Thursday, March 2, 2017

WJHS Making Spaces

This is one of my favorite quotes.  Sometimes I feel like one of the crazy ones.  I have these ideas that I hope will help kids, get them more engaged, help them find an interest, help them build their passions.  Thank goodness I have ended up at a school with others who feel the same way I do. People who use their love of wildlife to teach about deforestation.  People who use art to teach English.  Science teachers who have their students develop solutions to real world problems like the world wide water crisis or designing incubators to help save reptile eggs.  We even had a fashion show totally organized by 7th and 8th graders where they made some pretty amazing clothes and walked them down a runway.  Our faculty and staff know the importance of bringing the real world into the classroom and teaching students using not only their interests but also our own.

Washington Junior High currently has two maker spaces that can be utilized by students.  One has a focus on technology and robotics.  It is Blake Matthews' classroom and there is always something happening there.  They have created an electric bicycle run on drill batteries for heaven's sake!!  The other space is my room, the FabLab.  It is a place for kids to use during enrichment time and before or after school.  It is also where I teach my classes.  My makerspace is focused on a mixture of things.  Fashion, crafts, electronic take apart, 3D printing, building things, basically what ever the kids can come up with.  I currently have a half gutted shopping cart in the middle of the room being converted into a stroller.  Mr. Matthews and I have worked hard to make our classrooms a place where we can let our kids explore their interests and create whatever they can dream up.  Now we would like to be able to give that opportunity to the rest of our teachers.

Maker Education can be a confusing term.  It basically means you have kids making stuff in your classroom to support the content.  Now I'm not talking about dioramas and PowerPoint's.  I mean things like building a TinMan and calculating the about of tin he will need to recover him after he is hit by the big wind storm. We have many teachers who are Makers and just don't realize it yet.  That social studies teacher who needs to borrow our electric drills for kids to do a project. Or the English teacher who sends kids to get recyclables for the art project they are making in class.  The teacher who did Shark Tank and had kids designing 3d models that needed to be printed.  They are all Makers and they are why we are participating in the Making Spaces Campaign with the Amazeum and Pittsburgh Children's Museum.

WJHS does not have space to make a school wide makerspace that can be used by all classes.  So instead, we have decided to create a Maker Library with our Making Spaces Campaign.  A space with tools and supplies that teachers need for kids to do projects in their classes.  A place where a teacher can check out a drill, safety goggles, gloves, and clamps for a class project.  It will be stocked with things like power tools, 3D printers, art supplies, Arduino microcomputers, safety equipment, and hand tools.  Teachers will be able to take these items to their classrooms and use them without worrying about borrowing something that needs to be returned for the next class period. The space and equipment will be monitored by teachers and specially trained student who will replenish supplies and be able to help teachers who may have technical difficulties along the way.   In addition, the Amazeum will be providing teachers with training on safety, use and maintenance of the equipment, and Maker Education.  They are offering training for groups or even one on one if it is needed.

WJHS Making Spaces is a huge opportunity for our school.  It will provide the opportunity to Making into even more classrooms and give more students a chance to experience student centered learning at it's best.  Please help by supporting our campaign at

Monday, September 19, 2016

How Innovation is like Pandora's Box (in a good way) #IMMOOC

I went back a reread the Introduction to Innovator's Mindset this evening (I am on Chapter 3 already so I had to go refresh my memory). One part of the introduction that really spoke to me was the quote from Steven Johnson about the "adjacent possible".  He says "The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them.  Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations." I feel like starting innovative practices in my classroom has lead to other ideas and opportunities with endless possibilities in store.  Learning one new thing has led to two or three other things and it just multiplies from there.

If you read my first post, you know that I am one of those teachers who has been quietly innovating in my classroom for a couple of years now.  It really struck me when Dave Burgess said that we have a moral imperative to share what we are doing and to get good at sharing it.  When I started this journey I had a few friends who were of the same mindset and I clung to them like a life line.  It is scary to be the first to step out and try something new.  A lot of the time, I felt like what I was doing was all wrong.  It was different than the rest of my PLC.  Heck, it was different from everyone in my building. We were shown the video of this crazy guy dancing all alone at a music festival at the very first edcamp that I attended and I think my little group all felt like this guy.  Out there doing our thing and waiting for others to join us.  I tried to recruit people at first but found it was often easier to just hang with my like minded friends and to keep rolling on.

Just like in the video, people slowly started to join us.  It would start as comments or questions about what we were doing in class.  I shared as much as I could within my building every time I got a chance.  At the second edcamp I attended, I ended up leading during every session, sometimes even when I hadn't intended to.  I invited people into my classroom and started receiving emails from teachers outside of my school and even my district.  I never knew who would be walking into the door of my classroom.  I would turn around from helping  a student and the superintendent would be standing in the middle of my room and I would have no idea when he arrived (that is panic inducing the first time it happens).

This summer, I had a couple of eye opening experiences that have changed how I look at sharing what I do.  I thought that my practices weren't that uncommon, there had to be a lot of other people out there doing what I do.  I attended training for Project Lead the Way certification and was expecting to meet people that were like me.  I quickly found out that not every school is like mine.  Not everyone is tech savvy and doing project based learning.  Even though people teach technology, they don't know about 3D printing.  Not everyone has the freedom or support to teach the way that I do.  Later in the summer, I attended the US Patent and Trademark Office National Summer Teacher Institute and was very intimidated at first. There were 50 teachers from around the United States who were hand picked to attend the institute, sure I was one of them but I am just a junior high teacher from Arkansas. The intimidation didn't last long when the innovative practices they showed us were things I was already doing in my classroom.  Some of them I had even developed my own MacGyver techniques for to save money.  These experience have led me to the conclusion that I need to go out and start sharing what I do.  I do feel like I am tooting my own horn sometimes but I'm sure I will get over that after a while.  I really want to teach people if I can do it than they can too.

Now things are starting to get bigger.  A couple of weeks ago, another teacher and I got invited to bring a group of 8 students to a local technology summit.  We are representing what is possible for STEM education and innovation in schools.  I am so excited to be attending the summit and can't wait to go.  I recently found out they are also having a STEM Think Tank to connect businesses and the community with STEM education,  I can't want to join the conversation with other people in my area about how we can continue to grow our STEM program.

So just know that if you take the leap and innovate in your classroom if can lead to places you may have never imagined.  It can be a wild and wonderful ride so buckle and get ready!!

(Someone please leave a comment so I know people are reading my ramblings!!!)

Friday, September 16, 2016

The FabLab Story: Making a Makerspace

Last year I created a makerspace in my room. I called it the FabLab because, obviously, we would be making fabulous things. It was open two mornings a week, two lunches a week, and during our enrichment period. I started collecting a lot of recyclables and tools and craft supplies.  Got a few soldering irons, a 3D printer, and a power drill.  I was ready to go. Ready for kids to come in and make stuff and take stuff apart and be inspired and excited.  So, that didn't really happen.  They just didn't get it. They would come in and want me to give them a project to work on and then wait for me to find them something else to do.  I would try to throw it back to them and then they wouldn't come back because that was too much work.  I had a few kids that got it. There was the one group that made a dress out of playing cards and poker chips and then made a dress form out of duct tape so they had someplace to display it.  I got some kids hooked on felting and of course everyone loves to take electronics apart. There were the kids who loved to solder and gave jewelry a shot.  But there were also lots of coloring and paper flowers and empty FabLab open hours.

This year, I made a plan to start year two.  Two mornings a week, two lunches a week, and enrichment time like last year but this year I would offer workshops: cardboard creation for the local tinkerfest and paper mache 3D letters.  I would also offer FabLab Free Time once a week.  Week one came around.  3D letters were a big hit.  The next day was FabLab Free Time, I had some plans just in case.  The kids came in and I told them some things I had to they could use.  It was crazy!!!  Within 5 minutes I had different activities going at each of the tables in my room and none of them were my idea.  There was a group on the floor planning to upcycle a dress that was left here from a genuis hour project someone started last year.   There was a group digging through our limited amount of jewelry supplies planning what they needed so they could learn to solder the next day.  There was a table of kids on laptops helping each other use tinkercad to design some stuff for the 3D printer.  There were the take apart kids actually harvesting parts to reuse for real things like their remote control cars or broken computer at home.  I was amazed, I thought I might cry.  I couldn't believe it.  It was like a feeding frenzy of creativity.  Who were these kids and where did they come from?  I have been busy ever since.  I had to give the workshop concept to other teachers because we needed more time for free time.  Very rarely do I have a lonely lunch time.  I have one self contained class who comes in to socialize and crat during lunch.  I have regulars who never miss an open time.  There is excitement about a possible fashion show later this year.  I am soon going to be out of wire and really need more beads and jewelry finding (Hello Donor's Choose!!),  It has been amazing and I hope it continues.

I am so proud of what I have created. It has been a lot of research looking for the ideas, getting donations and grants, and hustling for everything we needed.  It wouldn't have happened without help though.  There has been so much support from my administrators and fellow teachers.  Lots of donated toilet paper rolls and plastic bag and whatever odd things they find they think we can use. There have been numerous shared links and tweet and some loans from the principals fund.  I am pretty sure we are the reason that several of them finally got rid of that old laptop or broken vaccuum or old coffee maker.  There has also been support from my friends at the Amazeum.  They've been my sounding board when other people have no idea what I am talking about.  They've helped me get supplies and given us inspiration to try new things.  

If you are a teacher reading this and thinking you can't do this because you could never afford it, I need you to know that I run my makerspace totally on donations.  The is one of the things that makes me the most proud (and stressed out).  I use donor's choose, I got a grant, and I ask for money from the principal (very rarely, less than $100 total since I opened last September). I put in announcements and get things like recyclables, old craft supplies, and dead electronics.  I hit up the local grocery store for cardboard boxes.  My goal is to never ask a child for money to do something in the FabLab. Depending on what they chose to do, they may have to bring in some supplies but I have plenty of stock for them to use for complete projects as well.  This year I have kids who have put a FabLab fundraiser on their genius hour idea list.  It would make my life easier to have some money stashed away but we are making it without that right now.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Whirlwind #IMMOOC

Some days I look at my teacher life and I wonder "What in the world have I become??"  

Two years ago, I was excited to start my first year as a teacher in a one to one classroom.  I had attended training the summer before where they cautioned us to take it slow, don't overwhelm ourselves with too many new things at once.  I started my first PBL a month into that year and genius hour during the second semester.  My students called themselves "the guinea pigs" and we merrily worked our way toward becoming paperless and seeing how failure could change my classroom.  If something didn't work, I asked the kids what they thought, did a little research, reworked the problem (sometimes in minutes), and on we went. I started a PLN to find others like myself and to get support.  Sometimes it felt lonely and like I was headed the wrong way since I was one of the few people I knew who were doing these things in the classroom.

Last year, we did more PBLs and started making.  I opened a makerspace in my classroom with the hopes that it would be utilized by students throughout the school.  I taught myself to use a 3D printer. I learned to solder and started teaching kids to solder as well.  Students started to teach themselves to 3D model.  I became known as the person who hoarded recyclables like toilet paper rolls and yogurt containers because "You never know when someone will need something".  My students continued to be my guinea pigs but the classroom became more theirs everyday.  I team taught a class with the STEM teacher, I taught science while he taught technology and engineering.  We worked together to align standards for the courses.  Textbooks became something only used as building material for STEM challenges and the one time I gave a worksheet it was torture for everyone in the room.  I continued to grow my PLN and reach out to people for help.  I found other teachers in my building and district who were doing (or wanting to do) what I was doing.  It got less lonely.

This year I am teaching three new to me classes.  I got certified to teach Project Lead The Way over the summer.  I teach all parts of the combined science, technology, and engineering class all by myself now which means that we can have two sections of the class.  I only have one science class this year and the rest are electives.  I am loving it!!!  I spent the last two weeks teaching multi-view and isometric sketching.  Soon we will be learning to do 3D modeling on the computer.  I found out last week that a local company wants to sponsor a table for our students at a Technology Summit that is happening in October.  We will be representing our school and what we do everyday.  We will get to talk about our makerspace and robotics team and making in the classroom with local business leaders.  I am so excited that we have been invited!!!!

Now I am starting a new adventure, I am participating in the Innovator's Mindset MOOC.  I discovered this book about a month ago and when I found out about the MOOC I knew I had to sign up.  I haven't started the book yet (it gets here on Thursday) but I have been checking out blogs and twitter.  Check back in here for updates.