Wednesday, February 13, 2013


This school year I am having trouble motivating my students. My robotics after school class seemed to begin strong. There was the initial enthusiasm and oohs and aws when I got out the supplies, described possibilities for potential robots, showed some videos of robots that students had made in the past, pointed to all the different ways and places the students could look for inspiration. But by the second month in I had more students just sitting there waiting for me to tell them what to do next then ever before.

In the past I have relied upon the interests and enthusiasms of the students to inspire each other. To gravitate towards other students doing projects that looked interesting, to start up their own project based on an idea shared in the room. This year I seem to be drawing a blank stare when I ask the students about what they are interested in, what ideas they have, what types of things they might like to explore.

I enrolled in the online seminar called "Learning Creative Learning" which is being offered by Mitch Resnick and the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. Yesterday was the first session where Mitch started the open ended discussion that will be at the center of this course, what does it mean to learn creatively, and exactly what are the ways that we can and do learn creativity?

Seymour Papert wrote a piece entitled "The Gears of My Childhood" from his book "Mindstorms", where he addresses the notion of personal interest as it applies to motivation and learning.

I need to figure out how I can, as an educator, work with my students so they may discover or uncover their personal interests. It isn't proving to be as easy as it might seem.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Fabricating Parts

We don't have a Fab Lab here at our MakerSpace, nor so we have a 3D printer (wish list!) but what we do have are "spare parts". I love saving things in case they are ever needed for something else. One look at my own basement confirms this.
What has been a great making experience for my students is understanding how you can re-fabricate one part from another. Two of my students needed a 3" x 1" piece of flexible metal they could use to mount 2 motors on. I showed them the storage bin that held old computer parts, hard drives, super drives, and other assorted things from technology's recent past. They dove in with screwdrivers and pliers and called me over not too long after to show me a couple of parts they thought might work. We were able to cut 3 of the needed pieces from an old SuperDrive, enough for other students wanting to make a similar bot.
Re-purposing parts can lead to things
you never ever thought possible!
Yesterday the same students needed a small switch to use for their robot. We had larger switches, but nothing that would work for their use. Then I remembered the remote control car that other students had brought in to disassemble for parts, and that there was a small switch attached to the components. After a "deal" was made between the two groups of students, the boys who needed the switch got busy. My attention was pulled away (as happens when there are 4 or 5 simultaneous projects going on in the room) and before I knew it, the team had removed the switch from its old location, figured out where it needed to be attached in the new location, and soldered it together. The switch worked perfectly!
It is exciting to see the students look at things and start to realize and understand that they can make other things. That instructions can sometimes be altered, or changed, or revised, according to materials on hand or need. That there is never just "one way" to solve a problem or attempt to find a solution and that just the act of trying to figure stuff out like that can sometimes be the best part of a project.
Too many times within the constraints of school students are taught that there is only one correct answer, or perhaps that there isn't enough time to really explore many other possibilities. It is crucial to learning to have space  for invention and innovation.