Category Archives: Work is Play

Book Review – Edible 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.

A picture of the book, Edible Inventions.

Edible Inventions is written by Kathy Ceceri (a former homeschool mom)! Pictured next to the book are C’s homemade “Juicy Gelatin Dots.”

Ages: Teachers, Parents, Teens, Kids (with help)
Ceceri, Kathy. Make: Edible Inventions : Cooking Hacks and Yummy Recipes You Can Build, Mix, Bake, and Grow. Maker Media, 2016.

Edible Inventions = Kitchen Science

Ceceri’s latest contribution to the maker movement is a strange cross between cookbook and science textbook.  It’s a useful resource for teachers, parents and curious kids.

That being said, the title put me off – just a little. I wouldn’t have willingly picked up a book on edible inventions. It sounded too much like a cookbook. At our house, we have some food intolerance issues, and an aversion to sugar overload, so we do a lot of cooking. The last thing I want is more time in the kitchen (or a book that doesn’t respect those choices). In fact, some of the projects she showcases are ones we’ve done in the past. For example, we’ve made our own edible inventions (homemade marshmallows ) and have been composting (and gardening) for years.

Unlike her other books, I was familiar with most of the information presented because I’ve been cooking from scratch for decades (as opposed to creating with robotic legos). Just ask my family about my early failures – they are legend!  Obviously, I wasn’t expecting “a cookbook” to knock my socks off. However, like most of her books, Ceceri caught my eye in the very first chapter. I skimmed the table of contents until I saw this project: “Make a Hydraulic LEGO 3D Food Printer.”  It was at that moment I realized book covers (and titles) can be deceiving. This is a science textbook disguised as a cookbook.

Lego 3D Food Printer

In fact, once my oldest son playfully wrestled the book away from me, the first page he found described the pancake bot. This real-life invention is the inspiration for the food printer project. I love the idea that we can replicate one without using (or damaging) our EV3 brick. As a teacher, I want a real-life connection between the “craft project” and the information I’m presenting. Thankfully, Ceceri understands this concept completely. Learning can be fun, but there needs to be a bridge between the real world and the scaled down project.

In our “learning at home” life, the kids pick and choose their science interests. For many years, my oldest son has been enamored with computers, so he has stuck with Lego robotics, Scratch programming and First Lego League. I have not formally taught them chemistry (nor do I intend to do so), but a fellow homeschool parent did teach a basic chemistry class through our homeschool co-op. Some of the projects in this book (i.e. baked foam meringue cookies and juicy gelatin dots) would have been great compliments to that class – especially when talking about liquids, gases and chemical reactions.

Science Cookbook

Although the Lego project caught my eye, it was my youngest son who requested that we make something together. Both boys enjoy cooking, but my youngest seems to enjoy it more. He picked out the gelatin dots project, and after a slight delay (we had to chill the oil overnight), we were off.

picture of Great Lakes gelatin container, Grapeseed oil and POM juice, required ingredients for a project from the book, Edible Inventions.

Everything was easy to find at the store or in our pantry.

This project was surprisingly easy to make. My youngest son recently turned eight, but he made (most of) the gelatin dots on his own. Once his older brother saw what was happening, he swept in and asked for a chance to create. There was enough gelatin to share, so everyone had a chance to make (and eat) some jello-like dots.

A picture of a boy using a medicine dropper to create gelatin fruit dots from the book, Edible Inventions.

C is concentrating on creating perfect-size dots. Ceceri recommends a picnic-style ketchup or mustard dispenser, but we had an old, unused medicine dropper that worked just fine.

If you are so inclined, Ceceri provides an additional chemistry project to accompany these gelatin dots. With grape juice dots and lemonade, you could take this project further and introduce acids and bases. I think it would have been neat to include some additional “academic” connections here, perhaps some PH paper? Since this was for my eight-year-old, we ignored all formal learning and went with hands-on experimenting.

Conclusion

All of Ceceri’s books are well-researched and provide project details, background information and real-life connections. They are fabulous additions to any resource library and they offer a great way to get more hands-on, educational projects into your home or classroom.

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.

Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

I’ve missed blogging. It’s been a busy August and I’ve been occupied with other pursuits, but I am ready to get back to writing. (We’ll see if my schedule agrees with me). In the meantime, I wanted to call attention to my new Udemy class, “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids.

Udemy Course: Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

I created this course hoping that other teachers (and parents) will find a single starting point with regards to children’s “maker education.” So much of being a maker is a willingness to tinker, to explore and to learn on your own.  However, there’s a lot of information out there and it can be overwhelming.

In this course, I focus on three main areas: simple electronics, sewing and coding using MIT’s icon-based programming language, Scratch. Each section starts with a “take-apart” lesson, followed by some hands-on activities, and includes a follow up for teachers to integrate these lessons into the curriculum. There’s even a link to some of the research being done on maker education.

Simple Electronics

A year ago, I took a course from the Tinkering Studio. It satisfied the “missing link” of my maker education. I’ve been teaching computer programming concepts to elementary and middle school students for a few years, but was a little nervous about dismantling and building with electronics. Thankfully, after a year of tinkering – and acquiring a soldering iron – I now feel more comfortable introducing simple electronics to kids.*

At summer camp, my students used the circuit blocks to learn about electricity (and short circuited batteries by accident). They made marker bots and messed around with design principles. “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids” adds to these projects by introducing a take-apart lesson which is then re-purposed into a sewn LED flashlight. I’ve also included an experiment for conductors and insulators, videos on how to make a simple flashlight, and my favorite way to make circuit art.

IMG_2293

Sewing with Kids

I’ve been sewing for many years; it was one of the first things I had to learn completely on my own. I had to design my own curriculum, find mentors, make mistakes and practice deliberately.  This was my first (unknown) foray into the “maker movement.” These days – with kids, work and homemade dinners – I don’t sew nearly as much as I did fifteen years ago.

Instead, I’ve been sewing with my own children. In a Montessori primary curriculum, we introduce sewing at age three. These activities are broken down into steps (stringing, making a knot, sewing with burlap, etc). As my children grow, we continue to sew, but the projects are more advanced. This past summer, I also taught sewing at our local “college for kids” camp.

I think sewing is a key component of maker education and I’m excited that it’s part of the course, “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids.” Hand-sewing topics include: taking apart a t-shirt, making a wristband, making a LED flashlight and incorporating sewing into a classroom.

sewing with kids - learning stitches

With an ink pen, I draw out dashes and dots to teach two simple stitches.

Code to Learn with Scratch

Although I’ve been sewing for a number of years, I came to computer programming and robotics through my oldest son. At the age of six, he said he wanted to be a robot engineer. I set out to find hands-on materials that broke down advanced concepts. I stumbled on Lego Education kits and the icon-based programming language, Scratch. I started a business for others kids who were interested in robotics. For the past three years, I have been teaching classes and hosting summer camps.

Along the way, I noticed that many kids came to Scratch because they loved video games. They wanted to make their own – so we did. But we also created stories, conversations and short animations. While creating these programs, the students were learning programming concepts – without even trying.

In my Udemy course, I demonstrate how to use Scratch, but I focus on simple, creative projects that you can do with your students. For upper elementary and middle school students, the sky is the limit. They can create all sorts of games, animations and stories that can reflect their learning. They can use Scratch as a paintbrush to demonstrate their knowledge. Learning can be creative and fun.

I had a lot of fun creating the course and I learned a lot. About everything. Especially movie editing and breaking down concepts. If you are interested in taking the course – “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids” – use this link for 50% off.

pciture of a projected screen with a scratch project

In the computer lab – sharing projects was an important part of the class.

*With regards to electronics – I still have a lot to learn. My soldering is ugly and I need more practice. As my oldest child takes more of an interest in electronics, we’ll learn this stuff together, but in the meantime, we’re happy to stay at the level of batteries and bulbs.

 

 

 

Science of Learning

Middle school, high school and college students: put down those textbooks and stop cramming for tests. There’s more to the science of learning than re-reading a textbook. Instead, space your learning, test yourself repeatedly (with flashcards), and try to solve a problem BEFORE you understand the question. These actions have been shown to increase recall, which usually means a higher test score.

While you’re at it – it would be helpful if you had a growth mindset and a lot of curiosity.

Picture of the book, make it stick: the science of learning

Science of Learning

The authors, cognitive researchers (and one storyteller), neatly summarize current learning research. They weave results throughout the book – using stories and repetitive recall – all while interleaving new information with the old.

It’s been a fascinating read and there are a number of small changes any teacher can make to assist students with learning and remembering content.

Understanding matters

It’s difficult to be creative and use information in a new way if can’t remember, or don’t understand, the basics. For example, it’s difficult to apply multiplication to a new situation (or to learn from your experience), if you don’t know that 3 x 2 = 6. The authors are not in favor of ‘drill n kill,’ but they indicate a need for basic understanding before one can apply knowledge in a creative way.

Learn two different but related tasks at the same time

I struggle the most with this bit of research. The authors note that focusing on one area (e.g. determining the volume of a cube), is not as valuable as trying to figure out the volume of a cube, a cylinder and a cone – all at the same time. So, instead of getting the formula for the cube down pat and then moving on, they suggest learning all of the formulas at once. The learning will be slower, but later recall is shown to be stronger than if you focus on one topic before moving on. The theory is that we do not apply our learning in isolated ways. Instead, we may have to figure out the volume of geometric solid and we don’t know which one it will be. By practicing all of the formulas, we are better equipped to know which solution to choose.

New learners are better than experts at teaching

Although I learned this tidbit during my own experiences, it was nice to see it validated by research. It turns out that students are much better at figuring out how to teach content than a subject expert. The reasoning is that experts have internalized the ‘basics’ of their subject, whereas new students recognize where they struggle with learning. They know which concepts are more difficult because they themselves are trying to process the information.

Feedback is more important than grading

As an educator, I’ve always hated the way tests are used for high-stakes decisions. Are we testing for knowledge acquisition, or do we want to use the tests to help students learn more? It turns out that feedback is incredibly important. Teachers know this, but can’t always put it into practice. Testing is a valuable tool, but there needs to be accurate feedback for students’ knowledge to grow.

“Test” your students often

But not with such high stakes. The authors found that frequently asking students to recall information interrupted the process of forgetting. It was much more effective than re-reading material (and highlighting, etc.). Asking yourself questions – without looking at the book – was better at solidifying the information in your brain. At the start of class, teachers can ask questions about the day’s topic of discussion. Students can create flashcards to “quiz” themselves to keep from forgetting the information.

Spacing

Immediate testing isn’t good at predicting later recall, however, spaced testing does a great job of strengthening recall. For teachers, introduce new material and then allow a day to pass. Test your students – ask them questions at the start of class – to strengthen their recall of previous material. I think I might put a note on my calendar a week later, two weeks later, etc. to remember to bring up the topic again.

Try to solve the problem BEFORE you know how

I find this particular tidbit to be quite fascinating. The authors’ discovered that when learners tried to answer a question – before they knew the correct way to do so – it strengthened the learning on the subject. So, try to solve that hard math or sociology problem and then learn about the topic. I wonder it has to do with alerting your brain to pay attention. It sounds like something from Making Thinking Visible.

Encourage a Growth Mindset

We could also label this section, “mind over matter.” If you think you aren’t good at something, you never will be. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Carol Dweck’s research on having a ‘growth mindset’ has shown that students who are praised for effort work harder on the next challenge. Those who were praised for being smart and failed to solve the problem, gave up on the next challenge.

Learning something new is supposed to be hard

As much as educators like to make learning fun and help students find interest in what they are doing, there comes a point when we acknowledge that making new connections in your brain can be a difficult task. But, hopefully we can let students know that it’s supposed to be hard, but that if you keep trying it will get easier.  Teach them how the brain works.  “Try, try and try again” is an old adage that has fallen out of favor in our high-stakes world of testing. We expect students to learn, retain information without giving appropriate feedback, and then we get all huffy when they give up. Perhaps, rather than grading students on content, we could grade effort. Elementary school assessment could be portfolio-based, thus encouraging a growth mindset.

The brain is not a muscle, but the more we use it, the more we deliberately practice, the stronger our neural connections become. Since we adopted a growth mindset four years ago, we have seen remarkable effort and retention in our own lives (and not just for our children). Now, when French learning gets hard, I think that perhaps, I’m not learning it in the way that I should be, rather than thinking that I’m just not good at languages. I still struggle with certain topics and it is still frustrating to know that learning doesn’t come easily, but knowledge is power.

Why do we require certain subjects in school?

Since it’s outside of the scope of this book, there was no discussion about WHY we are teaching the subjects that we do. WHY do high school and college students need to take certain courses? WHY do we think it’s okay to place such pressure on a high stakes test for entrance to college? WHY do we require a generalist education when we really value deep learning? WHY is trigonometry and physics and four years of English required for college admissions? WHY can’t students pursue their own interests – and still get into college? Can you tell this is passionate topic of mine?

The authors’ tips on how to study are very valuable to a high school or college student, but in the end, it does seem just like a way to “game” the system. Are you really internalizing that information for the long haul? Is it relevant? They’ve noted that being an expert in one field does not transfer to another topic. Yes, making connections between different topics helps to strengthen your knowledge, but you still have to put in the effort to learn a new subject. Why not give high school students the choice of what topics to pursue – maybe ensuring that they choose three “easy” ones and three “hard” ones. But, the subject matter would be up to them.

Tips for Lifelong Learners

There were three major “tips” the authors gave for lifelong learners. That’s those of us who are not learning in a classroom, but are still learning by choice or for a career. To be honest, they sounded a lot like the things we do in project-based learning. So, maybe it’s not such a bad thing for teachers to incorporate into their classrooms…

Generation

In order to truly understand a topic, you need to generate something about it (hence, this blog post). Your grasp of the material starts out awkward, you aren’t sure where to begin or how to organize anything, but if you can just “blurt” something out, you have a place to begin. Then, your brain takes over and even when you are not consciously acting on that topic, your brain is still making connections. It’s still processing the subject. But you have to engage the material, not just passively absorb it. Suggestions include: creating an interactive program to show what you learned, writing a blog post, or drawing a picture that helps you to remember how everything is connected.

Reflection

While you are generating a piece (written, produced, etc.) on your newly acquired topic, be sure to reflect on what you have learned. What mistakes did you make and how could you correct them? What choice would you make instead of the one you chose? How do others in the field go about solving that problem? Can you visualize a new situation.

Elaboration

Practice and exposure to the topic is important, but deliberate practice matters more. Deliberate practice is hard. It is often regimented and you may need a coach or mentor to help you through. It makes me recall the words of a French teacher. She said that she employs a wide variety of French exposure (cartoons, books, visuals with words, songs) because to truly know another language, you have to “get it in your fingertips.” I think of that expression every time we tackle a new subject.

So what else have I gotten out of this book? I think it’s time to step up my French learning. I need to do more generation and elaboration. And I need to do more frequent testing. I’ve been using Duolingo, but I need to tie it to more consistent learning. It might be time to break out the flashcards.

 

Research on the ‘Maker Movement’

The ‘Maker Movement‘ is slowly worming its way into the mainstream. Maker Faires are being held throughout the country and Etsy is thriving.  Not only do we have a National Week of Making (June 17 -23), but a number of colleges and universities are conducting research on the maker movement. Harvard’s ‘Project Zero’ has been collecting data for the last couple of years. While their conclusions are still underway, they recently published a white paper on their preliminary findings.

The kids (ages 9 and 6) as they dismantle an old fan.

The kids (ages 9 and 6) as they dismantle an old fan.

Oddly enough, this paper confirmed everything about how, and why, I love to bring the maker movement to kids.

After analyzing popular press articles and books from the last five years; Harvard researchers proceeded to interview maker-educators. In their white paper, they mention that most of the press articles spoke of the maker movement in terms of business. For example, ideas were put forth that the maker movement will increase our ability to remain an economic superpower because our children will be academically advanced in STEM areas.

Not surprisingly, that isn’t why I like bringing the maker movement to kids. And, it’s not why I became a maker myself all those years ago.

Thankfully, it seems the research is proving my point. Most of us maker-educators are not in it to increase a child’s knowledge of STEM subjects. We like the maker aspect because it helps a child to recognize that they can do anything because most items are made up of parts and once you deconstruct those parts…they can become something else.

That is not to say that students don’t develop technical skills along the way. But, for the
educators we spoke with, technical skills and expertise are by-products in the service of the
larger outcome of self-development. To focus on STEM skills and the like as the primary
outcome of maker education would be to sadly miss the point—like saying that learning to cut your food with a knife and fork is the most important outcome of eating a nutritious meal. In contrast, what we have been hearing from maker practitioners on the ground is the power of maker-centered learning to help students develop a sense of personal agency, a sense of self-efficacy,and a sense of community.  – White Paper on MakerEd from Project Zero

It’s nice to finally have a voice for the thoughts in my head. It’s not about creating the next tech-maven, it’s about empowering students so they can figure it out on their own.

A picture of homemade cardboard circuit cards to teach about direct current

More Research on the Maker Movement

This article, from the Journal of Pre-Engineering Education Research, describes three elements that comprise a ‘maker’ education: low-cost and available (tech) tools, a community of teachers and business people who are utilizing them, and the ‘maker mindset’ which requires an acceptance of researching, prototyping and iterating their creations.

One of the first citations in his paper is from Dr. Montessori.  The author notes that playful discovery through hands-on materials has often been effectively used to teach children new concept and ideas, specifically through the Montessori Method. Is it any wonder why I feel such a strong connection to the maker movement?

In addition to the previous two articles, I have recently discovered the work of Dr. Kylie Peppler, who has shown some links between using wearable electronics and an increase in girls’ scientific interest. As a female who found math easy (but boring) in high school, I was thrilled that I never had to take it again (thank you AP Calculus). Therefore, I am fascinated by the idea that perhaps science and math are taught in a way that discourages girls – not because we feel dumb – but rather because we find it uninteresting.  What if upper-level science and math combined art and hands-on creating – would that bring more girls into STEM-related fields?

Recent findings indicate that introducing such novel, cross-disciplinary technologies can broaden participation, particularly by women. This STEAM (STEM + arts)-powered approach also improves learning outcomes and thus has ramifications that extend beyond the issue of gender in computing.         – IEEE Computer, September 2013

Positive Impact of the Maker Movement

It’s my hope that more research shows what a positive impact a maker-based education can have on our students. And in my most vivid, idealistic dreams I see a lovely vision for the future of public schooling. We start with a Montessori environment, free of standardized tests and homework for PK-6th grade. Those years are followed by a maker-based, project-focused education for grades 7 – 10. The culmination of a student’s twelve years of education would include apprenticeships and gap-year experiences, allowing for some discovery before they go off to college. At which point they should be more than equipped to choose a major and potential career.

A pipe dream, perhaps? But, it’s looking closer than it did five years ago…

picture of Montessori landforms

In a Montessori curriculum, students use modeling clay and water to recreate land forms.

 

 

 

What is Artisan Education?

Five years ago, our eldest son wanted to be a turtle for Halloween. We couldn't find a non-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one, so we made it out of cardboard using paper mache and paint.

This turtle shell is made from cardboard using paper mache and acrylic paint. Handmade pants too! We couldn’t find what he wanted, so we made it ourselves!

Meet the twenty-first century artisans. They understand the value they are creating. It’s tactile. It’s real. They made it because they wanted it themselves. They can tell you exactly how everything is made and where their materials come from. They blend the proven tools of the past with the current tools of today, picking and choosing whatever suits their aesthetic.
– David Lang, from his book, Zero to Maker.

They Understand the Value They are Creating

I love this quote from Lang’s book, Zero to Maker. I love it because he values handcrafted items and ideas, but also because Lang’s thinking mimics my own. At the beginning of his “maker” journey, Lang questioned his education and wondered if he could teach himself something about power tools and underwater submarines. I love that he didn’t know where to begin, but started anyway. To me, this is an artisan education. A self-directed quest to create something from raw materials. It’s a “back to the land” movement, but with technology instead of food production.

According to my WordPress stats, my most popular keyword search is centered around the phrase, “what is artisan education?” Unfortunately, I doubt all of those inquiries are for our small tech business (though, it’s nice when they are).

Rather, I imagine people are looking for how skilled craftsmen, known as artisans, became educated.  The librarian in me wants to do a reference interview and guide the web searcher to a better resource, such as this site from The Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum.  Perhaps, they are looking for the history of how artisans were educated, which was primarily through apprenticeships. However, the artisan in me wants to explain my art, my training, my self-directed path of education and the small business that grew out of it.

Picture of a simple circuit using copper tape to conduct electricity and light an LED

To learn more about how circuits work, I used copper tape to light up a SMD LED. It’s an idea from The Exploratorium.

Meet the 21st Century Artisans

I consider myself to be an artisan. In fact, I think every good teacher is an artisan. However, I can also sew, knit, cook, manage a business, find information, and facilitate learning for a number of topics. Of course, I can do a lot more than that, but I’m especially proud that I taught myself how to sew, how to cook and how to knit. No one gave me a grade and no one stood beside me forcing me to do it. I struggled and fought for every piece of knowledge I earned.

School was fun because I loved learning and the work was easy. When I got a job, I enjoyed the novelty of it, but after a while it became tedious and monotonous. I missed learning. I thought about a PhD, but I had just graduated. I couldn’t go back to school. I needed to learn basic life skills, not just “school” skills. It took awhile, but I realized that if I wanted to keep learning, I was going to have to figure out how to do that on my own. I thought of something I wanted to learn and landed on sewing. I wanted to make my own clothes. I liked a certain style, but couldn’t always find the right color or style and disliked spending so much money on something I wasn’t too crazy about.

How Everything is Made and Where the Materials Come From

My mom knew how to sew and helped me make a few things when I was young, but I didn’t retain any of that knowledge. After running the gauntlet through AP high school classes, varsity sports and a part-time job, such frivolous skills seemed unnecessary and useless. What was the point of learning how to sew when you could just buy clothes? Purchasing pre-made clothing seemed to be a much more efficient use of time.

Like David Lang, I realized how very little I knew. Oh, I could study for a test and receive a diploma, but most of that knowledge was distributed from the top-down. Teachers or professors laid out the material, or pointed me in a direction, and off I went. To figure out how to sew, I needed to make my own path. I needed to struggle with sewing and no one was going to grade me (or pay me) for my progress. To top it off, I had to find my own teachers and resources.

Penguin fabric that became pajama pants for my boys.

It’s pinned and ready to go! This penguin fabric became pajama pants for my boys.

They Made it Because They Wanted it Themselves

Slowly, I learned how to sew and how to find the information to teach myself. I struggled and realized that to learn something well meant that I had to try again and again and again. I had to be content with poorly constructed garments because my technique wasn’t good enough. I had to find other teachers and “waste” money on trying new patterns and abandoning the ones I couldn’t figure out. I had to pay for classes and get out and make friends with people who  knew how to sew and quilt. And, I did. It took awhile and it wasn’t always pretty, but I did it.

I became a twenty-first century artisan because I wanted to make something that was just right for me. I wanted to reflect my own style and to take care of myself and my family with these time-honored skills.

A picture of 4 double-pointed kneedles and a tube being knit.

Learning to tightly knit a tube was made much easier thanks to books and YouTube.

Artisan Education

Which brings me to our business – Artisan Education. Artisan was born out of a need for hands-on classes for our (then) six-year-old. We wanted to help him follow his passion to be a robot engineer. Yes, he truly said that at age six. A few years ago, he was a solid right-brain learner who loved (and still loves) building with legos. He wasn’t interested in the traditional tasks of reading and writing. He wanted to build and work with his hands. A Montessori child if there ever was one, yes?

I sought out ways to incorporate his interests into his daily learning. He still had to work on learning how to read, but I also incorporated his desire to be a robot engineer. I looked for classes in our area, but there weren’t a lot of options – especially for his age. So, we stuck with legos until six months later, I discovered Lego Education. The rest, they say, is history.

A picture of Lego Education's kit, Simple Machines

The first Lego Education kit he did – at age 7. Simple Machines.

Here was a company who was using hands-on materials to teach the things my son actually wanted to learn. When I realized that they made tools for learning computer science concepts, my business was born. I could reach other students who had the same interest and help them to learn about computer programming, but still stay to true to my Montessori background. All of the materials are concrete, hands-on tools and offer multiple creative options. Repetition is encouraged and so is using the materials in a new way.  I also discovered other age-appropriate tools for kids to work with, specifically the icon-based programming language, Scratch.

They Blend the Tools of the Past with the Current Tools of Today

We named our business Artisan Education because we think that learning is an artisanal process. The type of material or learning path is going to be different for each person – even if those same people want to be robot engineers. Each path will be unique. We want to honor that type of learning and crafting. We strive to include a lot of creative paths for discovery, while still allowing students to work at their own pace. We utilize our tools of the past (the Montessori philosophy) with current tools of today (Lego WeDo, Ozobots, etc.)

A picture of a computer with Scratch on the screen.

Icon-based programming tools, like Scratch, help make writing code more accessible…and fun.

In addition to our technology-based summer camps, we also design and review online courses, putting our instructional design skills to good use. Like good teaching, high-quality instructional design requires a unique approach. And, like a librarian, you need to conduct an interview to determine what the client truly needs. These are the tools of our past and we are combining them with the current tools of today. We are twenty-first century artisans.

Picture of tomato soup with a heart drawn with cream.

Knowing how to cook – and how to improvise – is an important skill. My husband made this tomato-based soup for me on Valentine’s Day.

Picture of two small wooden dolls with hand-sewn outfits

What we’ve been making this week

Making this week

In January, I was intensely focused on behind-the-scenes work, which included strengthening my HTML knowledge and gaining a better understanding of cascading style sheets (CSS). I was also delving much more deeply into my WordPress site and adding to my front-end web development skills. It’s fun work. I enjoy it and I like the creative aspect, however, I was feeling a need to craft something in person.

I don’t know if my subconscious decided to add more creative pursuits to our week, or if it was just time to switch gears and move onto different aspects of work. Either way, our house (and table) has been a flurry of “making” activities. There was a lot of making this week…

A Color-Sensing Mindstorms Robot

Picture of kid taping together a line for robot

R is making a circle for his color-sensing Mindstorms robot to stay within.

My eldest son is my tester for the “Mindstorms Clinic” that I plan to offer this summer. We’ve been working together to find some really cool activities that delve deeply into certain aspects of these lego robots. Personally, I am quite intrigued by the color sensor and love the line-following (or color avoiding) aspects. Since I love to use Ozobots in my camps, I love how programming the EV3 brick lends an insight into how the Ozobots might read their own color language.

Crafting Ancient Egypt

My youngest son has chosen to study Egypt for our co-op’s ongoing project-based learning class. In addition to reading all sorts of books, he’s been making clay models and crafting mummies.

C looks at the picture of the pyramids at Giza and makes his own artistic interpretation with clay.

C looks at the picture of the pyramids at Giza and using clay, makes his own artistic interpretation.

C is coloring the top of the sarcophagus.

C is coloring the top of the sarcophagus.

I had to help him glue the sarcophagus together, but he did everything else.

I had to help him glue the sarcophagus together, but he did everything else.

Sewing, Painting and Making

In preparation for another summer camp I am co-leading, I have been making some prototypes for characters and landscapes. Since we’re still in the “testing and trying” stage of camp development, I’m not sure how (or if) these prototypes will be used, but I had a lot of fun making them.

Picture of two small wooden dolls with hand-sewn outfits

Using the examples in the book, Feltcraft, I created these characters from plain wooden pieces. They look like giants visiting the pyramids of Giza!

And, for those who would prefer to paint their characters…

Picture of painted wooden peg dolls that look like Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi

My boys are begging to play with these…but I need to get some more paint for Obi Wan’s face.

In an attempt to create more “boy-friendly” characters, I stumbled across this web site and studied her pictures and painted my own versions. If these are a go, I’m going to have my 10-year-old try and see if he can re-create something similar. I need to make sure it’s an appropriate, and not frustrating, activity. In the meantime, he and I have already brainstormed a way to make “Yoda.”

Since my characters can’t live on newspaper, they need some sort of backdrop. I’ve been reading up on acrylic painting techniques and brushing up on my dusty scrapbooking skills. I see many more iterations of these concepts in my future.

picture of blue sky painted scence

Adding multiple layers of paint – blue and light blue to create a variety of colors.

All week my table was filled with painting supplies and I was dreaming of my own artist’s studio. Since that’s not possible, I pulled out my knitting travel bag and put in a few rows for another washcloth. My creative beast is temporarily fed, but I’m already anticipating this week’s creative endeavors.

Picture of a half-knit cream-colored washcloth

Another washcloth – the last of the cream yarn.

 

 

PBL :: City Presentation Finale

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Lessons Learned for Co-op and Bridges.

Their personally planned city - complete with a street grid and zoning.

Their personally planned city – complete with a street grid and zoning. Buildings and cars are made from air-dry clay.

This past week the boys presented their city project. I was definitely ready for them to be done as all of their projects seem to require more cheerleading toward the end. And, by November, I need a break from “school”, cheerleading and structured learning. Bring on the field trips and the holiday celebrations!

This was an interesting project because they started out with an end product in mind and while they did complete their project – it was not in the detailed way that I imagined. I wonder if that was due to the end of a lengthy project? Or, they never intended to go further with it? Or, maybe they wanted to go off and play…

Just some of the books they checked out from the library. These were the ones they used the most.

Just some of the books they checked out from the library. These were the ones they used the most.

Either way, they did a lot of exploring and research. That meant a lot of writing and rewriting. It meant a lot of reading and comprehending information. It also meant going out into the community. And, of course, it meant a lot of drawing.

A's hand-drawn maps of local cities.

A’s hand-drawn maps of local cities. Project-based homeschooling is a perfect way to celebrate your artist’s way of learning.

There was a lot of map reading and discussions about directions and grids. There was also a lot of thinking about how different cities are organized and how they get their power. There was curiosity about other cities and their design. And almost of all of this learning was self-directed.

R's hand-drawn maps. He made these while researching city design.

R’s hand-drawn maps. He made these while researching city design.

Of course, there was also cooperation and negotiation. There was learning to listen to your friend and there was learning to speak up. There was learning how to work together and take turns “winning” the argument. Overall, I would call the project a success. They were both happy with their progress, their learning and they enjoyed themselves.

Homemade skyscraper - a great project from the Cities book about the value of steel-framed skyscrapers.

Homemade skyscraper – a great project from the Cities book about the value of steel-framed skyscrapers.

Project-Based :: City Project

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Lessons Learned and Bridges.

The inspiration for the city project - Hand-drawn maps for an Ozobot robot.

The inspiration for the city project – hand-drawn maps for an Ozobot robot.

For the last few weeks I’ve been showcasing my younger son’s project on bridges. I haven’t exactly ignored the project my older child has been working on, rather it took a long time to develop into a coherent project and there wasn’t much to share. Initially, my son and his friend were inspired by drawing Ozobot maps and it took some time for the project to develop into one about city planning and structure. Much of the first few weeks were reading, researching and working through some of the projects in this book (which the boys found at the library and chose for themselves).

R's Ozobot city map - at least one of the many variations he made.

R’s Ozobot city map – at least one of the many variations he made.

A's hand-drawn map...for an Ozobot.

A’s hand-drawn map…for an Ozobot.

My son and his friend began with a final project in mind. They wanted to make a model city – out of clay. No problem, I said, however I want you to do the research first. I know they know how to make a model city, but I wanted to make sure they learned about cities in the process. Tricky stuff – being a facilitator. It’s half knowing when to guide, knowing when to keep your mouth shut, and lastly, knowing when to put some limits on the project to lead it in a particular way.

I fully recognize that putting limits on a project doesn’t seem to be “true” project-based learning, but I was a bit disappointed in the catapult project. They built the catapult, but didn’t really go much further than that. Don’t misunderstand me – there was a lot of value in reading plans, executing them, going to the hardware store and interacting with adults. All of this is really important stuff, but I knew they could take it further and I think the “completion” of the project signaled the “end” for that group of boys. So, I wanted to eliminate that. And, I think (oh, dare I say it), I think that it did.

Using the book, Cities: Discover How They Work, the boys learned about different parts of city life (including the concept of planning for the future) and the differences between rural, suburban and urban dwellings.

Using the book, Cities: Discover How They Work, the boys learned about different parts of city life (including the concept of planning for the future).

Rather than strictly make a list, I encouraged these "visual" boys to draw a picture of a concept that represented past, present and future.

Rather than strictly make a list, I encouraged these “visual” boys to draw a picture of a concept that represented past, present and future.

Their project is too lengthy to list the entire process here, but I will touch on a few points. First, they started out by doing research – library research. I think for an elementary-aged student, they need be very, very comfortable inside a library. They need books. I rarely guide them to Internet research – not at this age.

With a large pile of books in hand, one child took notes, while the other read through the rest of the books. They each have their strengths and reading and writing fall between the two of them.

Second, I picked up the Cities book and started to read it aloud to my two 9-year-olds. Yes, aloud. This is such a great book, but it’s in black and white and my two visual-spatial learners are not instantly drawn to it. Then, I asked if they wanted to do one of the projects. I got a “yes” and a “maybe” and so we forged ahead. I think they needed help getting past the research stage – they weren’t quite sure what step they should take next.

I made the large grid and the boys measured the buildings, green spaces, and building - using a ruler and being as precise as possible.

A city grid project from the book, Cities. I made the large grid and the boys measured the buildings, green spaces, and water features – using a ruler and being as precise as possible. Then, they laid out their city.

Third, I asked them who we might visit and speak to about cities. There were suggestions of city hall or the city welcome center. I think I mentioned a city planner and they both thought that was a great idea. So, I called a local city planner and set up a meeting with him…and it was fabulous. The city planner also had two co-workers come and talk to the two boys about what it takes to plan a city and keep it running. They learned that city planning was a complicated process that involved a lot of different people and departments. I think that this was more powerful than any of the other research they did. It certainly stuck with A, my son’s friend, as he has added “city planner” to his list of possible job prospects.

City grid

City grid

And since the city planner and his co-workers were so generous with their time and expertise, it was only right that I ask the boys to write thank you notes. They did a first draft and then made corrections and re-wrote their final draft. We discussed writing concepts without having to make a big deal out of it – and it demonstrates that good manners are important.

This week, they will be presenting their final project to the group as this is our last meeting for the Fall. I’m excited for them and I know that they are anxious to share what they have made.

Another project suggestions from the Cities book, make an aqueduct.

Another project suggestion from the Cities book, learn about ancient Roman city planning and make an aqueduct.

 

Project-Based Learning :: Presentation on Bridges

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Lessons Learned and Bridges.

C's hand drawn pictures of the four types of bridges that he made: beam, arch, cable-stayed and suspension.

C’s hand drawn pictures of the four types of bridges that he made: beam, arch, cable-stayed and suspension.

My little guy surprised me last week with this little declaration: “I think I’m ready to present my project tomorrow.

I was in the middle of making dinner and we were cleaning up from the day’s activities, so I was a wee bit taken back. Um, sure, if you feel that the night before co-op is a good time to make these decisions, then what can I do to help you get ready?

He gathered all of his materials and decided that he needed a way to display his pictures, so we matted them with construction paper – after dinner. Then, he went and found display materials and all of his wooden popsicle models. Everything seemed set and ready to go. Off to bed we went.

Apparently, he had an epiphany sometime during the night – he needed to have a written speech. My six-year-old is slowly reading, but we’re still on beginner books. While he doesn’t mind writing (unlike his older brother at age six), it’s not something he chooses to do often. So, of course I encouraged it as much as I could. And, with only an hour before we had to leave – it kept the expectations to a minimum.

C presenting his bridge materials.

C presenting his bridge materials.

Regardless, he got as much done as he wanted to and with minimal frustrations. He was so excited to present to his friends that we let him go before our first class. Thankfully, his friends (many of whom are older) were quite supportive of all of his hard work and impressed with his K’nex suspension bridge.

IMG_1485So…did I think his interest in bridges was complete? Yes.

Would I like to have seen a deeper understanding of the topic? Yes…but, if he was happy with his project, then it’s complete.  At least, that’s what I thought until this morning – at which point he realized he still had some other bridges to build.

K'nex double-bascule bridge

K’nex double-bascule bridge – one of our favorite bridges is the London Tower Bridge. Their web site has a tour!

The project continues…but in a more relaxed way. I can’t wait to see how it develops.

 

PBL :: Bridges

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4 Week 5, Week 6 and Lessons Learned.

My six-year-old's first time with a hot glue gun.

My six-year-old’s first time with a hot glue gun. He loves this method of tinkering.

Our project-based “class” continues to meet each week and the kids have finished up their initial projects, so they are in need of a new one. The class has evolved from a ‘group project class’ to one that allows the students to follow their own interests.  It was left to each parent to decide whether or not their children needed to stick with the original topic of physics. My own kids went in opposite directions, but my youngest chose to study bridges. I thought it was quite sporting of him to choose a topic that still relates to physics!

In fact, this is a topic that has resurfaced in the last four or five months, so I knew it was something that truly interested him. Often, my children will mention something and in the past, I would jump on the topic – only to find that it was a shallow learning request. The interest wasn’t there for an in-depth study. I’ve since learned to be patient and see if the topic is brought up again – in a different situation – to determine if my children are truly interested.

C, age 6, begins his self-directed project on bridges. His only "requirement" is that he teaches what he has learned to the other kids at co-op.

C, age 6, begins his self-directed project on bridges. His only “requirement” is that he teaches what he has learned to the other kids at co-op.

Thankfully, we had a friend who did an in-depth study of bridges last year, so I had some ideas of how to help my six-year-old. Perhaps because of my Montessori training – or the fact that I am a kinesthetic learner – I always try to find a concrete, hands-on way to introduce a topic. And, since this is supposed to be a self-directed project, I showed him this K’nex set and asked if he would like to begin his bridge study with that. I received a resounding “yes!”

One of the projects we found suggests learning about the strength of an arch.

One of the projects we found suggested learning about the strength of an arch. We used his brothers library books to weight the sides of the paper.

In addition to the borrowed K’nex set, we also went to the library where he found all sorts of books on bridges to check out. Unfortunately, many of them were meant for parents, but we did find a story or two.

Pop's Bridge - be Eve Bunting - is a multicultural story about the building of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Pop’s Bridge – by Eve Bunting – is a multicultural story about building the Golden Gate Bridge.

After doing some reading and playing with the K’nex set, he built a cable-stayed bridge. Would I have chosen to build one of the more advanced bridges first?  No!

I think that project-based learning provides many opportunities to observe your children – as their own people. It’s quite humbling to realize that neither one of my children wants to build the items in the order they are suggested. Instead, they decide which one looks the most interesting and they build that. At least I think that’s how their brains work.

Thankfully, he was able to build it entirely on his own and then decided that he needed to draw it and create another one – out of popsicle sticks.

C chose the first bridge he wanted to build - a cable-stayed bridge.

C chose the first bridge he wanted to build – a cable-stayed bridge.

He decided he needed to draw a picture to be able to make his popsicle bridge. Hot glue is amazing.

He decided he needed to draw a picture to be able to make his popsicle bridge. Hot glue is amazing.

He then chose to repeat this formula with the beam bridge and the suspension bridge. All of the work was done on his own. He asked for help with the initial pillars , so I held those in place while he glued them down.

In the background - a cable-stayed bridge. Foreground- a suspension bridge and on the far right - a beam bridge.

In the background – a cable-stayed bridge. Foreground- a suspension bridge and on the far right – a beam bridge.

At this point, he is a bit stuck. He wants to bring the K’nex suspension bridge as part of his presentation, but he still wants to build an arch bridge and a double-bascule bridge. Unfortunately, he doesn’t want to take the suspension bridge apart and rebuild it. So, I think it might be time for me to step in and suggest some of the projects from this book. We’ll see how it goes.

To read the next post on self-directed learning, continue to the presentation on bridges.