Tie And Jeans

A Week in Makers

Despite my best efforts, I haven’t found a collaboration tool that works for my group of middle school Makers.  I’ll keep looking, but for the timebeing I fall back on email.  More for my records, here’s the week one wrap up I sent to the group.


Hey Makers!

We’ve done a lot of different stuff during our first “week.” To ensure we can spend our time building, designing and programing, I’m going to recap our projects and try to stick some questions in your brain.

These aren’t quiz questions or a review sheet. These are big questions that don’t have single, simple answers. These are questions that should bug you.


Our first cardboard automota was a “simple” carousel, taking rotation from the side of the box (a crank) and transfering it to the top of the box (spinning disc). [We’ve grown up around a world filled with “perfect” solutions, so many groups started off looking for neatly meshing, perfectly calibrated gears.] C_1 and C_2, who had the benefit of an extra day with their group intact, added an extra “bounce” to their ride by using a non-circular cam. In the end, both carousels turned just fine, but each fought with friction and alingment at several different points.

Without retreating to manufactured solutions like K’Nex or Lego gears, what could you do reduce that problem? While “turn faster” is a reasonable solution for shoebox carousels, can you imagine a construction that would **require** less friction to operate?


Both the light and color based systems for sending Pinky & The Brain messages down the hallways proved remarkably resiliant. Not only did the messages arrive intact and inorder, they did so despite the interfereance of 5th graders heading to recess. You discussed several ways that increasing visibility would improve both those system, and ways to refine the way you send messages (nerd phrase: message PROTOCOL) to make beginings and endings more clear.

While increasing the height of the sending station seems sensible, I’d push you to think about what you GIVE UP with that solution as much as what you gain. Sure, being taller than C_1’s little brother would be really useful, but would it be more difficult to set up in the hallway? Is there a downside to mounting the colored flags on tall sticks?
In the coming weeks, we’ll go through a series of message tests that will seem increasingly unfair. To start your brains whirring, remember that there are over 150 different “I think so Brain…” jokes from P&tB. Can your codebooks expand to cover all of those? What about any single line from any Shel Silverstein poem? What happens if the hallway is empty but the lights are off? Or if the sender is on the JK blacktop and the message needs to reach the front of Miller House? Could you send a silent message from the top of the 4th floor stairwell to the very bottom?

Like I said, increasingly unfair.


I love LOGO, and I loved your Scratch houses. Please share those to the Scratch website (scratch.mit.edu) and send me the link. We’ll use Scratch and Scratch-like tools extensivley throughout the course, and it will form our first bridge between the physical and programable world. Remember, the true power of a computer comes when a task seems tedious, time consuming and dull. Programing is a direct tool to think hard and clearly about something once, and then avoid spending time or brainpower on it in the future.

Consider this small chain. There’s a small jump from a program that draws a house in Scratch to one that draws a house with 3D rectangles. If you have a file of 3D rectangles, then you can print it out in plastic using a printer like this:

The hard work of programming is describing, clearly and in exact detail, the entirety of a process.  The power of programing is that this hard work can make us exempt from the hard work of Exacto knives and Model Magic for huge chunks of our lives.



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