About Shaunna Smith

Dr. Shaunna Smith, Assistant Professor of Educational Technology OFFICE: ED 3006 PHONE: 512-245-4377 EMAIL: shaunna_smith@txstate.edu

Tips for Facilitating Maker Activities

As every educator knows, the success of an activity often relies upon the success of the facilitation. Whether in a formal or informal learning, the facilitator must be thoughtful about nurturing maker mindsets and strategies for supporting our learners during difficult experiences with failure and problems that arise throughout the creative design process.

We love using certain picture books to set the stage for makers of all ages, including some of these titles below. These books can help to break the ice by acknowledging that we support a collaborative, failure positive environment where we want everyone to have fun while they are learning and making.

More formally, we turn to Exploratorium Tinkering Studio’s research on best practices for facilitation in maker environments. Their Learning Dimensions Framework highlights ways the facilitator can observe indicators for engagement, initiative and intentionality, social scaffolding, and development of understanding. This really helps novice and expert facilitators maintain awareness of verbal and non-verbal forms of learning during hands-on experiences. Additionally, their Facilitation Field Guide is a great tool for strategies to spark, sustain, and deepen learning throughout the sometimes chaotic and messy making process.

In addition to the above mentioned strategies, we like to leverage formative assessments as much as we possibly can. Reflective prompts are very useful for recurring experiences, including Dr. Smith’s research on student-created reflective video as a means of exploring process and product. For briefer experiences we like to use reflective exit tickets based on K-W-L strategies. Our 3-2-1 exit ticket is helpful for identifying what the learners understood from the experience, what they are curious about, and what they want to learn more about. These help us with our own reflective practice changes to our workshop programs as well as give us a starting point to follow up with participants interests. Our typical 3-2-1 exit ticket is as follows:

EDTC5340-maker-edu

There are also many facilitation strategies and resources available on the Maker Ed website.

Tips for Designing Maker Activities

When designing effective maker activities, you have to consider the best pedagogy and creative instructional strategy for the task. Making and makerspaces are inherently rooted in Constructionism, which is a learning theory that promotes the idea that learners can construct knowledge when they actively participate in the making and public sharing of a physical object (Papert & Harel, 1991). These types of activities lend themselves to Project-Based Learning (PBL) and Design-Based Learning (DBL). There are so many amazing resources you can explore to learn more about this and more to support your quest to design the best maker activities for your learners. Some of our favorite research-supported maker education resources include: Agency by Design and the Tinkering Studio.

Maker Ed: Grown out of Make Magazine and the influx of educational makerspaces, Maker Ed is a national non-profit organization that provides educators and institutions with the training, resources, and community of support they need to create engaging, inclusive, and motivating learning experiences through maker education. They have links to great resources and provide an excellent starting point for educators who are just beginning their maker journey. We appreciate their dedicated look at the state-of-the-art of makerspaces in education and use them as a resource to examine trends and current initiatives.

Agency by Design: Harvard Project Zero’s maker-focused research project that is investigating the promises, practices, and pedagogies of maker-centered learning. Visit their website to check out their educator resources and brand new book, Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape their Worlds. Because The MAKE Lab has an arts focus, we really like how AbD focuses on student agency and community building. We especially like to use their Thinking Routine activities to encourage open-mindedness and creative thinking mindsets prior to beginning making projects.

Tinkering Studio: Exploratorium’s studio workshop for playful invention, investigation, and collaboration. Visit their website to explore awesome projects that you can use with your learners and learn about unique tinkerers who are blurring the lines between art and STEM. Also check out their awesome book, The Art of Tinkering, which is both a beautiful collection of artistic tinkering and a guide for exploratory making activities with common materials. Because The MAKE Lab enjoys taking a multidisciplinary approach, we really like how the Tinkering Studio blurs the lines between art and STEM. We love gaining inspiration from their open-ended activities and multidisciplinary artist spotlights. Their research also inspires some of our facilitation strategies (see more in our next post, “Tips for Facilitating Maker Activities”).

In addition to the above mentioned resources, here are some of our favorite resources for designing our maker activities.

Books About the Research Behind the Learning in the Making:

Books About Maker Activities:

Great Websites to Find Awesome Maker Activities & Inspiration:

  • PBS Design Squad: Great website with activity resources, videos about the engineering design process, contests, and ways to share artifacts via safe social media.
  • Tinker Crate: Their primary function is to sell curated boxes of monthly hands-on experiments and making projects. However, they also host an amazing variety of activity ideas for all skills and abilities that you can easily do with common materials.
  • Adafruit: This is an online store for electronics components and they have the most fun educational videos (Circuit Playground, Collin’s Lab, etc.) that teach both concepts and how-tos. They have great activity ideas with step-by-step instructions that include lists of materials that you can buy directly on their site. Everything has an artsy and eclectic flair, making this a very inspiring website for makers. They offer educator discounts and price cuts for buying in bulk.
  • Makezine: Home of Make Magazine, this site has articles, project instructions, and reviews of the latest maker technologies and tools. They also promote Maker Faires and the diverse forms of making ranging from woodworking to DIY drones.
  • Sparkfun: This is an online store for electronics, similar to Adafruit. They specialize in microcontrollers and have great educational guides to support novice and experts in taking their electronics making to the next level. They offer educator discounts and price cuts for buying in bulk.

References:

Papert, S., & Harel, I., (1991). Constructionism. Westport, CT: Ablex Publishing. URL

Tips for Organizing Your Makerspace

We get a lot of questions about how we organize and set up our space. Guided by a need to inspire teachers with practical options, our space is set up with affordable and low-cost equipment and materials. We are fortunate to have a dedicated classroom/lab space in the College of Education, where we have work tables in the center of the room (5 tables with 4 chairs each), thematic exploration areas set up around the perimeter, and sufficient cabinet space to store additional equipment and materials. All of our equipment is small and portable, making it easily capable of being stored or placed in a collapsible rolling cart for transport to other sites. Learn more about our classroom makerspace setup below.

2D Explorations Area
This area includes tools that work with 2D materials, including paper and textiles. Additional equipment is stored in a nearby cabinet and is available for use on work tables in the center of the room. Resource books are arranged on a nearby shelf to help promote self-help (see our list here). Here is a look at the 2D explorations area:
2D-explorations-areaSewing machine, Silhouette Cameo machine, and additional equipment

3D Explorations Area
Set up in a similar manner to our 2D area, this area focuses on tools that work with 3D materials, including modeling clay, blocks, and 3D printing. Users use the work tables in the center of the room to create their 3D models using free CAD software (e.g., Tinkercad, Makerbot Print Shop). When they are ready to 3D print, they load their .STL file onto one of the designated laptops that operate the 3D printers (via USB drive or through transferring from cloud-based storage) and print directly to the 3D printer. A nearby cabinet contains additional modeling tools and additional 3D printer filament options (always stored in plastic storage bags to limit warping damage to the filament).  A nearby shelf contains student-created examples and resource books to help promote self-help (see our list here). Here is a look at the 3D explorations area:
3D-explorations-area
Makerbot Replicator Mini 3D Printers

3D-class-projects-display
3D printed examples

Electronics Explorations & Computer Programming Area
This area includes a variety of equipment and resources focused on simple electronics and computer programming that are easy to access for beginners. Through our grant funding, we are fortunate to have class sets of electronics kits that allow us to scaffold beginner activities, including LittleBits, SnapCircuits, Makey Makeys, and Picoboards. A nearby cabinet contains additional electrical components organized in plastic boxes, including batteries (AA, AAA, CR2032), conductive materials (steel thread, copper tape, aluminum tape, paper clips, alligator clips), LED lights (diodes with resistor legs), motors (DC motors, pager motors), and additional craft materials. Student-created examples are on display around the area to help inspire new projects. Resource books are arranged on a nearby shelf to help promote self-help (see our list here). Here is a look at the electronics and computer programming explorations area:
Electronics-and-MakerEd-area
Electronics and Computer Programming equipment

Mobile Makerspace Carts
The mobile rolling carts are critical to The MAKE Lab as they enable us to bring our equipment to locations throughout the community and they also enable teachers to borrow equipment for use in their own classrooms. Here is one example of a 2D Digital Fabrication cart that holds a Silhouette Cameo machine, assorted cardstock, fabric, and vinyl:
mobile-makerspace-cart
Mobile makerspace cart for 2D explorations

To learn more about specific details and logistics regarding how we configure our mobile makerspace carts, please view Dr. Smith’s book chapter, “Mobile makerspace carts: a practical model to transcend access and space” located in Mills & Wake’s (2017) Empowering learners with mobile open-access learning initiatives (preview Google Book here).

MAKE Kirigami with Silhouette Studio Software

Kirigami is the art of paper cutting which dates back hundreds of years. This technique has inspired expressions from cultures all over the world, including, Chinese Jianzhi and shadow puppets, Japanese Monkiri and Senga, Polish and Ukrainian Wycinanki, German Scherenschnitte, and Mexican Papel Picado. You can view our Prezi, For the Love of Paper, to see a visual overview of kirigami from around the world. You can also explore modern uses of kirigami and new media techniques with real world connections with another Prezi, Modular Paper Engineering.

We love to being Kirigami explorations by discussing where we see the technique in our everyday lives. It can be seen in fabricated decorations (i.e. laser CNC metal signage, slidetogether lighting sculpture, Dia de los Muertos decoration, and even in clothing design cutouts). You can explore these digital fabrication techniques using Silhouette Studio software, which is free vector-based design software, and Silhouette Cameo machines, which have a small blade that can trim fabric, foam sheets, paper, vinyl, and more.

Try some of our Kirigami activities:

Sewable Wrist Cuff with Metal Snap Switch

Sewable soft circuits are a unique way to explore electronics and fashion. Using conductive stainless steel thread, you can sew circuits that power lights in unique ways. When you add a metal snap, you can create a switch to turn the circuit on and off, which conserves battery power and can also create unique interactive effects. This tutorial is inspired by Leah Buechley’s e-textile activities located in Sew Electric.

GATHER MATERIALS: (Vendors – Sparkfun, Adafruit, Amazon)

  • LED lights with resistors
  • battery (3 volt CR2032 coin size)
  • conductive thread (stainless steel thread)
  • scissors
  • sewing needle (self-threading needles work best)
  • felt fabric
  • sewable metal snaps (male and female ends that fit together)
  • assorted sewing notions (fabric pencils, buttons, scrap fabric, sequins, regular sewing thread, etc.)

PART ONE – PLAN THE CIRCUIT:

  1. Draw on paper to plan your design. Indicate placement for the battery and LED light and where the conductive thread will connect the components.
    1. Remember you will use one piece of conductive thread to connect “+” sides and a separate piece to connect “-” sides. Think about the metal snaps as being “+” and “-” components as well because when they touch they will complete the circuit path in order to power the LED light.
    2. Do not cross the positive and negative lines of conductive thread.
    3. Consider how you can use regular thread to complete non-conductive aspects of your design.
  2. Lay out your materials.
  3. Test batteries and LED light to ensure they work.

THINK ABOUT: How can the design use as little conductive thread as possible and still maintain a balance of conductivity and aesthetics?

PART TWO – MAKE THE FABRIC BATTERY POUCH: (*Note: You can purchase battery holders but they are usually too expensive to use for large group activities.)

  1. Cut two squares of fabric (slightly larger than battery).
  2. Sew a small circle of conductive thread in center of each square (about ¼ or ½ size of battery).
  3. Use regular thread to stitch three sides of squares into a pouch (leaving one side open for access).
  4. Test to make sure battery fits. Make sure battery is accessible for replacement. Used batteries cannot be thrown in regular trash and must be disposed of properly.

THINK ABOUT: How much conductive thread is needed to ensure maximum power from the battery pouch? Will the battery pouch be placed on the inside (non-viewable) side of the cuff or appear on the outside (viewable) side of the cuff?

PART THREE – SEW THE CIRCUIT:

  1. Mark the longer “+” lead of the LED light(s) with Sharpie marker.
  2. Coil resistor ends of LED light(s) into sewable circles.
  3. Sew components onto fabric. Remember to use separate pieces of conductive thread for “+” and “-” connections. Don’t forget that the metal snaps will act as your on/off switch and one will need to be sewn on the outside visible side of cuff and the other sewn on the inside hidden side of the cuff.
  4. Secure ends with hot glue.

THINK ABOUT: How can you insulate the conductive thread without compromising the aesthetics of the design? Is the cuff comfortable and functional for everyday wear?

EXPERIMENT CONSIDERATIONS:

  • How many LEDs can you power with one battery? What other types of circuit designs can you use to power more than one component?
  • What other conductive materials can you use to make the sewable circuit interactive or modular?

Basic Sewable Circuit

Combine a battery and LED light with conductive thread to make a basic sewable soft circuit on felt.

GATHER MATERIALS: (Vendors – Sparkfun, Adafruit, Amazon)

  • LED lights with resistors
  • battery (3 volt CR2032 coin size)
  • conductive thread (stainless steel thread)
  • scissors
  • round-nose pliers (to coil ends of LED resistors)
  • sewing needle (self-threading needles work best)
  • felt fabric
  • assorted sewing notions (fabric pencils, buttons, scrap fabric, sequins, regular sewing thread, etc.)

PART ONE – PLAN THE BASIC SOFT CIRCUIT:

  1. Draw on paper to plan your design. Indicate placement for the battery and LED light and where the conductive thread will connect the components.
    1. Remember you will use one piece of conductive thread to connect “+” sides and a separate piece to connect “-” sides.
    2. Do not cross the positive and negative lines of conductive thread.
    3. Consider how you can use regular thread to complete non-conductive aspects of your design.
  2. Lay out your materials.
  3. Test batteries and LED light to ensure they work.

THINK ABOUT: How can the design use as little conductive thread as possible and still maintain a balance of conductivity and aesthetics?

PART TWO – MAKE THE FABRIC BATTERY POUCH: (There are sewable battery holders that you can purchase, but they are often too expensive to use with large groups.)

  1. Cut two squares of fabric (slightly larger than battery).
  2. Sew a small circle of conductive thread in center of each square (about ¼ or ½ size of battery).
  3. Use regular thread to stitch three sides of squares into a pouch (leaving one side open for access).
  4. Test to make sure battery fits. Make sure battery is accessible for replacement. Used batteries cannot be thrown in regular trash and must be disposed of properly.

THINK ABOUT: How much conductive thread is needed to ensure maximum power from the battery pouch?

PART THREE – SEW THE BASIC CIRCUIT:

  1. Mark the longer “+” lead of the LED light(s) with Sharpie marker.
  2. Coil resistor ends of LED light(s) into sewable circles.
  3. Sew components onto fabric. Remember to use separate pieces of conductive thread for “+” and “-” connections.
  4. Secure ends with hot glue.

THINK ABOUT: How can you insulate the conductive thread without compromising the aesthetics of the design?

EXPERIMENT CONSIDERATIONS:

  • How can you create an on/off switch to save the battery power?
  • How many LEDs can you power with one battery? What other types of circuit designs can you use to power more than one component?
  • How can you use more fabric and conductive thread to create a switch that turns the circuit on and off?
  • What other conductive materials can you use to make the sewable circuit interactive?

MAKE Soft and Sewable Electrical Circuits

Sewable soft circuits are a unique way to explore electronics and fashion. Using conductive stainless steel thread, you can sew circuits that power LED lights and other outputs in unique ways. The possibilities are truly endless!

We’ve tried a lot of different tutorials online, but we’ve come to the conclusion that it is best for novices (especially young children) to begin by making a simple BASIC SEWABLE CIRCUIT first before trying more advanced concepts. Our tutorial provides step-by-step instructions for creating a simple circuit that powers one LED light. Once that simplicity is understood in a hands-on manner, we move on to understanding switches with the SEWABLE WRIST CUFF WITH METAL SNAP SWITCH. After these concepts are mastered, you can explore parallel circuit designs with multiple LED lights or digital microcontrollers and sensors for truly fascinating e-textile creations. There are many websites and books that provide great information about sewable circuits, which we’ve listed our favorites below.

OTHER ONLINE TUTORIALS:

BOOKS

  • Fashioning Technology: A DIY Intro to Smart Crafting by Syuzi Pakhchyan (2008)
    • This book is hands-down the best simple visual introduction to electronics. Provides a thorough introduction to conductive materials and alternative techniques plus has great activity ideas. It’s out-of-print, but can be bought “used” online.
  • Switch Craft  by Alison Lewis (2008)
    • Another great out-of-print book with good activity ideas and tutorials and can also bought “used” online.
  • Sew Electric by Leah Buechley & Kanjun Qiu:  http://sewelectric.org
    • Great book that transitions from non-digital electronics to digital electronics with affordable materials.
  • Textile Messages: Dispatches From the World of E-Textiles and Education by Leah Buechley, Kylie Peppler, Michael Eisenberg, and Yasmin Kafai (2010)
    • Wonderful look at how these types of activities can encourage diverse populations to engage in electronics.

OTHER E-TEXTILES MATERIALS:

Digital Design Maker Camp @ Centro

The Digital Design Maker Camp was held at Centro on June 14-17. We had so much fun teaching the children about digital design this week! We used free software that is easily accessible to PC/Mac/tablets/smartphones. We explored 3D modeling to create our own characters and also explored computer programming to create our own animations and games. Parents/Guardians: We will continue to print their 3D models and will have them available for pick up at Centro after June 22nd. In the meantime, here’s some more information to keep your children designing for free all summer long:

MORE 3D MODELING

Explore 3D models online:

Design original models in free 3D modeling software:

Get more 3D models printed at:

Care for your 3D model:

  1. Gently file rough edges with sandpaper or nail file.
  2. Paint with acrylic paint (ex. nail polish) or permanent markers.

MORE COMPUTER PROGRAMMING

Learn about computer programming and computer science:

Apps that teach computer programming:

Code your own stories and games:

Learn advanced computer programming languages:

Be sure to visit our website as we update more fun activities and upcoming events!

Cardboard Arcades

A few years ago, a young boy took the world by storm with his inspiring cardboard arcade, Caine’s Arcade. Now, many people are joining in the fun by creating their own cardboard arcades. Whether they are collaborative efforts or just made to be tabletop fun, cardboard arcades are a great way to upcycle everyday materials and merge storytelling and simple machines. According to one of our favorite online video game design tools, Gamestar Mechanic, there are five elements of game design:

  1. Space: The look and feel of a game from the design of its environment.
  2. Components: The parts of the game, such as characters, mazes, enemies, etc.
  3. Mechanics: The actions in the game, such as jumping and collecting.
  4. Goals: The players complete tasks in order to achieve points and win the game.
  5. Rules: The guide and instructions for how the game should be played.

Whether designing digital video games or non-digital cardboard games, these 5 elements of game design are needed to create games that are engaging and fun. Think about the games that you see when you walk into Chuck E. Cheese’s or other arcade settings. You are immediately drawn to games with bright colors but you might be hesitant to waste a token on a game that doesn’t look like fun or make sense. Some times it’s best to start discussing the 5 elements of game design by looking at simple cardboard arcade game examples (Pinball Game, Foosball Game, Plinko, Pachinko, Cardboard Skeeball). We like to have our own tabletop examples available for students to examine, which allows them to really discuss the 5 elements of game design and to gain hands-on exploration of the simple machines that make the games work. Once they talk about successful and unsuccessful game elements, they can delve in deeper to the examples to see how they are made and talk about how they could recreate their own versions. Then we give our students the following open-ended challenge (note: We do cardboard arcades as a culminating project after our students have completed some hands-on cardboard construction with simple machines):

Design Challenge: Keeping in mind the 5 elements of game design, use upcycling materials to build your own arcade game that fits on a tabletop and has at least one simple machine.

  1. Sketch ideas and write about how simple machines and the 5 elements of game design will be used.
  2. Share with the group and discuss.
  3. Post-it Note Feedback: Everyone gives feedback to each other by using a post-it to write one thing you like and one suggestion for improvement (has to be actionable).
  4. Build!!!!! Inspire the students to really consider how they can transform the recyclable materials to create added functionality and challenge.
  5. User Testing: In groups of 3, students will test each other’s games and provide feedback on the 5 elements.
  6. Redesign (as needed)
  7. Play! A classroom arcade can be done in many ways. Whether its simply an hour of free-play or opening the arcade up to another classroom or a friends and family arcade night, letting the students share their arcade creations with others is priceless. Our kids have even gone so far as to create their own tickets and prizes!

Other Resources to Consider:

Cardboard Catapult Levers

Who doesn’t love the Angry Birds game? With the swipe of you finger on a touch screen you can sling silly little bird creatures toward teetering towers and watch them crumble as you earn precious points. These Angry Bird slingshots are modern day catapults, which are a simple machine called a lever. Catapults were the height of military sophistication back in the medieval age. These contraptions helped warriors to easily throw large heavy rocks at their enemies over great distances. (For background on simple machines, please read our previous post about ways to introduce the idea of simple machines and how you can “upcycle” everyday materials you already have access to.)

Almost any object can become a lever when it is rests upon or rotates around a fulcrum. By placing an object (load or resistance) on one side and applying pressure (force or effort) on the other side, the lever presses against or rotates around the fulcrum and moves the load. There are three classes of levers which depend upon the placement of the fulcrum and force (learn more about levers here on BrainPop). We like to demonstrate the most recognizable lever, a seesaw, using a paint stick stirrer (lever) and an empty toilet paper tube (fulcrum). When the fulcrum is placed in the middle of the lever you can apply gentle force to one side and watch it raise the load from the other side. If the fulcrum is moved away from the middle of the lever it alters the amount of force needed to move the load. If a lot of force is applied it turns our lever into a launcher. You can glue a plastic soda cap to one end of the paint stirrer stick and launch cotton balls or pom-poms into the air to demonstrate. This PBS Kids video is a another quick way to demonstrate a basic lever.

Levers can be even more fun when you create additional force by adding a spring, which is what truly gives a catapult lever its power. There are many types of catapult designs that range in complexity. There is even a group of people who make their own catapults to launch pumpkins each year (watch the Science Channel video here). You can create your own powerful tabletop catapult using a pencil as a lever, a twisted rubber band spring, and a sturdy box as your fulcrum (based on this tutorial by Lorriane at Ikat Bag). Let’s get ready to launch!

Gather Materials:

  • Medium-sized sturdy box for the base
  • Small cardboard box (matchbox, section of egg carton or scrap cardboard to make launching basket)
  • Thick rubber band (needs to be strong enough to be used as a spring)
  • Pencil (or wooden dowel rod)
  • Toothpicks (or wooden dowel rod cut to two pieces about 3″ each)
  • Pom-Poms (the load)
  • Scissors (or xacto knife)
  • Tape (masking tape or duct tape)
  • Optional decorative elements (markers, paint, feathers, etc.)
  • Consider using a yard stick on the floor to measure distance

Make It:

  1. Tape the basket to the end of the pencil. You can use a section of an egg carton, a matchbox, or scrap cardboard. (This is the basket to hold your load and the pencil is the lever or arm of your catapult.)
  2. Stand the box tall and remove one side of your box. (This will allow you to work inside of the box.)
  3. Cut or fold a notch into the top of the box. (Your pencil lever will rest against this notch later.)
  4. Cut a small slit in the middle of both sides of the box. The small slits should line up with the notch you cut/folded into the top of the box. (You will attach your rubber band spring here later.)
  5. Thread the rubber band through the small slits on the two sides of the box. Secure the rubberband with toothpicks or wooden dowels on the outside of the box. Make sure your rubber band is sturdy. If it is too loose it will not work very well. (This will become your rubber band spring that will provide resistance to your pencil lever later.)
  6. Twist the rubberband in the opposite direction that you want your pencil lever to launch. Slide the end of your pencil lever in between the two strands of twisted rubber band.
  7. Hold the box with one hand while you use the other hand to pull the lever down to the table and release. The lever should swing to the top of the box and rest in your cut/folded notch.
  8. Practice launching cotton balls and discuss the variables of the catapult:
    1. Remember that the twisted tension of the rubber band is what generates the force.
    2. The direction that you twist the rubber band is opposite of the direction you want to launch.
    3. The height of the pencil lever impacts your angle and distance.

Activities:

  • Record your observations while launching different materials (i.e. cotton balls, pom-poms, wadded piece of paper). Consider measuring distance, angle, and speed.
  • With two teams, build your own cardboard Medieval castle to protect your catapults and see how many times you can infiltrate the other team’s castle in 1 minute.
  • Use pom-poms to create your own Angry Birds and use them to knock down cardboard box towers.

Design Experiments:

  • What happens if you make a longer lever?
  • What happens if you make a deeper notch in the top of the box?
  • What happens if you use a tighter rubber band?

Want to learn more? Check out these resources: