Saturday, December 02, 2017

Important reminder for educators no longer in the classroom

A recent post by Bill Ferriter resonated with me and is so worth reading, especially by those of us who work in education but are no longer in charge of our own classrooms.

I started to write a comment,  but then it sort of turned into enough for a blog post... so here's my thoughts on his much needed reminder from Bill that

 there really ARE three things that I wish every person working beyond the classroom would know (remember?) about being a classroom teacher. 
(1). I really can’t check my email and respond to you during “the workday. 
(2). I’m responsible for moving the work of a TON of other people forward, too:  One of the hardest things about being a classroom teacher is that I almost always feel buried under a never-ending list of tasks that I need to complete for people working in positions beyond the classroom.

(3) Working directly with kids is still my first priority:  Probably the most important thing to remember as you work with me is that the day to day interactions that I have with students are ALWAYS going to be my first priority.

Bill,  So much of your post resonated with me.  I remember the 30 years I spent in K12 (more than 22 with my own students enjoying the benefit of those AHA moments you described.  I remember going to a  workshop at a conference lead by a time management specialist and thinking that this guy really has no clue that  classroom teachers  cannot 'block off  chunks of time in their calendar with the door closed, to check things off their list organized by like tasks."   During  the 8 years that I spent as an out of the classroom educator / tech integrationist,  I tried to do everything I could to relieve your day to day duties whenever I asked you to do 'something for me)  Sometimes it was 'take a group of your kids to lead a learning tasks  or take something else off your plate like collate or organize materials. Sometimes my husband would state "you seem willing to spend an hour to save someone 5 minutes" --  I would then explain Like you did in this post - why teachers have such great bladder control!  I think your post is a great reminder to those of us no longer 'in the classroom'  of things we can do to get your support with some of the systems work.  Even something as simple as long hallway conversations  or photo copier meetings while waiting for copies can help.  Advocating for teacher time to be built in for some of these out of the classroom responsibilities or always asking  - 'how does this directly impact students' and prioritizing our own request this way.

You mentioned one of the benefits of out of the classroom roles as having the time to thing deeply about things -  this is such a benefit for me now.  How I wish every teacher could have both - those direct contact moments that fuel us  AND also the benefit of time to think, process, create in long blocks of time required often required for deeper thinking. I had a superintendent who told me his goal would be for every classroom teacher to have a sabbatical  where they would have to take a year out of the classroom to regenerate, think deeply, learn out of the classroom.  Obviously that never happened for him,  but I have seen schools where classroom teachers get to spend a couple of year in an out of classroom experience, thus engaging in needed periods of deep thought, systems work, state of flow as they create as oppose to 15 minute chunks of prep time.   I also believe that every out of classroom educator/school leader should have to spend a year back in the classroom every so many years to keep their license.

Thank you Bill, for the thoughtful posts.  Sorry this got a bit long,  maybe I should go add it to my blog!  Your post definitely resonated.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thankful for Technology Bridging Distance and Timezones

Hope that you are all in a place where you can be thankful today with family and friends.  This Thanksgiving we are close to some family and friends, and  miles away for others. 
But I'm thankful to technology for helping to bridge the distance and timezones that separate us.
or should I say.. I'm thankful to the way PEOPLE are using technology to connect across distance and timezones. 
My kids  and grandkids have been using text, Instagram, Facetime, Google Hangout, and shared Google photos album to make me part of the joy of family gathered together back in Vermont.

My online grad students at Marlboro and UVM are regularly using both the tools in our LMS and several  other digital tools to share their PROCESS of learning and form community.  Together they are creating, making, learning, and constructing knowledge together. 
This semester I took on a new challenge, teaching a course called   Innovations in Education: Maker- Centered Learning class   that is part of Marlboro College Graduate and Professional Studies
Honestly,  I was a little nervous about teaching this class online.  My previous experience with maker centered learning PD has mainly  been face to face via various Create Make Learn events, at  Vita-Learn conferences, with CVEDC workshop, or with the EMMA project.   Despite my reservations,   this course has turned out to be a true joy.  I look forward every morning to seeing if there are any new post in our online class community.  It has been so enjoyable to watch the grad students in that class grow as a community!  I've tried a few strategies for online learning -that I was not sure would work (i.e. letting the Invent to Learn book discussion be between students,  "Less Us, More Them")  and VoiceThread so we can bring in voice and video into our conversation about learning.   

But honestly,  I think that the most important element to the sense of community that I have seen form in this class was  the the willingness  of these educators/grad students to SHARE their PROCESS!  Sharing our successes and fails is not always easy.  It takes time to stop and document.  Sometimes metacognition interrupts flow.   But since we are not in the same room, and can't look over each others shoulders as we create, make, and learn;  using online tools to  watch each others struggles, or celebrating each others WINS is so important. 

Out blog as we live and learn mobile

Earlier this week,  I did a blog post on our  travel blog that  had me reflecting on the ability of technology to bridge the distance and time zone gap -- but in reality it's not the technology,  its how PEOPLE  use the technology  that works to bridge that gap.  During this post,  I reflected on how  thankful I am  for .... 


-- my University of Vermont students this semester using technology to learn about Universal Design for Learning and Differentiated Instruction
-- my Marlboro College students this semester piloting learning about Maker Centered Learning in an online class
-- working with  Tarrant Institute on the EMMA project (moving conversations about #makered forward in rural  Vermont schools)
-- educators who have become part of the Create Make Learn tribe - both during the Summer Institute and during the school year by sharing in our Google Community
-- the opportunity to collaborate on projects as a freelance educator with other organizations like CVEDC, RETN, ECHO, and the Generator
--companies like Sparkfun, The Imagination Toolbox. Birdbrain Technologies, WeVideo, and Voicethread and so many others who have offered educators so much more than technology tools with their online tutorials, free PD, and other support to help us use innovative technology in our practice

One of the highlights of my week was getting text messages from  the new maker space  at Burke School as they were building  wind tubes as part of  a student leadership day  that I helped design with Tarrant Institute as part of my EMMA project.    

It was not quite the same as being there,  but today's technology does allow me to stay engaged with the #vted community as I travel around the country looking for new ideas and inspirations to support students and teachers.  Between Google Apps,  email,  chat,  text, and video conferencing,  I hardly feel the difference in time zones (except when meetings are scheduled at 8:00 EST)

So today.. I want to say  I'm thankful for all the people who are effectively using technology to bridge the gap of distance and timezones in both learning, teaching, and just playing being human together. 

 Happy Thanksgiving. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Learning to mill PCB boards! Maker Fail & then Success!

My OtherMill CNC router (now called Bantam Tools) came in this summer right before TechSavvyGirls Summer camp.  

TechSavvy Girls 2017 and EMMA (mobile studio for creating and making)

I didn't have time to play with it, so I threw it in the back of EMMA (mobile studio) and brought it to camp. I was eager to show it to our cadre of young women and share with them the story of female engineer Danielle Applestone - the maker of The OtherMill

They were inspired and McKenna, one of my TechSavvy junior leaders who  has a real maker mindset and experience with 3D printing was eager to unbox it. She grabbed some friends and they ripped the box open!

They explored the machine and materials.

And read through the instructions carefully completing each step.

They especially  loved adding the Googley Eyes!

Unfortunately our HELLO WORLD project (our first CNC make) was cut short by a broken bit!  Unfortunately we didn’t have an extra bit to use and had plenty of other technology projects to explore, so we packed the Other Mill back up. Meanwhile   I ordered more bits!

Unfortunately, the summer was jammed packed and I was unable to get back to The Other Mill until last night!   Encouraged by a friend who has 30 years of experience in electrical engineering,  I pulled out the Other Mill and the new set of bits and we started to tackle the starter directions.  The first step was to reacquaint ourselves with the new website, since the Other Mill had been purchased by a new company - Bantam Tools.   I couldn’t find the Hello World Project I was so eager to make, but settled for the similar Rooster PCB starter project.

We  replaced the broken bit, downloaded the Other Plan software,  measured our materials, inserted the info into the software,  added the double sided tape to our PCB and followed the directions as close as we could!  

Unfortunately when it came to the last step -  START MILLING -- that option was greyed out.
We kept checking and double checking our settings and realized that we had confused where to put the z axis information (I’m thinking that  the software would be less confusing had they not used the word PLACEMENT twice in the interface.)  Perhaps they could call one Material Placement and the other Plan Placement.

Unfortunately, even after we corrected our errors,  the Start Milling button was still greyed out!

Scratching our head for several minutes,  we finally noticed that only 3 of the plastic safety guides were installed and there was a 4th one buried on the work bench.   Sure enough -- adding the 4th guide did the trick!  My engineer friend immediately started to examine the OtherMill more closely looking for the sensors!  ;-)

We were so excited to see see our PCB board cut into!  

But  much  less excited at the results!   Another broken bit !  
And this!   YUK!  We could see the toolpath which clued us in that the  Z axis was not calibrated!

We reinserted the bit and realized that there was no ‘stop’  to guide us,  so surely there must be another way to calibrate the z Axis.

After much more looking  through the directions I spotted the step we had missed!

To load the 1/32” flat end mill into the machine, if you've never done this before, refer to the Inserting and Locating a Tool Guide.
Next to "Tool" on our software, click the Change button, select “1/32” Flat End Mill,” click Continue, verify tool position (it should be above an empty area of the spoilboard), and click Locate Tool. The end mill will lower until it touches the spoilboard, pause, then retract upwards. Now the software knows where the 1/32” flat end mill is located in space.

This is a HUGELY important part!    I would certainly suggest that the instructions HIGHLIGHT this section!   The step makes a LOT of sense!   I’m not sure why we missed it!   Perhaps our aging eyes!

Fortunately I had ONE more extra bit.  NOTE TO SELF (order more bits!)
We secured another piece of PCB and followed the Locate Tool directions.
Watching the Other Mill calibrate the Z axis, we were convinced that this time it would work!  

Crossing my fingers, I hit the START MILLING button!

And this time - we were smiling at the results!

I’m so appreciative that smart experienced engineers are willing to spend their time with newbies like me when we’re needing a confidence boost!  

And I can’t wait to tell my middle school group of TechSavvy Girls - that we MADE the same mistake they did and to show them MY FAIL  and my SUCCESS…. And to give them an experience that will lead to their first successful CNC cut project

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Reconnecting with Sewing as Making at Art Hop at Generator

What  I thought was going to be a stroll through Burlington's Art Hop yesterday, ended up to be a HANG at the Generator (Burlington's maker space) reconnecting with SEWING as Making!

I love the fact that many maker spaces have sewing machines ranging from standard sewing machines to industrial sewing machines.  I had recently picked up a new portable sewing machine for EMMA - my mobile studio for creating and making,  but I had yet to hop on any of those sewing machines until yesterday.  

Watching some fellow Generator members gathered around sewing machines and fabric in the Learning Lab, I decided to join the fun.

I picked up a red T-Shirt, laid down the Pillow Body People pattern pieces that Adriana had for us, and started to trace and cut! It has been 40 years since I had used a sewing machine.   Since the sewing machine was 'ready to go', I didn't have to futz around with the dreaded threading of the needle!

The directions were minimalist, so I spent some time with 'close observing'  of the Pillow People in various stages of creation around me.  

As I was going through my 'making' I got to watch a magical process happen.  A young girl approached the sewing machine, but stayed at a distance.  Karen (one of the Generators sewing experts) invited her to join us and make with us.  The young girl kept her distant mumbling that she didn't know how to use a sewing machine.  

Within minutes, Karen had engaged her with the colorful upholstery samples and piles of available T-Shirts as they looked at some of the T-Shirt Hack bags on display!  She started to imagine and talk about the type of bag she would like to make.

It didn't take long for her reluctance to transform to fully engaged and then to confident maker!   By the time her bag was finished, she was begging her grandma to stay longer so she could make a a pillow person, too!

Again the magical maker formula of Inspiration, available Tools and Materials,   and inviting Mentors were at play in turning an observer into a maker.

Nice job Generator for setting up an inviting place to Make with just the right tools!
Nice job Adraiana for setting up accessible maker materials in a way that inspired!
Nice job, Karen for being the perfect welcoming mentor!

The whole process reminded me of a tweet I saw recently with a 3 questions to help you assess the accessibility of your maker space.  I forget where I saw this,  but the questions were spot on and are firmly ingrained in the way I look at maker space and access!

I've been invited to join the Generator members during some of the maker sessions around sewing. Yesterday I felt very welcomed (no matter what my skills were).  And suddenly I'm eager to find out when the next event is so that I can show up!

As for my Pillow Person?  Well.... I got it all cut and mostly sewed up.  I picked up a copy of the pattern and directions from Adriana to took the partially complete project  home so that I could add some e-textile components to it.

And as soon as I got home I took a recently purchased portable sewing machine, out of the box and made room for it on my home maker bench!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Finding your WHY during #makered professional development

EMMA - Lucie's mobile studio for Creating and Making
Last week  EMMA (my mobile studio for creating and making) and I had the pleasure leading a two day workshops for Champlain Valley Educator Development Center (CVEDC) for educators who might want to create a makerspace in their school.

I had just finished my annual  five day Create Make Learn Summer Institute  and I was filled with ideas of what I might want to include in this two day event.  The biggest problem was that I wanted to include TOO much!  Stepping back I reached into my teacher toolbox and used  a backward design approach to think about  WHAT I wanted them to leave with at the end of the two days!  I decided that what I really wanted them to be able to do is to “articulate WHY a Makerspace in MY School?”  or at least be ready to lead that conversation with their colleagues.

Video Summary of Two Day Workshop

Too many educators approach me with one question -
“Can you give us a shopping list of things that we should consider getting for a maker space and where to get them?”  

I try to resist answering that question until they can tell me their WHY. But the problem is that this is a chicken and egg situation. It’s hard to know your WHY if you have not experienced maker centered learning. You don’t know what’s possible. Of if you do, your understanding of what’s possible is limited to the areas you have experienced or what you have read. And since there is NO shortage of amazing materials about maker spaces (including shopping lists of resources) available online, educators are often feeling overwhelmed and confused. It was my goal that my two day workshop would provide teachers with a clearer understanding of some of the tools, technologies and materials often found in a maker space as well as WHAT type of impact having these available for students might have on learning.

This type of understanding does not simply come from looking at lists of maker space supplies.  This type of understanding does not just come from sitting around  talking about pedagogy.  This type of understanding does not come from creating a large collection of STEAM based lesson plans.  This type of understanding comes from from all of the above combined with experiencing the learning process that happens as you Create and Make.

It was my challenge to create a HANDS-ON MINDS-ON experience that left a group of teachers feeling empowered to have deeper conversations around maker spaces in their schools.

Generator - a community maker space
It all started with picking two great locations for the workshop.  We kicked off the workshop at the Generator  - a community maker space in Burlington Vermont, followed up with Day 2 in a school maker space - Studio B (the BTC maker space in Burlington Schools)  The locations of the workshops were instrumental to helping our group (mostly PreK - 8 teachers)  start to understand the possible WHY of a makerspace.   The locations for our workshop also highlighted how important that we examine our WHY as part of an interconnected system - a community of makers, educators, artists, inventors,  problem solvers,  and innovators shaping the future.  Our Why should be shaped by a greater understanding of how each of us contributes to the system and how we can help each other towards a greater collective impact.

In the spirit of backward design, the location helped these teachers of younger learners understand where their young learners COULD end up in just a few years.  It’s an incredible responsibility to be charged with creating the next generation of inventors, problem solvers,  and innovators.  What do we do to help teachers prepare for this daunting tasks?  

One of the best things you can do is to hold workshops in locations filled with inspirations and examples of what their YOUNG LEARNERS might be CREATING and MAKING in THEIR future.   

Too many teachers ask that a workshop give them something they can DO TOMORROW in THEIR CLASSROOM.   We need to think BIGGER than this!   Yes,  the workshop should also provide that practical thing you can use tomorrow,  but more importantly it should leave you inspired to prepare students for THEIR future.  

As we toured the Generator, I asked teachers to take as many pictures as they could of INSPIRATION that they could use to better understand what their students might be able to create someday.   I also suggested that they take pictures of tools and materials that might be useful in a makerspace.   This would be the beginning of the LIST of tools and materials they asked for in our earlier conversation.  THEY would build this list together from their experience over the next two days!   Trying to model that a teacher’s job is not to provide a ready made solution, but to help students ask the right questions and  design a solution to questions like (How do I create a makerspace in my school), I was determined not to provide a recipe but to help them create their own individual design that matched their WHY!  

It was my goal that their question would move from “What should I buy and where do I get it?”  to “How do I set kids on a journey to create and make amazing artifacts or solutions to problems.”  

Educators inspired by Generators Member Projects

The locations of our two day workshop set the stage perfectly for this to happen.

After our tour of the Generator,  we jumped into a Make and Take that not only left teachers with their own IDEA Journal where they could flesh out their WHY, but also with a clearer understanding of the process of learning and making with tools like vinyl cutters, CNC machines, laser cutters, 3D printers.   The consensus was that even though many of the teachers might NOT USE THIS TOMORROW, they NOW UNDERSTOOD the difference between each of these technologies. They knew the difference between additive technology and subtractive technology.  They knew the pros and cons of choosing a laser cutter vs a CNC machine to solve a problem or create an artifact.  

Creating and Making our Idea Journals

Using a Laser Cutter or a Vinyl Cutter  
Or a 3D Printer

Or perhaps a CNC machine

So many choices!  So much fun to explore the possibilities as we learn new skills.

By the end of the first day, this group of educators agreed that they knew which tools were more accessible to their learners and which ones would require students to develop  pre-requisite skills. They could design experiences in their classroom that helped build those skills.  They started to see connections between some real world applications to content in their curriculum (i.e. X, Y, Z axis) They started to understand tools and processes that their students might have available in the not too distant future.  Even if some of the teachers did  NOT have these technologies in their classroom, they knew they were preparing students to use tools that might be in their school soon (if not already)   or might be accessible in their community through partnerships with community maker spaces like the Generator.

On Day 2 we moved to a school maker space Studio B - a school maker space ( at the Burlington Technical Center.  Too few teachers are aware of the changing role that Career and Technical Education can play in the lives of our students.  The 16 Career and Technical Education Centers that serve ALL of Vermont’s students are not the “vocational programs” that many of us experienced when we were students.  They provide amazing opportunities for students who thrive in hands-on minds on environment using some of the most advanced technologies in the industry. They prepare our students to succeed in college and post-secondary training and have several dual enrollment college opportunities built into them.  

As Vermont teachers help advise and mentor students in developing personal learning plans for their educational journey, both our teachers and our students need increased awareness of the Career and Technical Center opportunities available in their school district.  Our Day 2 venue did this in so many ways, including the long walk to the bathroom as we passed classrooms labeled Welding or Aviation.  Having spent 15 years teaching in a Career and Technical Center, I can attest that the students who are filling our current school makerspaces absolutely need to know about these opportunities; and as teachers we can help increase their awareness by increasing our own awareness to better mentor them through their personal learning plans.

Courtney welcomes us to Studio B
We were welcomed to Burlington Technical Center by Courtney Asaro who had helped design and set up the Studio B makerspace just last year.  We had the added bonus of having Courtney talk to us about her work with younger learners at Flynn Elementary.  Courtney described how SHE and her young students would be collaborating with the Burlington Technical Center in the upcoming school year.  She also shared examples of how Flynn Elementary students had collaborated with Generator members, driving home the importance of understanding the power of leveraging the community as you develop your maker education journey.

Our morning conversation was rich and had a natural flow to it as teachers debriefed the previous day and prepared for our second day of making.  Listening to what surprised them, what was challenging, and what inspired them revealed that they were really starting to understand their “WHY” and how  a makerspace might fit into their school.  Seeing similar technologies in a school maker space as they had seen earlier at the Generator, (laser cutter, 3D printer, vinyl cutter, CNC machine, power tools, hand tools, and more) our group of educators were less interested in the ‘tools’  and more interested in the process of making.  The shift in the conversations was a perfect set up to the experiences I had designed for the day.

Our Day 2  workshop design revolved around the multi-disciplinary Transferrable Skills that Vermont teachers are being asked to design their own learning around.  

By the end of the morning, our teachers had experienced how increased confidence with circuits and code  could equip students with tools for Creative and Practical Problem Solving,  Mathematical Standards of Practice and Science and Engineering Practice found in Next Generation Science Standards.

They had experienced the fun and joy of creating their own inventions using a Makey Makey.  I shared  stories with concrete examples from classrooms around Vermont of students demonstrating Self Direction,  Responsible Citizenship, and Integrated and Informed Systems through Creating and Making in their schools.   Their understanding of where coding fit into the big picture grew as they experienced an unplugged coding activities that set them up to a successful experience using  the Scratch coding environment to control their own  inventions and physical objects with a Makey Makey.  Laughter and joy combined with persevering through challenges lead to discussions about growing MINDSET as well as  SKILLS in our students.  

The workshop ended with another MAKE and TAKE that used Paper Circuits to expand the possibilities of  Clear and Effective Communications.  Equipped with new skills (from designing closed circuits to soldering) and examples of how various teachers and students had used these skills in their curriculum, our teachers started to imagine ways they could integrate creating and making with circuits in their own learning spaces.  

The conversations about pedagogy happened naturally through our making,  through our questions,  and through our sharing of ideas that emerged throughout the two days.  However, the experience did not stop them from asking one more time -- “Do you have a LIST of supplies for us?”  I pointed to the supplies we had used over the two days and also to a few great resources online that included such lists and I smiled when I heard one of them exclaim.. “Now I know what this stuff is.  I would have had no idea what a jumper cable was and why I might need it before.”

I encouraged them to keep taking and collecting picture of materials, to keep sharing tools, materials, processes they discover, but mostly to keep asking WHY as they looked over each item in a pre-populated makerspace list of resources and to look through these lists with a LENS that included their WHY!  Yes, there WHY would change over time and should not be static, but hopefully these two days helped to create a lens by which they could continue the journey of creating a makerspace in their school in a powerful and meaningful way.

And hopefully I left my participants more curious and hungry for more.  Perhaps we’ll even see some of them at next year’s 5 day Create Make Learn Summer Institute.