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.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Beyond the test print with my #cnc

My First CNC Project with #CARVEY

When I started to look around for what type of projects people are making to cut their teeth with #CNC in school makerspace,  I was not surprised to find the Fidget Spinners were trending!

Why not!

I was surprised to discover that Easel (the recommended software for Carvey)  has a feature called APPs filled with templates to get you started for newbies like me!

Of course - I chose the ever trendy Fidget Spinner as my first project.

And set the number of arms, arm length, and wall size

I then  picked a colorful piece of HDPE and used the digital calipers that Inventables shipped with my Carvey to find the thickness of my material.

The next step was to click on the Material Tab and select the correct material, and the thickness of my material into the setting for the Z axis.  Be especially careful to include the correct thickness here.  If you enter an amount greater than the thickness of your material, your bit will cut into your WASTE Board.   You should also check to see if your BIT size matches the size of the BIT that you have inserted into your CARVEY.


Now,  grab the material  you want to cut,  and insert it securely in the bottom left corner of the wasteboard.  Use additional clamps to  secure the material to the ‘board’, making sure to tighten the clamps.  Carvey provides extra aluminon  support for the back side of your clamps in different sizes.

Don’t forget to compare the cuts outlined in your software to the location of your materials to make sure that the clamps are clear of where your CNC will cut!

When you are feeling confident that your design settings are correct,  CHECK them again!

Then click on the CARVE button. Yes - this makes me nervous! I can still hear my CNC instructor, Matt Flego warn us that a CNC machine can eat itself and that we should keep our finger on the 'emergency stop' button when setting the CNC in motion.

Easel PROMPTs us to check each setting one additional time.

Double check these very carefully.  You don’t want the bit to chisel away at your clamps or down through your wasteboard.

In my case, the Easel software did some quick checks and warned me that my object was too big for the Carvey.  
Somehow  I missed a decimal point and it thought my material was 25 inches high instead of .25 inches hight! YIKES!

After making the necessary corrections and checking everything again,  I once again pressed CARVE and sent the job in motion!

Within minutes my fidget spinner was cut and I was vacuuming out the mess - which was nicely contained within the machine!

Time to shop for a shop vac and go pick up some bearing!

Note to self:  Buy some Sealed Bearing - 8mm x 22mm x 7mm

Admittedly this project  didn't take a lot of design skill,  but it was a good for me to learn the basic workflow of a #CNC job using Easel with my Carvey.  Now that I've gained a bit more confidence with the tool,  I'm looking forward to leveling up when choosing my next project.

Oh, And for those who are wondering "What's the deal with Fidget Spinners?"