Survived the first week back at school–no kids yet, but lots and lots of meetings.  I am TIRED! We have a new schedule that I still haven’t wrapped my head around (8-day rotation); new head of school and other changes in administration; new initiatives; new new new. Usually at this point in the year, I am feeling comfortable and ready, but this year, there is a layer of anxiety with all of the changes. The only one that really makes me anxious is the new schedule, because it will likely dramatically change the flow of activity in the library–I like the schedule itself and think it will wonderful for the kids, but am just nervous to see how it will play out for my particular corner of the world.  We’ll find out next week!

Of course, after the summer I had, I am very excited to see what will happen in the Makerspace this year. My goals:

1. Have that space active and hopping during every activity period, by offering a variety of options for kids to sign up for and also some slots for kids to drop in randomly.

2. Collaborate with faculty on projects that utilize the space and materials in the Makerspace, and also on projects involving coding.

3. Continue to learn new things!

4. Listen to the kids and meet them where they are. I have more thoughts on this, and it will eventually be a post of its own. What I want to do better, among many other things of course, is be tuned in to the non-squeaky wheels, the unspoken needs of the kids who might not be using the space yet or who might need something different. One thing I already know to do differently from last year is to provide more structure during activity period for kids who need it–we had some kids who were interested in making but needed more help than I realized in terms of getting started or coming up with an idea. In the first rotation of our Make It activity (a very openly defined weekly activity), the kids just immediately figured out what they wanted to work on and got going, and really didn’t need much guidance.  The second rotation was the opposite, but I didn’t handle it well–I figured they would get there eventually on their own, because of how the first group had gone, but I was wrong.

5. Figure out the whole structure/chaos balance for the library.  I wrote about this early in the summer.  The new schedule really demands that I get a better grip on this, because we are going to have times when the entire middle school is in a free period, and it’s going to be crazy.

6. Remember, always, at the end of the day, that it’s about figuring out and doing what is best for the kids. Every kid is different, so what is best for one might not be best for another. That is both terrifying and beautiful, isn’t it?


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I’ve been spending the last few weeks of summer doing things I love: spending time with family, reading books, lazing, goofing around on the internet, sewing, etc.  It has been lovely, and I’m ready for school to start!

This might be a weird post, but I took my daughter to the doctor the other day for her annual checkup, and I’ve been thinking about a little thing that happened while we were there.

We were waiting in this little area outside the lab area of the office (my daughter had to get one shot), and in comes a doctor or nurse with a handful of files.  The lab tech takes them, flips through them, and sighs, “Triplets.”  So, naturally, knowing that any minute a crew of triplets is going to come into the waiting area, I start wondering–will they be identical?  how old will they be?  etc.

A minute later, in come 4 little kids with their mom.  A boy with a broken arm and missing front teeth who says, “Do I have to get a shot, Mom?”  “Not today.”  “Why not?”  “It’s not your turn.”  He gets the hugest grin.  The other three are the triplets, all 5 and getting ready to get their shots for kindergarten.  They do not look anything alike–not even like siblings, really, let alone triplets.  One, a little boy with huge eyes, sees a familiar book about animals and yells, “I LOVE THIS BOOK!” and grabs it off the shelf above the seats.  He is immediately immersed in it.  Little girl with long blond curly hair just calmly and quietly sits, looking like she is entertaining herself with whatever is in her imagination.  The third is a little girl with short curly brown hair, nervous, sitting in Mom’s lap while Mom reads to her.  Mom says to the lab tech, “It would be best if Dylan goes first.”

They call Dylan back–he is the boy triplet– and he asks for Mom to come with him.  I couldn’t see the shots happening, but there was a bit of whimpering, which made all the other three run to peek around the corner and see.  They run and peek, then come back and sit.  Run and peek, come back and sit.  The blond just plops back down happily.  The nervous one starts looking more nervous.  There was a teenage girl also in the waiting area, who could see the kids getting the shots from where she was, and she says, “I think he’s almost done.  He’s okay.”  The nervous one says, “How many shots did he get?”  “Three, I think.  But he’s okay.”  Out Dylan comes, wipes his tears, grabs his book again, and starts reading like nothing has happened.  “I love this book,” he says again.

They call the blond one back (I didn’t catch either of the other two names), and she just trots on back without a care.  As she is getting the shots, the teenager watching says, “She is brave!  She didn’t cry at all!”  And the other three, all at the same time, say, “She’s always brave.”  You probably had to be there, but it was really amazing how they all said it together with the exact same tone of awe.

Then it was of course time for the poor little nervous one.  At this point, the other lab tech cleared me and my daughter to leave (we were just waiting to make sure she didn’t have an allergic reaction), so we didn’t get to see what happened next, but we we heard it!  She was not a happy little girl!

So why is this story sticking with me, and how is it relevant?  I think it was a good reminder to me about how kids come to us (at school, at home) with their own personalities and needs.  I was really impressed by the mom of those kids–she was far calmer than I would be with 4 kids under the age of 7 (!!), but she also was just so in tune with the whole thing.  She knew which kid should go first; she knew to give the nervous one that bit of nurturing beforehand and to have her go last; she seemed to let them all (based on how they acted, how they were dressed, etc.) be their own individual selves.  It’s not really something I can capture in a blog post, but it was moving.  Maybe because in my mind, when I heard “triplets,” I had this vision of three identical kids coming, and the reality was so different.

Looking forward to seeing what personalities I get to meet this new school year!


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Crafting, plus SEW for SOS update

I think I might be getting sick, but aside from that, it’s been a good few days.

1. I downloaded ScratchJr (free iPad app).  It’s not something I will personally use (because of age of kids I work with), but seems worth looking at for folks who have or teach younger kids.

2. I made some more bears.  God, I love those bears.

3.  I made some origami stuff, most addictively these little cubes.  You make six separate pieces, and then the awesome part is fitting them all together into the cube.  Very satisfying.

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4.  Today I met up with a former advisee for lunch, then headed to school to help Luke out with packaging up some SEW for SOS pillows.  We have sent out about 150 pillows in the last week, some to organizations, but today was all individual requests, about 25 of them, all over the country (and one to England!).  I was finally motivated to figure out how to import the data from the Excel spreadsheet of requests into a Mail Merge for the address labels–it took me way longer than it should have, but now that I know how to do it, I can walk the kids through it once and then be done with it.  (Luke is currently broken-armed and in a sling, so having him poke around to try to figure it out one-handed did not make sense; he probably would have gotten it quicker than I did anyway, though!  He did the packaging while I wrestled with Word.)

In other SEW for SOS news, Luke applied and got accepted to the World Maker Faire in NYC this September.  He and Deven, along with their parents and maybe some cousins who live in NY, will have an exhibit at the faire where folks can sew pillows.  If anyone reads this who is going to be at that Maker Faire, please give them a visit and some support!  It’s a huge deal.  I will help as much as I can with their prep work, but I won’t be along for the actual ride.  They also are on the final leg of the fundraising drive with Sponsr.us; $90 to reach the stretch goal of $900.  The goal is to bring the project to other schools (providing supplies and some postage money), and also to get a postage fund for us–our shipments today probably will cost about $50.  Postage is by far the biggest expense.

And that is all!  Tomorrow I am going to attend a little intro to Python class that a colleague’s son is teaching–I figure I will be lost, but I’m looking forward to dipping a toe into those waters.

I have one more maker goal for the summer: to learn how to program an ATtiny85 and use it in a paper circuit.  And that, my friends, is ALL.  Because summer is almost over!

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My iPad holder works!

I used a LilyTwinkle and 4 LEDs (which the Twinkle makes light up randomly).  The cat pattern is from either The Cute Book or The Cuter Book by Aranzi Aronzo (I can’t remember which one).  The bag is a basic $4 grey felt bag/sleeve that I got at JoAnn fabric store–available online here, but I didn’t pay $6.99 for it!

Here’s the inside/underneath of the flap:

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And a still shot of the front:

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My hope was that the conductive thread would blend in well with the gray felt material of the bag, and it did–you can see it, but it’s not the first thing you see.  (You possibly can’t see it in the photos here, but it’s visible.)

I messed up many, many times along the way.  I sewed an LED upside down (connected the negative side to the positive pin on the LilyTwinkle), and had to rip out a whole strand.  I lost track at one point and sewed into the wrong pin, and it was one I had already used, so I had to rip out two strands (I don’t know the word I need here–the conductive thread line from one pin/connection to another) because I couldn’t tell what was what.  Those were the biggest two mistakes.

But all in all, it went as smoothly as any new project goes, and I am happy with how it turned out.  :)

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There is something extremely satisfying about making stuffed animals.

I bought a yard of very soft sherpa/suede fabric the other day, with the idea that I could make a stuffed animal.  Then all of the patterns I could find seemed too complex for my somewhat undeveloped sewing skills, except for this very basic bear pattern.

As I mentioned in my last post, the sherpa is a bit of a hassle and sheds a LOT, but I made these cuties:

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I’m also working on an etextile project with another LilyTwinkle.  The plan/hope is to have a decorated/light-up iPad holder, and I’ll post the results if it actually ends up working.  There are a million places where I could mess up–I’ve already had to rip out quite a few stitches–so I feel like there is about an 80% chance of eventual success.

As summer winds down, I really need to be reading more.  I usually use the summer to do a ton of middle school reading, and I have read some, but not nearly enough to feel comfortable for the start of the school year!  I have a nice stack of books that I am looking forward to reading!


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Reflections on the Summer of Making

My husband informed me a few hours ago that, essentially, summer is almost over–2.5 more weeks, and then it’s done.  This has been the fastest summer in history, but also the most fun, so I can live with that.  It will be good to be back amongst the kids and try to bring some of what I’ve learned this summer into the life of the library.

I’ve spent the last several days mostly working on sewing projects–first, this LilyTwinkle pillow (the LilyTwinkle makes the lights blink randomly):

And then today I went to the fabric store and bought some sherpa fabric and I am attempting to make a very simple teddy bear with it.  I’m still in the sewing/inside-out phase, so I have no idea how it will turn out, but I can tell you this: sherpa sheds like mad and is kind of a pain to work with, but omg, so SOFT!  I also bought some dark gray felt and a little gray felt purse-like thing that I hope will be good for an etextile project.  I’m hoping the conductive thread will kind of blend in with the gray.

But anyway, my husband’s comment got me thinking about what I’ve learned this summer (not specific things, which I have already posted about, but just in general) about making.

1.  Everything (EVERYthing) takes longer than you think it will, and there are always (ALWAYS) unexpected hiccups along the way.  I laugh when I look at my goals for the summer and what I considered the absolute minimum of what I would accomplish.  I was CRAZY over-optimistic, but I thought I was being conservatively realistic!  And I have spent a lot more time than I expected to spend on making!

2.  Directions (including, by the way, ones written by yours truly) that say “easy” or “simple” are LIES, ALL LIES.  Okay, not lies, but if you are new to making like I am, nothing is simple or easy.  It’s all relative.  Every single thing I’ve done this summer is simple/easy in the grand scheme of things, but none of it was truly simple or easy for me.  Some things got much easier as I went along, of course, and by the time I got around to documenting my eventual success, some of the problems/challenges seemed distant and insignificant.  But when you are doing a project you have never done before or working with new materials/technology, what seems easy or straightforward in either the directions or your mental vision is hardly ever that way in real life.  At least not if you are me.  (I’m sure some of this is because of my weakness when it comes to spatial thinking.  But not all of it.)

3. Sometimes there are no directions for what you want to do.  When you are on the 4th page of Google results and there is nothing that even remotely resembles what you are searching for, you have to either do something else (tempting), or see if you can figure it out, sometimes with the help of others and sometimes on your own.

4. 1-3 above are features of making, not bugs.  These are the most important things I’ve experienced this summer, more valuable than the specific things I have learned:  frustration; a desire to give up and do something different (which sometimes meant switching gears for a while and then coming back with fresh eyes/brain); a mixture of ultimate success and ultimate failure and a lot of in between.  The process is kind of like this:  vision (pure awesomeness!); wrestling with reality (oh wow, my vision was insane); adjustment of vision to something actually attainable; wrestling more with reality (my vision is now attainable but still way harder than I thought it would be); back and forth between adjusting vision and overcoming frustrations/challenges–vision gets simpler and then possibly goes back to being a bit more complicated once a hurdle is crossed (“if I can do that, maybe I can do that other thing that seemed impossible a few hours ago”); and eventually, some product that, because of all you went through in the process, feels AMAZING! even if it is just a pale imitation of the original vision.  Because you DID IT!

5. Sharing is an essential part of making.  Sharing the product but also sharing the process.  This is the educator part of me, I guess, but I think kids need to see and know that all of the messy parts of making are good and normal and worthwhile and important.

Those are my thoughts for now.  It’s late; I should sleep.


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More play

My first task of the day was to get this working (Lego dude dancing to music, using a sound sensor on PicoBoard combined with WeDo motor, and a very basic Scratch program):

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The Scratch code

Then I made a bunch of electronic greeting cards, some that were more about the circuit and some more about the art–got out my watercolor pencils, which I haven’t used in a long time, and also tested out more cards with the circuit showing (instead of shining through from the page behind).

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Then I had a nap.  :)

Not sure what I’ll get up to this evening.

I realized that I have a tendency to avoid projects that will take several days (or more)–I need to get better at designing more complex things and then chunking them into smaller mini-goals.  I like the quick gratification of a simple project, but I’m now at the point in my learning with these tools where it’s time to tackle something more ambitious.  Last night, I started on a more complicated Scratch program, but I don’t really have a clear design–right now, it’s just a series of cool (to me, at least) art programs all running in sequence.  I’d like to try a more ambitious paper circuit or etextile project, but I need to take the time to plan something out.  Something like this, except (realistically speaking) far less complex:

I guess something between what I’ve been doing and Jie Qi’s poster.  :)

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