What’s going on!

We’ve been back in school a week following spring break.  It’s been a busy week.  No easing in.  It’s hit-the-ground-running all the time in schools.  A colleague said over the salad bar Friday, “I feel like I get buried deeper and deeper under work instead of catching up.”  That’s about right.

So here’s what’s happening in senior seminar in pictures!

Sure.  It may look like these guys are just sitting around and hanging out, but I’ve heard actual tracks made in the recording studio (or what is now called the “Beats Lab”).



This paper circuit is a prototype and will eventually exist on canvas.



A Rube Goldberg machine.  Originally the parts were modeled in Tinkercad with plans to 3D print them.  Then the printer broke as it is wont to do.  The students continued with Lego and other found parts.  This Rube Goldberg machine incorporates LittleBits.





Learning about Scratch



Soldering.  Many students have become skilled in the art of soldering. soldering_school


Makings things with Scratch and Wedos.



Heartbreak beats

A story:  I remember the first day of 8th grade science.  The teacher handed each student a ditto quiz with a ton of questions/tasks.  Single-spaced.  Two sheets of paper.  Maybe there were 50 questions.  Maybe 100.  There was nothing challenging about any of the questions or challenges.  However, the teacher said with great emphasis, “Make sure you read the directions before you start.”  Somewhere in the directions was a sentence about reading each question before starting the quiz.  I ignored that.  Reading through 50-100 questions eats up a lot of time.  Why not jump right in?

The last question/task on the quiz went something like this, “Don’t answer any of the questions you just read.”

It was an awful trick that I still resent to this day–many, many years later.

I rarely read directions before jumping right in.  If I did, I would’ve rethought my plans for the “Heart on Your Sleeve” Popular Science project back that I found back in February.  I ordered the necessary stuff from SparkFun and finally got around to working on it last weekend.

Bits and bobs from the "Heart on Your Sleeve" kit.  With some additional things.

Bits and bobs from the “Heart on Your Sleeve” kit. With some additional things.

For about a year I’ve been sitting (not literally) on a pair of sweatbands that I figured I would embellish with sewable LEDs and LilyTinies.  Like most projects, I didn’t finish it.  However, the heartbeat project seemed like a good opportunity to use the sweatbands to monitor my pulse while exercising.  For fun!

But look at this from the tutorial:

To contract the heart muscle and pump blood, waves of electricity spread through the organ. Two electrodes on the chest, one on either side of the heart, can pick up these electrical impulses. (A third—often placed on the right leg—increases accuracy.)

Having electrodes strapped to my chest and leg will make exercising difficult.

But no worries.  Surely sewing them into a wristband so that they pick up the pulse from one’s wrist will work.  Right?

I ripped the seam out of the sweatband and sewed on the LEDs.

LEDs lined up in a row

LED soldiers

I then sewed the heart rate monitor into the wristband.  I sewed it in upside down thought I can’t remember my reasoning for doing so.

SparkFun's Heart rate monitor

SparkFun’s Heart rate monitor

There was also the questions of sewing the battery pack in without shorting things out.  I figured sewing it on to a piece of flannel and then sewing it into the sweatband would work, though I haven’t tested that out yet (and probably won’t.  Explanation follows).

heartbeat_battBefore committing more time to sewing, I wanted to see how things actually worked.  I used alligator clips to temporarily connect the positive and negative to power and ground.

We have lights!

We have lights!

Look!  Lights!  Seeing LEDs light up never gets old.  I then connected the sensor pads to my wrist.  It monitored my pulse, but…..

… when moving, the LEDs don’t resemble anything like a beating heart.

So….  I’m thinking I’ll disassemble the project and use the heartbeat monitor for something else.

I’ve been reading The Secret History of Wonder Woman, which discusses William Moulton Marston’s work with the lie detector test.  Perhaps I’ll create my own lie detector test (or Lasso of Truth) for fun.


A maker’s gonna make

There’s a lot going on.  Academic Dean candidates are on campus and bringing with them a lot of interesting ideas and challenging questions.  One candidate said (more eloquently than I’m about to write) that she wants students to be dissatisfied with the world so that they are compelled to change it.  I’ve been thinking about that and what it means to ask questions and make things.  Mick Ebeling was also recently in Richmond, so there’s been a lot of buzz about Not PossibleI’ve been thinking about dissatisfaction, the pressure of bettering the world, the TED-ification of things, play versus “purpose” and “intentionality.”

I want to carve out a little time to reflect on it all and write things down, just because I think reflecting/writing will help me figure out some conflict I’m feeling.

But that will come later (I hope).

Maker kids keep making, and this is what they’re up to:

Students come up with ideas to put in a Bored Jar.  There are plans for both a physical and virtual Bored Jar.

Ideas for a "Bored Jar."

Ideas for a “Bored Jar.”

With some borrowed materials from the science department and cafeteria, students work on candied LEDs.

Candied LEDs in the works

Candied LEDs in the works

After re-working her circuit, this student gets the lights for her skyline going.

City Lights

City Lights

A reverse geocache box is in the works.

Reverse geocache box in the works

Reverse geocache box in the works

This student teaches himself to knit while waiting for a model to print on the Makerbot.  A visiting middle schooler (bottom right) looks on.  No time wasted.  Texting not allowed!

While waiting for something to print on the Makerbot...

While waiting for something to print on the Makerbot…

A student has watched a ton of Unity tutorials.  She created the landscape and added her first character.  In a blog post a student recently wrote:

I would first of all like to take the first bit of this blog post to thank the inventors of ‘how-to’ videos for simple origami structures. Aaron Rodgers may be the NFL MVP, but you know what? You’re the real MVP to me.


So true.  Tutorials are the MVP.



Some students have christened the small rehearsal/recording studio.  It is now “The Beats Lab.”  Some students are working with Ableton Live and an Akai midi pad to make some “sick beats.”  They’ve been calling on Bruce from the cafe to walk them through some of the software.  Bruce has mastered coffee and audio production.

In the Beats Lab

In the Beats Lab


Time and space for wild imaginations

I did a double take at my calendar.  Second semester started January 6th, which means the DIY/Maker senior seminar started January 6th.  It seems like we’ve been going for both weeks and weeks and just days.

That makes no sense, does it?

We’ve managed to get so much done, but we really haven’t had that many class meetings when it comes down to it.

What have we done so far:

  • Started class with a design sprint, which involved the building of a paper airplane.  The plane had to have a flight time of six seconds.  Students can only uses scissors, paper, and staples.  To make it even more interesting, each team has a $40 budget.  Paper is $1, each fold is $1, cuts are $2, and staples are $4.  We did our design sprint in a 45-minute class period.  No plane flew for six seconds.  However, a couple of days later a group of boys did discover some gliders on Thingiverse. which did fly for 6+ second.  Perhaps printing gliders from Thingiverse isn’t all that impressive; but having a group of kids who have never touched a 3D printer figure out how to download a file, prep it for printing, and then actually print it was very cool to me.
Paper airplanes

Paper airplanes

Behold, the Tech Zoo

Behold, the Tech Zoo

Playing a Scratch game with Makey Makey

Playing a Scratch game with Makey Makey

Someone fell into a Scratch rabbit hole

Someone fell into a Scratch rabbit hole

  • Started projects!  We are 2-3 days into actual projects.  It’s completely insane.  The class flies by for me.  Hopefully it flies by for the students too.  There are 18 kids working on 18 different things for the most part.  There are some amazing ideas circulating out there too.  I’m especially impressed with Clair’s list of ideas and Emily’s thoughts.  It’s that kind of wild imagination that I hope can be nurtured by the time and space this class provides.

Some random thoughts/highlights:

  • Sam (he’s going to start blogging.  Oh, he is.) has been working on an Omniwheel Robot after learning to solder Tuesday.  He was wiring the motors today, and was frustrated by the instructions. By the end of class he exclaimed that he had things working.  I asked what he did.  His reply, “I thought about it for a little while and applied some physics.”

Maybe that’s insignificant for you, but it’s what I’m aiming for.  I want students to apply what they’ve learned in other disciplines to their projects.

This is my third semester teaching the DIY/Maker course.  Last semester I had a group of kids that were (so I thought) unmatched in their enthusiasm and curiosity.  My current class is diving right in too.  My first class stared at me a lot, but I’m pretty sure that it had a lot to do with the fact that we weren’t in a makerspace, and I didn’t know what I was doing.

What’s challenging is managing 18 different students with 18 different projects.  I think this will get easier as the students get used to searching for tutorials, using forums, using each other, etc.  However, right now it’s too easy for a student to slink off to hang out with  friends or for the quieter students to get lost in the chaos.  I need to improve the dividing of my attention.

Sometimes I’m sure someone will cluck, “And where is the academic value in all of this… this knitting… this magic wand making…  this sewing of LEDs?!”  There’s a valid defense, of course.  But that’s a post for another day.




To the exploration of rabbit holes!

Today is the official start to the spring semester.  I meet with my senior seminar class for the first time tomorrow, and I’m really excited about the potential of the unknown.  It’s a new group of students with new interests and ideas.  That’s exciting stuff.

Bits and bobs for makers

Bits and bobs for makers

We’re starting with a design challenge that I picked up from a middle school teacher at The Steward School.  The students will be designing and making a paper airplane, which must remain in the air for at least 6 seconds and travel a straight path before landing.  They can only uses scissors, paper, and staples.  To make it even more interesting, each team has a $40 budget.  Paper is $1, each fold is $1, cuts are $2, and staples are $4.

Part of the design challenge has them documenting what they already know, what they need to find out, what goes well, what doesn’t, etc.

Students will be maintaining their own domains again this year through Reclaim Hosting.

I’m hoping that this design challenge, though small, will set the tone for the spring.  My goals are for the students to discover rabbit holes, have fun in that discovery, and provide detailed documentation of the explorations.

It’s going to be a good group of students, and I can’t wait to watch their ideas unfold over the next few months.