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. 

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