Tie And Jeans

Archive for the tag “#makered”

Encapsulation Injection Simulation

In a rare fit of great planning, I married an exceptional history teacher before I fell into #MakerEd. Over years of conversations, we’ve brainstormed dozens of different places where MakerEd can support/augment/extend history as an academic discipline experienced by students.

We’ve also developed a loose framework to categorize and discuss about those experiences, more as a personal shorthand than a desire to compete with SAMR, RAT or other “explain the world” acronyms. I generalize from this framework, but it’s also very tied to the specifics of 6–12 single subject history.

This isn’t a hierarchical system. I’m also going to try to use phrases like “traditional classroom learning” as neutral. Wish me luck.

Encapsulation, Injection, Simulation

Encapsulation covers any instance where the making wraps around a chunk traditional classroom learning. Students are making/building something that serves as a platform for them to present curricular content they’ve acquired.
Encapsulation is incredibly useful and versatile. Many making experiences are pretty neutral, so they’re not tied to a particular subject or concept. They also fit easily into teacher’s planning model, normally slotting in to replace some other form of summative assessment project. Susan’s great Lilypad-powered “speaking quilt” has nice resonance with us history, but is just as applicable in a math or science course. At the most basic level, an encapsulated MakerEd provides a new creative platform for students to present their academic learning.

We’ve been using injection to refer to maker experiences that don’t directly replace some part of the traditional classroom learning cycle (pre-assess, research, content delivery, formative/summative assessment). When trying to develop an injection project for history, I start by asking questions about the tools and materials. What T&M that were part of everyday lived experience in that culture? Which new or developing T&M had a dramatic effect on that experience? In nerdy, non-academic terms, I’m often simplifying actual history to Civ terms. What’s step on the tech tree enabled this cultural moment or eliminated it? For colonial history, I’m a huge fan of building some fires to explore cooking techniques with open ovens. More broadly, I want students to make something from or closely analogous to a period tool.
These projects don’t provide good opportunities for assessing the content knowledge of individual students. Instead, they do provide a robust skeleton on which students can hang their developing knowledge. In terms of classroom routine, I’m not sure there’s a better anchor and timer for a history discussion than sitting around an outdoor brick fire waiting for tea water to boil in an iron kettle. In terms of classroom time and instructional minutes, injection projects cost more. I view that cost as an investment in deeper, more lasting student understanding and connection to the material, but I admit that’s primarily belief.

We call the last category simulation, and it covers all experiences where students spend extended time trying to “live” inside the content in some way. History has a well established tradition of simulation exercises, and making/technology offers easy ways to extend those. Classroom simulations of the Constitutional convention become far more involving if all students are RP-ing particular delegates on a social media platform (our 7th grade teachers called it WhigBook last year) for the multi-week duration. For history simulations, the thing students are “making” is a compelling portrayal of an individual in a particular historical moment. There’s similar opportunities for other content areas, from predator/prey systems or fanfic extensions of literature. I think there’s an argument to be made that many challenge/experiment projects (hair-dryer cars, water bottle rockets) are essentially simulations. The made project is nice, but we’re really asking kids to inhabit the role of engineer/designer for a few weeks. History can add in CS by moving the simulation into a MOO/MUSH, where students are both creating the environment and RP-ing the personalities. I guess you could even use SecondLife, but I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that even a text only MUSH looks less dated than SecondLife.

Again, these are informal, conversational, non-hierarchical categories.

When specifically talking about history, Jodi posits another category of intellectual experience that I haven’t been able to directly pull back to the physical world. She refers to this as abstraction, where students can evaluate principles/values/beliefs from one cultural period through the lens of another. In general, I want a making experience to set a goal that unavoidably routes students through the thick mud of research, cognition, and reflection. I haven’t found a generalizable idea for physical things that “force” kids to engage in that abstraction. My closest thought experiment is modifying Heather’s monument project and have students create two monuments for different “sides” of a historical event, or create a monument and the accompanying protest. Ugh. I’m not even happy with those basic examples.

While this year I’ve been planning through transdisciplinary themes, Encapsulation, Injection, Simulation was my framework when planning MakerEd (and tech!) integration in years past. If a teacher wanted MakerEd to fit into a specific academic unit, I almost always went with encapsulation. That way I could bring a different experience to students, provide the teacher with the opportunity to watch students learning through the design cycle, and hopefully generate some nice artifacts. Without that specific curricular tie, I could look for an injection project, knowing that I could work with the teacher to trim some content requirements and devise observation/assessment protocols.

Thematic MakerEd Planning

MakerEd through a Transdisciplinary Lens

So, heya! I’ve landed in Korea and started a new school year. I’m learning as I go, picking up great lessons on #makered process and structure from Gary Donague. I’m also learning about the Primary Years Program, which is the heart of Chadwick’s elememtary practice.

I’m in an online PYP course at the moment. That provides some great resources and opportunities for reflection, but it also resents a “top-level” view that’s similar to any other curricular program. Namely, it’s a bunch of PDFs with overly specific and dense verbiage.

Applying those PYP concepts to my #makered framework has already proven very useful. I’m going to try and capture some of that here. I use lots of the PYP terms in here, after several long talks with our PYP coordinator to help ground the vocab in examples of teaching practice. Those conversations were absolutely necessary for me. I carry my own interpretation of both classroom & PYP language, and those required time and effort to unpack. If this sounds like nothing but semantic distinctions, then it’s likely because I’m glossing over or mis-explaining some term. Please let me know how I can make this explanation more clear.

The most visible aspect of student’s #makered experience is what they build & create. Viewing #makered through this lens ties the experience to a project level. “Students create windmills and solar harvesters in the Makerspace during our Unit on Energy.” With this mindset, the making & design cycle is tied to a product, which is in turn tied to a particular bundle of school-knowledge. There are obvious benefits from this approach, starting with how current curriculum practices can adapt to new projects. Teacher’s are accustomed to sentences of the form “students will learn X by Y,” and changing Y doesn’t upset the apple cart too much. Over time, this can create deep (often unstated) linkages between X and Y, to the point where the #makered experiences becomes a curricular fixed point instead of a force for change. As any tech integrator knows all too well, elementary classrooms can easily forget that project Y was an chosen to embody larger curricular/cultural values, and only remember that “3rd grade do PowerPoint for Greek myths in March.”

Our PYP coordinator suggested instead that #makered experiences should arise directly out of the transdisciplinary themes (for reference: Who we are, Where we are in place and time, how we express ourselves, how the world works, how we organize ourselves, sharing the planet).

I had become accustomed to thinking of my role in #makered planning conversations as the person with wide vision. Teachers would describe their units and learning targets, I’d brainstorm incredible possibilities for student making, and then need to convince teachers that the (messy, complicated, risky) experience would meet their curricular goals. I’d developed a view that making experiences “contained multitudes” which meant I could find almost any marker of school-iness inside.

Thinking about #makered through the lens of the TD themes asks something very different from me and from teachers. Instead of designing a project where the topic/UOI (PYP translation: Units of Inquiry) questions are a fundamental to the domain, we need to create powerful, reusable question that chart a direction for students using the Design cycle.

I’ve tried to draw this a bit. My art skills aren’t great, but hopefully this captures my mental image of this abstract concept.



The TD themes form a hexagon of doors/windows around any #makered activity. Even if every first naive draft of that activity looks pretty similar, wedding the Design cycle to the TD themes ensures that each iteration will move students further away from the “just stuff” version of the project and deeper into meaningful, reflective PYP work.

The project example we used to think this through was “fashion design,” an activity with an intentionally vague and flat description. When iterating on this from a project-focused model, the primary change is students climbing ladders of material/tool/skill sophistication. It provides great differentiation and reflection on the design process, and is neutral enough to “fit” anywhere.

Considering the same activity through the TD lens, it’s clear that while it keeps those positive traits, it adds specificity and thematic consistency to the design cycle. Instead of one project that can fit anywhere, we actually have 6 very different projects that happen to share one material/skill base.

Who we are: Build a model/outfit that depicts your friend. Each iteration will need to focus on how we identify ourselves. Since the poseable models lack body characteristics and the project spans weeks, students can’t rely on a single outfit or “blond hair” as signifying characteristics. Students’ models will develop to include signifiers of activities, hobbies, and history.

Where we are in place and time: Make a model of yourself and a grandparent at the same age (ie, when grandparent was in Xth grade). What were the major historical changes in the intervening 60 years, and how can we express those through the materials? Each iteration should explore those issue. Is it possible to show a pre-plastic world through the 3D printer and scrap nylon? What other techniques can we use/develop?

How we express ourselves: Create a model/outfit for a character from literature. Best choices are books with first person narrators, where students will focus on capturing the POV character’s world view through the materials. Iterations can include increasing specificity for the time/moment in the narrative. How would this character’s outfit/presentation change after SIGNIFICANT_PLOT_X?

How we organize ourselves: How do you make a uniform? What information do uniforms from large entities (cities, countries) need to convey through similarities and differences? Maybe small groups are developing model city-states and need to create three different uniforms for important functions within that society. Maybe different groups are exploring the symbolic expressions of hierarchy and rank, and need to create models to convey those ideas? What would uniforms look like for an organization trying to avoid those traits?

How the world works: What can clothing do? Focus on creating a single clothing item that performs an assistive function. This could be a jacket that insulates (measured by temp sensors over time) or rain gear or cycling pants or… Perhaps this is the most classically maker/design style of iteration, with lots of solid numeric data to inform each new model.

Sharing the planet: Where does our clothing come from? What resources does it consume, and how are those reflected in cost? Perhaps this theme involves creating a “raw materials” schema for makerspace materials, and each iteration attempts to lower the “resource footprint” of an outfit. Or maybe each outfit has a given materials list and the iterative challenge is to improve resiliency?

It’s still true that #makered experiences are rich, and that any given kind of making can fit within any of the TD themes. But what’s powerful about TD integration is that after a few iterations, students doing the “same project” through two different lenses will wind up with very divergent work and be able to articulate why those differences exist. Even if the dolls & outfits might look similar to a parent observed when displayed without context, as educators we can be certain that the learning experiences were specific, powerful and distinct.

Project level integration suggests that by selecting right project/task/challenge, students will produce enough observable thinking, reflection, iteration to meet any assessment criteria. TD integration, by contrast, doesn’t demand that teachers find a perfect #makered activity. Any making, fueled by questions that derive directly from the TD theme, will create substantive, unique, visible learning.

This isn’t a frosting layer, where the same learning/making experience is recontextualized by the observer. TD integration operates on the reflective/iterative axis, which fundamentally changes the course/direction of student learning.

Vanishing Electronics

In this course, students discover the basics of electronics design and assembly. They use this knowledge to build their own simple flashing LED using solder-free breadboards. By diving into the assembly of these projects, students learn about impedance, resistance, conductivity, and circuit design through personal, hands-on engagement, opening up incredible possibilities for creative projects.

That was the first description I wrote for what became our Makers program. This was a perfunctory bit of text written a year before our first class, tossed onto a Google form and into oblivion. The audience was exclusively parents, crassly intended to trigger connotations of learning and complexity for an unproved course.

In that first year we did some of what that blurb promised, but it wasn’t the focus of the course at any point beyond the second week. We built Squishy circuits and made 555-based projects, but I guarantee I never used the word impedance in class.

That same year I took the first MOOC version of MIT’s 6.002. Well before we hit the midterm, I was struggling to keep up with increasingly complex circuits, dusting off my integral calc skills, and churning through paper at a fantastic rate. Coming home from teaching Makers to a new lecture or problem set triggered new waves of teacher-panic. Had I really promised to teach this material to 7th graders?

As part of the FabLearn cohort, I’m exploring broad plain of electronics with an eye on how it fits into the modern/developing #makered landscape. It’s got to be central, right? Even though we advocate for the value of cardboard prototyping and physical construction, the big name tools are all complex electronic systems.

Well, maybe not.

From the 70s into the 90s, there was a rich field of interesting projects and creative experimentation that was only open to people with a functional literacy in electronics and electrical engineering. My sense is that in the last decade, the growth of cheap, flexible, accessible micro-controllers has taken control of the sophisticated projects that used to drive students deeper into electronics. While that trend leaves the electronics domain with fewer “exclusive” projects, the hurdles facing a novice haven’t changed much. While the internet makes it easier to share schematics and video tutorials, electronics still requires parts and precision. I can download the schematics for a transistor radio or a preconfigured disk image that transforms the RaspberryPi into an FM Transmitter.

Deep electronics knowledge opens up incredible possibilities. I’ll submit as evidence any of ch00ftech’s posts or Jeri Ellsworth’s Short Circuits. But in an Arduino-rich world, there’s far fewer low-end projects that require those skills. Instead, those electronics skills become mandatory when a project needs to exceed the constraints of what’s possible with a micro-controller. When a project needs to use less power, take up less space, respond with less lag, scale out at with less cost, then you’ll need the skills to design and build complex, task-optimized circuits.

Here’s the chicken-egg of learning electronics in 2013. Every basic circuit in a Forrest Mims notebookcan be duplicated with an Arduino and a tiny selection of components, using copy-pasta code and breadboard illustrations. In that world, how much discrete electronics knowledge does a novice need?

In the months I’ve spent looking at this problem, I’ve slammed repeatedly against a cognitive wall. I examine my practice, the projects my students pursue, the projects shared throughout the wider #makered community, and I see a role for electronics that’s smaller, more constrained and highly task specific. When I interrogate those findings, I keep coming back to a enduring conflict. Are my observations accurate, or does my weak understanding of electronics obscure a larger and more complicated story?

I can’t be sure. I’ll be sharing my look into the current market of “learn electronics!” kits in a later post, along with exploring the uneasy border between circuit simulators and Minecraft. But throughout those, know that this question – am I missing the real story? – lies under every observation.

#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.

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.


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.

Vision for #MakerEd

Even though it feels like I write about Makers all the time, I’ve been struggling this week to come up with a blurb-y description of our program for internal school purposes. Partly this is my distrust of PR and guidebooks. Partly this is my deeply repressed nervousness that these questions are just prelude to the inevitable, angry, “Why do we pay you to show up?!”

So here’s my first draft. I’m sure I’ll get plenty of feedback from school constituents about wether this fits our style guide or brand image. As my #MakerEd colleagues, does it do a decent job representing our goals and heritage?

The Flint Hill Makers program aims to infuse community with a spirit of inquiry and empowerment through hands on explorations, construction and iterative design.

Our Maker program is an embodiment of Seymour Papert’s pedagogy of constructionism, where students build their understanding through rich interactions with the computational, electrical and physical systems. The course offers creative engineering for middle school students, with exercises designed for adolescents to develop cutting edge skills and phenomenal grit through exploration and play.

Communication & Conditioning

Last semester, I threw a couple of Communication Challenges at my students. My plan was for these to be an escalating series of tasks that would push them from the normative 7th grade view of signaling (hand written notes and mobile video chat, with a vast emptiness in-between) into something that approached a continuum. I hoped it was going to be my sneaky way of making entire idea of a serial protocol into an essential idea.

And it…kinda worked. We ran three of them before building the 3D printer started to eat every Makers class. But in every challenge, I faced a choice of either allowing a hyper reductive physical solution or piling on more arbitrary/adult restrictions to the problem.

This year, I have two classes that each have more students than the previous 3 semesters of Makers combined. At this scale, I’ve been struggling to have the classes cohere into productive subgroups around a challenge. 45 minutes just isn’t long enough to bring students into a new challenge, let them flail at it long enough that the force of their effort settles them into “natural” groups. So, for this, I resorted to one of the corrosive team assignment tools in my middle school toolkit.

To cope with the larger class, I needed larger groups which suggested a layered challenge. So this year it’s a message relay. Stations A and B are reasonably close, but on opposite sides of our facilities barn to prevent for visual contact. B and C can see each other, on a clear day, but are separated by several athletic fields which may or may not be filled with 3rd graders.


Instead of a collection of Pinky & the Brain quotes, the message is a statement structure with some variable nouns. Last time the absolutely fixed vocabulary meant that students built systems to transmit a single number. I had hoped this would push those returning students a bit further.


I’m writing this in the nadir of #makered achievement. I’ve presented a challenge and then tried to shut up. I’ve watched two classes stumble through innumerable plans to move a physical message between stations. Lots of plans for whatever sport-ball they hope will cover the distance best, or rockets or giant ramps to roll a ball across the entire field. One group is building a PCV and Milkcrate sled to haul an 8 word sentence across the field.

Basically, I’m writing this at the moment where I (and possibly they) are convinced that nothing will work.

I’ve tried to build the challenge with a set of game-like restrictions that quietly discourage certain approaches. Other teams are spectators, and if one of the observers learns the message then… then we all frown? This is also where I see kids looking for the bedrock of grades. Until there’s an awesome example of could be produced, the middle school instinct is to worry about what they HAVE to produce. When schools rely on threats of force, especially abstracted and mediated threats like grades, we create young people who are always looking for the hidden whip.

So I’m distracting myself by building stupid door triggered LEDs and other nonsense, basically trying to fill the classroom environment with concrete bits of the possible. The ugly, slapdash possible.

MakerEd chat is tonight, and Laura suggested talking about classroom management in #makered

I think these struggles fit under that umbrella. In my first Makers post-mortem I bemoaned that my decade of experience prodding everyone through the same borderline dull material at roughly the same pace was largely useless to me in Makers. Two years in, I’m struck by how many of those tools are shortcuts that strip agency and choice away from students in order to keep the classroom machine humming. Classroom management systems, even ones I respect like Developmental Designs, are systems that condition students into automatic/unthinking response. Working within a traditional school day makes some measure of conditioning convenient, if not absolutely necessary. But each semester makes me more aware of what I give up, and what I force my students to give away, with those choices.

Beginnings and Plans

As I’ve mentioned this in our (now weekly) #makered chats, I’m working out of a new room this year. Let’s be clear, the stunning news is that there is a, singular and exclusive, classroom, not closet or forgotten corner, for middle school Makers at Flint Hill this year. This is phenomenal.

My MakerEd world is filled with people and schools building incredible spaces. Just check out Vinnie Vrotny’s photos and tweets about their new Innovation Lab, or Hillbrook or Neuva or Abermarle, and you’ll see a bevy of casters, concrete floors and open space.

While my heart says we’ll get there, that’s not where we’re starting. As giddy as I get thinking about those transformed spaces, I have to fight back against my stuff-focused Grinch self. Those rooms will be wonderful learning spaces, but they’ll also be a message to your colleagues and other schools: “To transform learning spaces, first you must call the contractors.”

No. To transform learning, first you have to open the door to students.

One experiment I’m trying this year is starting off with fewer tables and seats than we’ll need. Especially on the first few days, I want students up! Moving, thinking, noisy and active, exploring all the unformed corners of the space.

My dream follow up for this start is to only allow “built” seats in the MakerSpace. This could include student sewn pillows and cushions for milk crates, shaped and stabilized cardboard boxes, one-plank chairs, one-sheet chairs, one-day chairs, or wikiseats.

I decided I needed to build my own before school started.

It’s worth restating at this point that I didn’t thrive in shop class. I didn’t major in EE, and I don’t have a thriving robot factory at home. My investment in the skills and crafts that constitute my corner of #makered  comes from my experience as an adult novice, not a lifetime of honed expertise. I have enough experience to use a woodshop safely, but not enough to complete any project with fewer than three trips for materials.

When I start a project, I don’t have an unconscious process that scouts ahead for common mistakes. In this case, I found a neat design on Thingiverse and charged ahead. A more careful Maker would have looked at the brief instructions, looked at the plans, and wondered what might need to change when using different sized plywood.

This is where I started wondering about that.

This does not look comfy.

If the material had matched the plans, these slots would mesh and form a stable, smooth exterior.  This monstrosity doesn’t do that, since I’m trying to shove 3mm plywood into 2.3mm slots.  It looks like a Westerosi portapotty.

After a frustrating evening, and some napkin estimates of how long it would take me to widen each slot with a Dremel, I started over from scratch. Illustrator to laser cutter to assembly. All told, the  project and false starts burned through much of a weekend.  While this fulfills the original objectives, giving me a stool to sit on, it’s a confusing artifact


Here’s a physical object that serves as an object lesson for the unimportance of stuff for #makered. Everyone at school is going to see the stool, maybe hear the story, and think about “that class where kids make the stuff.” Very few people from inside those walls will see my remixed project on Thingiverse, where I uploaded my modified Illustrator files with the incrementally wider gaps. No one will see the shift in kids’ perceptions as they realize that there are plans for all the things in their world.

Well, no one will notice… up to the point where we build the GyroGlider!

Plans available!

Trying to Avoid the Buzzword Sting – #dtk12 and #makered

There are a bunch of things to write about. This is today’s.

Marty Cantwell and Lindsey Own, two women I’m thrilled and privileged to have as Twitter colleagues  run the exciting whirlwind of #dtk12chat. That conversation pulls in so many voices, and spins off so many threads, that it dominates my feed for hours on Wednesday, even when I’m not actively following the tag.

So when I saw this prompt for Wednesday’s chat, I felt a bit of existential chill.

Design Thinking. Maker Ed. Genius Hour. Those are all “power words” in certain circles, and seeing them all laid out together on a fight card brings a foreboding cloud.

Mary’s right that these aren’t oppositional terms, and that there’s no reason for a substantive conversation about them to adopt an oppositional tone.


But they’re words of power, words that can provoke a response from an audience  maybe even trigger an action – words that might make things happen in schools, where things rarely do. When words carry that kind of power, they’re called into service more and more, buzzing into new conversations while they still might have some effect. These are words that bring out the eduhucksters.

Clearly, I’m in the thick of this. I grabbed a job title with one of them, and corralled it into a (thriving!) chat. But with those tasks accomplished, I’m hesitant about bringing them into polite conversation. Especially on Twitter, at the lightning pace of #dtk12chat, where 50 posts flash by while I’m trying to trim off a word.

I was only half joking when I called this a doctrinal fight. As the hucksters press forwards, churn books into TED Talks into PD series (all of which will drown out the educators doing the actual work), these words will become camps, will define allegiances  So I blanch, afraid that every time we use these words in big clumps brings closer the day we’re arguing about lemon vs parsley vs bulgar, instead of making something delicious. (Quiet down, stupid hunger. Blogging here).

So I’ll probably mute #dtk12chat this Wednesday, and try to avoid stumbling into conversations where I’m not helpful. But, here, for what counts as the record, is how I weave these giant terms together in my head. None of this is canonical  Whoever you are and wherever you are on the journey of make, all are welcome at this work bench as you are, to build and share something new.

Maker Ed, Maker Culture, is a mindset.

“…made by people no smarter than you.” There are many people who are much, much smarter than me, but the core of the Maker mindset is the assertion that being “smarter” does not make them ontologically distinct. Anyone has the ability and the right to build, remake, add to or hack their environment, tools, body, and push those changes into the wider world. In #makered, the 3D Printer /& Laser Cutter stuff is the literal smoke and mirrors that provide cover for those radical, transformative principles. We care about the fancy stuff those tools produce because they allow kids/new-Makers to produce materials that they had resigned to experiencing as consumers. CNC tools, soft circuits and code all allow create experiences that shatter ingrained notions of the possible. **

Design Thinking is a methodology.
The specific steps in the IDEA Design process provide a scaffold that supports almost any imaginative work. Plenty of work happens without explicitly calling out these steps. But as educators, design process is an essential tool to smash open old monolithic idols of unexamined creativity and privileged “innate” abilities, tools that democratize and demystify the creative process.

Genius Hour, 20% Time, is a tactic or technique for changing organizations.

I started thinking about 20% Time several years back, when struggling with what it means to teach in a world where the most powerful and widespread learning narratives are autodidactic fantasies. For educators, the operating principle of Genius Hour practices must echo the SF Brightworks mantra – “Everything is Interesting.” Given the right environment, with support, audience and external connection, a deep dive into any topic will produce a universe of ideas, linkages and complication. The Genius Hour practice serves as a testbed for these theories within more traditional/static organizations.

Can you use all of them in a sentence?
In a Genius Hour, I’d encourage my students to develop their own interests into tangible, vibrant projects using the Design Process, with the goal of supporting a Maker Mindset for all.

Why it doesn’t matter.

After our exchange this morning, Mary linked to Rebecca Cochran’s 2011 musings on Design Thinking as a methodology and a mindset. Sure. Ok, I can see that. Given a leisurely lunch, I’m sure Rebecca and I would find innumerable things to discuss about how individuals develop that mindset, or which cultural systems erode it. But there’s no value in the semantics of the thing.

If there’s a common thread across these three different terms, it’s the rejection of the pristine, universal “right” answer and its privileged space at the center of K–12. And yet! How many times have we had conversations with teachers that stir up concerns that they’re not doing MakerEd or Design Thinking properly. Like, maybe they should have some more training, and watch a few more TED talks. Maybe I can give them a checklist? Just to make sure they’re really doing “real” Genius Hour stuff. Or maybe they’ll just teach “normal” for another term, until the administration settles on wether they’re backing Design Thinking or ProjectBased Learning and commit to an August training. Suddenly we’ve fallen back from a broad platform of empowering students through engagement with challenges in their world, back into the same mire of authenticity and correctness, hesitant to reach out for the “wrong” support.


** To be clear, great learning experiences accomplish this same feat in any discipline. The first time you read a poem for an audience that responds, or if you ever saw prints emerge in a batch of developer fluid, or any of the innumerable hilights that many of us experienced in traditional school. The #makered doesn’t suggest those experiences were worthless, just that they were too rare!  Too rare for individuals, and too rare institutionally. 

Scaffolding Impossible Dreams – #makered topic

I’ve really enjoyed the collegial and informal feel that’s emerged from the Tuesday evening #makered chats over the last few months. Compressing dialog into twitter chunks always presents a challenge, but I deeply appreciate how the #makered group talks to each other far more than sling salvos and automated A1, A2, A3 responses. We’re colleagues reflecting together, looking for and providing support feedback, support and inspiration.

It’s in that spirit that I bring this #makered topic before the group: How do you build a scaffold for students inspired by the impossible?

Obviously, students excited about an idea or fired up for a any project is way better than the alternative. Passion is something we can work with, right?

But in the last two years I’ve bungled this process any number of times. My goal is always to transfer the heat of a student’s impossible dream to an achievable project where it can ignite, consume and grow. But my track record of finding scaled-down analogues or starter projects is poor.

Here’s one that’s worrying at my #makered heart this summer. Two rising 8th grade girls, both new to the #makered program, spent the end of May consumed with the idea of building a refrigerated locker. From the school/admin level that’s impossible on a number of levels, but as someone still Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, I can’t just say no to that!

I can avoid the administration fight by shifting the end game – there’s a few banks of extra lockers in storage. Bringing one of those into the #makered space would give them a way to build their dream without upsetting the middle school applecart. But what’s the starting point? Do I source a broken mini fridge off of freecycle for dissection? These are bright girls, but I don’t think that “go research passive cooling” is going to yield enough progress to keep them excited. Should we start with the physical constraints, ie. try to model an insulated locker compartment, and then worry about the climate parts later?

I worry about this moment because I see it as the core of the Maker Mindset. How do you dream of an impossible summit and then find the handholds to start climbing? That skill, more than anything, is what I hope #makered kids develop. And it’s entirely outside my teacher-craft wheelhouse.

Do you have a process for helping students take bites off the impossible pie? Please come by the #makered chat this Tuesday and share! The chat runs about an hour, starting at 3p/6e.

Post Navigation