One of the challenges I faced this year in the Makerspace was that our classroom got double-booked for the second nine weeks during 7th period. This meant my Principles of Applied Engineering Class met in a Spanish classroom – and the students who were eager to use large tools like the saws were disappointed at the temporary change in venue. (We ended up doing a 3D Design project that nine weeks.) I knew when we returned to the Makerspace at the beginning of January that the students would not want to be put off any longer, and racked my brains the entire Winter Break for a project with a purpose that would finally allow them to explore the tools.
Our Makerspace is relatively new, set up in the school’s old Cosmetology classrooms, and it’s definitely a work in progress. With upcoming renovations we will be getting another space, but we’ve been trying to make this one functional and inspirational in the meantime. Other than tool storage, our walls are somewhat blank. With that in mind, and everyone’s New Year’s Resolution tweets about their “One Word” for their year flooding my Twitter feed, the idea came to me that the students could practice using most of our tools while creating signs to hang up on the walls.
The students brainstormed words that they felt represented the Makerspace, and each group of 2-3 students chose a word. They made construction paper prototypes of their signs, planning out the measurements of the letters and the plaques. In the meantime, they did some flipped learning with online videos and safety tests for each of the tools they would be using.
All of the students used the table saw and miter saw to make their plaques. I have to say that this is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my job. Like me, many of these students are fearful before they use these powerful tools. After watching a few people do it without chopping off any fingers, they hesitantly try. Their smiles afterward remind me of my daughter’s reaction the first time I convinced her to ride roller coaster. “Let’s do it again!” The female students, especially, seem the most empowered after they finish. There is a noticeable difference in their self-confidence as they continue with their projects – some of them asking to cut other people’s projects so they can repeat their experience.
Once the plaques were made, the students were required to learn how to use at least 3 out of 4 other tools for the more precise designs of their letters. Each tool requires different software for design, so that was a bit challenging. The students could use: 3d printer, laser cutter, Silhouette cutter, or CNC mill. I encouraged them to use different fonts and types of “stock” for each letter. They could use acrylic, plywood, vinyl, cardstock, copper, aluminum, and filament. (Students could “earn” access to more expensive materials by meeting certain benchmarks on time.)
One of the cons of this project was that many students needed my help or supervision for different things at the same time. If I do the project again, I will plan more “mini workshops” about the software and schedule times to use certain tools. Another con was that our brand new CNC mill has a huge learning curve, and we lost a lot of time and material to mistakes. I think I’m finally learning its idiosyncrasies, so that shouldn’t be a huge problem in future projects.
Despite those issues, I felt really good about this project when we finished. I decided not to assess the actual signs, or to give any kind of team grade. Instead, students were assessed individually on their safety tests and on their final reflections of the design process. These reflections, which required pictures of different stages of the project, will be included in the online portfolios our school is required, and were very informative about how much the students understood about problem-solving and learning from mistakes during a project.
Here is what one student wrote, after describing some of the challenges encountered during the project, “That was all fine because that is how life is. You never truly know what is going to happen next and it allowed me to think on my feet a little better and reevaluate my plans; it was a reality check between what was possible and what I could accomplish if absolutely nothing went wrong, which isn’t life. Life is messy and that is beautiful.”
One of the advantages of my new school is its location. We are in downtown San Antonio – steps from the Riverwalk, downtown courthouses, parks, museums, and the Central Library. Our students go on many walking field trips, and we try to take advantage of our location whenever possible. Last weekend, the Central Library hosted the San Antonio Mini Maker Faire. A couple of my colleagues who also teach in our Maker Space at Advanced Learning Academy have been working with their students for a couple of months to design projects for the Faire.
Our school emphasizes exhibitions of student work, but this event had the added pressure of being open to the public. The students did not disappoint. Their projects included: a “Soc-Car” game with remote control cars on a soccer field moving ping pong balls, laser cut lanterns, upcycled toys, masks, ornithopters, wooden robots, and screen-printed shirts.
One highlight was “Fruit Guillotine,” admittedly a nerve-wracking demonstration every time as the aluminum blade whooshed down to decapitate bananas. Children were delighted, begging for multiple turns, as anxious parents stood nearby.
Watching the students interact with guests of the Maker Faire was wonderful. I heard descriptions of their design processes, details of failures and problem-solving, and obvious pride in what they had accomplished. Some of them were already prepared with ideas for what they will do differently next year.
Watching my colleagues conduct this project with the students was inspirational, and I am already determined my own students will participate next year. If you have the same opportunity (many cities host similar events), I highly recommend you consider guiding your students through this experience. It is a lot of hard work, but making for a genuine audience is always rewarding.
There are many tools out there for students who struggle with reading. There were several I gathered at TCEA 2019 this year, and I have been meaning to share a curated list. Here is a quick rundown (a big thanks to Leslie Fisher, who demonstrated these in her multiple sessions):
Immersive Reader – Microsoft offers this free suite of reading aids through OneNote or directly through it’s Microsoft Edge browser. If you install the extension on your browser, you can change the background, break words into syllables, search for certain parts of speech, focus on a line, access a picture dictionary, translate, and read text out loud. Thanks to Leslie Fisher for demonstrating all of these features!
Rewordify – You can change complex text to simpler language by pasting it into the box on this page. Even better, there are several free learning activities that you can customize and print that offer matching, quizzes, etc…
SMMRY – Get a summary of the text you paste into the box.
Google Docs Voice Typing – Just go to the Tools in Google Docs to access this feature and make sure you give access to the microphone.
Closed Captioning in Google Slides – Did you know that you can offer closed captioning as you present a Slides presentation? Click here to get the instructions.
Microsoft Translator – Download this app to your phone or just use it in your browser to start a conversation with anyone anywhere. Among its other features, you can use multiple microphones for a conversation, which can be translated into multiple languages at the same time! You can also use the app to take pictures of text (typed, not handwritten) and translate it.
I hope at least one or two of these tools is new and helpful to you!
This is Yeti, the 3-year-old bulldog we adopted last September. As you can see, Yeti likes the laundry basket. I kind of like it, too, because when Yeti falls asleep with his head propped up he doesn’t snore as loudly. Win/win.
Unfortunately, Yeti has some kind of leg injury still to be determined. Despite his pain, he insists on climbing into the laundry basket. He has also chewed one side of the basket down to sharp plastic points which make it very possible he will re-neuter himself if he isn’t careful.
My husband pointed out, as I bemoaned the lack of a perfect bed for a bulldog who likes high sides but needs a lower entrance that won’t slice off any appendages, pointed out that I do work in a Maker Space now. And I have tools. And I teach students how to solve problems using Design Thinking.
I guess you can tell where this is going.
We are beginning the last nine weeks of this school year – my first year in this secondary maker space. It has been a year of a lot of learning, and I am about to do a whole lot more. My students are selecting their own projects this nine weeks, and chances are I won’t have the slightest idea how to do any of them, much less my own project on designing and building a bed for a finicky bulldog.
But that’s how I roll.
All of the horrible teachers I had in my life had a couple of things in common – they were pretty sure of themselves and were terrified of change. I don’t subscribe to the notion that teachers need to be experts or that rigidity improves learning. It helps to know your topic, of course. But it’s more important to have relationships with the students and to be willing to learn – with them and from them.
So, we’re all going to be applying what we’ve learned this year. The students will give me feedback, and I’ll do the same. We will consult experts and try not to cry or give up when we make mistakes. I will be chronicling my engineering design process just as I ask them to keep their own journals.
By the end of May, Yeti will probably still be sleeping in his dilapidated laundry basket. Because that’s how stubborn bulldogs roll.
In the past, I have taught students about biomimicry/biomimetics, in which designers use inspiration from nature to create new products. (The Youth Design Challenge is a great place to find resources for this.) Biodesign takes things one step further by actually incorporating nature, often still living, into innovative artifacts that can be purely for decoration or serve specific purposes.
I first became aware of biodesign when I ran across a website for The Nest Makespace. The unusual images on the home page intrigued me. (I admit that I thought the “bioyarn” designs were actually made out of worms, but it turns out that it’s probably more like this material.)
The Nest Makespace offers some fascinating project ideas here. I am hoping that more lesson plans will be linked soon. In the meantime, you can find more suggestions on the Resource page.
For a “Peek at the Possibilities of Biodesign,” click on this link, or watch the embedded video below.
Alexis Lewis is a teenage inventor who is on a mission to inspire other teens to innovate. You can read her story, and about the products she has invented so far in her young life, here. Alexis specifically wants middle schools to guide students with inventing curriculum, and has launched a website to help in this endeavor. Inventing 101 is a good start as a repository of resources with this end in mind. You can also visit her personal website to learn more about other teen inventors on this page
Looking back on my blog posts, I see that I’ve never devoted one to Flippity even though I’ve used it for various reasons the last couple of years. If you haven’t tried Flippity and you like user-friendly tech tools, you should definitely visit the site. When I first started using it, it was basically an easy way to turn a Google Spreadsheet into flashcards. Since then, it has added many more features – all for free.
Leslie Fisher reminded me to take another look at Flippity when she mentioned a few of the newer additions to the site. There is a now a Timeline and a Typing Test. You can also make a Scavenger Hunt (which is similar to a Digital Breakout, but much easier to create!). I am eager to try the Badge Tracker for our Maker Space. I also noticed that there is a Flippity Add-On for Chrome if you are interested.
Each activity offers you a template that you can copy to your Drive. Follow the instructions on the template and/or the website by typing information into the correct cells. Publish your spreadsheet, get the link, and the magic happens.
Don’t forget that your students can also create with Flippity. Though most of the templates are not going to promote deep learning, they are great opportunities for students to practice skills in novel ways.
One of my presentations this year at TCEA was called, “50 Shades of Green,” (thanks to Angelique for that title). I’ve been curating information about using green screens with classes from my own blog posts, tweets, and other shared blogs from educators. The presentation included ideas for activities/lessons, apps and software for editing, and practical tips. There are lots of links for resources, so if you are looking for a comprehensive collection of green screen ideas, feel free to take a look at the presentation here.
I learned quite a bit about Artificial Intelligence at a TCEA session this year presented by Anita Johnson of Austin ISD. She explained the difference between Expert Systems (where explicit rules are programmed – think “If…Then” statements) and Machine Learning (where the computer identifies and learns from patterns). Johnson teaches middle school, and introduced us to a site called, “Machine Learning for Kids,” which she uses with her students. In the “Worksheets” section, you can find many lessons, categorized by difficulty level, that can be done using Scratch, such as creating a character that smiles if you say nice things and cries if you are mean.
I haven’t had a chance to try this with my students, yet. It looks like you have an option to create a managed class account or “Try it Now”, but check out this page for details on the pros and cons of each choice.
You can also read this blog post to get more information on how to introduce Machine Learning to kids, and why we should even want to educate them about this technology.
It’s always fun to return to the classroom after attending TCEA with something new to use with the students right out of the gate. Of course, as with all things technological, it’s a bit of a risk to try something for the first time without testing how it’s affected by random things like network firewalls. Fortunately, my gamble worked with Gimkit.
Gimkit is an online student response system similar to Kahoot. It was developed by a high school student, who added in an interesting twist – monetization. Students win virtual money as they answer questions correctly. The money can be used to shop for different upgrades such as making each answer worth more money or “icing” your opponents.
Teachers can make Gimkits from scratch, a spreadsheet, or a Quizlet. The questions are multiple choice. Unlike Kahoot, the questions appear on the student devices while the teacher device streams a live leaderboard. The board shows each student’s earnings, who is ahead, and the collective amount earned by the class. I ended up setting my two different engineering classes up as opponents in a “season” so they could compete to see which class earned the most. (Hint: this keeps students from “icing” each other during the game because they will lose out on collective earnings.)
Teachers can also set a time limit, which means that questions will repeat. To be honest, I thought the students would get bored once questions started coming back around, but they begged for more time after ten minutes.
The game was such a success with my 8th-11th graders on Thursday that I decided to use it for another class I was teaching in rotation to 8th graders on Friday. Again, full engagement.
The students in my 4th rotation started getting messages that the site had just upgraded and they were suddenly bounced out of the game. I almost had a complete mutiny on my hands as they realized they would be out of the running for the class competition.
Fortunately a similar situation happened while Leslie Fisher was presenting Gimkit at TCEA. She tweeted Gimkit, and they immediately rolled the site back to the working version. I decided to try the same thing.
My students were dubious.
“What do you mean you’re going to tweet him, Miss? How is that gonna help?”
“This ain’t fair. We’re never gonna win now, Miss!”
Withing a couple of minutes, Gimkit tweeted back their apologies and fixed the issue. My students were astounded.
That class won the competition, by the way. (Free outdoor time next period.)
So, if you have secondary students, I would definitely recommend you check out Gimkit the next time you want to do something a little different for a formative assessment. It will be interesting to watch as this site expands its offerings, but hopefully it will always keep the current features for free.