Tag Archives: STEAM

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, not just the electronic/computer-based variety? 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 things to make using fabric and fiber. The intended audience seems to be teenage girls, but I managed to find a project that 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 other 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, and 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 we 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 with 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, obviously). I think the thing that will stop them from finishing is the final step of weaving in the end pieces. This is a step I always put off until the last minute, so I’m not going to be much of a help! Of course, I am looking forward to having some woven coasters for my drinks, so I may help them along. In fact, they had grand visions of completing these in the car as Christmas presents for their grandparents. It didn’t happen on that drive, but it gives us a good idea for next year.

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.

 

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.

 

Programming Art with Scratch :: Sunset

This past summer I repeated my role as Scratch programming instructor. I was flattered to hear  I had a number of returning students. Unfortunately, that meant my standard plan of activities needed to be enhanced for those experienced students. I needed some new assignments! For this course (Create with Scratch), I focused on art and music, rather than video game creation. Therefore, I needed projects that combined programming art with Scratch, the icon-based language designed for kids.

It’s fun thinking of new projects, but I wasn’t sure I’d have enough time to create an example (or find some child to create one for me). Often, a teacher-created example can intimidate students. I usually try to have student examples, like this volcano.

C's animated volcano in Scratch

I uploaded C’s volcano animation. Check it out: https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/108661198/

For my recent project addition, I didn’t have a chance to obtain student examples. My family and I were traveling this past summer and we only got home a few days before camp began. I decided to do the creating – in class – while the students worked on their own animations.

Setting Sun Art Animation — Scratch

After a few days of introductory lessons, I asked the students to make an animated volcano  (which we did last year). Since I focused more on the art of animations, I wanted the students to make another complex animation. I suggested a setting or rising sun. I showed a few sun examples from the Scratch web site, and I set out to create my own.

A few students made simple animations while others spent multiple class periods getting their pictures “just right.” It took me a few class sessions to finish my initial animation, especially since I was needed to help other students. I went back and “fixed” it during the second round of classes.

I hope my students watched as I made mistakes and went back to change my programming. It certainly demonstrated the value of revising one’s work. If anything, they picked up a couple of new art and programming techniques to use with Scratch. Finally, I hope they had fun creating their own animations and were inspired to make others.

Elementary Electronics – Sewn LED bracelet

As part of our homeschool elementary electronics class, the kids wanted to finish up the class by making soft circuits, especially a sewn LED bracelet.

And I do mean kids because I specifically asked them – after the sewn flashlight difficulties if they were up to another round of sewing. They said yes. In fact, one fifth grader (who struggled a little with the sewing) said, “Well – I don’t know how to do it and that’s the point of learning, right? To try stuff you aren’t good at?” Oh, you could have melted my growth mindset heart!

A picture of three electronic bracelets.

Our family’s collection of hand-sewn LED bracelets.

After the success of the Chibitronics paper LED project, I knew this sewing design had to be more concrete and guided. A couple of hours (and one failed prototype) later), I had a structured lesson to present to the kids the next day.

Sewn LED Bracelet – Paper Prototype

I started by making a paper prototype. This way they could cut it out and see how their bracelet would fit together. The components would have to be placed a certain way so the bracelet could close and you could still see the LED. I also wanted to make it so that when they snapped it closed, the circuit closed and the LED lit up.

Hand-drawn paper prototype to give the kids a guide.

It was definitely helpful to have a paper guide for the students. So many of them wanted to jump ahead and try and figure it out – and that was okay. It was okay when we had to pull out their conductive thread because the circuit wouldn’t make any sense. Hopefully, those were learning moments for them. Mistakes always force us to look at the structure a little more carefully.

Hot glue guns help to move the project along.

Sewn LED bracelet – Process

My younger son and I had made his LED bracelet the night before class – for two reasons. First, I knew that I would need to help the other students and since he’s seven, he would need a lot of help. Second, I wanted to have a simple, finished product so the students could see how the circuits connected.

After everyone chose their LED and figured out how their battery pack worked, I brought them over – one-by-one-  to the hot gluing station. I glued their battery holder and snaps to the felt. This made it much easier for these elementary students to focus on sewing – without having to worry about pins keeping those components in place.

The hardest part was understanding how the battery would be connected to the LED. Since LEDs have be positioned a certain way (positive to positive), I went around to each student and made sure they would line up their LED correctly. They eventually figured it out and even though this class took an hour and a half – every single bracelet connected correctly. And they were so proud (and relieved?) that it lit up after all of their hard work.

Here’s the PDF Sewn LED bracelet (PDF) handout that I created for my students. If you are teacher, please feel free to use it, but do not reproduce or sell it without gaining permission. Thanks!

 

 

Elementary Electronics – Chibitronics LED Stickers

It’s my turn to teach (again) with our small homeschool co-op, and this semester I offered to teach elementary electronics. Everyone (parents and students) seemed interested and I finally had a chance to use my electronic art skills. My circuit knowledge has been growing a little rusty since last year’s Space Camp.

R’s modified Chibitronics robot.

Upper Elementary Electronics Class

Since I designed the curriculum, I chose to focus on circuits and how to use them (as much as possible) with art. Don’t worry – we still called the class “elementary electronics.” Each session was roughly an hour. The following is a general schedule of the course:

  • Week 1: Electricity vs. electronics
    • Intro video from Popular Mechanics for Kids (about 15 minutes worth).
    • Homework sheet to fill out using these two web sites (NAS and Explain That Stuff).
    • I wanted them to know that electricity = energy = secondary source
  • Week 2:B is for Battery” video from AdaFruit.
  • Week 3: Electricity is lazy.
    • Insulators vs. conductors experiment using circuit blocks to demonstrate;
    • The kids stripped some wire – just for fun
  • Week 4:D is for Diode” video from AdaFruit.
  • Week 5: Parallel vs. series circuits, video
  • Week 6: LED Chibitronics sticker art (see pictures below).
  • Week 7: Reviewed parallel vs. series circuits.
    • I asked the kids to build a series and a parallel circuit from the circuit blocks.
    • They also took apart an old toy.
  • Week 8: Sewn Circuits: LED bracelet
  • Week 9: Field trip to ThemeWorks, Inc., a local business

Circuit Sticker Art

Throughout the course, the kids were willing to try new things and they only complained a little bit about the sewing (and not all of them, just a few). They played around with the circuit blocks, made some cool things and hopefully, learned the difference between an open and closed circuit.

When it came time to actually put together some circuits, I found they needed some simple, guided activities before moving on to freely creative exploits. Since we were using the Chibitronics circuit stickers to create parallel circuits, I wanted a little more direct instruction. (Those stickers aren’t cheap)! I printed out this Chibitronics template, and my oldest son and I both made a sample. He modified his a little – he traced the robot, but designed it himself – and I made a starry sky (see the photos above). We both used the provided guidelines for the parallel circuits (photo below).

The robot on the left used copper tape to connect the circuit stickers to the battery while the night sky used conductive ink.

Conductive Ink vs. Copper Tape

If you had asked me last year, I would have said copper tape was too difficult for elementary students. I would have argued that conductive ink pens are far superior for solder-free projects. Sadly, my son and I found that our ink pen wasn’t nearly as effective as the copper tape with adhesive glue. I wonder if Circuit Scribe changed their formula in the past six months? (We bought ours from Amazon). I’ve had great luck with them in the past, but my eleven-year-old could not get his Chibitronics stickers to light up. We ended up covering the ink with copper tape (and covering the stickers as well) – and voila! It worked! This is the tape we used.

Students used the lines provided in the template to lay out their copper tape.

Age Group Suggestions

Since we had guided lesson plans, this project was pretty easy for all of the members of our group. My younger son (age 7) needed some help from me, but was able to do most of the copper tape by himself. In addition to marking the positive and negative current flow, I also flattened the corners for him, however, he got a great kick out of decorating his robot and placing the circuit stickers.

a picture of a 2D robot that has a light up heart

C’s light-up robot

This project was a perfect capstone project for the upper age limits of our group (ten-and- eleven-year-olds). They could do it on their own and a couple of them modified their outer designs. If I were to do this class again, I would still do this project first. However, for the next class, I would challenge them to create paper prototypes using these stickers. They could apply their knowledge of parallel circuits in a whole new way.

After the students had made their projects and were proud of their own accomplishments, I showed them Jie Qi’s electrified Dandelion Painting. The kids (and adults) were appropriately impressed with her copper tape skills. Plus, they actually understood how it worked – and asked some very interesting questions.

 

 

FETC 2017

Code to Learn: Using Scratch to Demonstrate Learning

I’ll be at FETC this week – and will be talking about my hopes and dreams for how to use Scratch. I’ve done a lot of research on coding and creativity and I’m bringing my ideas to FETC (thankfully, my poster was accepted)! I will be discussing the in-depth learning projects I have done with some of my students. I also have a passion for integrating coding into the curriculum and would love to see if other teachers are doing the same (check out my Wright Brothers course).

Creativity in Coding

For the last few years, I have been teaching Scratch during the summer months. Most of the time we do projects related to video games or general learning projects (animations, mazes, etc.). My one-week camps do not leave enough time for in-depth research projects. However, for those returning campers, I am able to challenge them with more advanced Scratch projects. I’ve had students create interactive country projects and create fractured fairy tales. Even though I am not in a K-12 school, I hope teachers will find these ideas (and lesson plans) useful.

After reading articles by Mitch Resnik, Karen Brennan, and Samuel Papert (most well-known for his book, Mindstorms), I felt like they had created Scratch for this very purpose. After a bit, I realized they had. Check out their Scratch foundation.

Regardless, I think our mission is the same – to keep the creativity in coding. To use Scratch (and computers) to create and not just to consume. For the record, I am not affiliated with MIT or Scratch, nor do they endorse this poster session (though, I hope they would if they knew about it)!

If you will be attending FETC this week, I will be talking about my poster session on Wednesday, January 25 from 4:00 – 5:00 PM  – Booth #2500.

UPDATE: To find the Scratch lessons, check out the Scratch Lessons, Challenges & Prompts page.

Create Stories with Scratch

This past summer, I facilitated six classes on MIT’s icon-based programming language, Scratch, and simultaneously helped fifth – ninth graders learn about computer programming. I taught four sessions of “Video Games From Scratch,” and two sessions of “Create From Scratch.” These last two sessions focused on creating conversations and stories with Scratch. I don’t want to be a biased teacher, but these were DEFINITELY my favorite programming classes.

Our class met for eight days; each class was an hour. After a few days of basic concepts (animation, movement), I asked them to create a conversation between sprites. We started with storyboards.

picture of computer with scratch 1.4

Storyboarding

Nothing too complicated – just a simple six-panel, hand-drawn storyboard to tell the events of their conversation. There was a lot of resistance to pre-planning. I asked anyway. Most of them complied (probably because they were locked out of their computers until they finished their storyboard).

Their programmed conversations were allowed to veer, twist and change from their original storyboard. The results were interesting and somewhat mixed, but it prepared them for the deeper challenge of recreating a classic fairy tale in Scratch.

pciture of a projected screen with a scratch project

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

Recreating classic stories with Scratch

When students returned from the weekend break, I asked them to work on their capstone project: a classic fairy tale. Students were free to retell the story, or add an alternate ending, fracture the tale, etc.

My class was a good mix of boys and girls, but both groups willingly accepted the assignment. Some chose to retell the story with a funny ending. Some made silly graphics which altered the story. Some spent a lot of time creating beautiful graphics, but didn’t change the story arc. There was a lot of choice, creativity and fun.

a picture of humpty dumpty stories with scratch

This “Humpty Dumpty” retelling has a funny ending. Created by one of the students in my class – https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/116815328/

Video Games vs. Stories with Scratch

Why was this my favorite class? Well…I am the mother of two boys. I am married to a man. All of the males in my household love to play video games.

I do not.

I know! I feel terrible just writing that sentence, however, I have come to accept and embrace my biases. I like board games and card games. I enjoy learning about history, cognitive psychology and education. I love art and making art. I cannot live without reading books. I enjoy writing, though, not necessarily fictional stories. I love bringing art and writing together – with technology. That’s why I love Scratch and that’s why I loved this “Create” class more than the popular video game class. Hopefully, it left some of the students with a similar feeling – a way to embrace technology that doesn’t revolve solely around video games.

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.

 

 

 

Marker Bots 2016

Today the kids made their own marker bots. They started with a single cell AA-battery, a broccoli band and a 3V motor. Once they figured out how to get the motor running, they grabbed a “marker bot body” and began to create. To see a more in-depth explanation, check out my previous “how-to” post on these cute scribbling machines. Otherwise, check out their drawing machines: