Do we have space for Makerspaces and tech shops?

Some days I wish I could convert part of my computer lab into a Makerspace. After all I have re-defined it as a Computer and Technology Lab, so it would be appropriate to have other technologies. Like a metal cutter, or workbench to build things – such as making a speaker out of an Altoid tin, or rudimentary printing such as silk-screening.

I thought of this again after getting into a discussion with a teacher visiting our school from New Zealand this week. She spoke of how curriculum there includes woodwork, needlework and many hands-on activities.

She was not been aware of Makerspaces, but mentioned a parallel well-organized movement called Mens’ Sheds – run by retired people so that anyone could take up a new skill.

Makerspaces here are great places for students with rudimentary engineering products in mind, for say a science fair. They are open to anyone and are often free. Some school libraries are carving out makerspaces for 3-D printing.

I’ve visited one in Mesa, Arizona called HeatSync Labs. Love the name!

I’ve still to visit the TechShop in Chandler where you could learn CAD drawing, or how to build a (guess what?) Bluetooth speaker!


ISTE Ed-Tech Conference Wrap-up: Part 1

Just got back from the ISTE 2016 conference in Denver, and it’s hard to decide what stood out more: The technology, or the practices.

HARDWARE: Being a tech teacher, indeed the tools were mind-blowing. From the simple Digital Storytelling hacks, and wide range ofgaming technologies, to Makerspace ideas such as conductive material, to Virtual Reality, and Robotics. (More on robotics in a later post.) VR seems to have matured since 2014, and mini robots –like the Sphero, here — were practically running over our feet. OK, I actually took the challenge and drove one of these across the floor. They’re practically unbreakable, too!

SOFTWAREThe software definitely made me do a double take, when it came to programming languages, and ‘kits’ to simplify the learning curve. It’s finally come to this: software doesn’t exist in some abstract dimension, but comes coupled with devices that a student could learn to program – and see the effects in real-time. Google and Microsoft appeared to be fighting for attention. If you had the stamina and enough coffee, you could go through an entire day toggling between a Google classroom and that of Microsoft’s. Both have well defined Education divisions. (The former made 5 education product announcements at the conference.)

The sessions I liked most, were the Education Playgrounds. These were informal on-on-one or group sessions. I picked several that combined hardware and software. I met with a few Raspberry pi experts, basically teachers who worked with kits that were built around this mini computer.

I was fascinated by the no-frills entry-level kits (starting at the princely sum of $35 an unit!). Why?


First because this hardware was not housed in some beautiful laminated case but was transparent enough or a 3rd grader to understand what a computer was all about. I often need to remind students that ‘computing’ is not some mysterious art form.

Second, computer literacy and digital literacy are joined at the hip today, in the same way that Robotics and the Maker movement can be two sides of the same coin. We need to merge our lesson plans, and get our young Digital Citizens to be Makers, engineers, designers, tinkerers, problem solvers and storytellers to recognize they can each take a piece of this action, and run with it.

FINALLY: I attended a few mind-expanding poster sessions, where the presenters were students. I’ve said it before that no teacher conference would be complete until you have met with students who are after all the reason our schools go to great lengths to send us out to these professional development events. It’s inspiring to see the end product of great teaching, and how underpaid teachers in bootstrapped school districts get students to soar. Many takeaways from these sessions.