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.

Onward!

 

 

The numbers or an ode to power tools

Back in the late spring and all throughout the summer, there was a home improvement project.  It involved painting, some landscaping, and other things here and there.  My little house went from white to gray.  Shutters were removed so were the house numbers.

So I need house numbers.

Before the 2013-14 school year ended, I had the idea of making numbers from cans.  I got started on that project today.  Six months later (give or take).

Numbers and tools

Aluminum numbers and tools

I used the big red scissors to cut the cans.  I started in the mouth of the can and then cut vertically to the bottom.  I cut both the tops and bottoms of the cans, flattened said cans, and then used some templates to cut out the numbers.

House numbers

House numbers

I found some scrap wood in the scrap pile at Hack.RVA.  I debated about whether I should use the bandsaw unsupervised.

Should I use this?

Should I use this?

I used the bandsaw unsupervised.

I think everything went ok.

Except:

1.  I can’t cut straight lines.

2.  Is a bandsaw supposed to sound like 1,000 cats thrown in a bag?  I don’t know.

3.  Is the bandsaw the right tool for cutting a straight line?  Seems as good as any, so is there a wrong tool?

I got to thinking about power tools and an experience I had this week at Tomahawk Creek Middle School.  Members of the TCMS’s Tech Club participate in the E-nabling the Future project.  They modify files for prosthetic hands and arms, print the pieces, assemble the hands/arms, and then ship them off to the people who need the device.  Wednesday was an assembly day.  The gauntlet for one of the hands needed some sanding.  I gave a Dremel to a student who had been trained.  She took it, turned it on to the highest speed, and it got away from her, nicking the the library table.  She got it back, turned it off, and handed it to me.

“You turn it on,” she said and handed it back to me.

We compromised.  She held the Dremel, and I turned it on so that it gradually increased in speed.  By mid-morning, she found her footing, got the feel for the tool, and was sanding parts like she had been doing it for years.

Power tools are weird things.  Horribly intimidating to someone who’s never used them before and so, so intriguing at the same time.  I have no feel and no instinct for saws or drill presses.  I lack the intuition. What are they supposed to sound like when things are working well?  What do they sound like under stress?

I’ve owned my car since 2003, so I feel like an intuitionist when we’re on the road together.  I know how it’s supposed to sound and what it feels like to drive 35 mph or 65 mph.

I’m pretty excited about getting to know some of these tools just as well as I know that car.

As for the house numbers…  I’m waiting for paint to dry.

Waiting for paint to dry

Waiting for paint to dry

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

UPDATE:  Done-ish!!

The Numbers Project.  Kind of Done.  Done enough?

The Numbers Project. Kind of Done. Done enough?

I feel like I should put some kind of sealant on them, because these numbers will cut a b****  are sharp.

 

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

Creativity and Courage (things said at CMK): a reflection (pt. 2)

I mistakenly left my iPod in Virginia, so I was tethered to my MacBook and old school notebooks during the few scheduled sessions, impromptu conversations, and #cmk13afterhours.

outdated technologies

I’m also very embarrassed by my old school phone

I’m sure people looked at me the way I look at folks who write checks in the line at Target or use AOL or Hotmail.  Next time I’ll remember not to judge check writers or AOL users.  We all have reasons for doing what we do, I guess…  Maybe.

I’m looking back through my notes as some of the things that were said over the week.  I want to think them through here.  Feel free to support or challenge the thinking or continue as your were out there in the Internet.

Creativity and Courage

Manchester, NH is only an hour away from Boston, so a trip to MIT’s Media Lab was on Tuesday night’s agenda.  The introvert in me considered skipping out, but it’s MIT’s Media Lab.  That’s argument enough for getting over any social anxiety.

Upon entering the Media Lab, we encountered a few exhibits representing the cutting-edge work taking place at MIT.  Wheels + Legs and the Silk Pavilion are two exhibits currently on display.

part of the Wheels + Legs description

part of the Wheels + Legs description

part of the Silk Pavilion description

part of the Silk Pavilion description

 

I was especially intrigued by some of the cardboard prototyping done for the Wheels + Legs exhibit.

Prototyping from the Wheels + Legs exhibit at MIT's Media Lab

Prototyping from the Wheels + Legs exhibit at MIT’s Media Lab

We slowly made our way to the 6th floor where we were to listen to Tod Machover.  He talked about “Death and the Powers,” an opera commissioned by the Association Futurum of Monaco.  He talked about “A Toronto Symphony: Concerto for Composer and City,” a bold collaborative endeavor with the people of Toronto.  A similar collaborative undertaking is in the works for the 2013 Edinburgh Festival.

Someone asked, “Why don’t you do any work in the United States?”

Machover essentially said that American symphonies were, for the most part, conservative and hesitant to experiment for fear they’ll lose subscribers.

I wish I could remember Machover’s response word-for-word.  Basically he implored us to be creative and courageous whether we’re teachers, administrators, or on a symphony’s Board of Directors.

The advice resonated with me, because I buy-in 100% to the idea that the library should have a makerspace and digital media labs like YouMedia.  I believe that the library was a coworking space before coworking was cool.  I believe the library–a common space, a shared space–is ideal for workshops, forums, roundtable discussions.  The library is an ideal place for creation, not just consumption.  Despite the trendiness and the cliche of that previous statement, I believe it.

Sometimes it’s tempting to back away from these beliefs when we still exist in a culture where people perceive libraries to be about books and quiet and librarians to be about the Dewey Decimal system and teaching citation styles.  It’s not that these things don’t belong here, it’s just that there’s so much more to the work than that.  I can help a student think about a research paper and show her/him how to properly cite a source.  It’s equally exciting (ok, more exciting) to help a student make a movie or watch a student play around with a Raspberry Pi that she/he got from the library.

Raspberry Pi

cc licensed Flickr photo by qgil

There was a lot of talk at CMK about creating democratic cultures in school and the erosion of democracy through the defunding of public education.   I was surprised that this conversation popped up in several different venues over the week: once in a late night lobby talk and then again in some of the few scheduled sessions.

I’m thinking about libraries and how they support democracy through the provision of tools and shared space and the programming of thought-provoking workshops.  The library is a democratic space, because students (or community members) have access to books, articles, 3D printers, cameras, green screens, etc, which gives them the freedom to defend ideas and possibly create physical manifestations of those ideas.

I feel lucky to work in a pretty progressive school.  There’s a lot of tradition here both in culture and academics, but I think minds are open to change and new ideas.  As we move into a new space in August, I’m interested in seeing how new ideas take root, what butts up against tradition, and what is born from courage and creativity.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The blog is renamed “the therapist’s couch”

The blog isn’t really renamed the therapist’s couch.  Maybe it should be though.  These personal web spaces are not so much about library/school-related issues and successes as they are about my feeling insecure or unsettled about this or that.  I guess it’s all connected at the end of the day.

The spring semester started January 8th, and I kind-of-sort-of invited myself to sit in on the Physics 2: Electronics class.  In all fairness, I was talking to the physics teacher back in the fall about soldering or something, and he said I should sit in on the class–that it’s a work-at-your-own pace/independent project class.  I said, “OK!”

And here I am.  Spending my very small amount of free time trying to learn physics.  I’m still trying to solve complex circuits from last week.

It shouldn't be this hard.

It shouldn’t be this hard.

This would probably all make a little more sense if I had taken physics at some point–any point–in my life.

I’m frustrated, and I’m very much reminded of my math/science experiences in high school/college.

I’d like to give up, and I would if this idea of making–more specifically making IN THE LIBRARY, A COMMUNAL SPACE–wasn’t so unbelievably spot on.  I don’t want to be an armchair maker.  I don’t want to be just a cheerleader for making.  I don’t want to research the whole DIY/Maker movement and just write about how it needs to happen in schools.  I want to know how to do.  And yeah, making is more than just soldering and programming and cool tech projects.  It’s filmmaking and writing and photography and all of that stuff too.  The differences are: (1) I can at least fumble my way through the latter and (2) I know the campus experts who can help out with a film project or a photography question.

I at least know something about filmmaking, and literature, and photography to be a legitimate part of those communities.

A pile of resistors, capacitors, and wires…. well, that’s slightly paralyzing.

bits and bobs

CC licensed Flickr photo shared by Nick Ames

Why has learning the tech end of Making become a personal crusade?

Because if these videos doesn’t move you, you have lost your soul:

But just plugging things in based on a set of instructions isn’t enough.  I want to know how it works.

What does this have to do with the library?

There’s a sixth grade girl who visits the library several times a week to say hi, to find a book, to, on occasion, show off the latest invention she made with a lamp from Family Dollar, electrical tape, and other odds and ends.  Last week she came in and said she was suffering from “inventor’s block.”  She didn’t know what to make.  She had reached the limits of what she knew about electronics.

I had nothing to offer except, “I know how you feel” and my Radio Shack Electronics Learning Lab.

Librarians know things, and we’re pretty good about shepherding people to the right books, databases, web sites, or human beings.  I’m going to talk with the student’s advisor about finding her an electronics mentor.  Maybe even one of the students in Physics 2 would be willing to help.

Exploration of interests need to happen in the open.  I can’t think of a more open space than the library.  If you put a 3D printer in the science department it becomes a science thing.  If you put a large format printer in the art department it becomes an art thing.  If you put these tools in a community space, they belong to the community.  The community see what’s being made.  They become inspired.  They start to make too.

<hippiespeak> And that’s effing beautiful. </hippiespeak>

 

 

How do you teach Makerbotting?

This past summer I got the go-ahead to purchase a Makerbot Replicator for school. Not only was it necessary for some 3D printing workshops hosted on campus, but I figured there would only be more interest in 3D printing from students.

the thing-o-matic and replicator

TOM and Replicator–BFFs

I was totally right about that.

There’s been a cadre of 5th grade boys visiting the library during study halls and activity periods to print something on the Makerbot.  What have we printed?  Creepers from Minecraft, a model of an iPhone, a Camaro.

These kids think the Makerbot is awesome and a little bit of magic.  It is truly endearing that they want a tangible object that represents their interests and passions.  But a transaction that goes something like this bothers me:

Kid:  “What can I print out on the Makerbot?”

Me:  “Have you had a chance to use Tinkercad or 3DTin yet?”

Kid:  “No.  What’s the site I can go to if I want to print out something from the internet?”

Me:  “You mean Thingiverse?”

Kid:  “Yeah, that’s it.”  [Runs off to find a file to print for instant gratification]

That’s not really how I want to do things, and it’s not the way it should be done.

Andrew tweeted this today:

It really hit on what I’ve been thinking about for a couple of weeks now.  The Replicator and Thing-o-matic really are the first exposure to 3D printing for most of these kids.  Thingiverse and the assortment of tsotchkes on display is an effective way to catch someone’s attention.  However, I feel like Thingiverse is in danger of turning these kids into consumers rather than makers.

Things made with the Makerbot

I was thinking about banning Thingiverse prints, but at the end of the day, that restriction doesn’t sit well with me.  Maybe having the kid take the time to reflect on a Thingiverse model would work.  What’s interesting about the design?  If the kid was designing something similar, what would he/she do differently?  It would be ideal if a student actually observed a print so that he/she could learn from some of the frustration and/or troubleshooting that goes into printing.  The structure of the middle school schedule doesn’t necessarily allow for that though.

Next week I’m usurping Carolyn’s 5th grade library classes to formerly introduce the Replicator, Tinkercad, and 3DTin.  I’ve been pushing Tinkercad and 3DTin with my 5th grade regular, but I’m hoping that this hands-on class time and opportunity to work with each other will really get them interested in designing their own things.

 

Thinking about making

Thinking about making

By Melanie on | Edit

I got to talking with my colleague about makerspaces today.  Plans for the new middle school library include space for a makerspace… That’s an awkward sentence…  The current plans have the makerspace behind a door in a room of its own.  That’s not sitting well with some folks involved in the planning process (understandably so).  Carolyn and I talked about what a makerspace should look like, and when it comes down to it, we really have no idea.  I like to think that with the right guides, passion, and curiosity making will happen regardless of the square footage and available storage.  There’s truth to that, I know.  But if one has the opportunity to plan out a makerspace, one should dream big.

Personally I’m of the opinion that an entire library should function as a makerspace.  Sure, there’s a designated area for the bigger equipment and either stationary or mobile storage, but I think it’s in the spirit of the maker movement to be able to use, interact with, and manipulate one’s environment kind of like what was done with the stairs at Cal Poly.

(thank you DS106)

Make ALL the library a makerspace!

Ok.  Maybe this philosophy is mildly impractical.

If ALL the library can’t be one giant makerspace, what’s essential for the designated square footage?  Passion.  Mentors from multiple disciplines.  Tools for getting the jobs done.  Plenty of storage.  Lots of workspace.  Comfortable areas for talking/working out problems.  Places to scribble ideas.  What else?