From Computer Labs to Makerspaces

So nearly 7 months into our official opening of the Makerspace, I thought I would spend  a few minutes and honestly reflect on how it is going (more for my own sanity than anything).

Overall, it’s been a great learning experience and more the most part, it has been a very positive change for the students and the school. I don’t for one second regret the days of a computer lab and don’t think I could ever go back to teaching “technology” as a stand alone subject. I think those days are behind us and schools really do need to transition from this model to a more flexible learning space that reflects the needs of modern-age pedagogy, devices and learning environments (notice how I purposely didn’t use 21st century learning).

computer-lab

So why maker? Is this simply a new educational fad or buzzword, much like differentiation, learning styles, and performance assessment? Perhaps…but I’m willing to bet that it’s hear to stay much longer. Tools come and go but good ideas tend to stand the test of time. For me, it resonates with all my core beliefs in education; student-centered learning, personalized, authentic learning tasks, inquiry and problem-solving. You could argue that these are all buzz words as well but they are good buzz words, at least ones that have a deeper meaning than the former ones.

However, as much as I love technology, I think we really need to move beyond screens. Yes devices help us learn but they are a tool and there needs to be a balance with real hands-on learning using actual physical objects that don’t behave like perfect virtual models. We need things that break, stick, snap, twist and bend. Now more than ever, kids need to more hands-on experiences. As a Gen-Xer (or Gen Yer), we spent hours building forts, making messes, taking things apart and trying to put things back together again. Maybe this is me just being nostalgic but I feel I have a duty to ensure that kids don’t miss out on this.

How to Plan a Family Maker Day for your school

After just finishing our 2nd Maker Day held at our school, I thought it would be a good time to stop and reflect and possibly write a few things down that may help others who are interested in starting one. I am by no means an expert but have learned a couple of things so far. makersaturdaynov

What is a family Maker day? 

A Maker day is a family event that we decided to hold on a Saturday morning (9am-12pm) where students from all ages come in with their parents and engage in a variety of Maker activities. We wanted to keep the “family” aspect of it as we wanted kids to come in with their parents and make, design, innovate together. The activities range from just about anything including robotics, engineering, design challenges, e-textiles, circuit making and cardboard construction. We can’t claim that we created this idea. We got inspired to do this after learning about it from ASB. All stations are flexible so kids can spend as much or as little time on them as they like and there is no set “order” that they have to go through. All stations are fun by volunteer teachers, parents and HS students. We try and keep the atmosphere fun, relaxed but engaging.

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Why hold a Maker Day? 

It’s just another way to raise awareness of what making is all about and begin to build interest and excitement in maker activities and this spills into the curriculum. It’s great for teachers to be able to see what it is all about and work with other students. Students love it and come to the Makerspace excited to try out activities.

How do I go about organizing a Maker Day? 

First off, it’s a ton of work so you need someone (or a couple of people) who have the time and energy to initiate it. There’s no one way to do a Maker Day and lots of different formats. Here’s some of my advice in getting started:

  • Plan early. Get admin on board and book in the event months in advance if possible. Decide on the venue, format and identify people to coordinate it
  • Start small. Maybe plan for 50 students. Our first event had around 100 and our 2nd one this year had about 110 students. Any bigger and it gets hard to manage and you need more volunteers and resources
  • Recruit volunteers early. For each station (ideally), you’ll need one adult/HS student to facilitate it
  • Plan activities. Depending on the age-range, you’ll want a variety of activities that cater to different age groups.
  • Recruit some outside companies to come and do demos. We had several companies come and showcase their products. They can market their products but also adds to the day
  • Involve parents early. Talk to the PTA and try and get a few parents on board to market it to other parents
  • Involve operations in the process. You’ll need some tech support, maintenance workers, cleaners and other support staff to help you out.
  • Test out all activities and make checklists of materials for each station and double-check (triple-check) you have all materials well in advance
  • Make sure you thank and show your appreciate for all volunteers. Without them, it wouldn’t be possible.

 

 

Elementary Makerspace-A Tour

After over a year of planning, budgeting, and designing, the ES Makerspace is finally complete. Although, in reality, a true Makerspace is never complete and always going through an endless internal design process. I’m very proud of where we are at as a school and the kids here absolutely love it!

I’ll get into the how and why we made this in another post.

I thought I would share a few features of the space and rationale behind some of the decisions. I know when we were doing research, finding examples of Makerspaces around the world helped us envision what we wanted.

Some of the themes we wanted, were flexibility, accessibility, and personalization.  We wanted an innovative space that was flexible to the many kinds of projects that students would engage to. We wanted it to be bright and inviting and have a certain aesthetic quality to it. Well a picture is worth a thousand words!

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ES Makerspace-Update #2

Awhile back, I wrote a post here about our Makerspace program. Since we are nearing the end of the year, I thought I would write an update of where we are at and a little about what I’ve learned along the way.

First of all, our ES Makerspace has passed budget approval and we are doing some major renovation of the space which I am currently in (formally an ES Tech lab). During the summer months here, we will give the room a facelift. This took an enormous amount of research and work. Since I’m not an architect or a builder, I found it challenging to make decisions on so many little details about the room. I had lots of input and support from my admin and teachers who gave me feedback along the way. I also had meetings with our Operations Director, IT Manger and Builders. After thinking carefully about the functionality of the room, I think we have a near final plan. I used a 3D modelling program to create this and you can see it here (click the 3D tab on the right to move around the space).

 

The idea is that it will have different spaces set up (electrical, woodworking and crafting areas) that are flexible for both storage and workspaces. The side benches on the left are fixed to the wall as well as the shelving above. Along the wall will be peg board and linbin flexible shelving to store tools and materials for kids like below:


The benches and other side tables will be on wheels so they can be moved around when needed. The side storage room is a bigger storage room for all school science and engineering kits and materials.

Now that the space is done, we need to start finding effective ways to utilize it as a school. The idea is that it is a shared space where classes can come and go as they please but also open before school and during lunchtimes where kids can “drop in” to work on Maker projects. I certainly do NOT want it to become a newer age computer lab where formal classes are being held. In addition, we are thinking of ways to have mini mobile maker spaces (on trolleys) that can come into classes as needed. Sort of like this:

makerspace trolley

Other than that, lots of really cool projects have been happening in classrooms. We launched a new Energy maker project in Grade 4 where students used the design cycle to solve an energy problem. They held an Energy Expo for parents and teachers to showcase their work. I really loved how students referred to the design cycle and all the little problems they had to solve. Here’s a few photos of their projects:

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Other than that, we held our first Family Maker Day which was a big hit (but a ton of work!). We had 100 students come with their parents and had 14 different stations that they could freely engage in (I think I’ll do a separate post for this).

Here’s a few photos from the day as well:

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Chromebooks-a new paradigm shift in schools?

chromebooks-apps-flyout

Next year, we have decided to buy chromebooks as the new 1:1 computing device for Grades 3-5. It was a difficult decision but I feel it was the right one now for a few reasons.

Let’s face it, chromebooks are not that new anymore. However, they have been quickly overtaking iPad 1:1 programs and other laptop programs, especially in the US as reported here and here. As an educator (and Apple Distinguished Educator), I believe its the right device for schools in the future. I’ve worked in 1:1 programs with iPads, Macbooks, Samsung tablet computers, Samsung tablets and soon, Chromebooks. While I’ve enjoyed some of the creativity Apple has given us, I’ve had to deal with the nightmare of managing these devices through iTunes (not friendly outside North America). I’ve also had to deal with the hardware and syncing issues of Windows 8 on Samsung devices…also a nightmare. Both of these options seem to require an enormous amount of technical support and infrastructure.

I honestly feel the software model in schools will be behind us. Most schools are now cloud-based in storage (ala Google Apps or O365) and there are a plethora of online tools that you really don’t need most software. The software model requires an enormous amount of time and money to support (imaging, updates, etc) and it can really detract from student learning. If a teacher finds an amazing software tool to use in the classroom, it needs to get budget approval then requires a technician (or if you are blessed with a proper MDM) installation, updates, etc. By the time this tool makes its way into the hands of kids, the just-in-time learning moment has passed. Mobile apps were supposed to be an answer for this problem but ipads and other tablets also present their own unique set of problems. Navigating through Apple’s legalities with volume purchasing programs and being forced into updating iOS is not easy. I’ve been there and it seems to be even more difficult lately. How often are you forced to update iTunes so it’s compatible with your OS and that in turn is compatible with the iOS you have installed? Times this by hundreds when dealing with student devices. Don’t even get me started with Windows…

So now I’m forced to look into another solution. Chromebooks. Take away the need for software, updates, expensive MDMs, tech support and imaging, and this is what you are left with. The other nice bonus is your get Google Apps for Education (which I’ll admit, I’m a fan) as well as Chrome apps (there are some great ones out there). Throw in the fact that they are 1/4 of the price of any decent laptop on the market and you have me sold. Let’s face it, most software companies have online versions now or you can pretty much find an online tool that does what traditional software does (PicMonkey for online editing, Prezi, WeVideo for video editing, etc). I’ll admit, it was a budgetary decision initially but the more I research and think about this, it really is the right tool for the job.

I’m in no way saying this is no way a golden ticket and not without its share of challenges (yes I know there is no real equivalent of Adobe Photoshop, Minecraft Edu, Final Cut pro or Lego Robotics software…yet). I honestly feel that the pros far outweigh any cons. I also feel its the right tool for kids in Elementary school. In my experience, 95% of what kids do with technology, can be done online. Let’s cut the tether on the educational software model collectively forcing companies to innovate and come up with creative cloud solutions if they haven’t already done so.

Time will tell and ask me in a year how I like them. For now, onwards and upwards!

 

 

 

Minecraft and Grade 2 Farm to Table Integration

Finally a tech-rich unit integration with Minecraft! I’ve been using Minecraft Edu for years but only have been able to use them for mini-projects and activities. Our Grade 2 students just finished their “Farm to Table” unit where Minecraft was essentially the main learning tool for 4 weeks!

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I wish I could take credit for this but in fact the catalyst came from a teacher who was passionate about trying this. Also, full credit for the ideas comes from Mike Hoffman who did this unit with Grade 2s at TAISM and he graciously shared his plans with me.

It was amazing to see the learning that came out of this unit. Students were actively engaged  and learned concepts of producers, consumers, goods, services, taxation which would have been difficult to teach without a concrete experience. Students learned the basics of Minecraft but also more important skills such as collaboration, reflection, creativity and problem-solving skills.

Tips and Challenges: 

  • Initial setup took a bit of time as we needed to install Minecraft Edu, mods, servers, etc
  • There was a learning curve for some students who had never used a laptop before so right clicking/left-clicking and general Minecraft navigation
  • Partnering up students helped a lot as we had 2 students on each laptop
  • Server-you need a designated computer (where the IP is static) where all the computers connect to
  • Reflection booklets-these were designed by teachers and were great
  • Having specific goals for each session was really important to keep students focussed (build a house, build a farm, etc)
  • You need at least 1 teacher who has a good working knowledge of Minecraft (or willing to learn) as students needed help teleporting to locations or gifting items

Overall, it was great and something that we can really build on. It’s also overflowed to other grades (all great ideas do this and a good way to judge success of new ideas). We are  now using it with Grade 3 in their Math units on Perimeter/Area and Fractions. We are also exploring the amazing coding mod you can add with a Turtle bot.

Let the good times roll!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Developing a Maker Program in schools

 

After a bit of a hiatus from this blog, I’m back! I recently had a baby so she’s taken up the majority of the time these days…

Anyway, back to tech stuff. One exciting initiative I’ve started at our school is creating a Maker Program in ES. It’s been an incredible journey so far and by no means, do I feel like we are there but we are well on our way.

maker preconf_Page_05

I recently co-led a “Making” preconference in November as our school hosted the Learning2africa conference. This workshop took a ton of work but thought it went very well and we had almost 25 participants. For those of you interested, here’s a link to the powerpoint. After some theory, we had a group challenge where participants had to create a device that would hover in a homemade wind tunnel and used the Design Cycle to create their devices. IMG_9966 IMG_9973

We also provided a number of breakout sessions on 3D printing, robotics, programming and arduinos.

This workshop was a nice way to share where we were as a school in terms of our Maker program journey but also to network with other colleagues from around the world.

maker preconf_Page_13

Things have actually progressed quite a bit since this.

A couple of updates:

  • Now have integrated design thinking Maker projects into 3 grade level units (Sound and Light, Forces and a KG Toys unit) and plans for several more
  • Got budget approval to completely redesign new innovative Maker Space room (photos to come…)
  • Leading staff PD workshops on Design Thinking and Maker spaces
  • Created a Grade 5 Tech Crew group which have been teaching other grade levels: 3D printing, robotics, circuit creation
  • Planned a Maker Family Saturday for later this year
  • Ordered tons of new resources to expand the program!

So what does design thinking look like in ES? Here’s a video I made from last year:

 

Design Thinking in ES from AISJ on Vimeo.

Continue reading Developing a Maker Program in schools

How to 3D print designs from Minecraft

So our school is buying two 3D Makerbot printers next year and we, as Technology Integration Coaches, are now trying to figure out how best to use them. Right now, we have a demo version of the Makerbot Replicator (5th generation) and we’ve been madly scrambling to figure it all out. Exciting times!

As an ES Tech Coach, I’m trying to find ways to use it next year as part of our Maker Space. It didn’t take long before I stumbled upon Printcraft, an amazing way to take your 3D designs and print replicas of them. I’ve been playing around with some different tools and really impressed with both Tinkercad and Sketchpad as possibilities for ES students.

Anyway, I found Printcraft and completely blown away that this is even possible. I’m a huge Minecraft fan and have been using it with students for the last 4 years or so. This just takes it to another level. I know, I know…printing is nothing new but there was something about designing my first structure and printing a living breathing 3D object that is powerful.

So here’s how you do it.

Step 1. Buy Minecraft and install

Step 2: Go to Multiplayer mode and type in the Printcraft server (eu1.printcraft.org)

Step 3: Explore the world (very cool world btw) and find an empty plot of land. Build something interesting. A quick note that you need to use solid blocks and wasn’t able to print flowers, doors, etc.

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Step 4: Go to the little panel beside your plot and click print.

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Step 5: Click the link (note that you need to be in chat mode..type /?)

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Step 6: It will take you to a link within printcraft. From here you can share to Thingiverse or download (Click the .stl file for Makerbots). From here you simply print from your 3D printing software. I printed mine quite small but you can scale it up on the 3D Printer. Easy huh?

Screenshot (140)

From here, I can think of so many applications. You could then take the 3D model and talk about scaling, area, perimeter and a host of other mathematical concepts.

 

Minecraft house

Galaxy Tabs in the classroom

I’ve been neglecting my blog for quite some time. Part of the reason was that we have recently moved from Asia to Africa so we had been pretty busy transitioning. I’m now working as the Elementary Technology Integration Coach at AISJ. It’s a great move for me and my family and some exciting challenges ahead.

intro tablet

At my school, we have purchased about 120 Samsung Galaxy tablets to be used in Grades K-3. This has been a great learning experience for me as I have only used iPads. I have kept an open mind and wanted to see what their capabilities are compared to iPads. Although I do like iPads, Apple has presented a number of logistical challenges at schools (think VPP).

Here are my takeaways:

  • Love the S pen (aka Stylus)-This is a great built in feature in which all Galaxy Tabs come with. It has hundreds of pressure points and is very responsive to pressure and touch. It has an air pen feature which I haven’t really used and fits in nicely along the side. For kids, this opens up so many educational advantages (drawing, brainstorming, math activities, writing, etc). Although you can buy these for the iPad, they can be expensive and there is no built in storage on the iPad for them.
  • Apps-Just like the iTunes store, the Google Play store has an abundance of educational apps available. I could find pretty much every app that I used on the iPad for the Galaxy Tab. 
  • Camera- The quality of the camera is very similar to the camera on the iPad. 
  • S Note- This is one app that I think beats any default app that is on the iPad. It has a number of excellent features including drawing, graphs, sound, video, photo, annotations, clip art. Although the notes are a bit tricky to export (only as an image file), this is useful for 
  • Voice Recognition This is a fabulous feature that is built into the Galaxy tabs. By bringing up the keyboard feature, on the bottom is a little icon that has a voice recognition feature. This is extremely handy in situations where you need to differentiation or support students with learning needs. It is also surprisingly accurate!
  • gnote-keyboard-switch

 

I will post a few in-depth tutorials shortly.

Integrating technology by using the TPAC model

Many teachers new to integrating technology into their classroom come to me with the question, “I am really excited to use technology in the classroom, how can I do it?” Well, this in itself, is pretty general question so I usually respond, “tell me about what you are doing in your classroom”

There is no point in using technology for the sake of using technology. That would be equivalent to getting out a hammer and simply banging away at nails without a clear goal.   It must be used purposely and through an authentic context. In other words, start with the end in mind. What are the specific learning goals you would like students to reach? With this in mind, we can then think about selecting the appropriate tool.

The TPAC model is a nice way to combine content, pedagogy and technology. Here’s a great video that summarizes it:

So the main point is, you need to balance technology carefully with pedagogy and content to find the “sweet spot” in learning.