How Xena: Princess Warrior started something beautiful and great

The Steward School hosts a Visiting Innovators Program that’s brought in some interesting people this year.  Gary Stager visited earlier in the school year followed by Dr. Margaret Wertheim, who is known for her science writing, the Institute for Figuring, and the crocheted coral reef project, a project which emerged from an evening of sisters crocheting while watching Xena: Warrior Princess and Christine Wertheim‘s simple statement, “We could crochet a coral reef.”

Both of the Visiting Innovators Programs at Steward started with hands-on MakerFaire-like events for all ages.  The maker event preceeding Dr. Wertheim’s session offered the opportunity to make squishy circuit coral reefs, crochet parts of the Steward School’s coral reef and more.

Steward's crocheted coral reef in progress

Steward’s crocheted coral reef in progress

The hands-on event was followed by a talk by Dr. Wertheim with activities for kids in another room.  (Do you know what it means to offer activities for kids and to host events that appeal to all ages?  It means a lot.)

Dr. Wertheim talked about the origins of the crocheted coral reef project, the power of community-driven art/projects, what happens when you have a “science person” and an “art person” collaborate, and gender and technology.  The short session really encompassed a lot of themes and issues that run through this whole maker movement, #makered, and STE(A)M.

Participatory Projects and Community

The crocheted coral reef started over 10 years ago and quickly took over the living room of the Wertheim sisters’ living room.  The reef eventually made its way into exhibits all over the worldSatellite reefs soon popped up all over the world too.

Part of the Steward School's crocheted coral reef.

Part of the Steward School’s crocheted coral reef.

The satellite reefs like the Colorado Department of Youth Corrections reef, the Latvian Schools coral reef, and the Irish coral reef are made by community members with diverse backgrounds.  Some are scientists, crafters, artists, students, and prisoners.  All have their names included in the exhibitions around the world and in the crocheted coral reef book.  It was this insistence on including the names of all participants that was especially interesting to me.  Ownership can be empowering.

crocheted coral reef at the steward school

crocheted coral reef at the steward school

Since attending the workshop, I’ve made several references to “Xena Princess Warrior Moments.”  Wonderful things come out of downtime and those low pressure moments spent with people who compliment and energize us.  Big ideas grow from those “I wonder…” and “We could make….” moments. Right now I’m very interested in being more sensitive to those in my life as well as helping students more attuned to those ideas that may seem trivial or small.  It so happens that I’m taking a Visible Thinking class with a few colleagues.  The class has provided many strategies for making one more aware of one’s thinking.  I’m looking forward to unpacking what I’m learning and how it pairs with inquiry, research, and #makered.

Steward School jelly

Steward School jelly




Things I’ve made. People I’ve met: a mid-summer summary

Constructing Modern Knowledge is underway, and this tweet from @DesignMakeTeach (or Josh) pretty much sums up my current emotional state.

Like DS106, my experiences at Constructing Modern Knowledge have influenced the way I approach many facets of my life from what I do in a school and library to how I parent my son.  The the DS106 community, I feel connected to many of the passionate and creative people I met in Manchester, New Hampshire last summer.

One day I’ll go back to CMK, but this summer I’m trying my best to recreate the CMK spirit in my own town.

I’ve been exploring e-textiles by mixing the old (embroidery) with the new (the e-textiles).

The 'wrong' side of the embroidery project

The ‘wrong’ side of the embroidery projec

Working circuit and an unfinished embroidery project.

Working circuit and an unfinished embroidery project.

I’ve been trying my hand at entry-level robotics by playing with the Finch and Snap! with hopes of using the Finch as a way to really learn Python.  Though the content seems attainable and Dr. Chuck is personable, the Coursera model isn’t for me.

My helper

My helper

I’m also playing around with the Mousebot, which is not less about robotics or even electronics and more about soldering practice for me.

There's lots of soldering to be done.

There’s lots of soldering to be done.

Bad soldering

Bad soldering

The kitchen is a good place for soldering as the stove vent sucks up gross solder fumes.

The kitchen is a good place for soldering as the stove vent sucks up gross solder fumes.

I don’t know if the Mousebot works yet, because I am still soldering.  It’s sometimes difficult to complete a project in a timely manner when one only has a couple of hours a few nights a week to work on it (and the other things that vie for my attention).

God, I really hope that Mousebot works.

Back in January, I mentioned my hopes of doing a local version of CMK during a #makered chat.  Andrew said (and I paraphrase, because I can’t find the twitter thread) that it only counts if one doesn’t work alone in a basement.  That resonated with me, and I’m trying to get out to work with other people.  Or at least forge relationships that will eventually lead to my working with other talented, passionate, and curious folks.

I loaded up my son and a bunch of tools and toys in a rental car and headed to Roanoke for a “Petting Zoo Times Two” program at their public library.  Outside were ducks, alpacas, goats, rabbits, etc.  Inside were robots, a 3D printer, a Makey Makey, e-textiles, and LED throwies sans magnets.

LED throwies sans magnets

LED throwies sans magnets

Here’s what you should know:  kids will go nuts over LEDs and coin batteries even if there are no magnets and throwing involved.  One saavy, young attendee made several LED doodads toward the end of the night and said he would sell them for $12.  I don’t think he was successful, but I admire the entrepreneurial spirit.

I also reupped my membership at Hack.RVA, where there is a vast library… in the bathroom.  Because I have a stunted sense of humor, I adore that.

The library should always be in the library.

I feel mildly weird about posting a picture of a bathroom on the blog, but oh well.

I also adore the abundance of expertise that exists with other members and their willingness to share.  RVA Maker Guild also hosts many events at Hack.RVA.  Some of the events are even child friendly.

The next generation of hackers/makers?  Hope so.

The next generation of hackers/makers? Hope so.

There are more connections to be made in Richmond.  A Coder Dojo has recently started up at the public library.  Rebecca Dovi is hoping to open computer science opportunities up to more kids in the area with CodeVA.  The list really does continue.

But this is enough writing for now.  I have to get back to that Mousebot and that Finch and the notebook hacking and another embroidery/Lilypad project that I’m kicking around that involves the Sauer’s sign here in Richmond.

photo credit: Matt Carman via photopin cc

photo credit: Matt Carman via photopin cc

Making time for inquiry: a #thoughtvectors post

Earlier this spring I stumbled across a four-week online ALA class called Dynamic One-Shot Library Instruction.  After playing around in #DS106 for a few rounds, I knew this ALA class could be absolutely unbearable.  However, the ALA class turned out to be the very thing I needed.  Heidi Buchanan and Beth McDonough, the course instructors and authors of The One-Shot Library Instruction Survival Guide stymied a looming existential crisis.

For a while I’ve been thinking about the library instruction that I do here at school.  Most of it involves a 15-minute introduction to databases that students may find useful for a research project.  The “instruction” was my absolute least favorite thing to do.  I was bored.  The kids were bored.  Change was needed.

After a week at Constructing Modern Knowledge last summer and rolling the article, “Beyond Active Learning: A Constructivist Approach to Learning” around in my head, I was asking how DOES one apply Constructivist approaches to library instruction, especially instruction that may be one 45-minute class period?

Jessica Gordon, in her explanation of the “Brainstorming for Inquiry Project” for TeamCreate, poses some excellent questions that one hopes all curious people ask:

1.  What do you want to find out?

2.  What have you always been curious about?

3.  What do you wonder?

My question is how do you get a disengaged student sitting in an English class that he/she may not want to be in (but has to take) to ask the above questions about The Great Gatsby or Beowulf?

Leonardo Dicaprio in Baz Luhrmann's Gatsby.

How could you not care about me?








After all, research projects/papers/products exist as does needed to get credits in X subject whether you care about that subject or not.

I kind of have an answer to my own question.  One of the many things I’m enjoying about #thoughtvectors is the time for reflection.  Students reflect on readings in their nuggets.  They explore associative trails.  There are concept experiences where students put the theories into action.  This time carved out for thoughtful, reflective, exploration is key to question asking.  Even for the student who could give two s***s about Jane Austen.

I think I can safely make the broad statement that just because we are human beings, we have thoughts and/or questions about things we may not care much about. It’s the capturing of those thoughts/questions rather than letting them flit away that’s important.  Essential really.

I’m impressed by #thoughtvectors, because it’s time (an entire course!  EIGHT WEEKS!) dedicated to thinking about thinking/inquiry/questions/passions/research.  It’s not inquiry as a unit, research as a box to check off, or inquiry as an afterthought.  Making the time to reflect on the content and information our students encounter both in and out of school is bound to result in better questions, and connection/sense-making.



Game Jams with Scratch

Tonight was the night.  The inaugural middle school Game Jam that brought together 12 fierce, fun-loving 5th and 6th graders for four hours of game creation using Scratch.  The event kicked off at 3:00.  However, a few Game Jam participants settled down in front of a computer shortly after the school day ended at 2:35.

Game Jam schedule

Game Jam schedule

The Game Jam didn’t have much structure to it.  Participants could work in groups if they wanted.  They were just as welcome to work alone.  However, I’ve noticed that working with Scratch one rarely ever works alone.  Calls of, “I don’t know how to do X.” are answered with, “Here, let me show you.”  There wasn’t a theme to follow.  We (as in the adults in the room) were even receptive to participants working with other game design software, though everyone ended up sticking with Scratch.

The school’s resident Scratch experts were unable to attend the Game Jam because of prior commitments.  The three adults in the room (including me) could only answer the most basic questions.  Our ignorance, however, did not discourage the students when they hit a stumbling block.

Carolyn is not ignorant.  This smart cookie helps out two Game Jam participants.

Carolyn is not ignorant. This smart cookie helps out three Game Jam participants.

One reason the evening flowed so smoothly is due to the presence of a 7th grade assistant who was very familiar with Scratch.  He spent his evening bouncing from table helping students troubleshoot their creations.

I’m currently in the middle of a four-week online course through ALA called Engaging Teens with Digital Media: Creating Stories and Games.  I’m trying to process the resources and readings (which I’m starting to compile here).  I am intrigued by the intersection of game design, inquiry and research, and the iterative process.  Oh!  And let’s not forget those digital/information literacy skills that come into play.

Carolyn, the middle school librarian, and I were awarded a summer grant to explore e-textiles, Makey Makeys, the Hummingbird robotics kit, WeDos, and more.  It’s basically a super small, local Constructing Modern Knowledge (an extremely powerful experience).  We’re not just spending our summer playing with toys though.  We’re also spending time at Hack.RVA, offering school faculty and staff the opportunity to make things, and tapping into the genius of Bruce Davies, who runs the Chesterfield County Public Library’s makerspace.

I’m going to add Scratch to my list of things to master.  It should’ve been done long ago, but better late than never.

A student's Scratch game

A student’s Scratch game

I cannot wait until these kids get to the upper school.



We made things

The first “Make Something” workshop was held in the Saunders Family Library Wednesday night from 7-9 p.m.  The workshop featured Phil Barbato, a Richmond artist who specializes in pretty amazing plush creatures, which you can see (and buy) here.

Workshop supplies

Workshop supplies

10 kids pre-registered after an assembly announcement last week.  Two more students begged to come the day of the workshop.  Two younger children of an English teacher were eager to attend too.  The more the merrier, I say!

The gang's all here.... almost

The gang’s all here…. almost

Phil lead a beautifully chaotic workshop.  We started by designing our creatures on 8 1/2 x 11 paper.  Those patterns were then cut out and traced on to 9 x 12 sheets of felt.

Tracing patterns

Tracing patterns

Cutting, sewing, and stuffing came next, followed by the proud display of finished creatures.



Studious rabbit

Studious rabbit

Bearded unicorn

Bearded unicorn

Few participants had any sewing skills, but they were all quick learners.

Here’s my reflection in tidy, bulleted points:

  • I was surprised by how hung up the students were on perfection.  Many of the kids constantly commented that they weren’t good at crafts or they wanted perfection even though they had never sewn before.  I really shouldn’t be surprised by this, since I feel the same way when I jump into something new.  Trying something new is hard, frustrating, and intimidating.
  • One of the kids who attended the workshop has been back in the library TWICE since Wednesday (I’m writing this on Friday) to make repairs to his backpack with needle and thread.  That’s pretty awesome.  This is the same student who had his friend cut out the pattern he drew, because he was afraid of messing up.
  • A couple of girls were talking about how much fun they were having making their creatures.  I told them that all of the supplies for the workshop lived in the library’s makerspace and they could use the space and the materials any time.  The response: “Are you serious!?”  I hope they come back.
  • One student suggested that sewing should be incorporated into the mindfulness class.  “I dread sewing, but once you get started, it’s really meditative,” she said.

Allen, the head librarian, and I are hoping to do a few more evening workshops throughout the year.  Some shorter pop-up “Make Something” workshops during the school day are also possibilities.

I’m looking forward to them.  They offer up a much needed respite from the routine.

Audio essays, ampli-ties, and quadcopters (oh my!)

The creative non-fiction class is working on audio essays based on the Kitchen Sisters’ “Making Of…” series.

Their assignment is to find someone on campus who makes something and interview that person (or people), and then–of course–craft an audio essay.  I got the chance to talk to the students about the maker movement, makers, hackers, motivations for making things, and theories that may or may not explain why the “maker movement” exists.  It was exciting to watch them start to think about the makers in their lives.  After a few minutes of thinking, there was, “My mother’s friend is a doctor, and although she’s busy, she finds the time to make and sell really beautiful pottery.”  And “My friend paints shoes and sells them.”  There was even some, “I think Mr. Rider probably makes something.  Let’s go talk to him.”  I loved that the students wanted to reconnect with an old middle school teacher through making.

The visit inspired me to get going on the Flora LED Ampli-Tie that I’ve been wanting to make since summer.

I pulled out the supplies this afternoon, ordered a few parts I was missing, and started in on the instructions.  I’m looking forward to having two of these ties ready to go for the theater manager and the performing arts director in the next week or two.

I was thinking about the Ampli-Tie project this morning, and it occurred to me that I haven’t pulled the supplies out of the storage bin, because there was so much else to do.  There was a ton of “real work.”  Working on the ties seemed like a waste of time.  Definitely something that could be moved to the bottom of the to-do list.  That’s silly thinking.  The makerspace has been too quiet.  There’s no reason not to get in there a few times a week even if it’s to work on something small and/or quick.

Luckily not everyone thinks like I do.  A junior is about two weeks into research for a drone project.  After quickly reaching the limits of a Parrot quadcopter, this student is planning to build a quadcopter inspired by the creations of Justin in Victoria, Australia.  Film Club and some teachers in the science department are already coming up with ways they can use the quadcopter.  I’m looking forward to watching this project evolve.

From naval gazing to action (or cranking out some mediocre visual assignments)

The weekend was spent in Roanoke, Virginia, where I presented a program on 3D printing at the public library.

flyer for 3D printing workshop

3D printing workshop featuring ME

I like Roanoke.  It reminds me of Charlottesville, but without all of the pretentiousness.  It’s got good food, good drinks, lovely people, and occasionally banjo-playing buskers will set up on the streets.

My mother-in-law was good enough to watch Jobot over the weekend so that Will and I could kick around town without having to worry about nap schedules.  We caught up with old friends, spent some time in the public library, and had some good beers from the Parkway Brewery.

Parkway brewing beers

Beers from Parkway — this is from the Facebook page. I didn’t take the photo.

There wasn’t a lot of time for DS106, which I regret.  There’s always next week.

I did do a handful of daily creates:

Introduction to the class

Introduction to the class


inside the Makerbot

500 daily creates

500 daily creates


Nothing says good times like cake.

old and Matchbox cars

something old and something new

So here’s what I’ve learned about myself over the past year:  I am less apt to do and more likely to read/watch/navel gaze.  In other words, I spend more time reading blogs about DS106 and watching videos about DS106 and less time actually doing DS106.  Why?  Doing is hard.  Doing is frustrating.  And doing is usually time consuming.  I’m likely to spend more time naval gazing and thinking over the philosophies of DS106 and maker education, and less time practicing and polishing my skills.  I’ve got a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino kit.  Have I opened them yet?  Nope.  It’s easier to read what other folks are doing with it all.

This is dumb.

Recognizing that action is not my strength–that I’m more of an ideas person–I started in on some visual assignments last night.  Actually, just one visual assignment.

I worked on the “My Favorite Lyric”  visual assignment.  The decided to work with the song, “Tallulah” by Allo Darlin’.

I probably heard it for the first time about a year ago.  There are two lines in the song that I find especially interesting.  I focused on the first of the two:

I’m wondering if I’ve already heard all the songs that’ll mean something
And I’m wondering if I’ve already met all the people that’ll mean something

I don’t feel the same way about music that I did when I was 16 or even 30.  I’m not moved by much.  Maybe it’s because everything sucks.  Most likely it’s because it’s too hard to ferret out the really good stuff.

Allo Darlin' lyrics

Allo Darlin’ lyrics

It’s not especially interesting, nor was it especially hard to do.  But it was practice, and it is a way for me to bookmark this particular song in some physical way.

The photo, by the way, is a cc licensed Flickr image by Bernard Benke.

I am Morgan Freeman (or librarians can get you things)

Last summer I did the “One Archetype, 5 Movies, 5 Seconds” DS106 assignment (with some liberties… my video lasts 18 seconds).

The more I think about it, the more I should’ve added this clip from Shawshank Redemption.

Maybe it’s brain damage from the 18 months of sleep deprivation I suffered because my son was a poor sleeper for… well… 18 months.  Maybe it’s a result of parenting a full-speed-ahead three-year-old boy.  Maybe I’m just small-minded.  Whatever the case may be, that scene from Shawshank Redemption runs through my head pretty often while I do my work.

I’m a librarian (in case you’re new here).  More specifically, I’m a librarian in an independent school.  I find that on a daily basis I experience some kind of work-related existential crisis.

Sometimes the existential crisis is triggered by a conversation that goes something like this:

Student: “I have to write my Honors English paper.  I have two paragraphs written.  I don’t know what I’m going to write for my third paragraph.  I need another source.”

Me:  “When is your paper due?”

Student:  “Today.”

Me:  “Yikes.  What are your sources?”

Student:  “The book and some education web site.”

Me:  [thinking to myself, ‘WTF?’] “Have you looked at any of the subscription databases?”

Student:  “Like JSTOR?  No.”

Picard face palm

Picard face palm

My frustration doesn’t lie with this student who has waited until the last minute to write this paper (turns out that it was the rough draft that was due today).  My frustration lies in the existence of the research paper.  In this case it seems so….  pointless.  The student isn’t invested in the topic.  The student knows how to game the research paper assignment.  An article from The Huffington Post is accepted as a legitimate source.  Why go through the hassle of searching a subscription database when you can just throw a couple of words in a Google search and come up with 1000-word McArticle?

I don’t know how I feel about it.  One one hand, using HuffPo or The Guardian probably best represents how the average person satiates his/her curiosity in something they’re only mildly interested in once he/she leaves school.  Maybe it’s authentic–representative of how we operate when we’re not being graded.

On the other hand, I’m appalled.

I think my main source of friction lies in the traditional research paper.  It seems so meaningless.  I say this as someone who liked writing research papers in both high school and college.  Admittedly all of my selected topics were pedestrian: “The Role of Women in ____” or “How the City is Portrayed in ____.”

My god I could crank those papers out.

It wasn’t the exploration of the literature that I loved.  It was the hunt for information.  Following the breadcrumbs.

I guess that’s why I do what I do now.

If I can’t find, the article “Prevention of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury in Athletes: a Review” in the school’s subscription databases, where can I get it?  How kind is the open web for a request like that?*

Being a librarian is a lot like being a private investigator.  Or it’s like being “Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding” from The Shawshank Redemption.

We’ve been known to locate things from time to time.  And I’m not just talking about books or academic articles.  Librarians are the mother effing Power of Pull.  Here’s a broad assumption: if a person decides to go to library school, odds are that person had trouble committing to just one subject area.

OK.  The point….  I think….

Librarians are about matchmaking.

Flickr photo by Brandon Christopher Warren (cc license)

Flickr photo by Brandon Christopher Warren (cc license)

Librarians are about putting the person with the right piece of information–the right thing–at just the right time.  Sometimes that information/thing is a book.  Sometimes it’s an article.  Sometimes it’s just showing a student with a little bit of downtime how the Makerbot or a Makey Makey works and watching them play for a little bit.

It’s always about inspiration.  Or at least it should be.  There is nothing more uninspired than a student jumping through hoops to complete the tired, meaningless research paper.  I think it’s time to offer more options.

I’m having a hard time making a point.

Here’s what I’m trying to say:

While I believe in the traditional roles of the librarian–embedding information literacy and information seeking within the curriculum (just to name a few)–I think students are better served when teachers and librarians collaborate to tap into the resources that engage the student.

As Erin White so eloquently tweets, the librarian is uniquely positioned to match people with information, technology, and other people.  The librarian can bridge disciplines.

If a student is writing about science in Cat’s Cradle, maybe it would be more interesting to let that student contact local scientists and technologists and find out their opinions on science for science’s sake or science with purpose and then compile those interviews into an edited documentary or audio essay.

At the end of the day, this is what I want for the students I work with and my son who will one day be going to school somewhere: (1) an environment that encourages the exploration of passions/rabbit holes/questions (2) an environment that allows for choice (3) an environment that provides time, a place for solitude, and a place for collaboration (4) an environment that that understands and values the significance of stocked knowledge, information flows, and networks and one’s ability to navigate and pull from those very different pools at just the right time.


*Turns out, not very.  Though I did eventually find the article.  Because I am awesome.