Connecting Voices through Robotics: An EdCamp Global Event

This year, our library is fortunate to have a robotics loan from Birdbrain Technologies. We have 12 Finch robots that we are using throughout the year for coding experiences for our students. Currently, a group of 2nd-5th graders are meeting every Friday for one hour to learn to code these robots and create projects with them.

Donna MacDonald (Vermont) and Jenny Lussier (Connecticut) are two wonderful friends who inspire me through my professional learning network, and they also have these robots on loan.  Jenny and Donna wrote their robotics loan application with plans to collaborate with one another, and they have invited my students to jump in to their learning. We recently started talking on Twitter about how our kids could collaborate both synchronously and asynchronously, and we were looped in to a conversation about EdCamp Global.

I wish I had clued in to EdCamp Global sooner because it was an amazing opportunity.  Across 24 hours over 51 countries and more than 800 classrooms empowered students’ and teachers’ voices in multiple online formats. Not only did voices from around the globe come together but there was also a true global audience to watch the work happen. I definitely want to do more with this the next time around.

Thanks to Donna and Jenny’s enthusiastic energy, we pulled together a session on the EdCamp Global schedule to allow our students to share.  Jenny got the application in, setup the Google Hangout, and got everything up and running for us. Donna created a Google doc of resources for the session and started advertising our session on social media.

On the morning of the hangout, I was able to pull a couple of my Friday students from their classrooms to join the hangout and Jenny & Donna both had classes of students rotate through their libraries.  Across the 1-hour session, we talked about the Finch loan program and how we got started. We also talked about other robotics tools that we are using in our schools such as Sphero, BB-8, Dash and Dot, and Ollie.

My favorite part was when students took turns sharing their experience with robotics.  My two students showed programs that they were working on within Level 1 of Snap!  Donna and Jenny’s students also told stories of challenges they had faced with the robots, things they had figured out, and plans for what they hoped to do over the next few weeks.

 

Tweets during:

Toward the end of our time, Jenny had her students start experimenting with Scratch and Finch. They had just enough time to come over and demonstrate what they figured out during the hangout.  I can’t wait to share what we learned with the rest of our 2nd-5th graders so we can continue to explore programming the Finch.

Donna created a Padlet where we can post challenges to one another.

Jenny created a Flipgrid where students can share video challenges or tips about the Finch robots.

I think it is just incredible how students in multiple locations can come together to collaborate in real time when our schedule allows, and that we can continue to collaborate even when we aren’t meeting together at the same time.  My group is just getting started, so I can’t wait to see what we learn from Jenny and Donna’s students and what we are able to contribute along the way too!

Tinkering in Our Open Makerspace

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It’s been awhile since I’ve shared what has been going on in our open makerspace time, but there has definitely been a lot.  Through our collaboration with Gretchen Thomas at UGA, we have been able to offer an open time on Tuesdays and Thursdays for students to come and explore various parts of our makerspace.  Students sign up for a 30-minute segment to come and explore a pre-chosen topic.  Last year, we tried just letting students decide what they wanted to do, but we found that most of them were either unsure of what to try or all wanted to try something different and didn’t know how to start.  It was hard to manage and it was hard to accomplish anything in 30 minutes.  This year, we decided that for the first half of the year we would offer 2-3 opportunities at each makerspace session.  One of the experiences is technology-focused and the other is more craft-focused.  Sometimes these experiences compliment one another. For example, students might get to make a figure out of pipe cleaners, clay, or Playdoh as the craft and then use that figure to create a stop motion video with the iPad.

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At each session, 3-4 UGA students come to support students.  They often lead the work while I assist other students in the library or teach classes. However, I also participate in the makerspace and learn alongside the students.  This is a great time for me to see how students are using the tools in a smaller setting.  I can think about management pieces to make the process more accessible to students. I can also reflect on how various tools or activities fit into grade level curriculum.

In today’s makerspace, students created stop motion animation using clay figures. For some of them, it was the second time using stop motion animation, so they had a better understanding of how it worked. They were able to get to a point that they could actually upload a short video that they created in a 30-minute window.  Some of them even worked together to use pieces that they had each created in order to make a collaborative video.

It was a busy time and the UGA students worked so hard to get students creating figures and encouraging them to give the video a try.  I love hearing how the elementary students and college students talk to one another.  They both amaze one another with some of the things they come up with and share.

As usual, voices emerged with artistic talents or technology expertise. One of our students, Anarian, who we learned is an expert at making figures with pipe cleaners is also very talented at making figures out of clay.  There’s so much potential for his work to develop into a stop motion video for any of his content areas.

While the UGA students supported the stop motion, I pulled out our Finch robots, which are on loan to us this year from Birdbrain Technologies.  We opened the basic version of Snap, and student tinkered with programming these robots with simple block coding.  We are going to do a lot with these robots this year and open makerspace is a great time for me and the students to learn a few of the basics so that our content work can be more productive.

By the end of the first semester, we hope that many students have gotten a small taste of all of the tools in our makerspace, so that the second half of the year can be spent focusing on how these tools can work together to create something great.  We have no idea where the makerspace will take us, but we know that miraculous things will happen along the way.

 

 

Finch Robots are Coming to Our Library Makerspace in Fall 2015

It is officially summer in the Barrow Media Center, so things will be a bit more quiet here on the blog for a few weeks.  Summer is a time for recharging, reflecting, and dreaming up ideas for the upcoming school year.  I’m excited to announce one of a few summer announcements that will be coming your way.  Our library makerspace will feature 12 Finch Robots by BirdBrain Technologies during the 2015-2016 school year.  The robots are on loan to us for the entire school year, and this loan comes with the possibility of these robots being a permanent donation to our space.

A few months ago BirdBrain Technologies announced an expansion of their Finch Robot loan program to include libraries.  I immediately contacted them to see if school libraries were included in this opportunity or only public libraries.  They encouraged me to apply, so it didn’t take me long to put together a proposal for these robots to become a part of our makerspace for use within the curriculum as well as our exploration time.  I’m also dreaming up some fun events for hour of code in December that will involve students, teachers, and families.  These robots will of course be a part of that as well.

We are excited to start exploring suggestions for using the Finch on their site.

What exactly is a Finch?  This video explains it best in three minutes.

I can’t wait to see what students are able to accomplish with this new addition to our makerspace.  For now, here’s the official press release from BirdBrain Technologies.  I’ll share what we do when the robots arrive in August.

Finches Land at David C. Barrow Elementary

David C. Barrow Elementary has been selected to participate in the 2015­2016 Finch robot loan program. The program will provide the school free access to 12 Finch robots for the 2015-­2016 school year, allowing over 600 students, teachers, and families exposure to an engrossing and interactive tool for learning computational thinking. BirdBrain Technologies, creator of the Finch, offers the loans to inspire young coders across the country, especially those who might not ordinarily have the opportunity to program a robot. The Finch robot is a product of Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE lab. The Finch is designed to support an engaging approach to the art of computer science from preschool to college, with support for more than a dozen age­appropriate programming languages and environments. During 2014 Birdbrain Technologies loaned out hundreds of Finch robots to school districts across the country, and reached over 15,000 students.

1936 Fifth Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15219

P: 888­371­6161 | F: 412­283­9134

info@birdbraintechnologies.com

Popup Makerspace at UGA with the Maker Dawgs and Flipgrid

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A few weeks ago, Gretchen Thomas, UGA instructional technology teacher, emailed me about a possible collaboration on the UGA campus. She wanted to bring her Maker Dawgs class to the UGA Tate Center Plaza to host a popup makerspace.  The idea would be to have a variety of maker tools available for UGA students to try on the spot.  She wondered if I had students who might join them.  Without hesitation, I said yes and  we started the logistics.  The more we planned, the bigger the trip got.  The biggest news was that 2 members of the Flipgrid and Vidku team from Minneapolis flew down to do a video in our library.  They wanted to go with us on our trip to see how students were getting their voice into the world and also how we planned to use Flipgrid to reflect on the day.

Our school is about a mile from the UGA Tate Center Plaza and our students have walking field trip forms on file so it was easy for me to create a field trip.  The hard part was working out the logistics for bad weather.  In true fashion, we had plan A, plan B, plan C, and maybe even a plan D.  It was right up to the wire deciding about going to UGA, but the rain held off and we made our trek down to Tate.

Students had a little bit of time to explore the maker tools that Gretchen brought before we prepped all of our supplies for UGA students to explore.

Students connected Spheros to iPads through bluetooth, setup a wireless network with Justin & Greg from Flipgrid, and made a playable piano with Playdoh and MaKey MaKey.

Then, we waited.  Traffic on the UGA campus quickly picked up at around 10:30 when classes changed, but most UGA students had their earbuds in and walked at a fast pace to get to the next class.  The kids were a bit timid at first, but with some encouragement, they began to develop techniques to get UGA students to stop and try out our makerspace stuff.

Several students started driving the Spheros right into the paths of walking college students.  At first, they dodged them, but eventually they started asking questions.  Other students started experimenting with phrases to get the UGA students interested.

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One student even put on silly costumes and made up dances to attract attention to our cause, and so many people loved his techniques!

It was really interesting to see the college students when they stopped.  Most of them wanted the students to demonstrate for them how each piece of technology worked.  They had to be nudged and encouraged to try them.  It made me wonder if there is less of a culture of risk-taking in this age bracket than with our elementary students.

Halfway though our makerspace time, Gretchen’s Maker Dawgs class joined us and helped talk with UGA students, demonstrate tools, and document the day through pictures and Flipgrid.

We used Flipgrid part of the time just to capture some video of what was going on.

Ludwig and Kearn spent a lot of time showing people how MaKey MaKey could control a computer.  They setup a piano and bongos that could be played with Playdoh, and they got several people to stop and try it out.  It was fun to listen them explain the science behind how it works.  When you touch the Playdoh and a piano plays, it seems like magic, but they did an incredible job of talking about circuits as they demonstrated the tool.

Many of our students worked hard to drive the Spheros around and demo them.  I wish that our Sphero students had been able to get some UGA students to try programming the Sphero, but most were just in too big of a hurry.  They mostly showed how you can use the Drive app to control the ball.  Maybe next time, we can be prepared to demo alternate apps.  However, they still had a good many students stop by and actually try out the ball after seeing how it worked.  The kids loved talking about how it worked and being able to teach students who were much older than them.

Another group of our students spent time making some things from duct tape and then teaching UGA students how to make them too.

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Others had a great time exploring littlebits, connecting blocks, and making friendship bracelets.

As our popup makerspace came to a close, we used Flipgrid to reflect on what we had learned.

Here are links to a few of those responses.

It was truly an amazing day of getting our students out into the world to share their knowledge and pass on their passion for makerspaces.  Gretchen was able to promote her UGA class.  We were able to show what’s happening in K-12 education right now with makerspaces.  Our students were empowered by the chance to be the experts in the room.  Gretchen and I are already brainstorming what this might look like next time.

Many thanks to Greg and Justin from Vidku and Flipgrid for tagging along and helping to document our day.

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Recent Scenes from Our Makerspace and an Exciting Update!

lego table

Our library makerspace has been a bustling place over the past few weeks.  I’ve still been holding some periodic makerspace recess sessions where students can signup to come and explore the space and what it has to offer.  Several students have been coming on a regular basis on their own.  This started as one or two students asking to come and then those students told some other students.  Before I knew it, I had a good problem on my hands.  I’ve been trying to find a good way to organize the process of students coming to use the space on their own.

At the moment, the process is that students send me an email if they want to start using the space on their own.  I make sure to put an appointment on the library calendar to introduce them to the space and set some parameters of what they can and cannot do.  Once I feel like the student is responsible, he or she can start coming without an appointment but still needs to tell me the plan of which days to come.  So far, this has been working with the exception of clean up and organization.  Often, these students are in a rush because they are using recess time.  Just when they get going with their making, it’s time to leave, so there’s little time to cleanup.  This is on my agenda to figure out, but I will have some help with this very soon.

robot dog

I’m partnering with Gretchen Thomas at the University of Georgia and some of her independent study students.  As their project, these students will be coming each day of the week from 11-12:15.  I will be able to tell students and teachers that they can come any day at that time.  The UGA students will be responsible for creating a sign in sheet so that we can track which students are using the space.  They will also monitor how often each student is coming.  Although I love having kids come and use the space, I think it is still important that they spend some time outside.  The UGA students will ask the students to limit their days so that there is space for others to try as well as time to go outside as well.  The UGA students will also help me establish a routine for keeping the space in some sort of organization.  Most importantly, they will explore alongside these students using the space.  All of this starts next week!

Over the past week or so, some amazing things have been made and tried in the space.  These have happened during our weekly enrichment clusters as well as these exploratory recess times.

A student spent time tinkering with LittleBits during enrichment clusters.  He would try one combination of bits and it didn’t quite do what he wanted.  He didn’t give up, and instead, kept trying different combinations until he made a type of microphone.  His next step is to figure out how to make this something we could actually use without having to lean right into the bit to talk.

Other students tinkered with littleBits in different ways:

There has been a lot of exploration of MaKey MaKey by using existing tools online and controlling those with the alligator clips and playdoh.

A challenge has been getting students to move beyond using the MaKey MaKey with existing tools and stretch their thinking to designing their own programs that can be controlled by the tool.  We finally had a breakthrough this week as some students began designing things in Scratch and controlling it with MaKey MaKey.

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Several students have been bringing in their own maker tools to share with the makerspace and classmates.  One student brought a robotic dog that can be controlled through an app and another student brought his snap circuits.  The Snap Circuits were very popular and students were screaming when they figured out how to snap pieces together to create an AM radio.

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I’m still seeing a lot of tinkering with Sphero.  The students love driving Sphero around and playing the various games, but this is another tool where I want to nudge students to begin programming.  I think they need this experimental stage, but I know they can create amazing things once they get going.

I’ve seen a lot of interest in duct tape.  This is the one area where I’ve seen students read the instructions in our duct tape books as well as watch videos about making things with duct tape in order to design something.  Now, a group of students have branched off to start making their own creations from duct tape.  One student made a flower from tape and then decided to add it to her headband.

So far, I feel like our 3d printing has been very teacher directed.  Because of safety concerns, I’m afraid to let elementary students use the 3D printer alone.  Now, though, I have some students who are really capable of this.  They know how to design something in tinkercad, export to Makerware, slice for 3d printing, save on an SD card, load the SD card, and get the print started.  I was startled one day when I heard the 3d printer start, and when I raced over to see what was going on a student had gone through this whole process alone.  I did remind him that due to safety I really wanted to be around when something was 3d printing, but I was also proud that an elementary student was able to go through all of the steps to print something.  Now, he has passed on that expertise to several other students.  Their designs are very simple at the moment, but I think they will get more complex as they tinker with the tool more and more.

I’m excited that Gretchen Thomas is bringing yet another fun tool for us to try when she comes next week:  Google Cardboard.  It’s sort of silly, but it’s a cardboard viewfinder that you stick your phone inside in order to create your own virtual reality on a budget.  Since Cardboard doesn’t officially support iPhones, we also used our makerspace to print an attachment from Thingiverse that will let us use our iPhones for the cardboard tinkering.

I’m still pushing to weave makerspace into classroom curriculum, and I think a next step is going to be to hold some informal teacher exploration time.  I think if teachers give themselves permission to tinker and explore, they will immediately start to see a use for their classrooms.

It is overwhelming and promising to see how many independent projects there are in our school and that students are coming to the library as a place to work on these projects.  I was amazed when I paused and took a quick look around.

Exploring Makerspace through Alternative Recess

makerspace recess (7)Since the beginning of the year, students have been itching to get into our library makerspace to use the many tools housed there.  As the librarian, I try to weave as many of these maker tools into curriculum as I can, but the truth is that it’s just not fast enough for our students.  Telling them, “I’m waiting to find the right piece of the curriculum to use the littlebits with”, is not acceptable.  They want to tinker and explore and see how things work.

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Recognizing this, I had to find a way to give them more access.  I can’t say that I’ve found the perfect solution, but I’m working on it.  I’m blessed to have the University of Georgia right next to our school.  I’m even more blessed that the College of Education is within walking distance and Gretchen Thomas teaches in the instructional technology department.  Gretchen is an educator who truly gets the realities and challenges of school.  She wants her students to have experiences with what instructional technology really looks like in a school rather than guess about it in the college setting.  She and I have been brainstorming about challenges that I face in the library and the makerspace has come up a lot in our conversations.  We’re trying to create a plan to have adult support in the makerspace on a regular basis for students to explore during their recess time.  This alternative to going outside isn’t the only solution, but it’s one that many of our students are willing to do in order to get their hands on the makerspace tools.

Even though we don’t have details worked out for Gretchen’s students to be in the makerspace, she has volunteered her own time once per week to come in and help.  For the past 3 weeks, we have offered makerspace recess to our 4th graders.  A whole range of students have shown up.  I was very excited to see such a mix of boys and girls as well as several other kinds of diversity within the group as well.

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During the 1st recess, Gretchen and I quickly showed the tools in the space: Sphero, littlebits, and MaKey MaKey.  Students chose a starting place and jumped in.  It didn’t take long until the Sphero was being driven around the library, being programmed to drive and jump over a ramp of books, and a maze of books, shoes, and legs was being created on the floor.

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Students used the littlebits cards to snap together several suggested circuits, but it didn’t take long for students to start snapping random bits together to see what would happen.

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Students at the MaKey MaKey got out balls of Playdoh and started plugging in alligator clips.  Gretchen showed them how they could type using the balls of Playdoh, and they also explored how to play the piano on the MaKey MaKey site.

This alternative recess is certainly supporting my library goal of allowing students to dream, tinker, create, and share.  This free time to dream and tinker will only strengthen the curriculum work we do within the makerspace in grade level projects.

At some point, I’m sure we’ll create some structure to our alternative recess, but for now it just seems right to explore.

Maker Maniacs Enrichment Cluster Update: 3D Printing and Robotics

blokify (5)We are a little over halfway done with our enrichment clusters this year.  Every Friday, students across the school go to an interest-based cluster of their choosing for one hour.  During this time, students explore a topic and develop products or services related to their topic.  My cluster is called Makerspace Maniacs.  So far this year, we have explored making with duct tape, building with cardboard, lego robotics, and 3D printing.  After lots of explorations, students  are making decisions about where they want to focus.

A small group of students is focused on lego robotics.  Monica and Omarion are both committed to building a robot and programming it.  They both have varying levels of expertise.  Today, I asked another student, Ludwig, to come and work with them.  Ludwig has a lot of experience with Lego Mindstorms.  During clusters today, he worked with them to build a robot and program it.  Although they didn’t get far with the programming, he was able to show the students some tips and tricks to get the robots to work the way they wanted to.  I love using students as experts.  They hold so much knowledge that we don’t even know about.  Ludwig just happened to talk to me one day about Lego Mindstorms because he knew that I bought some.  He used Lego WeDo and Lego Mindstorms in other settings and told me he was willing to help me any way he could with them.  How exciting that a student offered his expertise without even being asked!

Other students in the cluster have decided to work on 3D printing.  Over the past 2 weeks, they have used a new iPad app called Blokify.  This app uses blocks to build a 3D object.  It is very user-friendly to build a 3D object in very little time.  Once built, the object can be ordered or emailed for 3D printing on your own device.  Today, students really focused on coming up with an idea and using the blocks to build.  While they were using the app, I started a Google Doc, which I will share with them, to collect what we love, wonder, and want to change about the app.  One service they will offer as a part of the cluster is to share this info with Blokify.

 

Today, we were also tweeting with Blokify and students were able to respond to their tweets.  Such fun!

Twitter   blokify   plemmonsa What they like most ...

Students prepared several files that they emailed to me.  I have them ready to go for 3D printing next week.  We’ll be printing a pirate ship, a Trojan pig, and a castle among other things.  As we progress, these students will also think about how they see this app fitting into what they are already doing in class.  We’ll come up with some lesson ideas for teachers to consider.

We only have a few weeks to go, but our speed is picking up and our focus is narrowed.  I know incredible things are going to happen with these students.