Author Archives: ArtisanEducation

Handmade Minecraft Creeper Quilt

Last month, I may have boasted  – just a little bit – about my kids’ 4-H non-livestock fair submissions.  I tried to include a wide variety of their projects, but I omitted one project: my older son’s handmade Minecraft creeper quilt.

Minecraft Creeper Quilt

In fill disclosure, I left it out because I didn’t have a good picture. Plus, the quilt was hung sideways at the fair…probably by someone without kids. It didn’t look right.

However, I also wanted to highlight his progress and effort. This was a HUGE project. It took determination and motivation to finish such a large quilt. He’s only twelve, though he made most of it when he was eleven. It took months to complete.

Quilting for Kids

Let me back up just a bit. I’ve always had sewing projects for the kids to try.  It’s part of Montessori’s early childhood curriculum, and it was one of the first “maker” skills I taught myself after college.

So my older son knew how to use the sewing machine and I trusted him with the rotary cutters.  When he said he wanted to make a big quilt…well, I tried to talk him out of it.

I know!

But it’s a lot of work and I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to keep up with him. However, he was determined and we sat down and made some preliminary sketches (after a bit of idea-gathering via the Internet).

Minecraft Blocks = Quilt Blocks

Thank goodness Minecraft is built on blocks. It makes creating a square-based quilt much easier. After a few explanations of the technique required for certain designs, we settled on a five-inch squares. He could easily cut those out and he liked the look of the creeper.

We went shopping at our local fabric store, picked up some supplies and he started cutting that day. I can’t say the entire project went that smoothly, but he did all of the work by himself. I helped occasionally, but this was his project.

Quilting Logistics

Since he was homeschooled last year, it was easy to incorporate this into our learning routine. While this was a self-directed project, he would have given up halfway through without my support and guidance. He wasn’t lacking the skills, just the tenacity to finish such a large project.

As with most of our big projects, we broke it down into smaller steps and added a time requirement. He needed to have the top finished before we left for our big trip last summer. That gave him 2 months to finish. He competed it a week before we left.

Binding the Quilt

We didn’t get around to the quilting and binding until seven months later. (I know…we were busy). We had it professionally quilted at our local quilt shop around Thanksgiving, and he worked on the binding throughout the Christmas break (he was in school at that point). Plus, he chose to sew the binding by hand. He said he wanted it to look the best…since he had put so much hard work into it.

I’m happy to add this to his list of project-based learning successes. He was self-directed, but wasn’t allowed to give up when he felt overwhelmed or bored. I was the facilitator (project manager?), but he learned how it felt to complete a large project. And he has a pretty cool quilt too.

Learning Watercolor :: Washes & Underpainting

First, I should say that I have no business giving advice on using watercolors. I have only been learning watercolor techniques for the last ten months; I am still a beginner. However, I thought it might be interesting to show off what I’ve learned (and how I learned it).

A picture of a graded blue sky with orange water

Learning Watercolors :: Introductory Classes

When I decided I wanted to move from color pencil illustrations to watercolor painting, I skimmed my options on Craftsy. I absolutely love that web site (and no, they don’t pay me to say that). However, it can be pretty overwhelming – especially if you aren’t sure what kind of painter you want to be.

Initially, I chose two classes: one by Kateri Ewing and one by Angela Fehr. Angela’s class was not my favorite. It was too tedious for me. (It took me a long time to finish her class). But others loved her class. She has rave reviews and her own YouTube channel. Her style just wasn’t (and isn’t) for me.

Kateri Ewing’s class…was the perfect introductory watercolor class for me. It was similar in feel to my first color pencil class, and the first half of the class had us mixing colors and trying to get a feel for the paint. We completed two “proper” projects, but we were painting the entire time. I completed Kateri’s class last May.

A picture of a watercolor yellow pear

Kateri Ewing showed us how to paint this pear, step-by-step.

Fast Forward — 2 months

We took a fabulous summer trip and when we got back, I found myself in the middle of an incredibly busy time. I drew and painted some, but my learning was set aside – until a few months ago. I had this overwhelming desire to beef up my watercolor skills. I had a beautiful watercolor journal just sitting on my desk, taunting me. I had used a few pages during our trip, but I needed more instruction.

However, I didn’t want to jump back into a video class, nor did I want to scour YouTube for free watercolor painting videos. I like videos, but only to a point. I really am a book gal. (It’s the librarian in me, I think).

Flat and Graded Washes

Lots of practice and testing. I tried out different brushes and different paper. I was shocked at how the quality of the paper makes a HUGE difference.

According to Claudia Nice in her book, Watercolor Made Simple, “graded washes are useful in portraying clear summer skies, pools of still water and the contours of human skin.”

A wash is basic watercolor technique. It seems overly simplistic, but is worth a little practice to get it just right. (I messed it up a bunch of times). It produces fascinating effects. Since my two online classes didn’t discuss washes, I stumbled across them as I tried to recreate various paintings. Thankfully, there are some amazing teaching artists who share their techniques via books.

I’ve been pulling a number of books from various libraries and choosing projects I want to try. My first success came from the book, Watercolor Painting: Practical Techniques and Projects for Beginners.

Variegated Wash

I used cheaper watercolor paper to practice the gradated wash, so it doesn’t look as smooth as I think it could. But I understood the concept. I was ready to jump into something a little more challenging: a variegated wash.

A variegated wash occurs when you have two (or more) colors. You wet the entire paper with a sponge – making sure it’s slightly damp, not sopping. Then add one color at the top and instead of returning for water, you grab a different pigment on your brush. Voila!

A picture of a piece of paper with graded colors - pink on top with yellow on the bottom.

True painters will notice that I pulled the yellow up into my pink. I was ‘playing in the paint’ – a big watercolor no no.

Sunset Over Water

Now that I had “mastered” the concept, I was ready to try the accompanying project. Thankfully, the book is pretty good about having step-by-step pictures. If you are trying to learn a new skill, it’s not helpful to only see the finished project.

Most of their projects require you to sketch out the project just by looking at the picture, but they go into detail for particular techniques.

I was very careful and methodical with my first attempt. The second one, not so much. I was less then attentive and went a little loosey-goosey. Plus, I used student grade paper and the pigment didn’t spread nearly as well. Lesson learned.

A picture of a graded blue sky with orange water

First attempt. A good use of a variegated wash. The blue for the sky melts into the orange for the sunset-lit sea.

A picture of a blue sky, and orange sea and some shadowed buildings/trees in the distance

I was trying for a brighter pigment…and I got it. Though, I think the paper caused me problems. (Don’t mind the white spot at the bottom…I’m testing the idea of painting while my paper is taped down).

But it’s the third painting that shows my growth as a watercolorist (I hope). I wanted to try the same technique, but with a slightly different color scheme. I had to figure out how to change up the colors. I looked at a few reference photos for guidance.

A watercolor picture of a cove at sunset

I love how this one looks more like a cove. I totally, ahem, meant to do that.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I thought it was better than the original, but the three members of my immediate family all prefer the last painting. My very own composition! Well…you can bet I’m hooked on project books now.

Summer 2018: Online Computer Programming Class for Kids

This summer, I will be teaching an online, interactive programming class through the Classical Learning Resource Center (CLRC). This course will be delivered online, but we will meet “in-person” once a week. This programming class for kids will focus on creative design using Scratch, the icon-based language developed by MIT.

a picture of a kid looking at a mac computer screen. The content is from the Scratch web site.

An online, but interactive programming class for kids using Scratch.

Programming Class for Kids

I have taught Scratch for a number of years, both in-person, and through my self-published asynchronous classes. I am excited to try my hand at virtual, real-time classes.  We’ll be meeting for four Wednesdays from 4:30 – 6:00 PM (Eastern time), starting June 6. We’ll meet via Adobe Connect and the emphasis will be on introductory, but creative programming concepts.

We may do some storyboarding, or pre-planning, if there’s time.

Classical Learning Resource Center

I am especially happy to be working with the CLRC. For the past year-and-a-half, I have been a CLRC parent. My older son has taken two CLRC courses over his homeschool career. He would have taken more, but he’s in school this year — a perfect fit for my extroverted child. However, my younger son can’t wait until he is old enough to take a CLRC class. The teachers are fabulous and accessible. Plus, my son loved the real-time interactions.

If you have any questions, please let me know. You can find my contact information on the class page, Creative Computer Programming for Upper Elementary Students. Sign up today!

Hand-Sewn Key Chains for Kids

I created these hand-sewn key chains last summer for my sewing camp class. Remember my Mondrian-inspired wall hanging? Do you remember how it didn’t work in a classroom, even though it was the perfect project for home? Since it was a classroom bust, I quickly came up with a new idea: hand-sewn key chains!

Technically, these hand-sewn key chains weren’t made by the kids. I made them, but my students replicated their own.

Hand-Sewn Key Chains — Embroidered Key Chains

Thankfully, I came across a number of key chain projects online. Many of them required expensive connectors, but I stopped by my local Hobby Lobby and picked up a package of plain silver split rings. Then, I made a few examples. Of course, I took the complicated approach first…

After a bit of searching, I decided to make a Celtic cross as my first example. Overkill? Yes, definitely.

I may have chosen a really difficult project. Just a little…

After testing this one, I decided to look for a simpler project, especially since I didn’t think the students would have an easy time with the tissue paper transfer.  But I still wanted them to add a design to the outside of their project. Enter the utilitarian key chain.

Hand-sewn key chain — Chapstick or Money Holder

These turned out to be some of my favorite hand-sewn projects. I used a soft 4B drawing pencil to sketch a simple design on the outer felt. It was easy to see the design and would (mostly)  be covered by the stitching. I had created a few samples, but wanted to see how the patterns would translate to kids’ use. My youngest son, age 8, jumped at the chance to make a sample key chain.Turns out – he’s a natural hand-sewer.

a picture of a child making a hand-sewn keychain

I love a messy table covered with fabric, at least until it’s time for dinner.

This project was a success! My students enjoyed how creative they could be with their designs and it didn’t take them three class periods to complete. Instant satisfaction!

Just a side note: we hot glued the fabric strip (with the split ring) to the back of the hand-sewn key chain. A perfect afternoon project for beginning sewers.

 

 

 

Authentic Learning with 4-H

My boys have been 4-H members for a number of years, but as I tell people: we’re not really animal people. I get strange looks with that statement, especially when I tell them I love the 4-H organization. The county fair, with all those show animals, is the primary event, but we’ve also participated in a marine ecology tournament, a 5K run, and the annual non-livestock fair.

A picture of two hand sewn items with ribbons attached

C, age 8 made a handsewn needlebook and a badge.

4-H Non-Livestock Fair

My boys experience authentic learning with 4-H through the non-livestock fair. They don’t show animals — which is a good thing since we gave away our chickens last year! However, the non-livestock fair provides the perfect opportunity to showcase their homeschool work. According to Lori Pickert, author of Project-Based Homeschooling, students need an audience to show what they’ve learned (in whatever way they choose to present it).

Although Lori advocates for complete self-control, I recommend it only after students have been creating projects for a couple of years. I found that when my kids were younger, they needed guidance. They didn’t have the experiential knowledge of how to create a “final” project.* Initially, I offered some suggestions and had them choose what type of project they wanted to make (after determining what they wanted to learn about). It was less overwhelming for a young child. They had a topic, and they could see what they were working toward. That might be a poster, a written report, an art piece or a computer program. (FYI – we did projects and traditional school work).

A picture of a trifold with the title: My Shell Project

C has really been into shells this year and delved deeper into the topic as a result of this poster.

A Project-Based Learning Venue

The 4-H non-livestock fair provides a great opportunity to share their projects with others. In addition, there are a number of projects to see for inspiration. Kids can submit traditional projects, such as book reports or tri-fold posters. My kids usually do a couple of those projects, but also submit original artwork, sewing pieces and woodworking projects.

C’s Scratch project. The topic was a chapter from Story of the World concerning Louis XIV: The Sun God.

A picture of two wooden slat boxes stained dark brown.

Each boy made one of these wooden boxes with the help from a fellow homeschool parent. He cut the wood, but the boys put it together and stained it (with his guidance).

Reflecting on the Learning Process

In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably tell you that I have been a non-livestock fair judge for the last two years. Although the day usually falls on, or near, my birthday, I love the experience. All day, I get to speak with kids about their projects. They have a receptive audience in me, but they also get my teaching experience. This year, I was the art and craft judge. I spoke with some very, very talented students. I also encountered some very reserved and hesitant students. I dealt with them differently, but asked every single one: what is your favorite part of this project (and/or what did you think you did well)? I also asked them: what do you think you could do better (if anything)?

Not only do my own children benefit from reflecting on their learning, but they get to see a bunch of other kids doing the same. Like I said, it’s a fabulous organization.

A picture of a printout from the Scratch web site. Printout has blue and purple ribbons attached.

R, age 12, made a Harry Potter computer program in Scratch. (Yes – 4H judges computer programs)!

**The way I conduct project-based learning at home is slightly different than Lori Pickert recommends. I think students should have a choice. They should be able to define and redefine how they want to showcase their learning. However, I don’t think just reading about something constitutes a project (at least not past 2nd grade). I need them to have some reflection on their learning — whether that’s by writing, doing a poster or creating a Scratch computer program. The research on learning (and growing a growth mindset) means you have to help them push through the frustrating parts of not knowing.

Star Wars :: Art, Coding & Just Plain Silliness

Around our house, I hear a lot about the Star Wars universe. Is it the same in your home? It may have something to do with the new movie premiere,  which three of us saw in December.  It may be because the youngest has been reading every. single. Star Wars book he can get his hands on.

A picture of 9 children's books about Star Wars

All of these are library books!

At eight-and-a-half, he hasn’t seen all the movies. They are a bit intense for him, but he has seen Episodes 4-6, and is quite ready for Episode 1. (He lets us know when he’s ready to watch another one). Even though he hasn’t seen all of the movies, he already knows what happens in the story; thanks to those books.

In fact, all three of the males in my household like to read Star Wars books. I am the only one who abstains from reading about lightsabers. They look cool on screen, but I’ll save my precious reading hours for a non-fiction book, or ahem…a good romance novel.

color pencil drawing of Star Wars character, Boba Fett

Boba Fett. Drawn by R, age 12.

Star Wars Art

Thank goodness I can find other ways to dip my toe into the Star Wars universe. Recently, we came across Tom Angleberger’s book, Art2-D2’s Guide to Folding and Doodling. We played “pencil podracing,” and created an origami Yoda. After all, Angleberger is the author of the Origami Yoda book series.

On the left is the “gameboard” for pencil podracing. You flick your pencil and that constitutes your turn.

Pod People

Since we’re chatting about Star Wars, I have to mention these wooden peg dolls which I made a few years ago. They live on my older son’s shelf, but I was inspired by the dolls from Homemade by Jill.

A picture of two wooden peg dolls painted to look like ObiWan Kenobi and Darth Vader from Star Wars

Handpainted by Liz.

Star Wars Coding

Now that I’ve chatted about arts and books, I can get to the meat of this post: Star Wars coding. Last month, I came across the book, Using Scratch: Star Wars Coding Projects. Can you guess where I found it? Yes, at my local library (I love that place).

Since it involved the icon-based programming language Scratch, and Star Wars, I knew it would find a receptive audience at my house. (I just love it when I’m right). My youngest son was enamored. Two of his favorite things — combined!

a picture of a kid looking down at a book while working on a computer

C, age 8.5, working on a project from Using Scratch: Star Wars Coding Book

Scratch Project Name

Since he’s a homeschooler, I asked if he was interested in doing a project from the book. When he said yes, I added it to his weekly schedule. The instructions were clear enough that he was able to get started right away. After all, he’s been working with Scratch for almost two years. However, he is only 8.5, so after the first set of instructions…he got stuck. I was called in to help. First issue: he wasn’t sure how to replicate the very fancy graphics shown in the book.

We talked about how they were probably made with Photoshop and brainstormed some ways  he could make something that looked “close enough.” He’s pretty easy-going and this suggestion was sufficient for him to continue. Unfortunately, I could see the images becoming a frustrating point for a more controlling child. A few available graphics might have been a nice addition to the book, but I digress…

Teaching Moment

One of the best things about a “follow the instruction” project is the opportunity to guess the next step. Since I was helping him, I asked him to think about what the programming might be for the upcoming situation. For example, he created “gravity,” so I asked him to make Bobba Fett float up, instead of down. He had to play with the programming.

However, once he managed to figure it out, we went along in the same vein. He would copy the program and I would ask him what he thought it might do…before he ran the program. He wasn’t always right (and neither was I), but it got his brain primed to retain the information for later.

“Jet Pack Adventure,” made by C, age 8.

Star Wars Silliness

Lastly, there may have been two milestone birthdays celebrated this past February. We also have some great friends who were happy to celebrate – Star Wars style.

Homemade Boba Fett helmet. Made by R, age 12.

Death Star cake. Made by a friend.

a picture of cake pops and a cut out of a tiny Millennium Falcon

These cake pops were meant to be droids, but looked more like asteroids. Cake pop recipe adapted from Elana’s Pantry.

May the Force Be With You

a picture of a woman dressed as Princess Leia.

Princess Liz…I mean, Leia.

 

 

Practice-ish

One of my unofficial New Year’s resolutions was to find more time to draw. It’s easy to say I’m too busy (I am), or I don’t quite have the skills to accomplish a certain look (also true). However, I realized I was holding a very high expectation of myself. I wanted my drawings to be perfect. I felt I needed hours of uninterrupted free time, which was a convenient excuse when I couldn’t get around to drawing. If I produced less than stellar illustrations, well it wasn’t my fault!

Oh, the lies perfectionism and fear tell us.

A picture of three circus tents on a pier.

This is a one-minute sketch of the Montreal Pier (near the kids’ science museum). I tried to use Mark Toro Holmes’ technique, but without the watercolors. Obviously, I need a little more practice with this technique…

Abandoning Perfectionism

Instead, I decided I would (mostly) abandon judgement and learn to live with the results. After all, I need the practice. These drawings are not masterpieces – they are practice. They are quick sketches I can do in short bursts of time – during a lunch break or before I climb into bed. We’re talking 15 minutes. What if I get it wrong and they look terrible? Well…that’s sort of the point, right? I can see where I goofed and work on not repeating my mistakes.

Isn’t this the same thing I try and help my children (and students) awaken in themselves?

A hand drawn picture of a woman's left hand.

My left hand-ish.

Practice is Hard

A few weeks into my resolution, I felt myself wavering a bit. Practice is hard, I whined. I’m too busy. I don’t where to start. I suck. But, lo and behold, one of my favorite children’s stories presented itself at the library. This book was on display and I picked it up for my youngest son. I thought he would benefit from an old-fashioned read-aloud (he may have inherited a few of the above traits from yours truly).

The book was Ish by Peter Reynolds.

A hand-drawn picture of a scene from Peter Reynold's book, Ish.

I drew this ink-only illustration during my short lunch break (after I ate my lunch). Next time, I’d like to add color.

Practice-ish

If you haven’t read it before, the story follows Ramon, a young elementary student who loves to draw…until his older brother makes fun of one of his drawings. Afterward, Ramon tries making everything he draws perfect, until in frustration, he gives up drawing altogether. In the end, he he has another family member who adores his art and her interpretation of his work helps him to learn to love his work again (“it looks flower-ish”).

Copying as Practice

I’ve decided to give myself another break and relax. I thought I needed to draw from life regularly – and while it is important to do that – I found that my skills aren’t quite there yet. This “block” was hurting my progress. I was afraid to draw because I knew just practicing wouldn’t help me get any better — especially if I’m not getting feedback. I need deliberate practice.

So I’ve given myself permission to copy other children’s book illustrators. In copying, I can learn a lot of valuable techniques and I have a built-in teacher. Since live art lessons aren’t an option for me at this time (see above: I’m busy), this is a good stand in. I can still work on my own original stuff…

A cartoon drawing of a young girl in a blue medieval dress

My own character…I’ve named her Emma.

…but I’m also appreciating the work of others.

Shows a girl in a yellow rain slicker standing in a marsh, looking at birds in the distance

This was a quick sketch with waterproof pens and a wash of watercolors. It’s based on the front cover of the children’s book, Squish!: A Wetland Walk.

A hand-drawn picture of 5 sea birds sitting on a log; from The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling.

I copied this from the book, The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling. He used watercolors, but I used colored pencils.

Book Review :: Fabric and Fiber Inventions

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I review books. It keeps my librarian skills sharp, and I love talking about  – and analyzing – books. These reviews cover science and art education books, for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle. This post reviews the book, Fabric and Fiber Inventions: Sew, Knit, Print, and Electrify Your Own Designs to Wear, Use and Play With.

A picture of the book Fabric and Fiber Inventions by Katy Ceceri.

A new book by Kathy Ceceri where she uses my favorite mediums: fabric and fiber!

Fabric and Fiber Inventions

Have I mentioned how much I love, love, love the fact that the Maker Movement includes ALL creations & inventions? It warms my heart to see ‘traditional’ arts be included in this movement. For many of us, fabric was the first place we created something useful with our hands. I know it was like that for me. I re-learned how to sew after college. There was a strong urge to “learn something useful” outside of work.

That’s why it’s nice to see author, Kathy Ceceri, and her new book, Fabric and Fiber Inventions. As part of her ongoing series (Musical Inventions, Making Simple Robots, and Edible Inventions), this book covers maker projects using fabric and fiber. The intended audience seems to be teenage girls, but I managed to find a project my boys were interested in testing out.

A picture of a 4x4 inch loom made out of cardboard.

We always have some thin cardboard laying around (from old boxes), and of course, I have extra yarn. Always!

Fiber and Fabric Inventions by Kathy Ceceri

Ceceri, Kathy. Make: Fabric and Fiber Inventions: Sew, Kniw, Print, and Electrify Your Own Designs to Wear, Use, and Play With. MakerMedia: San Fransisco, 2017.

Target Audience: Older teen girls and young twenty-somethings with a yearning to create, but no idea how to get started.

Recently, we had a two-hour car drive to visit family. While my boys can read in the car without getting sick, we had been cooped up due to illness. They had been reading a lot and I was afraid mere books would not be enough. Thankfully, Ceceri’s book was sitting on my desk, waiting for review. After flipping through it, I spotted a hand-weaving project. I quickly showed the boys and received a resounding, yes! I made the cardboard looms the night before we left and strung them up the next morning. We even managed to stop at the fabric store for more yarn. The pink, yellow and white were leftovers from various other projects, but the boys wanted some teal and black.

Handmade Looms

All told, the project was pretty easy to get started. My twelve-year-old had an easier time remembering not to pull on the edges, but it kept my eight-year-old’s attention longer than I anticipated. (His is the smaller one).  They completed a number of rows while in the car, but a younger child might lose interest more quickly. They wanted to complete these in the car for their grandparents, but that didn’t happen. Their books called them back and the looms were abandoned, half-finished.

Of course, weaving in the end pieces might also prevent them from finishing. This is a step I always put off until the last minute, so I’m not going to be much help!

Review

As with all of Ceceri’s books, each project contained a number of pictures and a lot of written instructions. She also included a number of spotlight features on people who were instrumental in creating or working with fiber. For example, she mentioned Elizabeth Zimmerman (world famous knitter) and Leah Buechley (LilyPad Electronics), but my favorite was her mention of media artist, Harriet Riddell. This woman uses her sewing machine to “draw” people…while those people power her machine with a bicycle. I recommend grabbing the book, and learning more about Harriett while you make your own quilted chess board. No bicycle required.

C’s coaster is on the left while R (age 12) made more progress.

I received this book in exchange for my honest review. If you’d like to see my other (non-compensated) reviews of Make titles, check out Making Makers and Tinkering.

 

Favorites from 2017

I know I’m a little late to the “best of 2017” party, but I think something is better than nothing! At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. In fact, this year I’m resolving to be kinder myself and my body. I’m releasing some of my many responsibilities and prioritizing a few others. Sadly, this blog is on the chopping block. I love writing posts, but it takes a lot of time and it stresses me out when I can’t post. So, I’m being gentler with my psyche and letting these posts linger. I have one lined up for in two weeks, but after that…well, I’m not making any promises.

I managed to finish my penguin drawing.

Favorite Books of 2017

These books weren’t published in 2017, but were books that I found interesting and inspirational when I came across them this past year.

  1. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (and sequels) — I don’t know how this juvenile series escaped my noticed. However, we have since corrected that issue and my boys and I have each taken to these novels. I love all of the literary references!
  2. Desperate Duchesses series by Eloisa James — Just to prove that smart, witty women read (and love) Romance novels, I’m including a favorite series that I re-read this year. In this tumultuous and scary political climate, I really needed some happy endings.
  3. Designing Your Life — I love this book for its “design thinking” approach to career and life development. There is no “what’s your end goal,” but rather a way of looking at your life (and career) as a work in progress. I liked the exercises and approach of this book so much that I included some of these concepts in my college class, Intro to College Success.
  4. Art Lab for Kids — Although the kids and I slacked off on completing more of the projects in this book, the ones we did complete were fabulous! I really liked that each and every one of these projects was simple, but worthwhile. You can check out a few of our projects here.

Favorite Artisan Posts of 2017

  1. SCBWI Art Challenge — This is one of my favorite posts because it represents a change in focus for me and my interests. My art still needs work, but I have found my “posse” in SCBWI.  This organization is a major favorite of mine for 2017 (and 2018)!
  2. Elementary Electronics Series (Homemade LED bracelet) — I had forgotten that I conducted an elementary electronics class last Spring (was that really in 2017)? In doing so, I created a make your own LED bracelet pattern to help the kiddos understand circuits. Fun!
  3. FETC 2017 — Last January, I presented a poster session at FETC. This poster showcased how a teacher can use Scratch to learn about other content areas (not just computer programming).
  4. Minds Maps for Learning — This is another favorite post because I realized (this year) how much I truly love making mind maps. They are a fabulous way to combine learning (and remembering) with artistic design.
a colored picture of a mind map for the book, The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein

I used color pencils to complete the map.

Favorite Curriculum Used in 2017

  1. Improve Your Painting: Luminous Watercolor Mixing by Kateri Ewing. I think taking art classes in person are the best way to learn, but when that’s not an option (due to finances, time, location…or all three in my case), Craftsy classes have filled that void quite nicely. I have taken many of their classes and only one was a dud (and even then I learned something…just not as much as I would have liked). They are much more interesting than Udemy art classes and most of them have lots of hands-on projects, which is a must for me. My current classes are Perspective for Sketchers and Developing Your Main Character. I can’t recommend them enough (and no, they don’t pay me to say that).
  2. Meet the Masters Art and Art History Series for Kids — We are on our next set of artists, but since my 8-year-old is the only homeschooler left in the house, we bought the 8-9-year-old pack. I like that there are a number of simple drawing/art techniques to try before doing the final project. I also like that I can make my own projects. Check out our lesson on Impressionists.
  3. Story of the World — I’ve been using this series for seven years. It brings history alive, and when combined with juvenile historical novels…well, the subject just teaches itself.

I’m sure that if given more time, I could come up with a much longer list. However, I think in this case, less is more. I really enjoyed looking back and focusing on the positive things in 2017. Thanks for indulging me.

Book Review :: Minecraft for Makers

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I review books. It keeps my librarian skills sharp, and I love talking about  – and analyzing – books. These reviews cover science and art education books, for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle. This post reviews the book, Minecraft for Makers.

A picture of the book, Minecraft for Makers Don’t mind the fact that this post has Halloween pictures, and…it’s almost Thanksgiving. We have been crazy busy -thankfully with good things- but that means very little time to publish thoughtful posts. However, I’m pushing forward and slowly making my way through an ever-expanding pile of MAKE books. I’m on the publisher’s list for certain MakerMedia book reviews. Often, a cardboard package will be waiting on our front porch and it’s always a race to see who opens the package first.

I can’t remember which child (or adult) opened this particular package, but I know I was the last person to sit down with this book. Oh, the delighted squeals that came from my family when they looked at the cover. A Minecraft book? for makers? You could pair anything with Minecraft and my boys would be all over it. This book was no exception.

A picture of a kid using a hot glue gun to create a Miinecraft for Maker inspired cube.

We always have popsicle sticks and hot glue on hand. I like these supplies because once the boys are tired of them, they burn nicely in our yearly bonfire.

Baichtal, John. Make: Minecraft for Makers: Minecraft in the Real World with LEGO, 3D Printing, Arduino, and More. MakerMedia: San Fransisco, 2017.

Target Audience: Older teens and makers in the their 20s. People with access to a local Makerspace.

Minecraft for Makers

My oldest son, 12, held onto it the longest. He is my biggest Minecraft player, and he is also in charge of the family Minecraft server. Although Dad submits the occasional help ticket, Ronan resets the server and installs the latest updates. Two years ago, he was the one who begged me for McEdit, a program that allows you to create Tinkercad drawings and import them into your local Minecraft world. It’s not a surprise my hands-on kid would be drawn to a Minecraft maker book. It was practically made just for him!

Except…it was a bit above his skill level. A lot of the projects combine some pretty cool, but expensive, hardware. The few simple projects rely on laser cutter access or Arduino programming knowledge. There’s also the small issue of referring to GitHub – where all of the book’s files are kept – with no instructions on how to use GitHub in this capacity. I’m a novice GitHub user and didn’t really want to create an account (FYI- you don’t need to create an account, but I couldn’t manipulate the size of the image without it).  I would have preferred a link to the Maker Media site. As far as audience goes, this book is definitely geared toward the high school or college programmer (or just out of college…seeing as how much the supplies cost).

Hacking Minecraft for Makers

Since the kids were a little overwhelmed at the “proper” projects, we chose to be inspired by the book instead. Halloween was quickly approaching so the kids took one look at the Minecraft Jack O’Lantern project and decided to create a replica, based on the supplies we had on hand. That means we didn’t use the AdaFruit NeoPixel Jewel or an Arduino (even though we own a RedBoard). For the non-Arduino user, Baichtal recommended the Flickery Flame Kit, but it wouldn’t have arrived in time for Halloween. The kids decided to use tiny LED candles, leftover from last Halloween. In short, this small-town family did what any maker (without Amazon Prime or a local Makerspace) would do: we improvised.

A picture of a cube covered in orange paper with a Minecraft faace cut out of it.

R, age 11, created this larger version of a Minecraft Jack O’Lantern.

I was the one stuck passing out candy while my husband, and the neighborhood dads, took the kids trick or treating. I can tell you that every costumed elementary and middle schooler commented on these lanterns. They immediately recognized them as Minecraft Jack O’Lanterns. They were almost as interested in them as the treats I was passing out.

A picture of a small wooden cube covered in orange paper to resemle a Minecraft Jack O'Lantern.

My two boys worked together on this one. C, age 8, built the frame and glued on the paper while his older brother used the exacto knife to cut out the face.

Finding the Right Audience

If my boys were older, I could see them tackling more of the projects in this book. They would be able to do them on their own – with very little help from the adults. However, most of the projects required a steady hand and some upper-level “maker” knowledge, not to mention a credit card to purchase supplies. This book wasn’t right for our family, but I could think of a couple of teenage boys who might be interested…

I received this book in exchange for my honest review. If you’d like to see my other (non-compensated) reviews of Make titles, check out Making Makers, Making Simple Robots, and Tinkering.