Tie And Jeans

Archive for the category “digiwrimo”

MakerEd update: Looms and Bridges

I dread Halloween for a number of reasons. The most trivial among them is that starts November and the traditional* post every day challenge. Working with that daily requirement forces me to realize how easily I fall into bad “essayist” habits with the blog. I don’t post about stuff until I’ve got something to say about the stuff, which in my saner moments I recognize is the exact opposite of the correct plan.

In the spirit of November, here’s the disjointed status of Makers.

The most elaborate Scratch+MakeyMakey project my class has ever seen reached something like alpha software and moved on to laying copper tape. Hence this, the most elaborate Bridges of Königsberg puzzle I’ve ever seen. I felt so math teacher proud about this. I laid down the law! Paths must not cross!

baseball bridges

There was a full period of pencil sketching on the inside of their contraption before they even thought to reach for copper tape. They worked smart, using the raised edges, and running a long common ground through easily two dozen triggers. Then, after so much had been laid down, they discovered that they had taped themselves into a corner. “Isn’t there some way we can put stuff between the layers of tape?” Yes. now is the time when we talk about insulators and conductors.

Nate Kellogg asked about how our MS kids are using the 3D printer. Up until this week, my honest answer would have been “not as much as I had hoped.” The kids who actually built the machine display some ownership over it’s continued functioning, but they don’t seem to have any interest in using it in a significant way. I wasn’t sick with grief over this, but it was a bit surprising to me. I was happy to see that when other projects needs some thing, the printer would get called in to service, which represents both a crucial skill set and a mind shift for middle school students. But… I thought all kids were crazy for small plastic trinkets!

This week, I found the small plastic trinkets for which our students bring the craze. Makers and gentlenerds, the Rainbow Loom.

printed_loom

Are rubber band bracelets a thing with your kids? Then these designs will drive incredible traffic to your printer.

We started out using this great SCAD design for a closed ring loom. The commercial kit uses linear strips of the pegs that mount onto a base in various configurations. It’s pretty flexible, but bulky and not well suited for designs that extend off of the loom itself. The circular loom we’ve been printing is perfect for those, and turns a design that’s a tricky mess on the normal setup (the HEXAFISH**) into something that’s super easy and compact.
There have been more 5th and 6th graders in the lab this week than ever before. I know the about the “whistle trap” for 3D printing (although I can’t remember who coined the phrase), where the device becomes a tool to make a certain thing rather than something that enables student design. In my head I pretend that the loom isn’t a whistle, in part because of the changes they’re making to the base design in OpenSCAD. But really, I’m willing to risk it because of the crazy velocity, the sheer churn of kids coming into the space and asking about what they can make.

In other groups we have a RC plane under construction, a bunch of 555 timer projects (bad move: starting kids with breadboard projects more complicated than a pushbutton LED), a skeeball game, and powered paper airplanes. But the other lesson I remember from previous Novembers is that it’s better to post half the story in an 20 minutes than try to cover everything in an hour.

* aka I’ve done it twice

**strictly speaking the N-Fishtail.

Obviously Not a Golfer

How do you walk away from the constant mental churn of a school day?

I find something new to learn.

No, learn is too strong a word. I find a new garden of ideas to walk through, not expecting to replant it or memorize the path. I need to be around new ideas and tools, presented in a way that’s tangible and full of invitation.

Here’s a recent joyous discovery. Start with a simple beep. Through functional programing build up to playing and displaying Canone Alla Quarta. 40 minutes. One text file.

Watching the video is an incredibly journey, and a great break from the day.  When I’m ready to get my hands dirty, start making mistakes and really learning, the source is waiting for me on GitHub.

Spending Out of Pocket

Our Makers program started when I brought personal projects, things that had NOTHING to do with school, into my work environment. Part of what drew kids in from the very beginning was that I, as a teacher, was obviously getting away with something. More than that, it was clear that this mysterious stuff must be something that I cared about, because it didn’t look like any other “teacher stuff” in the building.

Those two responses are tied deeply into how kids view teachers and view school. When we reveal unique parts of a holistic self to students, they notice and respond. This isn’t to say that every kid is going to fall in love with your My Bloody Valentine Pandora station (or any kid!), but any suggestion that your humanity is broader and more complicated than a 6th grade view of teachers has an impact.

I’ve always bought things out of pocket for use in my teaching. My deep procrastination more than covers that habit, but I think I’ve discovered some unexpected value from it over the years. Snap purchases for the classroom, whether a uniquely shaped container of 500 googly eyes, send the complicated message that not only do teachers leave the classroom at some point (5th grade is about the end of the “don’t you sleep under the desk?” mindset), but we carry our students and our classes with us to Home Depot or the swap meet or the beach. Those impulse buys that would NEVER fit on a reimbursement form are a clear signal to kids about how our personality and our teacher identity mesh.

It wouldn’t be the worst use of school money to hand each teacher $100 with this simple instruction. “Buy the awesome things for your kids/space/classroom that you think the school would never understand.”

Essential EdPython – Being Hit On The Head

I did the VAIS presentation today, thanks in large part to the generous loan of a projector from Claire and Michelle, two fantastic #MakerEd pioneers from Highland School. I know how egregious the venue charges for LCD projectors are, but it’s a real mindwarp to walk in to a room and see an honest to god overhead projector set up. I could have made it work if I had the crank-system installed.

After the presentation, a dozen great conversations that were all pressed for time, and four hours in the car, I don’t have a many specific memories from the day.

But I know I used this classic stolen-from-Alfie Kohn bit of EdPython.

Alfie calls this Better Get Used To It, but the phrase I hear in actual use is They’re Going To Need It. I guess the later formulation allows us to absolve ourselves of any guilt. It’s not just that the world (by which we mean school, which we’re in the process of creating and recreating every day) inflicts this horrible thing on young people, and we’re the early messengers. No, if they’re “going to need it” then the implication is that we’ve performed some daring and far reaching reconnaissance, and discovered a surprising hurdle in everyone’s life where this unpleasant and baffling experience will prove invaluable.

We’re very careful to wash out hands of all responsibility in that sentence. It’s college admission boards! It’s the testing companies! It’s our competitor schools! For any rational actor, there would come a point where the costs associated with a certain path became so onerous that alternatives, even less consistent ones, became viable. Never so in schools, where the entire notion of cost and choice evaporate between the actors, and we’re all left bemoaning what students have to do.

Like the Godin quote that Laura linked to yesterday, these arguments deal with avoiding possible consequences that are possibly negative. These are the “if, if” outcomes of which we fear the fear. Third order effects, indeed.

#Makered at VAIS

Tomorrow I’m heading down to Richmond for my first VAIS conference. When we moved from San Jose 5 years ago, I was so flummoxed by Virginia’s geography and traffic patterns that I wrote off any activity further afield than Fairfax. Our horizons expanded steadily over the years, but it’s taken this long to feel like I have something to contribute to the larger conversation of Virginia Independent Schools.

So hi!

I’m Andrew Carle, a long time math and edtech nerd. For the last 5 years I’ve been at Flint Hill School working to build a productive model of teaching and learning in a 1:1 environment. Along the way, though, I fell into something else.

I call the class Makers and refer to it in writing as MakerEd, but those are largely flags of convenience. Classes at our school need to be called something, and when if you’re running a twitter chat (Tuesdays! 9pm!)  #makered has distinct advantages over #Constructionist or #SubjectAgnosticStudentLedInquiry. I recognize, and apologize for this contribution to buzzword-burnout.

I’ll do my best to cover the MakerEd basics in my presentation, but here’s the big picture in some other voices.

I’m not sure I’m qualified to even recite Gary Stager’s  resume. His fantastic keynote from Stanford’s FabLearn conference earlier this month covers the breadth and constructionist roots of MakerEd with more authority than I can muster. If any of this sounds interesting, I can’t recommend Constructing Modern Knowledge enough.

Read more Papert. You can start small with the 8 Big Ideas of the Constructionist Learning Lab or 20 Things to Do With A Computer. Bret Victor recommends Mindstorms in language stronger than I can use in public as a teacher. He’s not wrong. The Children’s Machine is also great.

There’s dozens of schools across the country that are embracing a Maker Mindset as a primary goal for their students, and building a whole range of programs and facilities in the process. You can find a subset of those teachers listed at k12makers, but my sense is that 10x that many are starting up and running silent. When you run across those teachers, when you become that teacher, reach out! There’s fantastic teachers from schools of every shape and size pushing at this.

I do my best to write in both the peaks and valleys of my MakerEd experience, and I encourage you to do the same.  What keeps the MakerEd tent broad and focused on new learning experiences for students is conversation among voices that traffic in authenticity, rather than authority. We are educators. Learning environments are what we make, and we need to share widely.

Endless Gallery of Forgotten Toys

Somewhere, a young person does something impressive.

Young people do, build, and make impressive things all the time. What makes this creation special is that, for whatever reason, it manages to pierce the adult bubble of disengagement and draws attention.

In the conversations that ensue, wether in a classroom or on a news program, ad adult will ask this young person “How did you learn to do this?”

There will be “when” and “where” versions as well, but those answers are consistent and unsurprising. After school, late at night, in the garage. On the margins and in the cracks.

Answers to the “how” question are frustrating and incoherent, in the same unsatisfying category as “where do you get your ideas?” Youtube. The google. Books from the library.

If you’re not an educator, I can forgive you for hearing those fumbled responses, filing the kid under “autodidact” and moving on. Both the questioner and the young person are mistakenly focused on the source of this particular impressive thing, rather than the more important “how” of their learning process.

Look back further.

Anywhere, any year, and a young person wants to do something for which they have no direct mentor available. That is, they’re cheeky enough to become fascinated by something in the fast 93% of human experience that’s not addressed in their grade level curriculum map. What do they do? Where do they turn?

In isolation, our only option is to throw ourselves at the cliff face of knowledge, scrabble for a handhold and pull incrementally higher. This is where the myth or misconception of autodidacts fails us, when we imagine that the truly special swoop in like spiderman and bound effortlessly to the summit.

No.

We all careen in wildly, become hopelessly tangled in our own limbs, and smack painfully into the wall. Everyone.

That is learning. There is no montage.

What emerges from that process is an attitude, equally arrogant and egalitarian. If more than one human knows a subject, then instructions exist. If someone else can learn how to do something, then so can I. What we call “the world” is built by people, no smarter than you.

Armed with that attitude and a universe of information, our autodidact Voltron is complete and ready to change the world. This is the point they reflect back on when asked “how” they learned something. Humans are bad at metacognition, and hyper-focused adolescence exponentially more so. When an young person looks back on this moment, she overlooks the long, frustrating hours exploring things that have nothing to do with the subject of her current work. It was those experiences, the painful failure strewn slog of learning how to learn, that provided the mechanism that propelled her to success. Somewhere along the line, she recognized the whole of human knowledge as a personal invitation. The early work where she tested that theory wasn’t impressive, productive or on-task, but it was essential.

Cultivating those experiences is at the heart of what I call #makered. Past the skills or tech or tools or props, I’m convinced that we need to provide a home to the transformative and fanciful passions that may never yield products that impress adults.

Badgermoles, Fanfic and cranky November

I learned about NaNoWriMo from a 7th grade girl in 2001. It was my first year working in edtech, my first year working with kids in any capacity, but by the end of November Fiona was already a fixture in the computer lab. I expected to see her sprawled out in front of an iMac with dozens of loose papers. What made me ask about her novel, and led to hearing the details of her third NaNoWriMo was that, completely out of character, she was using Word.

Up to that point in mid-Novemeber, the majority of her computer time was spent in a web based IRC client, where she schemed, plotted and gossiped her way through an Edwardian-era Potter MUSH (The major rules were “No Dumbledore, No Voldemort, Yes fancy hats.”) Compared to her work running herd over House Slytherin circa 1906, NaNoWriMo represented a slight decline in her strict WPM output. The MUSH not only required long bouts of in-character play, but huge swaths of game-fiction that established landmark events for the community, or dove deep into specific characters and side stories.

The back half of that story, the school half,  is barely worth telling. Not a scrap of her writing from her NaNoWriMo novels or from the Potterverse MUSH ever showed up in English class. She was always the “bright girl” who continually disappointed teachers.

Which is all elaborate backstory for why November makes me prickly about issues of “frivolity” and “seriousness” in student’s reading, writing and learning.  Heaven help anyone who speaks ill of fanfic in my presence. Not you, of course. You’re sensible. But that other English teacher who’s coming over to visit, the one who uses “the canon” without finger quotes. Maybe give him a heads up before I tweak his stupid nose right into Earth–1228

On the way to the car on this blustery morning, Annika squealed that the wind “means the pegasi are flying new weather to us!” I saw a chance for nerd-dad mischief. “Are you sure it’s not the CatBus passing by?” Annika was not phased. “No, Dada. The CatBus taught the pegasi how to move weather, just like the badgermoles taught the earthbenders.”

We use Python libraries to interact with an API that manipulates the substance of a Minecraft world. We use fantasy, history and mythology as a framework for new stories, running in harmony, counterpoint or bracingly out of phase. Even when cupped in the hands of giants, the act of creation is our own.

 

MakerEd update: Looms and Bridges

I dread Halloween for a number of reasons. The most trivial among them is that starts November and the traditional* post every day challenge. Working with that daily requirement forces me to realize how easily I fall into bad “essayist” habits with the blog. I don’t post about stuff until I’ve got something to say about the stuff, which in my saner moments I recognize is the exact opposite of the correct plan.

In the spirit of November, here’s the disjointed status of Makers.

The most elaborate Scratch+MakeyMakey project my class has ever seen reached something like alpha software and moved on to laying copper tape. Hence this, the most elaborate Bridges of Königsberg puzzle I’ve ever seen. I felt so math teacher proud about this. I laid down the law! Paths must not cross!

baseball bridges

There was a full period of pencil sketching on the inside of their contraption before they even thought to reach for copper tape. They worked smart, using the raised edges, and running a long common ground through easily two dozen triggers. Then, after so much had been laid down, they discovered that they had taped themselves into a corner. “Isn’t there some way we can put stuff between the layers of tape?” Yes. now is the time when we talk about insulators and conductors.

Nate Kellogg asked about how our MS kids are using the 3D printer. Up until this week, my honest answer would have been “not as much as I had hoped.” The kids who actually built the machine display some ownership over it’s continued functioning, but they don’t seem to have any interest in using it in a significant way. I wasn’t sick with grief over this, but it was a bit surprising to me. I was happy to see that when other projects needs some thing, the printer would get called in to service, which represents both a crucial skill set and a mind shift for middle school students. But… I thought all kids were crazy for small plastic trinkets!

This week, I found the small plastic trinkets for which our students bring the craze. Makers and gentlenerds, the Rainbow Loom.

printed_loom

Are rubber band bracelets a thing with your kids? Then these designs will drive incredible traffic to your printer.

We started out using this great SCAD design for a closed ring loom. The commercial kit uses linear strips of the pegs that mount onto a base in various configurations. It’s pretty flexible, but bulky and not well suited for designs that extend off of the loom itself. The circular loom we’ve been printing is perfect for those, and turns a design that’s a tricky mess on the normal setup (the HEXAFISH**) into something that’s super easy and compact.
There have been more 5th and 6th graders in the lab this week than ever before. I know the about the “whistle trap” for 3D printing (although I can’t remember who coined the phrase), where the device becomes a tool to make a certain thing rather than something that enables student design. In my head I pretend that the loom isn’t a whistle, in part because of the changes they’re making to the base design in OpenSCAD. But really, I’m willing to risk it because of the crazy velocity, the sheer churn of kids coming into the space and asking about what they can make.

In other groups we have a RC plane under construction, a bunch of 555 timer projects (bad move: starting kids with breadboard projects more complicated than a pushbutton LED), a skeeball game, and powered paper airplanes. But the other lesson I remember from previous Novembers is that it’s better to post half the story in an 20 minutes than try to cover everything in an hour.

* aka I’ve done it twice

**strictly speaking the N-Fishtail.

Comments Suck, But Silence is Worse

I find it harder to have substantive public conversations now than at any point since my first BBS calls in 1990.

I feel trapped by the fragmented web and the asymptotic trendy of blog comments towards YouTube levels of nastiness. Here’s my current example. Audrey makes a great umbrella post about the trend of MakerEdu. HackEducation should be an obvious place for all stripes of teacher/makers to congregate, as should MakerEd. Instead substantive posts on both sites are relative ghosts towns.

When comments show up, they sit in solitude or lonely pairs, desperate for someone else at this party to pick up the thread. Gary Stager had a great post about walking the line between speaking truth to faddishness and becoming a crummudgeonly charichtacure. Four comments, from people I think are great educators (I’m making assumptions here, since no names link to their public identity), but no conversation.

I recognize that I’m part of the problem here. For every post that I comment on, there’s a half dozen that I star or retweet and then forget about. I’ve been chastened by the experience of checking back on abandoned comments, only being reminded of my “subscribe to comments” click when the post is discovered by spambots.

New bloggers crave comments; final unquestionable proof that someone is reading. But beyond a certain threshold, links and RTs paint more compelling picture of the reach of each post. The twitter community around hackeducation and MakerEd is far larger than the comment section indicates, but there’s no easy way to check on it. Comment sections on established blogs demand defensive attention more than anything else; nuke the spam, mute the troll threads, avoid the rage posts. In the odd chance a comment sparks a new thought, blog incentives clearly favor responding in a new post rather than in comments. The utopian version of this trend is a vast network of trackbacks, where the conversational thread bounces between individual blogs and every post adds new layers and insight to the discusson.

If any of you have found that network, please link me in.

Audrey posts, Andrew comments, Tim RTs, Rachel shares on G+, and there’s no visible conversation. It’s almost enough to make me pine for Maximus and WWIV.

Sample Size Insufficient

For years, my interview lecture for math jobs was about the number system. It was flexible, would fit well in almost any class, and generally involved enough fancy math word to impress administrators. The 20 minute lecture built up from troll counting to the natural numbers through the Real and Complex fields by pushing at the questions that a given system couldn’t answer and framing the next system as the extension to the previous rules that would give a label for what was previously unknowable.

It was also pretty funny, as math lectures go.

When I started interviewing for exclusively “tech” positions, I shifted to lessons about Conway’s Game of Life, finite state machines, and other bits of basic CS that we could tackle even in a classroom without computers. I have a deep, historic love of Conway , and that combination made sure that I could get any group of kids up and moving. Since I last interviewed with this lesson, I’ve found even more great examples of this format in the amazing CS Unplugged.

Sample lessons are a layered pantomime, where teachers are asked to build 20 minute scale models of the relationships and learning that we’d struggle to build over years. Being successful in these lessons often means convincing the adults in the room more than connecting with students.

Occasionally I break out in a sweat about what my next set of sample lessons will look like. I’ve given lots of thought to what a better interview  might look like, but I’m still stymied on how to express my current teaching goals into the traditional sample lesson. If a potential hire showed up with a backpack full of cardboard , does that make them the teacher equivalent of a prop comic? What about a truck? How do you model long-term engagement and student inquiry, processes that already strain against the 45 minute boundary, in a 20 minute teaser?

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