A couple months back, Cynthia and Flavio were very frustrated. As a matter of fact, they were about ready to give up. A key element of their “Papapa Party Shirt” (a shirt that will blink to the beat of the music) was a light organ kit, but it was incredibly glitchy and the only documentation consisted of a circuit diagram that was completely foreign to them.
They went through section by section, working to debug each part as they moved forward. They put everything together and checked all the connections and circuit elements – “Oops! We didn’t supply power to the chip!” – but the board still didn’t work! The students’ mentor even took it home to try and find out why it wasn’t working, and came back suggesting the group give up on their weeks of work and try a different tactic.
It seems to have taken them a little recovery time to get up and running again, but last week Flavio and I worked through how to use a MOSFET to control sets of tri-color LEDs and then this week, Cynthia and Flavio started to work on a test circuit they could use on their final control board. We discussed design options for the shirt and it started to feel real and achievable again.
It’s a good thing since the Maker Faire is only a week away.
When you talk to adults, they often cite the importance of giving kids the opportunity to make mistakes when they are learning and creating. When this was mentioned by every table group at the convening we held at Lighthouse a couple months back, one of our mentors leaned over to me and said, “Did you ever notice it’s only the adults that say how important it is to make mistakes?” I have, which is why I wanted to talk to Cynthia and Flavio about what they learned from their experience.
We checked in briefly last week about the process they went through and the roadblocks they encountered. I gave them the weekend to think about what they had learned. They told me that they learned “how to read the schematics better” and “how the electricity runs” and “how the components worked.” Would they ever attempt to put together another circuit based on a schematic – if the documentation was better? “Yeah, but with more help, because it is hard.”
They said that changing your plan “is not a bad thing, sometimes stuff doesn’t work; you just need to be persistent.” They went on to say, “That was our idea, it was what we wanted to do, and we just took a risk to try to figure out how to do it.”
I think they learned something.]]>
He and his students, an eclectic bunch of wonderfully fun and insightful high-schoolers, have truly created the Piner High School Makerspace from scratch. The industrial space had no tables when he first moved in, so the students built them, learning how to cut, assemble, and balance form and function. Stools? Built those too. Since starting in August/September of 2012, Dante’s students have designed, iterated, and created a number of impressive projects. They have deconstructed electronic devices, built bridges, and developed structures to prevent eggs from cracking upon impact. Many of them folded paper airplanes for the first time (!) before moving onto designing and creating beautiful balsa-wood airplanes complete with heat-shrunk plastic membranes covering the wings to encourage lift. In the past few weeks, Dante’s students have drawn and built iPod speakers (made from scratch, out of two-part foam and fiberglass) of the most creative shapes, sizes, and types. An iPod speaker, in a fire/flame-inspired shape before the fiberglass layer, is shown at right. At left, Dante and two of his students prepare their materials and safety masks (in well-ventilated outdoor spaces) for the fiberglass step. The projects are well documented by Dante on his Piner Makers blog at pinermaker.blogspot.com. You can also watch and listen to a recent Hangout we did with Dante, where his passion and care for this work and his students is clearly apparent.
One key thing Dante mentions in the hangout is his Wall of Making. Students are encouraged to bring in newspaper articles, do some individual research, or document their own work — and show off examples of making that they connect to. Examples are plastered all over the wall; these mini bits of inspiration show how broad and varied making is, and how it reaches just about anyone and everyone.
Dante also exhibited at last weekend’s mini Maker Faire in Sonoma County. The Press Democrat covered the event, reporting on the wide variety of hands-on projects that engaged the kids. Also attending the event was Comstock Middle School, where a Maker Camp was held last summer for the first time, a program co-sponsored by Maker Media and the local Boys and Girls club. Comstock’s Maker Camp will take place again this summer in 2013, and Piner High School will add an additional Physics Maker class to its course options for 2013-14.
With the support of the community and the passion of teachers, making is, well, starting to make a mark in schools and with students. Let’s help this forward momentum grow!
When I started teaching a dozen years ago, a popular class for freshmen included introductory studies in CAD skills, electronics, rocketry and robotics. Following this survey course, students could progress to more advanced courses in pre-engineering and metalworking. I was vaguely aware of the class when I saw rockets being launched in the football field or battle bot demonstrations in the quad, but mostly the class and its inner workings remained a mystery to me and, I suspect, most of my colleagues. Tragically, the man who taught the course fell seriously ill and was unable to continue teaching. With no one able to replace him, the rockets stopped launching, the bots stopped battling and the shop was essentially shuttered.
Several years later, when the opportunity to start a new class in conjunction with the creative powerhouses at Make arose, I found myself wandering through the old Tech Lab, searching through dusty piles of components, tools and equipment to use in the new endeavor.
The old Tech Lab in its past state (pre-2012)
Great examples from textbooks, lesson plans, rubrics and old projects emerged, sparking ideas for me, but also exemplifying the pendulum effect so common in education. After a decade of focusing on preparing all students for a university education, often at the expense of hands-on classes, the value of making things seemed to be coming back.
Many factors make this swing of the pendulum look a little different than a decade ago. A symphony of voices are calling for changes in education to better prepare students for the changing economic landscape brought on by the global economy. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman references this in his latest article, “Need a Job? Invent It.” The mix of skills needed and used in the 21st century shop class attracts students from all academic levels, changing the image of traditional high school shop classes. Technological advances have brought the cost of rapid-prototyping machinery into reach; the availability of free and open-source software mostly eliminates the need for expensive upgrades every few years; and inexpensive raw materials are readily available for use in schools. This is undoubtedly the right thing to do for students.
The newly renovated shop, now in use in 2012-2013.
Over the last couple of years of working on this project, I have come to appreciate the implications of three particular modern tools in transforming an entire school, not just an old shop. These tools not only expose students to an array of design and making skills and produce eye-catching results in a relatively short time, but their presence and use in schools can also engage the faculty and staff in creatively upgrading many areas of a typical campus. As an added bonus, two of these tools provide an added benefit sure to sway skeptical administrators, they can actually save money!!! (That’ll get their attention!)
In reverse order of practicality, here are my top three tools for a high school makerspace:
Transformative Tool Number 3: The 3D Printer
My third choice in practicality would be the first choice if judged in terms of curiosity and interest. Many mass media stories have made the general public aware of 3D printers, causing many to predict that they will become common household fixtures in the near future. There is no doubt that watching an object emerge from a 3D printer is a captivating experience, and there are brilliant web-based apps like Autodesk’s free 123D Make that my students have used to design parts for their projects, but designing one’s own practical object with any degree of precision requires some facility with 3D software and the beefy hardware to run it. I hope to ramp up the design skills next year so that all students will produce original and practical 3D printed objects, but as of now, many of the projects coming out of the 3D printer are downloaded from Thingiverse – customizable, but not necessarily original.
We also have 3D Printing Thursdays once per week in our library, and the 3D printer has proven to have magnetic powers as an attention grabber and a powerful hook for students! The 3D printer sits on a table near the entrance, and any students are allowed to use it. Some files are pre-loaded onto the SD card, or students can search for ideas on Thingiverse. Phone cases are a big hit! While some students want to print something of their own, others are just content to watch. A crowd of teenage boys regularly gathers in the library, happily collaborating to decide what to print, and then stays there, enamored as the 3D printer comes to life. Make’s Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing highlights the variety of models available.
Coming soon – my #2 and #1 tools (and more!)]]>
The WikiSeat website
About a month ago, I took the time to chat with WikiSeat co-founder Nicolas Weidinger, as a follow-up to his own post about his work in Oct 2012. His tiny organization designs and manufactures three-pronged modules called “catalysts” that facilitate the easy and innovation creation of chairs. What started as a college project for him has turned into a nationwide movement with programs in dozens of schools. In this interview, we found out what WikiSeats are all about — and how his basic chair structures catalyze making and creating!
The story of WikiSeats and its growing impact, in Nic’s words:
What was the impetus for sharing the first 100 Catalysts? Did you ever imagine you would end up using them to educate high school students?
The first catalyst I built was the result of a mistake. I was studying industrial design and working on a project at Ohio State University. A week into the quarter, I decided I wanted to build a chair because every designer builds a chair at some point in their life, and I wanted to start it and finish it in one night. I got to my apartment and took three parts of a window screen frame, lashed it together with some nylon rope and cut-up bike inner tubes, and put some plastic trash bags over the top of it. I sat on it, but I wasn’t about to put all my weight on it. It was pretty unstable and wobbling all over the place.
I realized that there had to be some more structural support and I wasn’t getting that with rope. I decided to try and weld something together. My dad found three threaded rods, and we came up with the idea of building a jig. So we used the jig and welded together a few catalysts. So I took all the same materials from the first seat plus the metal bracket, and the thing worked. This whole process took a week out of the ten week quarter. So I thought, now what?
If I wanted to build a seat and I couldn’t do it on my own without this bracket, do other people want to build seats? Would other people build seats if I gave them these brackets? So I built ten of these brackets and gave them out — mostly to people in my class, and I said “If you want to do this, please finish it because it’s for a school project.” I gave them out, and everybody made seats before the deadline.
I did it again for my senior thesis, and the plan was to scale it up by ten. I carried a bag around and handed catalysts out and told people to “build a chair!” I put tags on the catalysts that said “For more information, visit wikiseat.org.” So, half of the project was the seat-building, and the other half of it was the wiki. I wanted to create a community where people could solve this one specific problem of getting the legs even and balanced, and maybe other things like materials and how to set up a jig.
I was working with my former high school shop teacher on this, and he said to all his students, “Here are these things. If you want to do this project, you can take a catalyst. If you don’t want to do it, we can find something else for you to do.” All but one of the students in his class built seats. They were super-stoked because we had a gallery show at the end of the quarter and they all got to put their seats in the show.
Do you think they took on the challenge because it was a reasonable enough challenge?
Yes. It contains a very specific starting point with rigid constraints. You know exactly where you’re going to start, but beyond that, it’s complete freedom. The catalyst took away all the uncertainty around the framework of the chair but also challenged a lot of students. A few started to ask, “Why does it have to be a chair? Why are we building chairs in English class?” So they’ve starting to challenge the teacher and the challenge itself, and one of the students wrote a blog post saying “I get the point of the project, but chairs are really limiting.” Her teacher, Sean Wheeler, posted this on Twitter and said “I think this kid’s onto something.”
Do you have plans for other ways that the catalyst can be used, or for new catalysts that can be used for new things?
After the first hundred people were given the opportunity to build seats, I spoke with the shop class of my former high school. I challenged them, saying “You’ve seen what a chair catalyst does. What’s another catalyst? What can you build?” I posed that question again to Mr. Wheeler’s class after they built seats. I have no idea what another catalyst might look like, but there are a lot of them out there. Arduino, for example, is a catalyst for a lot of things in the world of electronics.
There’s huge potential for this in education, specifically. The WikiSeat itself isn’t remotely about the seat. It’s about having the experience of experimenting with structure and new materials. So I think, rather than asking the question, “What is the physical thing that we want the catalyst for,” I think it’s “What experience do we want to catalyze? What mindset, what thinking, what ideologies do we want to catalyze, and then how can that be expressed through making?”
I know the class at Lakewood HS has used WikiSeats to cross-pollinate knowledge in their study of literature. In what other ways have you seen this, or envision seeing this, happen in other subject areas?
Sean Wheeler is an absolutely amazing person and teacher. The first time Sean contacted me, he said “I saw your project on BoingBoing. I really like it and want to do it with my students.” I was like, “You want to do this in English class? Ok, go for it! All the resources and information are online. If you’d like I can build catalysts and send them to you.” If you read his first blog post, he didn’t know what was going to happen, but he did a really good tying it in with Emerson’s “Self Reliance.”
After that experience, we knew that it could work really well in English. This year we put out a call to action for other teachers. We now have 103 teachers signed up to do this in math, science, design, literature, engineering, kindergarten, and an undergraduate pedagogy class.
There’s a history teacher who integrated a couple of really good examples. Two connected concepts are resource scarcity and technology availability. The history teacher compared it to different cultures around the world. When the Mongols found out that there’s a fish-gut protein to make bows, they took over the world. What materials do you have to make a seat?
There’s a lot of potential in math and geometry, especially, because the WikiSeat is a very rigid structure, but the process for making one is very organic. The metal shop I use has a 1/4″ tolerance when cutting, which I don’t care about, but it means that the catalysts are off in these different directions. So every catalyst is completely different. I think there’s some value to that because it’s not an intended feature, but it is a feature. A lot of people assume that it’s going to be perfect, but it’s not. If you build your seat accoring to the geometry you get with your unique catalyst, your seat’s going to be crooked. So you have to adjust and using very precise math may not get you there, but you still have to use math.
But adjusting is part of the design process anyway!
It seems to me like the bottleneck for the WikiSeats project is the production and distribution of the catalysts. Is there any way that you can get the students to make their own catalysts? Maybe in a way that doesn’t use welding?
So there are two questions. One of them is: are there different ways to make catalysts? The other is: are there ways to get students to make their own catalysts? I’ve thought about doing injection-molded plastic, but you need a lot of resources. 3D printing is very time-consuming. We were thinking of 3D printing and casting them but I’ve yet to find the foundry to do that at.
The way that they’re constructed is 90 degree angle iron, and then 120 degree angle iron. If I could find a good source for 120 degree angle iron together, we can rivet them.
All of the information is on Instructables. If anybody wants to experiment with different catalysts, that would be so cool.
The other part of that question is do we have to build them all here in San Francisco? Sean Wheeler’s friend is a welder so he built all the catalysts for him.
Materials, shipping, and fair wage for a welder means six dollars per catalyst. I think it’s silly to ship angle iron all over the country, so the goal is to find local welders near each school to build the catalysts and have a closed loop, with the welder coming into the class and talk about the process of welding.
The coolest thing ever would be to have one class of students build seats, and then build the catalysts for the next class.
Ideally, there should be no need for WikiSeat as an entity or organization, because all of it should be locally sourced.
In the “Problems” exercise, you ask students to identify and articulate a reason for building their WikiSeat. What do you think is important about being conscious of your purpose when working on a project?
Purpose gives something meaning, and if you don’t know why you’re doing a worksheet or some exercise in math, what’s the point? There’s no real good context for most of the activities we do in school, but by framing the seat with relevance, it provides a lens for the students to look at the whole picture.
This project isn’t about school, getting grades, or even building a seat. It’s about what it is in your life that this is addressing. It could be a very real problem like “the dining room table broke and we need another chair.” One student said “I’m afraid of the dark,” so for the next 9 or 10 weeks that girl is going to be able to address that problem with something tangible. Being afraid of the dark isn’t something that school deals with, but this was something that was important to her and this is a way to think about it.
What is one WikiSeat that stands out for you in terms of its originality or ingenuity?
There are a lot of them. Originally when I set up the wiki I wanted people to share ideas and inspire each other, but most students have looked at it to see what other people have done so they don’t duplicate that, because they wanted to do something different and unique. Novelty is a really difficult thing to come across, but having kids express that and begin to think about what that means is awesome.
Editor’s Note: WikiSeats, and Nic at its helm (along with managing his own full-time work at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, CA), continues to grow in impact. It initiates good questions, relevant challenges, real learning, and community building. Sean Wheeler, so inspired by his experiences in making seats with his English students — and pushing that hands-on work even further, is in the midst of working with the powers-that-be in Cleveland to design and develop a new school, focused and centered on making. Perhaps all students will be making their own seats, come September!]]>
Editor’s Note: This is another post in a series by teacher Aaron Vanderwerff of Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, California.
I don’t know about you, but my spring breaks were pretty uneventful throughout my teenage years. Sure, there was probably a bit of schoolwork to do, and I would hang out with some friends, but I know that I didn’t work on my machining skills so that I would be able to make an adapter plate for the electric vehicle (EV) conversion I was working on. Definitely not that.
Our students have been “out” for the past two weeks, but that hasn’t stopped them from coming in. Many of them spent their vacation here the first week of break, working on robots for Botball, meeting with their Maker Faire project mentors, or just working independently on their projects. But one team stood out from the rest: the EV conversion group.
The first week of break these three EV-maker students were at school with their mentors KO, Doug, and Rich, taking apart old lithium-ion battery packs to see what they could reuse in their vehicle. I kept track of their progress between the meetings and planning that filled our professional development week. The EV-maker students were motivated to learn how to charge the packs, how to connect the battery control system, and how to test the individual batteries using a multi-meter. They were re-learning basic electric circuits that we covered in physics class last year on their own time.
At the end of the week, they asked what days the school would be open the following week — still during their spring break — and were frustrated to find out that the building would only be open on Tuesday, the very same day that were going up to Sebastopol to work with Brian, another mentor and EV enthusiast who they had met earlier this year, and create their own adaptor plate.
An adaptor plate is a key part — the part actually — that connects the old truck’s system (the transmission) to its new source of horsepower, the electric motor. It can cost $750 to $1500 to have one made, not to mention the 3 to 6 weeks it takes for it to be made-to-order.
Our three guys called their Sebastopol-based mentor Brian and asked him if he could help them out. He said that if they could make it up to Sebastopol with the engine, transmission, and a piece of ½” aluminum, they would be able to have a complete adaptor plate by the end of the day.
So that’s what they did over spring break – they got a step closer to bringing their EV conversion to Maker Faire and learned applications for the physics class they took last year. Most of all, they pursued their passion – which is something we all talk about wanting students to do more in school.]]>
Basically mechanical toys, a typical piece of automata produces a surprising motion with only a small hand-crank or an initial input of energy. Once set in motion, automata sometimes engage gears or springs, pulleys or other simple machines, and they can be beautifully simple or extraordinarily complex.
Mechanical toys have been made for centuries. Automata offer a fun, cheap introduction to making for students and teachers alike. We tackled two projects during the workshop: cardboard automata and Agreeable Sheep.
After carefully and iteratively manipulating our mechanisms and creations for the morning and early afternoon, the final products were awesome. Check out the gallery above! With automata on their minds, many took home the Agreeable Sheep project to do on their own time. As always, it was wonderful to have the time and space to work together and collaborate on new projects, refine old skills, and simply share our interests and knowledge.
Thank you to Lighthouse Community Charter School who graciously hosted our small group and to Jeannine Huffman of the SJCOE DaVinci Center who led the projects. We will hold our next Educators’ Workshop on April 27 on the topic of Arduino projects.
Our hands-on programming for the day is documented in our Educators’ Workshop project guide:
Makerspace Educators Workshop: Automata]]>
During the first two years that our students created independent projects, the last few weeks before Maker Faire were a scramble. The deadline that had felt so far off suddenly loomed, and as challenges arose, students rushed to have something ready for the Faire. I wanted a way to motivate them to have a prototype done earlier in the year. I tried to set an earlier deadline, but it was artificial and few groups had something ready. Since students tended to be extremely motivated to work hard for the Maker Faire itself, I decided to hold a Mini Maker Faire at school in March to show off their prototypes.
And it worked.
Over the past two weeks, we checked in with each project group individually to set clear attainable goals for them to achieve by the Mini Maker Faire. During these conversations, I saw a shift in student attitudes. They started to feel like their projects were really coming together, and began to see their teachers and mentors as their collaborators in this journey. Many students groups and their mentors stayed until 8pm on our Tuesday work nights. And in the end, they all arrived on Friday with their projects successfully to the points that we had discussed.
Students spent all day Friday exhibiting their projects, while classes from kindergarten through 9th grade walked through in half hour slots. The younger students gathered round with their teachers in excited circles, asking questions and talking eagerly, while older students walked through more independently, more reserved in their reactions.
During a mid-day reflection, my students told me that it was motivating to see the excitement other people had for their projects. The chance to practice explaining their work helped them figure out what they could say. Most importantly, they expressed that it was a lot of fun showing others what they had accomplished.
The students have been thinking about and working on their projects for four months now, which is longer than most of them have ever worked on anything. Recently, a group wanted to completely change projects because they had lost interest in creating an electronic pop-up book, but I pushed them to keep going with their original idea. On Friday, as they were showing off their work, they smiled as they explained how LEDs work, and when they weren’t talking to other students, they actively worked on creating new prototype pages for their book.
By the end of the day, students informed me that the day was fun, but it was simply too long. I smiled and told them that exhibiting at the Maker Faire is even more exhausting — and even more exhilarating.
MAKE: Oakland High Schoolers Need Your Power!]]>
Ellyssa Kroski writes iLibrarian, a blog on the Open Education Database billed as “News and resources on Library 2.0 and the information revolution.” In A Librarian’s Guide to Makerspaces: 16 Resources, she shares 16 resources: articles, blog posts, events, and directories, to help fellow librarians get a clearer picture of what goes into making a Makerspace.
The Maker Map, excerpted above, links to helpful stores, spaces, and institutions. It’s definitely a growing list with incomplete information (as of this morning, for example, I noticed there’s no dot on the map for The Crucible or the tool libraries in Oakland and Berkeley), but it has great potential. It promises “to create a global database of maker resources – from workspaces to incubators – which is powered by the maker community and easily searchable on any device.” As it is “an ongoing open source project”, we expect it will only grow in value over time. And you can help by adding your own resources or your favorites to the database.
A Librarian’s Guide to Makerspaces: 16 Resources – iLibrarian.]]>
At Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, we’ve been treading water for about two months now. Walking into our class on Monday, you would see a group of juniors and seniors focused, working on some part of the independent project that they will display at Maker Faire in mid-May. Everyone looks busy, but if you compare where they are now to where they were in January, you’d see that not much visible progress has actually happened.
When this occurred during the first year I worked with students on Maker Faire projects, I got frustrated with the lack of forward momentum. What were they actually doing? When it happened the second year, I started to wonder if it was just part of the process.
What I’ve come to realize is that real work is happening during this time period — it just isn’t visible; it’s going on inside their heads. In the fall, they brainstormed and decided upon their own idea of something they wanted to create, and now they’re trying to figure out what it can actually look like and how to get there. Natalie and Brisia started with a general idea that they wanted to make a tutu that lights up as you dance. Now they are faced with figuring out when they want it to light up, what will affect the lights, and what color the lights will be – not to mention how to hook all of this to a skirt that someone needs to be able to wear while dancing.
The initial euphoria of a cool idea has worn off, and May feels like a long way off. As students are struggling and working to gain a better understanding of what they’re doing, their self-motivation has lulled a little bit. The excitement will eventually grow, as projects start to come together.
This year we are experimenting again. We are hosting a mini faire at our school on the day before spring break, in hopes that it will provide a sense of urgency and excitement. Our hope is that if students can get a functioning prototype done in the next two weeks, their interest in their project will push them to work more enthusiastically in the remaining weeks before they exhibit at the Maker Faire.
So what are our students doing?
Natalie and Brisia are working on a motion sensitive LED tutu. They have created a basic motion sensitive circuit using an accelerometer and are currently working on how to wire the LEDs onto the tutu without it being too bulky.
Cynthia and Flavio are creating a party shirt by combining a light organ and a Hawaiian shirt. They are starting by building a light organ kit they purchased online and have had to learn to decode a schematic in order to do it because the directions are non-existent.
Sandra, Claudia, and Alexandro are building a three-person bike. They started their prototype by creating a PVC frame to mock up the seating area behind a child’s dirt-bike that was given to them by a friend’s parent. They have applied to take a bike modification class at the Crucible over spring break.
Itzi, India, and Raul have been learning to create pages for a pop-up book into which they want to integrate interactive electronics. They have been creating pop-up buildings, lips, and whatever catches their interest. Their project was inspired by the hi-low tech lab at MIT.
Javier, Raul, and Omar are creating an interactive Creeper from the game of Minecraft. They are integrating effects to mimic the character’s behavior in the game into their design. This group has created a remote control base for their robot as well as learned how to integrate an Arduino (for the effects) into a VEX platform (for the remote control functionality).
Billy is building a remote controlled airplane from scratch, using foam board.
Kevin and Saul are creating a solar powered go-cart. They found a frame for their go-cart when they visited a group of electric car enthusiasts in Sebastopol and have been working on getting it up and running over the past few weeks. They have just started working with a welding mentor who is going to help them assemble it all together!
Tony, Raul, and Carlos are converting a light pickup truck from a gasoline-powered engine to an electric motor. They have been working independently on repairing minor mechanical issues and have removed the engine from the truck. They are currently working on getting the adaptor plate to connect the transmission to the electric motor. In addition, Tony created a Indiegogo site for fundraising!
The students are focused and they’re working, even if it doesn’t look like it. Check back in two weeks — progress will likely be visible by then!]]>