Ideas in the open

Last night I was at a board meeting for the local hackerspace.  Lots of stuff was discussed: met goals, culture, community involvement, doing more projects, protecting the time required for projects, etc.  I got to thinking about my lists of projects, which mainly exist on my phone (typically always handy for writing down ideas), but also in a variety of notebooks.

Too many notebooks

Too many notebooks

Some of the projects are in progress.  Most are just ideas, because of one excuse or another.  The projects usually don’t get past the idea phase thanks to one obstacle or another.  I thought I’d put the projects out in the open.  It’s always good to be held accountable for things.  And I need to write more.

So here are the ideas, progress, and reasons I may feel intimidated by said ideas.  Feel free to provide suggestions, tips, information, etc.:

The Project List Made Public

1.  Zombie apocalypse novel (short story/novella) set at a zombie survival training camp

  • I started this idea for NaNoWriMo 2014, because I don’t write enough.  When it’s time to write something, I feel rusty, awful, inarticulate, and slow.  I’m also forgetting grammar rules.
  • I gave up on this idea about a week into NaNoWriMo, which is usually when I give up on NaNoWriMo efforts.  My thinking:  (a) Why am I doing this again?  (b) Are there better ways to spend my time?  (c) Yes, there are other things I could be making and/or doing.  (d) I wish I could draw, because this would make for a great comic.  (e)  I should team up with my husband.  He can draw.

See how I forked that incomplete project into another project?  Pretty neat, huh?

2.  Zombie apocalypse comic set at a zombie survival training camp

3.  Whimsical Seussian birdhouse

  • What?
  • I’ve spent some time in the Hack.RVA FabLab.  I’ve used the drill press, band saw, and scroll saw.  I haven’t used them very well.  I happened to notice that we have the aforementioned tools in the wood shop at school.  So convenient!  I told one of the keepers of the shop that I wanted to learn to use some of the tools.  “What do you want to make?” he asked.  Why not make a whimsical Seussian birdhouse?  I also figured this project would be a good excuse for getting back to the CAD Dojo.
  • I haven’t touched this project, because of time (lack of) and the mild intimidation I feel toward AutoCAD.

4.  Jamie Lee Curtis’s embroidered face (in progress)

Embroidering Jamie Lee Curtis's face

Embroidering Jamie Lee Curtis’s face

  • This one is in the works.  The early works, but the works all the same.  A couple of years ago, Diana Rupp visited Fountain Books in Richmond.  I bought the Embroider Everything Workshop book, which I touched once in two years.  Embroidering Jamie Lee Curtis is a good project for practicing stitches for another next project….

5.  “We Live in a Heroic Age” embroidered on something

  • A story I shared recently: “Up until July 1st, there was a guy named D—- worked at school.  He is an awesome human being.  Creative, funny, a holder of big, exciting ideas, a Harvard grad, but you’d never know it, because he had a way of talking to everyone about anything and making people feel comfortable regardless of their background.  D—- went to be head of a school in horse country.  I was talking to a former English teacher who is now the head of the lower school at another local independent school.  She tells me about D—- visiting a year ago or so.  There talking about serious matters as people sometimes do.  He grabs her hands in his and says, “S—-, we live in a heroic age.”
  • Have truer words been spoken?

6.  Tumblr of Polaroid selfies

  • Does this already exist?  Surely it does.  I should search for it, but not right now, because I am busy.
  • Polaroid selfies are a thing.  I’m sure of it.  The selfie wasn’t born with the cell phone.
  • How does one create a submission form using Tumblr? (I don’t have to use Tumblr.)
  • How does one weed out photos dressed in an Instagram filter/frame?

7.  Y’all gonna make me lose my mind (in progress)

Cross stitched lyrics

Cross stitched lyrics

You will find lyrics to this DMX song ALL over the Internet.

Proving my point

Proving my point

See.  Mine will be special though.  It will eventually have sewable LEDs and a LilyTiny.  It will be amazing.  Also, I have three words for you: sewable LED sequins.


8.  Knitted bandolier for things you need to carry

  • I’m not even sure where to go with this.  Crocheting may be a better choice.  Are crocheted things usually woven tighter?

This kid has a bandolier for snacks and toys.  It’s cool, but a knitted bandolier would be cooler.  Maybe.

This child featured at has a bandolier.  We should all have bandolier.

This child featured at has a bandolier. We should all have bandolier.

9.  Script for a horror movie called Hacker Space (inspired by the 1986 classic, Chopping Mall)

10.  A great American novel told through the flotsam and jetsam one may obtain through a network hack (inspired by the Sony hack).  Emails, names of folders and folder contents, movies, pictures, memos, calendars, etc. etc.

  • This would make for a great exquisite corpse.  Anyone want to collaborate?

That’s it.  Or at least those are the things that have been written down.

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.



Toys, time, and amazing people: a CMK reflection (pt. 1)

The past week has been disorienting.  I touched down in Manchester, NH Monday for the Constructing Modern Knowledge institute.  Perhaps you’re asking, “What is Constructing Modern Knowledge (CMK)?”  It’s only the hands-down best professional thing I’ve done in forever.  More specifically, it’s a place to meet and work with creative and courageous educators in schools, museums, etc.  There is not a lot of moving from session to session at CMK.  There are very few sessions.  CMK is a hands-on carnival of project ideas, messing around, frustration, breakthroughs, and perhaps a finished project by day four.  CMK is about building knowledge by doing something.

Day one started with registration and a welcome/explanation of the CMK process by Gary Stager.  Participants with project ideas called those out.  They were written on easel pad post-its by Sylvia Libow Martinez.

Taken by a CMK participant. Available at Flickr. If you took it, let me know. I'd like to provide proper attribution.

Taken by a CMK participant. Available at Flickr. If you took it, let me know. I’d like to provide proper attribution.

Once project ideas were collected the 100+ participants signed up for the projects that intrigued them the most.  I signed up for the “haunted hotel” (building pranks for the conference area/hotel), the interactive scarf (a scarf that would interact with sound in its environment), and the smart plant (a plant that would serve as an intranet for a classroom or community).  Because the idea reminded me of a PirateBox and the robot hive mind in Robopocalypse, I went with the smart plant.

I found Joe Bacal, the initiator of the smart plant project.  I talked to Joe about LibraryBox and Robopocalypse.  He did not look at me like I was insane.  This was when I knew for certain that my kind of people go to CMK.

I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

Folks stopped by and asked what we were working on.  Most left to find another project, but a few stayed.  Our group ended up consisting of Joe, Maggie, Linda and Kevin.

We talked about how the plant would be a place for students to record stories or information about what they were learning on a subject.  The plant could be a place for community members to record their narratives (think Storycorps).  It could be a place for students (or community members) to take pictures or record short films.  Information could be emailed to the plant at something like

Essentially, the plant would store audio, video, images, and text centered around a common theme.

It didn’t take long for us to decide that this was kind of over our head.

And then Joe broke up with us after lunch.*

The smart plant ended up to be nothing like a PirateBox or a robot hive mind, or even our first vision and that’s ok.  That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Smart plant sketch, smart plant in the flesh.

The plant was really just a prop in the end.  The project turned out to be a reason to play around with Arduino, which I’ve been wanting to do for over a year now.  We got a chance to dabble in electronics and programming.

Arduino embedded in the plant

We consulted many tutorials from Arduino and Adafruit.  We picked the brains of some of the expert faculty like Eric Rosenbaum and Sylvia.  We picked the brains of some CMK participants who were more advanced than us like Jaymes Dec and Michael Mitchell.  Sometimes the experts and advanced kids didn’t have the answers.  They were just as stumped as Maggie, Kevin, Linda, and me, but between their shared advice, suggestions, and internet forums, we pieced answers together.

That was one of the beautiful parts of CMK.

Another beautiful part of CMK was the time.  At some point after registration, I saw this on the CMK website, “In addition to providing a rich sandbox where educators enjoy the luxury of time to work on personally rewarding projects….”  As the mother of a three-year-old, time to work on personally rewarding projects outside of working to make sure my son doesn’t grow up to be a sociopath doesn’t exist.

No, I exaggerate.  Time to work on personally rewarding projects exists in small chunks of time.  I can start on something in the evening after my son goes to bed, maybe work on it for 2 hours (three if I’m lucky), and maybe pick it up again the next night or the night after.  Because I work from 9-11 pm, the work is done in solitude.  This is no way to work.  It amazes me that our students aren’t coming out of their skin, because it’s how we expect them to work.  How do they dig deep in 45-minute or 90-minute chunks of time?  How do you use your evenings to explore, when time scheduled and there’s homework in every subject?

CMK participants digging deep, both in groups and alone. Photo by Gary Stager (I think).

We started working Monday afternoon and finished up Friday before 1:00.  It was an intense marathon of “hard play.”  For me, there was nothing easy about playing with Arduino.  I’ve looked at the C/C++ programming language before.  I kind-of-sort-of know what this is:

circuit diagram

CC licensed Flickr photo by Windell Oskay







But when it’s in this form, I lose my footing:


CC licensed Flickr photo by Windell Oskay







However, just because the playing wasn’t easy doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun.  It was a challenging puzzle that seemed doable in a team.

This post is almost over.  I promise.

So far I’ve discussed the availability of precious time and “hard play.”  Let me take some space to talk about the people at CMK.  Of course CMK wasn’t the first professional development I’ve done in the 11 years that I’ve been a professional something or other.  However, I do think it’s the first time I’ve made so many connections that will extend beyond the institute/conference/whathaveyou.

I do believe Keledy Kenkel had a lot to do with connecting people.  The signal to socialize went up before the conference even began.

#cmk13afterhours was a result of that Monday night dinner.

Afterhours included dinner, late night tech/education talk, super late night lobby conversations with Brian Silverman, ukulele jams, and just plain hanging out.  We talked about comics, parenting, TV, our schools and basically the things that make us who we are.

Also, I got to meet Tracy Rudzitis (and here), who has been at CMK for four years now.  Here’s a great photo of Tracy, a CMK senior.

Tracy Rudzitis

Photo by Gary Stager (or a CMK participant). Available at:

I miss my CMK13 friends.  I feel closer to some of them than I do to people that I’ve worked with for seven or eight years.  And that has a lot to do with me.  Opening up and reaching out is really something I’ve failed at here at school.  But that’s a topic for another time…

So now what?

I have things to think about.  Things that people said to mull over.  I’m trying to think about how I can share what I learned and saw with students, staff, and faculty here at school.  I want to implement the hard play, collaboration, creativity, and big thinking in the commons when it opens in August.  I want to bring those things to my DIY/Maker senior seminar.  What kind of connections need to be made for this to happen?

I’m excited about the possibilities for the new school year.  I look forward to bringing some new ideas to my colleagues and students.  I know that I have CMK13 alum available as a sounding board.

Here’s to bringing some creativity and courage to the 2013-14 school year and beyond.


* there were no hard feelings