Sunday, May 15, 2022

an innovative 21st C maker ed pathway (part two)


Part two outlines a variety of engaging subjects that could deliver different aspects of the 21st C maker ed pathway.

The 3 game changers are block coding, physical computing (eg. the micro:bit) and the fab lab or maker space. I agree with this insight which comes from Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager in their book "Invent to Learn". I argue that to have a genuine 21st C education your school has to understand and grasp these game changers firmly and run with them.

I describe below possible courses which constitute school curriculum reform informed by these game changers. Some could be taught as standalone subjects, others could become part of a curriculum integration endeavour, combining various existing subjects. These curriculum offerings can be classified or parsed in various ways. Some of them are:
  • which traditional subjects are integrated (computational thinking invades all subjects)
  • by appropriate year levels
  • appeal to girls (who have missed out in the past)
  • appeal to groups of special interest (indigenous, the disadvantaged)

I have avoided putting lots of links in the main text. Look to the extended reference section at the end for some additional information and links to original sources.

1) Scratch Story Telling (suitable for year 5,6 and 7 mainstream classes)
Scratch multimedia coding is for telling stories in an interesting and entertaining way. I have developed several iterations of an 18 lesson course I teach to Year 7s. Initially the stories are guided with such titles as “The Cat Walks”, “Letter Magic” and “Weird Animals”. Once students have a handle on the basics of Scratch I set them a CyberSafety project which they design themselves to tell a story about on line bullying and what to do about it.

2) ArtBotics (suitable for year 7s Mainstream and Bridging students)

I put a proposal to my school for a new course, called Artbotics, a portmanteau of Art and Robotics. The course application was successful. Gender balance is important so the outcomes do not reflect “toys for the boys”. The art and craft components of the projects should have appropriate weight. Artbotics rather than robotics. Build provocative, tangible sculptures with robotic actuation and sensing

The original “Artbotics” idea came from the PhD thesis of Jennifer Cross.

In one version of this course I use materials developed by Rob Morrill for the Circuit Playground Express (CPX). Rob's course contains 12 guided projects. I have made several of these with Bridging Year 7 students successfully (Light Box, Balance Board, Helmet, Fabric Friend, Gondola and Light Bot) and use them for demos when explaining the benefits of the CPX.

3) Makey Makey musical instruments (suitable for Primary or Middle School students; I have used this activity with indigenous students at Polly Farmer successfully)

Makey Makey can be used to replace the keyboard with other objects such as fruit or alfoil. In conjunction with Scratch students can make a banana piano, cardboard guitar, tin drum or an egg container organ. These activities are very engaging.

You can do a lot more with Makey Makey. See the links in the reference section to Makey Makey and also the books by Josh Burker.

4) Turtle Art (suitable for Middle School students)

Students like this arty version of logo a lot! So far I have used this in two ways:
(a) Bottom up – draw a square, then work out how to draw various regular polygons, then explain how the colours work etc
(b) Top down. Give students the code of an attractive finished product. Copy the code to make it. Students love doing this because the final products are so attractive. The cards I use come from a link to a pdf from an article by Gary Stager "Turtle Art Software".

5) Build a 3D printer (suitable for after school elective activity for year 7-12)

After some research I bought an Original Prusa i3 MK3S+ 3D printer. There are thousands of 3D printing companies out there. My first consideration was the open hardware / open software criterion. Prusa is part of the RepRap project (humanity's first general purpose self replicating machine) so they went onto my short list. Then Prusa has excellent reviews so I was sold.

Through talking to teachers who use 3D printers I became aware of their main limitation for school use. They are slow. Even a simple print takes about 20 minutes so with the setup and remove the print time added on you will only see one student print their design in a normal lesson.

So, I floated the idea of families buying a kit, students assembling them at school and the family keeping the printer. Everyone I mentioned this to almost immediately said “great idea”. So we sent the invitation out to the school community and so far eight families have come on board.

The advantage of this plan is we get 3D printers into the school community without having to worry about the slowness problem. And to build a 3D printer is a huge step towards understanding how they work.

6) Tape Blocks (suitable for students with severe disabilities)

I have used these with a Year 7 Down Syndrome girl and she could build and decorate a circuit and explain how it worked.

Tape blocks can be used to make compelling characters and can be integrated with the micro:bit. See the reference section for more detail. They have been developed by Dr Kirsten Ellis.

7) Android phone App Development with MIT App Inventor
(not trialled in a classroom yet since my school has a ban on smart phones; suitable for capable middle school or senior students)

I’ve written several apps for my phone with this block coding language. These include apps you can draw with (Digital Doodle), a game (Pong), a quiz and music (xylophone). I then wrote a more ambitious app to help users pronounce Arrernte words, the local language here in Alice Springs (Mparntwe). I took this last program to the Alice Springs Language Centre where it was well received but sadly nothing further developed.

8) Culturally Situated Design Tools (suitable for indigenous themes; developed by Ron Eglash et al and used extensively with minorities in the USA)

This site starts with artistic themes, most of them of indigenous origin, and then develops computer algorithms to develop them on the screen. Snap! is often used here. In some cases the art is then converted from digital form to physical form, for example, by etching with a laser cutter

Many cultural designs show how math and computing ideas are embedded in indigenous traditions, graffiti art, and other surprising sources. These “heritage algorithms” can help students learn STEM principles as they simulate the original artefacts, and develop their own creations.

In this spirit I started from Papunya Tula art work, developed exemplars in Snap and theorised the process. See my Dotted Circles exemplar in the reference sections

9) Stitching the Loop (suitable for Middle and Senior school)

Students explore electronic textiles (e-textiles): articles of clothing, accessories, or home furnishings with embedded electronic and computational elements. It meets design, hands on and curriculum integration criteria. I have added some additional useful information in the reference section. For more information watch the video first and then follow the links.

This course developed by "Exploring Computer Science" is fully downloadable under a Creative Commons license.

Whittlesea Tech courses

I have no direct involvement in the courses below but from reading their descriptions they connect directly to the concepts I am promoting: engaging, real life application, integrated curriculum, links to industries outside of school.

The Banyule Nillumbik and Whittlesea Tech Schools are a part of the Victorian Government’s commitment to equip Victoria’s young people with quality skills that industry needs and the knowledge to build careers and create jobs. The aim of Tech Schools is to develop and run specialist STEM programs and activities that help prepare local students for the changing nature of work. Tech Schools are not schools in the traditional sense, but high-tech learning centres. The Government has invested $128 million to establish 10 Tech Schools across the state in 2017 and 2018.
10) Steampunk Gears and Cogs

The objective of this program is to engage students in collaborative design and construction of props and costumes for an imaginary Steampunk-themed film titled Gears & Cogs…
... students will understand the key characteristics of the Steampunk aesthetic, explore the role of props and costumes in film and set design, and their importance for character development.

Students will be introduced to a range of prototyping technologies and techniques such as digital sketching, digital drawing for laser cutting, microcomputers and coding, carboard prototyping and wearable technology. The program concludes with students pitching their design solution to a wider audience and receiving valuable feedback on their product and process.

Note: The online resources for this program are freely available to all teachers via the Victorian Department of Education and Training portal, Fuse (link to teacher booklet, 48pp)

11) The Epping Lab (suitable young people aged 10 to 18 who identify as being on the autism spectrum and enjoy working with computers)

Participants are paired with mentors who have technical expertise in a mutual interest, such as programming, 3D modelling, digital design and gaming. At each weekly two-hour session, mentors work with attendees to develop their social, personal and technology skills. These sessions take an unstructured approach so every session can be different. We want participants to undertake activities because it interests them, not because they have to. The Lab is designed to be a supportive place to visit, hang out and learn whilst having fun.

12) Smart Cities

This multi-level Internet of Things (IoT) Design Course is in collaboration with the City of Whittlesea council and will show students how to build sensors that will make cities both smart and eco-sensitive.

The course focuses on learning how to use a tiny computer called the Raspberry Pi to display sensor data on a web server that the students build and code at home. Students will build and program their own sensor for their backyard and finally help to deploy real-world sensors using The Things Network (TTN) to help solve problems such as flooding, water for River Red Gum tree health, local food production, stormwater pollution and smart rainwater tanks.

13) AutoCrops In partnership with Ecosystem by Farmwall

This innovative company have developed an urban farming solution for the home, allowing users to grow healthy microgreen crops in a fun and convenient way. Students will learn about zero waste growing, aquaponic and hydroponic care, using manufacturing techniques to develop prototypes that automate parts of the Farmwall Home system.

I have included additional information about Farmwall in the reference section

App Inventor
Those new to MIT App Inventor can have a simple first app up and running in less than 30 minutes. And what's more, our blocks-based tool facilitates the creation of complex, high-impact apps in significantly less time than traditional programming environments. The MIT App Inventor project seeks to democratize software development by empowering all people, especially young people, to move from technology consumption to technology creation
Burker, Josh. The Invent to Learn Guide to Fun: Classroom Technology Projects (2015)
Burker, Josh. The Invent to Learn Guide to MORE Fun: Classroom Technology Projects (2018)
Cross, Jennifer. Creative Robotic Systems for Talent-Based Learning (2017)
Culturally Situated Design Tools
Kerr, Bill. Dotted circles exemplars
Kerr, Bill. Organising a 3D printer building activity

Year 9 & 10 school program: 40 lesson course
Farmwall shop

Makey Makey
Check out the engaging, incredibly fun Makey Makey promotional video
The Makey Makey site has a page for educators (8 lessons)

Martinez, Sylvia and Stager, Gary. Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom. 2nd Edition (2019)
Morrill, Rob. Maker Course for the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express
Prusa 3D printers
Stager, Gary. 20 Things to do with a Computer: Future Visions of Education Inspired by Seymour Papert & Cynthia Solomon's Seminal Work (2021)
Stager, Gary. Turtle Art Software

Stitching the Loop
Course developers include Jane Margolis who has written a book about why disadvantaged groups don’t get access to computer skills (Stuck in the Shallow End) and Yasmin Kafai who has co-authored a book about why children need to learn programming (Connected Code: Why Children Need to Learn Programming)
Video: Stitching the Loop
Introducing: E-Textiles – Exploring Computer Science
E-Textiles Curriculum & Projects – Exploring Computer Science

Whittlesea Tech School Programs

Friday, May 06, 2022

an innovative 21stC maker ed pathway (part one)


Part One paints a brief historical overview of the development of the new maker education over the past 50 years.

Maker Ed 21stC: Although making is older than the wheel, the 21st C version combines something old (making) with something relatively new, digital technology. This combination opens up a broad range of new fruitful educational pathways.

50 year history: This new version of education (Maker Ed) recently celebrated its 50th birthday with the publication of a new book edited by Gary Stager (20 Things to do with a Computer: Future Visions ...) with contributions from roughly 50 authors from multiple countries.

The founding initiators were Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon with their prescient 1972 article (see reference section). The ideas and practice are not new. But, as so often happens, due to declining costs of the technology, these ideas are now far more accessible. (Footnote: see Blikstein’s 5 reasons for this trend)

Bits and Atoms: Both software (then called logo) and hardware (the floor turtle) were there from the beginning. There has been a massive proliferation in both software and hardware since.

The original floor turtle (1969)

Coding: The original logo software has been through several iterations. The current most popular version is Scratch 3. The Scratch website kicked off in 2007. Today, with more than 43 million registered users, Scratch is now the world's largest creative coding community for children.

Block coding: Scratch has popularised block coding. Sadly, it seems that many teachers and education administrators still don’t understand the significance of block coding. Many still believe that coding is difficult and hence mainly for geeks. But the proven reality is that block coding makes it accessible to 99% of students. It is easy to build an engaging project in 10 minutes.

Year 7s can make the cat walk in 10 minutes

Microcontrollers: Although arduino has been around since 2005 the advent of the micro:bit (2014) and Circuit Playground Express (2017) marked a further advance due to the relative ease of block coding and controls on the board itself (buttons, touch, accelerometer). From early 2016, up to one million micro:bits were distributed to Year 7 students (or equivalent, aged 11-12), non-formal education settings and libraries across the UK in a project led by BBC Education

The micro:bit

Proliferation of block coding: In conjunction with the micro:bit Microsoft developed MakeCode, another block code variant.

Hardware: After the floor turtle, Seymour Papert then collaborated with the LEGO company to produce computer controlled robotics (LEGO TC Logo, 1985). Since then the floodgates have opened. There are so many computer controlled kits on the market now that it is hard to keep track and teacher’s do need guidance to evaluate the educational pros and cons: Makey Makey, Arduino, Little Bits, Ozobot, Micro:bit, Chibi Chip, Circuit Playground Express, Lilypad, Bee-Bot, Dash and Dot, Sphero, Edison, Drones – add or choose your favourite

By the way, with Scratch 3 a lot of hardware can be connected and controlled (Makey Makey, the micro:bit, LEGO Mindstorms EV3)

Fab Lab: Neil Gershenfeld (MIT) created a new course in 2003 called “How to Make Almost Anything” and found people queuing to take it. Since then Fab Labs have been growing exponentially around the world! Yes, exponentially! Fab stands for Fabrication or Fabulous, take your pick. The five machines found in a Fab Lab are the 3D printer, the laser cutter, CNC machine, Digital Embroidery machine and the Vinyl cutter. The ability to make almost anything potentially alters the relationship between consumers and producers.

A Fab Lab

Note that the most popular machine in a Fab Lab is not the 3D printer but the laser cutter, due partly to the quick production times

Maker Movement: The modern Maker Movement was created around 2005. The movement has a regular magazine (“Make”) and holds regular Maker Faires (“The Greatest Show-and-Tell on Earth”). In his chronology Dale Dougherty lists some of the many companies, websites and technologies that have grown up around this movement: Spark Fun, Arduino, Instructables, Adafruit, RepRap Darwin 3D printer, DIY Drones and many more.

Fab Learn Lab: Paulo Blikstein developed the Fab Learn Lab for schools (2008). A Fab Learn lab has the same machines as a Fab Lab but in the desktop variety. If schools value an activity then they build a space for it: Science labs, PE spaces, computer labs etc. A Fab Learn lab doesn’t have to have all the capabilities of a full Fab Lab, but needs to have enough to put students onto that pathway.

Part Two will focus on new courses that emerge from 21st C Maker Education environments.
Part Three will delve into the optimal teaching methodologies to deliver these programmes.

Footnote: According to Blikstein (2018), the interest in the creation, dissemination, and popularization of makerspaces can be attributed to five trends:
  1. the greater social acceptance of ideas and principles of progressive education;
  2. countries’ interest in establishing a base for an innovative economy;
  3. the growth of public awareness, in addition to the popularity of computer programming combined with the creation and production of artifacts;
  4. the sharp reduction in the cost of digital information and communication technologies (DICT), as well as digital fabrication technologies (DFT)
  5. the development of tools that are more powerful and easier for students to use, along with studies and publications in academic research focused on the effect and impact of these new technologies on learning
Blikstein, Paulo. Digital Fabrication and ‘Making’ in Education: The Democratization of Invention (2013)
Blikstein P. (2018). Maker Movement in Education: History and Prospects. In: de Vries M. (Ed.) Handbook of Technology Education. Springer International Handbooks of Education. Springer, Cham. Gershenfeld, Neil; Gershenfeld, Alan; Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld. Designing Reality: How to Survive and Thrive in the Third Digital Revolution (2017)
Dougherty, Dale. Free to Make: How the Maker Movement is Changing our Schools, Our Jobs, and our Minds (2016)
Make Magazine
Papert, Seymour. Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas. Harvester Press, 1980.
Papert, Seymour & Solomon, Cynthia. Twenty Things to do with a Computer (1972)
Stager, Gary (Editor). 20 Things to do with a Computer: Future Visions of Education Inspired by Seymour Papert & Cynthia Solomon's Seminal Work (2021)