Tie And Jeans

Archive for the tag “Makerfaire”

On The Bus – Not So Easy After All

I had lots of answers for why our 8th grade Makers group was making the trip to Mini Maker Faire in Norfolk, and none of them involved lifting heavy objects.

Overnight trips are always an extra hassle in middle school, so my answers had to be solid and compelling. I wanted them to encounter the values and personality of Maker culture directly. Since I was one of the voices who told them to distrust what they read on the Internet, I wanted to reopen the possibility that some seemingly impossible things are, in fact, real. I wanted them to have a chance to share all of their work, the successful projects and the frustrating ones, and have other voices confirm the value of both.

Our trip to Mini Maker Faire Norfolk started with a math problem. Fit this pinball machine …

through this door.

If this problem showed up in an 8th grade math textbook it would come from way higher up the Ladder of Abstraction, with labeled diagrams and a dotted hypotenuse. It would also flatten the problem down to two dimensions and remove the complications from seats, arm rests and a curved roof.

Thanks to @calcdave for the problem image!

Most importantly, solving that math problem never involves 8th grade hands and arms supporting 300 pound pinball machine.

Events like MakerFaire are a chance for students trapped in the manufactured and apparatus of schooling to encounter the reality of work. It’s hard to sound the gulf between first whisps of ideas and the solid, tangible creation of something new. Saturday morning, when we were struggling with the surprisingly unique challenge of how to wrangle the machine out, I suspected that this process might prove useful.

We ate lunch outside on the Norfolk Scope plaza on Saturday, enjoying the amazing fall weather and outdoor projects like the Centiwhirl and drive-able hammock. As I recovered from my phyrric victory over @jodikittle on the Centrifury, I overheard two students talking about the contraption. “It looks easy! It’s just a motor, two seats, two buttons with an AND statement.” “Yeah! ; But it is really BIG. ; And I don’t know how to weld.”

That comment gave me some hope that the trip to MakerFaire was doing good work. Navigating the divide between the abstracted math problem and the visceral challenge of moving a pinball machine, along with the other completed loops between idea and execution, had opened the space for some humility. I’d be thrilled to see the ragged edge of 8th grade bravado honed by knowledge that that “simple” and “easy” aren’t the same thing, and that sitting on your duff is a horrible place to make judgments about either term.

Moving heavy things isn’t a learning target for Makers. Sadly, I don’t think I’ve even prepared them for “college level” problems of moving a bookcase and queen boxspring in a Civic. But the challenge was authentic, and their solution required planning, communication, strength, and we really could have “Whooops!”-ed it at any time.

Together, the 8th graders loaded, unloaded and reloaded the body of the pinball machine. Exchausted after MakerFaire and the 4 hour trip home, we left it on on the bus Saturday night. With the help of a few other adults, I tried to move the machine off and back into the Makerspace this morning and wound up with this.

That’s what left of the playfield glass after it shattered against the semi-squishy seats of the bus. Three adults, both stronger and more headstrong, tried to rush the job and wound up deep in Whooops-ville. Score one for the Young Makers.


What Goes On The Bus: MakerFaire Norfolk

There’s 25 minutes before my next class start and I’m spinning in frantic circles. Not enough time to grab supplies from Costco. Too early to pack the bus. Everything ready for the rest of the days classes, so what’s driving the anxiety? What am I forgetting?

Breathe. Blog.

On the calendar, there appears to be some time between MakerFaire NYC and this weekends Mini Maker Faire in Norfolk. I missed those days, if they really passed through this town, bundled up in a cloud of anxious planning. Every morning Annika sings me a new variaton on the same theme. “Slow down Dada, eveything will work out OK / You just do your best and open your heart / and everything will work out.”

In those hectic weeks, blogging becomes the sealed letter on the table that I pass over, the mirror I avoid every night. When I say ” I was crazy busy!” I almost always mean “I was terrified that if I really looked, I’d find problems that I couldn’t fix.”

Here’s the state of play – four of the five makers kids are going to sit through a hellish evening of traffic on I95 south and spend Saturday marveling at what the Faire has to offer. Our grand project, a pinball machine with Chicago Coin gameplay and Funhouse+Barb Wire charm, missed the mark on almost every possible front. Whatever. It goes in the bus. The other projects, using Scratch, MakeyMakeys and all the other power tools, are built out of tape and cardboard. Moving them means rebulding them, and rebuilding means redesign.

Whatever. In the bus.

Annika sings back the lessons we’ve tried to teach, and the ones we couldn’t help but pass on. We’ll do our best, head out with excitment and open hearts, and keep working through our next/best ideas.

Everything we put on the bus is part of our journey into Maker culture. The bus, the MakerFaire, the class itself, is just the empty box for our Design Tranmorgrifier.


MakerFaireNYC: Goldieblox

I met Debbie Sterling at MakerFaire last weekend, where she was demoing Goldieblox her fantastic line of engineering/construction toys aimed at young girls.

As Annika’s Dad, I’m excited by the toy and how it connects the engineering skills to the storytelling experience that is so central to all of Annika’s play. What makes it “for girls” isn’t an avalanche of pink, but the narrative that propels these characters to build tools and reach their goals. I have decades of deeply conflicted thoughts about essentialized gender identity (hello Santa Cruz!), but I can say with confidence that my daughter engages with the world primarily through narrative, and she has no interest in building “stuff” without a clear story hook.
At the Faire, Debbie had both her final prototype and several older models on display. One major difference between these two sets triggered my math nerd response.

The older version used standard pegboard with the holes laid out on a rectangular grid, like a geoboard or standard dot paper. Her final model used an offset grid, what I think of as “hexagon” or isometric dot paper. When I asked her about this difference she broke into a huge smile and told a fascinating story about her play testing experience with young children.

The audio shows my distinctly amatuer recording skills, but I’m incredibly grateful to Debbie. I also refer to isometric dot paper as “isomorphic,” becuase I’m a complete goof.

At the end of the book, Goldie makes a star out of the ribbon drive. As any GeoBoard loving math teacher knows knows, you can’t make a clean symmetric star on a rectangular grid.  In playtesting, Debbie learned that this lack of symmetry drives young girls crazy! Debbie found that their negative experience was strong enough to sour them on Goldieblox as a whole, so she redesigned the entire project around an offset grid. The new design yields wonderful, fully symmetric, 5 pointed star shapes. What a wonderful reminder how much aesthetics matter, even in engineering!

I backed Goldieblox earlier this week, and Annika is already asking when the “ribbon dolls” will arrive. By the time she’s 10, my sense is that half of her favorite toys will be Kicstarted projects. I can’t wait to see what happens whenthe generation raised on crowdfunded individual creations realizes that they have access to the same tools.

MakerFaireNYC: Bad Robots

MakerFaire was a great experience, if complex and a bit confounding. As a way of managing my own reflective process, I’m going through my photoroll and pocket detritus.

That lady, with a comically thick Long Island accent, either walked through MakerFaire blinkfolded or has a very stingent definition of what counts as a robot.

I didn’t go to MakerFaire looking to spend money, but I had a chunk of cash set aside in case I found the one true robotics learning platform. I need one that’s cheap, exandable, abstractable, and I need it now.

I saw lots of robots over the weekend, but I spent more money on juice than on robotics kits. Some were simply too big and too awesome for my needs.

Arcbotics’ Hexy is cheap for what it offers. $200 buys a kit 20 servos with support for 12 more on the board, ready to assemble with laser cut acrylic case and a range sensor. It’s freakin’ sweet. But I’m looking for something simple, where movement or steering are never an issue, and where students can easily swap sensors into the platform.

The Hexy has those capabilities, but it’s wrapped in this very fancy toy-like exterior. The price is cheap for what you get, but it also comes with a lot more than what I need for this robotics project. But I almost bought one for the house…

The Central Jersey Robotics Group had some hardcore DIY bots, but entirely from standard breadboards with DC motors hot glued underneath. The board hosted an HBridge and Microcontroller and a ton of expertly folded jumper wire. I was really excited for about 10 minutes while talking to a student. Then I learned that the Microcontoller was a PIC, and that the whole robot building process was part of a kit/curriculum bundle.

I recognize the value in teaching kids to build robots, but that’s not what I’m after. I’m trying to build a science unit around robotics, where students play with sensors and robot behavior at a very high level of abstraction. I want to hand them functional robots with a LOGO-esque syntax and back away.  I do not want anything to do with any flavor of BASIC.

I walked away, knowing that I could never assemble a breadboard as neatly as that 10yo girl.

MakerFaireNYC: Human Centered Computing

I’m really bad at roundup posts. I’ve been running non-stop this weekend, and the week before and for what feels like a long time before that.

MakerFaire was a great experience, if complex and a bit confounding. As a way of managing my own reflective process, I’m going through my photoroll and pocket detritus.

UMBC – Human Centered Computing and Assistive Tech

image via @ADEntheLIFE

What impressed me most about this group was the simple fact that they had a focus and a purpose -accsesible technology and assistive tools. While their table had a wide selection of printed trinkets, they were small and visually unremarkable in the extruded excess of MakerFaire.  I’m intrigued by the software that can auto generates 3d printed charts and graphs, even though the process is obviously too cumbersome and too slow for general use. UMBCC offers a MA/PHd concentration in Human Centered Computing, and these little gizmos call out to the universe of accessibility issues ignored by most of our “generalized” tech use. If you have a student with vison issues, how do you present graphical information to them? How do you teach the difference in growth between a parabolic and exponential curve to someone who can’t see the graphs?** What a fantastic challenge and focus. What a great way to bring the “why make” question into the heart of a prototyping/maker space.

**I think that might be a scratch project.

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