Is there a ‘Maker’ in you?

Given how we’re being swamped by all things digital, don’t you long for a life with more hands-on experiences? I’ve written about (and visited) ‘Maker Spaces‘ that have been popping up in cities.

If you need inspiration, check out Intel’s ‘America’s Greatest Maker’ series. It will blow your mind to see a movement picking up steam that had young people becoming inventors and ‘makers.’ It is a TV show (similar to ‘The Voice,’ or ‘America’s Got Talent’), and a resource for learning the basics with plenty of how-to videos.  Watch someone who did just that.

“Inventing is really cool, because you don’t need a factory, you don’t have to be a certain age… as long as you have the right tools, and the right people to seek out.”  Shubham Banerjee, Maker

Also worth looking at is a fellow named Paulo De Souza who came up with the idea of equipping ”bees with backpacks” – um, tiny sensors. He has been addressing one of the world’s biggest problems, a diminishing bee population –or ‘colony collapse‘ as scientists call it.

Another great space for the movement is Maker Faire at Makerfaire.com

maker-faireFrom Art, and Arduino, to Fashion and Robotics and everything in-between, this annual festival has been instrumental in getting people to go out into their garages and tool sheds and discover their creativity. Like our ‘STEAM’ activities, but even beyond it, this it’s a fascinating trend!

There was a time when we did repair our own shoes (which lasted almost a decade), and build our own tree-houses (instead of ordering one from Walmart). There is a maker in each one of us, paralyzed by our fixation on apps and shiny new objects.

Messy Learning Labs. Just what our screen-obsessed kids need

If you’ve ever complained about classrooms being stuck in the industrial age, here’s a glimpse of a different kind of class. It’s Hi-Tech space with a factory-floor setting. Perfect for digital natives, huh?

heatsynclabs_tnI took my robotics students here last Tuesday, to a place called HeatSync Labs in Mesa, Arizona. Not the kind of ‘lab’ they had in mind – but in a shocking way! It is what’s known as aMaker Space’ where kids come to ‘learn by doing’. They didn’t want to leave!

You see, a Maker Space like this is more like a mad scientist’s garage, than a classroom, with a variety of machines, tools and material just begging to be used. If you recall how HP began in a humble garage, you’ll see why a tinkerer’s tool-shed like this is what classrooms ought to be like if we are to motivate the next generation of inventors, astronomers and mad scientists like Bill Hewlett, Dave Packard. Or the next Thomas Edison (who barely went to school, please note).

Having worked with 6-12 year olds for four years now, I know how hungry they are for science. Especially science that comes to them in unexpected packages. OK, so in one corner of the lab there was a 3-D printer, an artifact from our all-too-digital present. But someone had used it to produce intriguing pieces such as this plastic cube (right), with gears!

In 75 minutes my students probably got more about science that any slick PowerPoint presentation. This was about experimenting, making mistakes, and asking ‘what-if’ questions. This was about rummaging through bins, and peering through scopes, working with laser-cut stamps they mounted on blocks of wood. And not a tablet in site!

Shelves

Machine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At one point, Eric Ose who works there took me aside and told me, awkwardly, “I am not used to young people here asking permission to do things.” Meaning, this was a space that people came and just tried things out, used material lying around, and worked on their own pace. Of course there are guidelines – especially safety guidelines, as when watching laser cutting, or operating the 3-D printer.

But the real house rules are this: Try something out. Make things. Break things. Revise. Start from scratch. Discover. Build something impossible!

Note: If your students have never been to one I urge you to make it your next field trip. Many cities have these community run spaces. (Map)

HeatSync

Besides a pencil sharpener and white board, the new must-have: 3D Printer

File this under ‘Disruptive’

It’s stunning to see how far we have come with 3D printing.

I don’t know about you, but when the little things break down –the arm of your reading glasses for instance — I wish I had something more than super glue to fix it.

I’m looking forward to a time when we will get back to being fixer-uppers, and print the part that was nicked off our desk, or died right in front of our eyes.

What’s even more disruptive is how Public Libraries are getting into this arena, with the maker-space phenomenon taking root in cities.

 

Drone, Baby Drone and other Creative Apps at ISTE 2014

“Creative teachers,” said one presenter –whose name I couldn’t jot down because I didn’t have the appropriate app ready to scan his QR code at a 30-foot distance–“know how to sneak the really good stuff into their classroom.”

elementsAs this marathon ISTE conference draws to a close, there were so many sidebars, and concurrent darn-I gotta-skip events, it’s hard to pin-point one big thing. I ran into more creatives (the tablet-wielding types) per square foot than at any event I’ve attended. Students, too. More about that in a moment. And I don’t mean creative types in terms of the iPad-toting app-happy folk. There are teachers who have spent insane number of hours disrupting their lesson plans with science-ish, media-ish, technology-ish, math-ish hands-on work that you’d think they were running non-profit enterprises. (sidenote: I just recalled the afore-mentioned speaker – author of the children’s book, “ish” – Peter Reynolds.) Getting students to produce hand-drawn periodic tables because they work better with Augmented Reality. You get the idea.

This enormous body of work ought to be documented (Ok, Evernoted, Dropboxed, Google docked or Wikiid) for the 18,000 weary souls who will drag themselves to the train station and airport today. So that when we return to our students in August, we could pull up some of these big ideas to implement.

Consider some of the discussions and hands-on sessions. Most people outside of education (that’s where I came from) only hear of Arduino, Aurasma, SkitchReflector, and Qrafter at social media shin digs. Drone Baby droneThe rush (crush) to scan QR codes was so great at one point this morning there were lines of people –smart-phones poised– that rivaled Starbucks. I must’ve been the only tech blogger with an analog device –my notebook.

Most people think Maker Spaces are where wanna-be engineers mess around. One teacher at a small booth tucked away in a corner had practically designed a pinball machine kit for students to experiment with simple machines. No fancy app here, but ‘moving parts’ foraged from Home Depot and her garage: door knobs, furniture screws, bolts, rubber bands and ‘springs’ from spines of spiral-bound notebooks. Creative teachers really know how to sneak in the good stuff, on a budget.

In case you read my post yesterday, yes, this kind of creative pedagogical streak is very different from the cameras, cloud-based tools and Google-glas-ish shiny objects I ran into before.

THEN THERE WERE STUDENTS teaching the grown-ups. Lots of them. One group from Mexico brought a mine-rescue bot controlled by Bluetooth, a piezo-electric floor, a cardboard-model levitation train, and a swimming robot embedded in a large plastic bottle that can take water-samples of a polluted lake. Students! Others were showing off how to turn 2D images into 3D movies –ideal for digital time capsules. That palm-sized quadro-copter (above) is not however a student project, but a company who has STEM-ready drones that I just might use, soon.

One more day to go. I plan to skip the last keynote and go talk to more smart people…

And apps to download before I sleep. And apps to download before I sleep.