that we should consider getting for a maker space and where to get them?”  

I try to resist answering that question until they can tell me their WHY. But the problem is that this is a chicken and egg situation. It’s hard to know your WHY if you have not experienced maker centered learning. You don’t know what’s possible. Of if you do, your understanding of what’s possible is limited to the areas you have experienced or what you have read. And since there is NO shortage of amazing materials about maker spaces (including shopping lists of resources) available online, educators are often feeling overwhelmed and confused. It was my goal that my two day workshop would provide teachers with a clearer understanding of some of the tools, technologies and materials often found in a maker space as well as WHAT type of impact having these available for students might have on learning.

This type of understanding does not simply come from looking at lists of maker space supplies.  This type of understanding does not just come from sitting around  talking about pedagogy.  This type of understanding does not come from creating a large collection of STEAM based lesson plans.  This type of understanding comes from from all of the above combined with experiencing the learning process that happens as you Create and Make.

It was my challenge to create a HANDS-ON MINDS-ON experience that left a group of teachers feeling empowered to have deeper conversations around maker spaces in their schools.

Generator - a community maker space
It all started with picking two great locations for the workshop.  We kicked off the workshop at the Generator  - a community maker space in Burlington Vermont, followed up with Day 2 in a school maker space - Studio B (the BTC maker space in Burlington Schools)  The locations of the workshops were instrumental to helping our group (mostly PreK - 8 teachers)  start to understand the possible WHY of a makerspace.   The locations for our workshop also highlighted how important that we examine our WHY as part of an interconnected system - a community of makers, educators, artists, inventors,  problem solvers,  and innovators shaping the future.  Our Why should be shaped by a greater understanding of how each of us contributes to the system and how we can help each other towards a greater collective impact.

In the spirit of backward design, the location helped these teachers of younger learners understand where their young learners COULD end up in just a few years.  It’s an incredible responsibility to be charged with creating the next generation of inventors, problem solvers,  and innovators.  What do we do to help teachers prepare for this daunting tasks?  

One of the best things you can do is to hold workshops in locations filled with inspirations and examples of what their YOUNG LEARNERS might be CREATING and MAKING in THEIR future.   

Too many teachers ask that a workshop give them something they can DO TOMORROW in THEIR CLASSROOM.   We need to think BIGGER than this!   Yes,  the workshop should also provide that practical thing you can use tomorrow,  but more importantly it should leave you inspired to prepare students for THEIR future.  

As we toured the Generator, I asked teachers to take as many pictures as they could of INSPIRATION that they could use to better understand what their students might be able to create someday.   I also suggested that they take pictures of tools and materials that might be useful in a makerspace.   This would be the beginning of the LIST of tools and materials they asked for in our earlier conversation.  THEY would build this list together from their experience over the next two days!   Trying to model that a teacher’s job is not to provide a ready made solution, but to help students ask the right questions and  design a solution to questions like (How do I create a makerspace in my school), I was determined not to provide a recipe but to help them create their own individual design that matched their WHY!  

It was my goal that their question would move from “What should I buy and where do I get it?”  to “How do I set kids on a journey to create and make amazing artifacts or solutions to problems.”  

Educators inspired by Generators Member Projects

The locations of our two day workshop set the stage perfectly for this to happen.

After our tour of the Generator,  we jumped into a Make and Take that not only left teachers with their own IDEA Journal where they could flesh out their WHY, but also with a clearer understanding of the process of learning and making with tools like vinyl cutters, CNC machines, laser cutters, 3D printers.   The consensus was that even though many of the teachers might NOT USE THIS TOMORROW, they NOW UNDERSTOOD the difference between each of these technologies. They knew the difference between additive technology and subtractive technology.  They knew the pros and cons of choosing a laser cutter vs a CNC machine to solve a problem or create an artifact.  

Creating and Making our Idea Journals

Using a Laser Cutter or a Vinyl Cutter  
Or a 3D Printer

Or perhaps a CNC machine

So many choices!  So much fun to explore the possibilities as we learn new skills.

By the end of the first day, this group of educators agreed that they knew which tools were more accessible to their learners and which ones would require students to develop  pre-requisite skills. They could design experiences in their classroom that helped build those skills.  They started to see connections between some real world applications to content in their curriculum (i.e. X, Y, Z axis) They started to understand tools and processes that their students might have available in the not too distant future.  Even if some of the teachers did  NOT have these technologies in their classroom, they knew they were preparing students to use tools that might be in their school soon (if not already)   or might be accessible in their community through partnerships with community maker spaces like the Generator.

On Day 2 we moved to a school maker space Studio B - a school maker space ( at the Burlington Technical Center.  Too few teachers are aware of the changing role that Career and Technical Education can play in the lives of our students.  The 16 Career and Technical Education Centers that serve ALL of Vermont’s students are not the “vocational programs” that many of us experienced when we were students.  They provide amazing opportunities for students who thrive in hands-on minds on environment using some of the most advanced technologies in the industry. They prepare our students to succeed in college and post-secondary training and have several dual enrollment college opportunities built into them.  

As Vermont teachers help advise and mentor students in developing personal learning plans for their educational journey, both our teachers and our students need increased awareness of the Career and Technical Center opportunities available in their school district.  Our Day 2 venue did this in so many ways, including the long walk to the bathroom as we passed classrooms labeled Welding or Aviation.  Having spent 15 years teaching in a Career and Technical Center, I can attest that the students who are filling our current school makerspaces absolutely need to know about these opportunities; and as teachers we can help increase their awareness by increasing our own awareness to better mentor them through their personal learning plans.

Courtney welcomes us to Studio B
We were welcomed to Burlington Technical Center by Courtney Asaro who had helped design and set up the Studio B makerspace just last year.  We had the added bonus of having Courtney talk to us about her work with younger learners at Flynn Elementary.  Courtney described how SHE and her young students would be collaborating with the Burlington Technical Center in the upcoming school year.  She also shared examples of how Flynn Elementary students had collaborated with Generator members, driving home the importance of understanding the power of leveraging the community as you develop your maker education journey.

Our morning conversation was rich and had a natural flow to it as teachers debriefed the previous day and prepared for our second day of making.  Listening to what surprised them, what was challenging, and what inspired them revealed that they were really starting to understand their “WHY” and how  a makerspace might fit into their school.  Seeing similar technologies in a school maker space as they had seen earlier at the Generator, (laser cutter, 3D printer, vinyl cutter, CNC machine, power tools, hand tools, and more) our group of educators were less interested in the ‘tools’  and more interested in the process of making.  The shift in the conversations was a perfect set up to the experiences I had designed for the day.

Our Day 2  workshop design revolved around the multi-disciplinary Transferrable Skills that Vermont teachers are being asked to design their own learning around.  

By the end of the morning, our teachers had experienced how increased confidence with circuits and code  could equip students with tools for Creative and Practical Problem Solving,  Mathematical Standards of Practice and Science and Engineering Practice found in Next Generation Science Standards.

They had experienced the fun and joy of creating their own inventions using a Makey Makey.  I shared  stories with concrete examples from classrooms around Vermont of students demonstrating Self Direction,  Responsible Citizenship, and Integrated and Informed Systems through Creating and Making in their schools.   Their understanding of where coding fit into the big picture grew as they experienced an unplugged coding activities that set them up to a successful experience using  the Scratch coding environment to control their own  inventions and physical objects with a Makey Makey.  Laughter and joy combined with persevering through challenges lead to discussions about growing MINDSET as well as  SKILLS in our students.  

The workshop ended with another MAKE and TAKE that used Paper Circuits to expand the possibilities of  Clear and Effective Communications.  Equipped with new skills (from designing closed circuits to soldering) and examples of how various teachers and students had used these skills in their curriculum, our teachers started to imagine ways they could integrate creating and making with circuits in their own learning spaces.  

The conversations about pedagogy happened naturally through our making,  through our questions,  and through our sharing of ideas that emerged throughout the two days.  However, the experience did not stop them from asking one more time -- “Do you have a LIST of supplies for us?”  I pointed to the supplies we had used over the two days and also to a few great resources online that included such lists and I smiled when I heard one of them exclaim.. “Now I know what this stuff is.  I would have had no idea what a jumper cable was and why I might need it before.”

I encouraged them to keep taking and collecting picture of materials, to keep sharing tools, materials, processes they discover, but mostly to keep asking WHY as they looked over each item in a pre-populated makerspace list of resources and to look through these lists with a LENS that included their WHY!  Yes, there WHY would change over time and should not be static, but hopefully these two days helped to create a lens by which they could continue the journey of creating a makerspace in their school in a powerful and meaningful way.

And hopefully I left my participants more curious and hungry for more.  Perhaps we’ll even see some of them at next year’s 5 day Create Make Learn Summer Institute.