Spring semester recap

There are four more weeks of what is the very last semester of the maker senior seminar, and I’m not sure how to feel about that.

We’ve done a lot since the Makey Makeys that you may or may not have read about.  Sewable circuits and Arduinos made an appearance.  The Exquisite Corpse Rube Goldberg machine was a huge success (in that everyone created some amazing, creative pieces not in that it worked).

Ray: Symmetrical book stacking. Just like the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947.
Peter: You’re right, no human being would stack books like this.

Texting Wedos – part of the Rube Goldberg Machine

We even did some embroidery to celebrate National Embroidery Month (February).

This class of mainly guys enjoyed the embroidery much more than I imagined.  They commented on its meditative nature and appreciated the fact that they had to slow down.  What I loved was the casual conversations that took place at the table as we all sat around and practiced our stitches.

We took some things apart and looked closely at the parts and how they worked together.

We went on a Design Hunt in the Commons and explored what worked well, how things worked together, and what designs need some reconsideration.

These outlet covers are (1) not practical and (2) not durable.

This seal caught the attention of several students. It’s not used often, and they were impressed by its design.

Next week we gear up for a month of true makerspace life where the students get deeper into their questions and interests.

In addition to facilitating the making of things, I’m also taking Thinking & Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom, which has forced me to reflect on what it means to make things in and out of schools and what it all might mean.

There’s a lot that resonates, and I’m taking the time to unpack some of the stuff now, before it’s too late (meaning before June rolls around and I haven’t stopped to think about all the stuff coming from the text (Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape Their Worlds by Edward P. Clapp, et. al.) and my IRL and virtual classmates.

Because it’s Harvard and research and such, one can really get in the weeds with the theory and analysis.  But maybe it comes down to this:

When asked about their memorable making experiences, no Agency by Design workshops participants “have described their most memorable making experiences in terms of reconceptualizing the economy or increasing their proficiencies in the STEM subjects” (Clapp 17).

Also this by Gever Tulley, founder of Brightworks School:

“The world doesn’t need more graduates with good grades: What the world needs is voracious, self-directed learners with the creative capacity to see the problems of the world as puzzles, and the tenacity to work on them, even in the face of adversity.” (p. 9).

We’re also talking a lot about agency, agentic action, and maker empowerment.  However, I’ll come back to those when it’s not the end of the day on a Friday.  And also because I’m still sorting it all out.

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




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.


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.