Monday, December 26, 2022

How Making for Others Contributes to Learning Process

The holiday season often brings the opportunity to MAKE for others.  Traditionally I've made lots of food gifts.  I love baking around the holidays  - especially French Canadian favorites like tortiere (meat pies) and Bouche the Noel.  I've also taken to making ornaments to give to my family.  

Since I especially love learning new tools and processes and I've been a bit obsessed with snowflakes lately, I came up with an ornament idea that involved all of the above. 

The ornament design I was envisioning provided me with the opportunity to learn to use for design as well as how to engrave acrylic using the Cricut Maker.  I also got to pull out my e-textile supplies and experiment with designing switches. 

In my recent experiences creating Code You Can Touch, I've been coding SnowFlakes. My laser cutter is a fun way to turn Code into something I can touch like this LED nightlight. 

 I realize that most schools don't have access to a laser cutter, but many schools have adopted computer controlled cutters like the Cricut Maker - and for those who don't yet - the cost is within reach.  So I purchased the Cricut Engraving tool which I've found for around $20 online and some acrylic blanks.  After watching a few YouTube videos for tips and tricks to engraving acrylic with the Cricut Maker, I  discovered that indeed it is possible to engrave with more accessible tools for schools.  As you might expect, its nowhere near as fast as it is on a laser cutter, but it can be done! 

I used the purple (stickiest mat), taped down by acrylic with blue tape, and changed my CUT line type to ENGRAVE and 20 minutes later I had engraved my first acrylic blank with a snowflake design.  However, I discovered that the engraving of an SVG file only engraves the outline of the graphic, and that was not the result I was looking for.  I wanted the Cricut to engrave inside my graphic.  After a little more research, I learned that using the SLICE feature of the Cricut Design software with a HATCH LINE FILL pattern would make the engraving look solid.  This  video created by Kay from Clever Someday, not only shows you how, but Kay also includes a Cricut Starter project with the line pattern you need for this technique. (look at her show notes in the video description)   It worked perfectly and helped me understand how engraving on acrylic works by scratching lots of lines close together and how to create that effect.  She also has lots of extra resources on her website/blog.

Also on my "To Do" list was to learn to use - a  web based tool I've recently discovered in my search for a tool that students could use on their Chromebooks to design SVG files.   Since Corel's take over of Gravit, I've been trying lots of different workflows and excited to discover not only works on a Chromebook, but that the company is also listening to educators' need for student data privacy agreements. 

I found the interface with Cuttle to be a little less intuitive than I had hoped, but after a little practice with their tutorials, I started to get the hang of their approach and was able to envision a design for my ornaments.  Of course, it helped that Cuttle had a beginning tutorial using SNOWFLAKEs -which I've been obsessed with lately.   The Getting Started  Part 1. and Part 2 were also particularly helpful. 

I must say that my prior limited knowledge with SVG design were both a help and a hindrance and I had bit of trouble wrapping my head around how uses MODIFIERS, but once I started to see how easy it was to  GROUP objects, and add or remove modifiers to the group using the panel on the right side of the screen, I began to really enjoy experimenting with Cuttle.  I still haven't figured out how to vectorize the border of a fat stroke without using the Stacked Layer modifier described above. I'm sure there is a way.  I'll do a different blog post that gets into my learning journey with Cuttle as I continue to learn more.   For now I'll continue to describe my experience designing these ornaments with broad strokes.  More details later, I promise. 

After successfully designing the snowflake from the tutorial and  using boolean operators to add the snowflake stems to a 3 inch circle, I was on my way to create the design I imagined.  Working with white poster board proved to be a great medium for this design. 

As if Cuttle was tuned into my snowflake obsession, they had created this really fun SNOWFLAKE NAME generator tool.    They even used a version of my name as an example (Lucia).  But I quickly started to create a design with the names of my grandchildren.  

Above you can see my first iteration.  After learning how to do a fill pattern for the engraving and how to size and center my SVG file I was engraving with my Cricut maker, I was excited to continue to experiment. 

Soon I discovered that with the right font and by playing around with the parameters of the snowflake name generator tool you could create some really beautiful snowflake designs. 

Above, you can see the SVG file I created for Julian by playing with parameters of  Cuttle's Name Generator  tool laid out on a Hatch Line pattern, ready for slicing in Cricut Design space. 
So much Fun!  

Inspired, I had an idea that required more learning with Cuttle.  What if I could blend the names of Julian's parents in a single ornament.  I knew what I wanted to accomplish, and it took a few tutorials to master the basics of Cuttle so that I had more control  with editing paths to accomplish this - but perseverance, a few more Cuttle tutorials,  and a growth mindset, helped me come close to my vision. 

My vision was to light up the acrylic snowflake name ornaments inside a bigger white snowflake.
For this I dug out my eTextile supplies:  conductive thread, sewable led, alligator clips, coin cell battery and battery holder, Very Skinny needle, and invaluable threader.   

I cut out a circle inside a circle from cardboard, and used conductive thread and a sewable LED. 

The sewable LED's were much brighter than my regular LED's and  created a nice contrast. They also fit snuggly against the edge of the acrylic. The corrugated cardboard provided the perfect channel for the conductive thread to pass through.

With a little experimenting I was able to create the right size hole (2.80 inches) in my snowflake design to glue onto the front and back of my cardboard that held my 3 inch acrylic ornament.

I was pretty excited about the main ornament design.
But then came the biggest challenge, 
how to create an assembly that would allow the ornament to be 
powered and switched off and on. 

My first iteration included sewing a snap onto the battery holder and onto some ribbon.
Unfortunately I did not have cloth ribbon, and this design didn't work so great with the Christmas ribbon laying around my place. 

I had more success experimenting with Cuttle to create different snowflake designs so each ornament could have its own unique snowflake. 

A few days later, I discovered a fabric shop nearby and picked up some cloth ribbon.
I kept experimenting with different designs for the switch and landed on one that seemed to work using Jie Qi's  paper coin cell battery holder.   I wrapped the conductive thread around the copper tape extensions.  I'm thinking it might have worked better with fabric based conductive tape. 

And after several days of making and practicing my growth mindset, I ended up with 4 rather large unique snowflake ornaments for Oliver, Julian, and their parents. 

And in between my ornament making sessions, I found time for some more age appropriate making with Julian and Oliver. 

Throughout the process I kept thinking about the fact that making for someone I loved, really contributed through the perseverance needed to exercise that growth mindset.  Many of us in education are familiar with Carol Dweck's work around Growth Mindset.  Making (especially making for others) is a fabulous way to help students develop that growth mindset.   Throughout my process this holiday, I kept thinking about how my motivation and perseverance were impacted because I was making for others I love and how I've seen this play out in several maker related learning experiences.  

So when you consider your WHY - in designing space for learning through creating and making in our schools,  consider Carol Dweck's research on growth mindset. 

Sunday, December 11, 2022

The SnowFlake Challenge - Making an Artifact

If you've been following along with the 3 previous post, you are ready to MAKE SOMETHING fun with your SNOWFLAKE  design. 

In the last post we showed you how to take your Snowflake design from SCRATCH and convert it to an SVG file.

Once you have it as an SVG file you can choose your favorite maker tool to create something meaningful from the design you coded.

Many schools and libraries have electronic cutters like the CRICUT and SILHOUETTE cutter. These can be used to cut paper, vinyl, fabric, and much more.  

This video walks you through the steps you need to use your SNOWFLAKE svg file to create something with an electronic cutter like these ornaments.

I even got to create some new earrings 

on faux Suede cut on the Cricut

using my coded snowflake.

If you have access to a laser cutter, you could cut your design or etch your design on acrylic and insert it into a LED base to create a special night light.   

If you have access to a 3D printer, you can import your SVG file into TinkerCad
Adjust the size and send it to your 3D printer. 

So many possibilities!

And don't forget, you can always submit a photo of your SnowFlake Artifact
to our Code SnowFlake Challenge for a chance to win 
an LED nightlight with your SnowFlake Design.


Saturday, December 10, 2022

The Snowflake Coding Challenge Part 2 of 2

 Yesterday we completed the first 10 of the puzzles in  this lesson teaching Anna and Elsa to create designs with their skates and also teaching the Scratch cat to do the same using SCRATCH.

Today we will continue to grow our confidence with code as we complete the last 10 puzzles of   this  sequence on both and SCRATCH. 

With Puzzle 10, we learned to draw a parallelogram.

In Puzzle 11, we use the REPEAT code block to draw 4 parallelograms evenly spaced apart, turning 90 degrees before drawing the next.  Note that 360 degrees divided by 4 tells us that our angle turn should be 90 degrees. 

Can you make the Scratch cat draw 4 parallelograms evenly spaced apart, turning 90 degrees between each?  Hint: you could use 2 nested blocks to complete this task.

Notice the 2 loops that will be used in this code.  Can you put these 3 code sequences in the right order to complete the design above? 

Give it a try!

Does your CODE look like this? 

In Puzzle 12, we are challenged to create a similar design with 10 parallelograms.  You'll not only need to change the REPEAT, you'll also need to change the number of degrees you turn in between each parallelogram.  (Remember that a circle is 360 degrees)   

Go ahead and try to complete this challenge using the FROZEN tutorial and then code the Scratch cat to also create this design. 

Does your code look like this?

In Puzzle  13,  we learn to draw a circle by drawing one step, turning 1 degree, and repeating that process 360 times.   After completing the FROZEN tutorial, go ahead and code the Scratch Cat to draw a circle. 

Does your Code look like this? 

Puzzle  14 is introduces a very important skill -- Creating a Function!

This  video does a GREAT job explaining why Functions are so important.  After completing Puzzle 14 in the Frozen tutorial,  we'll want to create a similar function in SCRATCH. 

Because Scratch does not have a JUMP command, we will also be creating a function that allows the Scratch cat to jump along with a function that creates a circle. 

Let's get started! 

Learn to use the MY BLOCKS feature in Scratch to create a function and complete the Puzzle14 task.

Watch this video to learn how to create a function in Scratch that will create a circle and a function that will JUMP.

In Puzzle 15 you will use your  newly created Circle Function to create 20 overlapping circles.  After you complete the puzzle in try to code your Scratch Cat to create the same design. 

Does your code look something like this? 

In Puzzle  16, we learn how to make different size circles.

Watch this video from Colleen Lewis to better understand drawing circles in Scratch.  (Note: if the circle is too big and goes outside the canvas, the results are unpredictable and this formulas appears not to work when the sprite draws off the visible screen.

To successfully complete this mini-lesson, you'll need to learn how to add a PARAMETER to your Function using MY BLOCKS.  I created this video to show you how.

Now that you're feeling more confident with using MYBLOCKS in Scratch to create functions,  completing Puzzle 16  should be a breeze.   First try the puzzle, then try to do the same using Scratch.

Does your code look something like this? 

In Puzzle 17 you are challenged to create a pattern with 5 repeating circles of one size and 5 more repeating circles that are smaller.  You'll use the Circle Function you created earlier.   (For a uniform pattern, remember that 360 degrees / 5 is 72 degrees.)
Important Note:  Keep your steps smaller than 2 in Scratch if you want your circle to fit on the canvas. You can try to step 1.5 steps.   If you get circles that don't close, try a smaller step in your move command.

Let's see what pattern you come up with.  Does your code look similar to this? 

During Puzzle 18, you'll actually start to create a snowflake using functions that the folks at have created for you called "Snowflake Branch".  You will take their "SnowFlake Branch" function to create the beginnings of a snowflake.   Watch carefully as the snowflake branch is being drawn and start to think about what code you would use to create that SnowFlake Branch function yourself. 

Before you hop back to Scratch, go ahead and completePuzzle 19 in the lesson.  Look at that beautiful snowflake.  

Are you ready to use Scratch to create your own SnowFlake Branch. 

Let's start with a NEW Scratch Project. 
First SETUP these initial commands that you need at the beginning of your snowflake program. 

If you have not used the SHOW and HIDE commands this would be a good time to drag them out and make them part of your project.  Why not start every program by showing the CAT and ending your program by HIDING the CAT. 
Let's start by creating a very simple branch using code you already know how to use.

The next step is to decide how many times you would like to repeat your pattern to form a Snowflake Branch.  Add the repeat code to accomplish this, then add CODE that brings the Scratch cat back where it started.  Note: the number of times you repeat the pattern impacts the number of degrees you should turn. 

How about creating a JUMPSTEP function that allows you to move the cat without dragging the pen or drawing lines on your canvas. 
This could be helpful to bring the cat  back after each branch is drawn. 
When you are done, compare your code to my code.  Does it look similar?
If not, does it still do the job?

Now that you are getting good at functions, why not move the code you wrote to create your first snowflake branch  and use it as part of a new function  called SNOWFLAKEbranch.  You'll use MYBLOCKS to do this.

Once you have done that, you can use create a snowflake simply by using both the SNOWFLAKEbranch function and the JUMPSTEP function and adding code to turn your cat before it draws a new SnowflakeBranch. 

Here is how I did it.  Does your code look similar? 

Let's make one final touch that will help prepare our snowflake to be cut out of maker tools or  3D printed. generated.   Let's make the branches thicker and darker.   I used BLACK as pen color and 15 as my pen size to get the result below.  
You might be tempted to use a different color, but a black snowflake with thick lines will generate the best CUT when we get to the next step.  

Congratulations, you now have the skills you need to create several different snowflake branches. 

These final steps will result in a SNOWFLAKE svg file that can be used to create a real physical version of  the snowflake you coded.. 

Step 1. Hide the sprite. Then Right Click and SAVE the IMAGE. 
It will be saved in PNG format.  Rename it to make it easier to remember.

2. Navigate to an SVG converter site like and upload your snowflake. 
 Play with the filters until you find one that gives you the desired RESULT. 
 Hit DOWNLOAD  SVG.  It will download to your computer, where you can rename it.

I created a a short video that walks you through these steps. 

Once you have an SVG version of your creation, you can upload it to several maker tools to make something you can 'touch'.   I can't wait to see what you will create with your Code.
In the next post, I'll demonstrate how to upload your SVG into various maker tools so you can 3D print it or cut it from a laser cutter or other computer controlled cutter (i.e. Cricut, Silhouette)

Meanwhile,  you can keep playing with code and putting your new skills to the test by creating new designs.   

And finally in Puzzle 20, you get to design your own creations with code

or head over to Scratch and make your own designs.

After walking down 86th street in Brooklyn, I was inspired to code one of the snowflakes that stood out for me.   Here is the Scratch Project file where you can SEE INSIDE 

If you'd like to share your SnowFlakes with me - 
Fill out the form in the SNOWFLAKE Challenge and I'll add you to a drawing
for an LED nightlight made with your snowflake.

Friday, December 9, 2022

The SnowFlake Challenge Part 1 of 2

This year's Computer Science Week was a little different for me.  I usually spend it trying to encourage as many schools as I can to participate.  I also curate highlights from Vermont schools who participate on the Think About Code site.   

This year, I spent some time designing materials that could scaffold students and teachers who are interested in physical computing as a way to engage a more diverse population with computer science. 

In my last post, I offered a challenge that encouraged students and teachers to Code a SnowFlake and make something physical from your coded snowflake.  

Imagine taking a snowflake you coded in a program like Scratch or Snap

and making your own earrings or nightlight with it. 

Let's walk through the steps you need to create confidence with coding your own snowflake artifact.

As I mentioned in the last post,  this lesson is the perfect place to start.  

Code with Anna and Elsa

Use code to join Anna and Elsa as they explore the magic and beauty of ice. You will create snowflakes and patterns as you ice-skate and make a winter wonderland that you can then share with your friends!

Start by watching the 3 minute introduction, then go ahead and complete the 20 puzzles in  this tutorialBy end of the tutorial you will have the skills you need to code your own snowflake. 

HOWEVER, if you want to MAKE your coded snowflake into something personal with your laser cutter, vinyl cutter, or 3D printer, you will need to use a different platform to code your snowflake. Let me show you how using Scratch from MIT. 

In the next few posts I'll  walk you through what you would need to know to complete the 20 puzzles  that Anna and Elsa teach us using SCRATCH. Then we'll convert our final design to a file you can cut out, etch, or 3D print into a physical artifact. 

First you'll need to create an account on Scratch . Once you have an account, click on CREATE to get started.

In order to get the code blocks we need for this project,  ADD the PEN Extension. The icon for ADDING Extension can be found in the lower left navigational bar.  Once you add the PEN Extension,  a new set of GREEN code blocks will be at your disposal.

Go ahead ahead and explore using some of the PEN Extension commands. 

Once you are ready, I would suggest completing each of the 20 puzzles in this  tutorial  and also try to achieve the same task in SCRATCH. 

Let's load the  Elsa and Anna tutorial  Click  on Try Now

The first  puzzle  teaches you how to draw a single line  

After you have helped Elsa create a single line, go ahead and code the  SCRATCH cat to accomplish the same task. Your code should look like this. 

NOTE:  Make sure you have added the PEN EXTENSION or you won't seen the green  PEN DOWN block.

In Puzzle 2 you'll learn to turn and create a second line. 

Once you have completed Puzzle 2  on the tutorial, let's make your Scratch Cat do the same

One thing you might notices is that the folks at reset ELSA and ANNA after every lesson so they are ready for the new lesson.
Let me show you how you can do the same thing with our Scratch CAT

    If you add a few SETUP commands after the GREEN FLAG is clicked,  the Scratch Cat will be ready for you to code your next lesson. 
Go ahead and Add the commands below.
NAME and Save your file.

Now when you hit the Green Flag, the Scratch program will reset the Scratch Cat and  erase the screen,
and  put the PEN down so it can draw. 
The WAIT command  gives you a chance to see the Cat in Position. 

Great now you're ready for Puzzle 3 from where you teach Elsa and Anna to draw a SQUARE with their skates.   After you complete Puzzle 3 and successfully code a square with Elsa and Anna,   let's code the Scratch Cat to also draw a square.     In the rest of the post,  I'll describe the challenge, tben show you the solution for completing this tasks in Scratch. I would suggest you give it on your own before you scroll down to look at the Scratch solution code. 

In Puzzle 4, you'll learn to use LOOPS to make your code more efficient.  This video does a great job explaining how Loops work in computer science.   Once you have successfully used a Loop with Elsa and Anna,  you'll want to use a LOOP to help your Scratch Cat draw its square. 

Give it a try.

Does your  SCRATCH code looks something like this ?

Once you have mastered One Loop - how about working with several loops at once.  Puzzle 5 introduces NESTED Loops. By using NESTED Loops you can use one loop to draw your square, and then use a NEW LOOP to draw 3 squares while turning 120 degrees between each square. 

Your nested loop code should look similar to this 

See how evenly spaced your SQUARES are!  An important note is that to space a shape evenly around a CIRCLE, you'll need to know that the number of turns you take should equal 360 degrees.  In the last example there were 3 turns, so we divided 360 degrees by 3.  That tells us that each turn should be 120 degrees.

How many degrees do you think you should turn if you want to draw 10 squares around a circle? 
Give it a try?  Change the REPEAT value to 10 and also change the degrees of the turn to 360 divided by 10. 

Do it first with Elsa and Anna, and then come back and repeat the process with the Scratch cat.

Give it a try.

Does your Code look something like this after Puzzle 6.

In Puzzle 7, introduces a MOVE BACKWARDS command to help Elsa and Anna draw  a plus sign with their skates.
In Scratch, there is no MOVE BACKWARD command. In Scratch we move  move backwards by adding a negative sign to the number of steps you are moving. 

Can you draw a cross using Scratch. 
Give it. try before looking at the solution below. 

Note the NEGATIVE Sign being used to get the Scratch Cat to move backwards. 

IPuzzle 8, you will move backwards and forward as well as turn to create a star like figure with 10 lines.
How many degrees will  you need to turn between each line to end up with a beautiful star like shape made from 10 lines? 

Does your Scratch code look something like this? 

In Puzzle 9, you need to change the angles so you can code 90 lines around the circle to create a starburst look. 
How many degrees do you think you will need to turn to do this? 
Give it a try!

Does your code look like this?

For Puzzle 10, we'll change the angles of the square to create a Parallelogram. 
Watch this video, to learn more about parallelograms.
Then try to code a parallelogram.

This brings us to half way through the 20 puzzles. In tomorrow's post we'll finish up the last half of the puzzles in this tutorial and learn how to create your OWN blocks to make some unique snowflake patterns.