Seems like every time I go looking for information about one thing in the world of maker ed, I discover the existence of some other thing(s) that I want to know more about. It’s a challenge to stay focused on my initial goal–I keep wanting to play around with the next thing. The thing is, they are all related. What I’m suffering through at any given moment might be a problem whose solution is located in something I’ve set aside for later. It feels a bit like I am jumping all over the place, from tree to tree, with a vague sense that the forest exists but no real vision of it yet.
When I find a webpage that talks about Littlebits AND Arduino AND Scratch all working together, I’m all, “I MUST LEARN THIS!” So I spent last night playing with that a bit, and I got something working using the Littlebits Arduino module, and a very simple thing working using Scratch/Arduino/Littlebits. Check out my awesome new cat toy (not really a cat toy, but the cat was very intrigued by the servo motor).
But I’m still at a place where I know very little about Arduino (I can copy/paste code all day long and am learning how to read it enough to tweak it, but I’m a long way off, I think, from writing it). But what if something like Ardublock (a graphical coding interface kind of like Scratch) could get me over the hump of being so ignorant? I spent some time in an Ardublock rabbit hole. (It looks from their site like there are even Ardublock blocks for Scratch, but I can’t figure out how to get them uploaded yet.) And I want to learn, and have started to learn, how to build circuits myself, but I love how with Littlebits, I can focus on the code part or just play with putting different things together. It’s a way to be able to play without having to spend hours on an aspect that is not really my primary goal at that moment, even though it is absolutely a long-term goal.
I’m not sure exactly what I’m saying, but I feel like there are different aspects to all of this:
1. Electronics: learning how to build the circuits from scratch. Learning about electricity and magnetism and all that jazz.
2. Coding: learning how to write the code that will make stuff do stuff. Learning that language.
3. Bringing the electronics and the code together: the communication between the two.
4. Design: coming up with an idea in the first place!
What am I missing?
I feel like my summer so far has me spending time in all of those areas, and I’m grateful for tools like Scratch and Littlebits and omg the internet (!!!! how did we ever do without it?!?!?!) because otherwise I’d be too lost to even know where to begin. I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t just be focusing on one aspect and going deep into it, but then I remind myself that the summer is long, and as long as I am learning new things, it’s all good.
And here’s my lightbulb moment: I feel anxious about not having produced any sort of real product. I want to understand everything so that I can produce something awesome. I’m like a preschooler in terms of my knowledge about making, but I feel this internal pressure to have a PhD or something. I spent more time that I care to admit creating this goofy thing on Scratch today. (Note: the pig is one of my sewing creations!) But: 1) I was having fun; and 2) I was learning: I learned a bit about Photoshop; learned how to insert sound; got better at what I would call page changes. While I was working on that silly thing, I was also playing with some more complicated code on another (very much incomplete) project, and this was a way to practice some of the things I already know as a break from the stress of the unknown. Turned out to be a good balance.
I’m thinking now about our cultural emphasis on product. Even when we are talking about progressive or constructivist ed, it seems like we often point to “oh, look at this AMAZING thing that came out of it” instead of “oh, look at how engaged and focused these kids are while they work on this thing that may or may not end up working at all.” When I was trying to talk to our middle school head about an inquiry-based project that had gone really well earlier this year, I kept finding myself pointing to the end results (which were amazing), because that was so easy to do, but what I really wanted to capture was the process–how much those kids LOVED doing the work they were doing. And some of the most incredible work in terms of process didn’t necessarily translate visibly to product–it’s not always that simple.
So anyway, what if I just set that worry about product aside? What if I just said, each day, “Today I am going to try something new–try to answer some question I have or figure out how something works–or keep making progress on something I’ve already started. I’m not going to worry about what I’ll have to show for it, or whether I find the answer or figure out the thing right now. I’m going to TRY, and I’m going to trust in that.”
Seems a lot more interesting and less stressful than the old way. And I think, in the end, I’ll end up learning what I need to learn to create better products anyway. Focusing on process is more motivating: I have an end goal in mind that is some sort of product, and that is necessary, but if I shift the emphasis, it feels freeing.
I have more thoughts on this brewing, but that’s all for now. This is a very radical shift in thinking for me–not in terms of educating kids, but in terms of educating myself.