Monthly Archives: September 2014

First Activity Period: Success!

Today was Day 1 of the 8-day rotation of activity periods (55 min, once every rotation). My Makerspace activity for today was Tinkering 101, but because of scheduling issues that are too boring to go into, I had some Tinkerers and some Sewers.  (I’ll have Tinkerers in my Sewing activity as well, so in the end, it will balance out.)

I wish I had taken some pictures, although it’s the same as what I have been posting lately: kids playing with motors and LEDs and batteries, and kids cutting fabric and sewing. I was super impressed with this group of kids–after having them fill out a short info sheet so I know what they hope to make and a quick intro from me about how I expect/need them to help each other when problems come up, and how things going wrong is part of the process, they got right to work. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they do because I suspect that the tinkerers will keep upping their game each week–they are a sharp group, and seem pretty fearless about learning through trial and error.


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Rainy Day

We’ve started allowing kids to come to the library for recess–5th and 6th graders can come on Mon and Wed, and 7th and 8th on Tues and Thurs.  (The librarians need to eat, so we have to split it up.) Today was a 5/6 day, and it was rainy, which meant recess in the gym.  We were flooded with kids–sewing, tinkering, reading, using computers, helping shelve books. It was wild!

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The rest of the day was pretty uneventful by comparison! 🙂

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Week in review, sort of

I did not do a good job last week of daily reflecting! It was kind of a crazy week, and now it’s all a bit of a blur. But I’m going to attempt a week in review.

Chaos took over a bit in the Makerspace and the library in general–not because of any poor behavior, but just sheer numbers of kids. More formal activities start this week all over the middle school, which I am hoping will reduce the chaos a bit and give the Maker kids some opportunities to really dive into longer-term projects. I’m curious to see who signed up for which activities (we’re doing 4 in the Makerspace: Sewing, Paper Circuits, Tinkering 101 (2 sections), and Scratch Programming (2 sections), with each activity meeting for 55 minutes during each 8-day rotation). I’m also considering allowing daily drop-ins in addition to the kids signed up, but need to wait and see how things play out.

I got a new shipment of hobby motors, so there was a lot of experimentation with those.


Tinkering with motors and LEDs.


Motors, wood sticks, tape, and playdoh. When turned on, it looked a lot like those light-up spinning things you can buy at Disney.

And of course there was sewing!

IMG_0088I don’t have a photo for it, but the Raspberry Pi crew continues to experiment. Sometime when it is not so chaotic in the library, I need to check in with them and see what they are up to.

And of course we are still checking out loads of books. Here is our hold shelf this morning. A healthy hold shelf is, I hope, a sign of a healthy reading culture!

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Finally, this weekend was the RVA Makerfest. Collegiate had a few tables in the student showcase portion of the Fest. The lower school had some awesome Scratch, Makey Makey, and Lego WeDo interactive games set up, and the middle school had SEW for SOS, Sparki the robot, and a paper circuits station where folks could make an electronic card. I ended up helping out with the paper circuits and didn’t get a chance to take many pics or see much of the Fest, but here are a few shots:

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Fixing Sparki!

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Interactive games from the Lower School.

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Lower school helper!

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The student showcase was a lot of fun, and we stayed busy the whole time. One interesting observation, though, relates to the idea of frustration tolerance that I’ve written about recently and that has been discussed on the #makered chat on Twitter. The kids who came to do paper circuits were pretty much able to handle it fine when they did it wrong the first time or things didn’t work out quite the way they wanted or as easily as they thought it would. The process is pretty simple, but when you haven’t done it before, there are many ways to mess up. Which is fine! It’s okay! For every single “mess up,” we were able to get the card working by the end, with a little tweaking and revising. My sense was that the kids were okay with this. But the parents? Not always. I had a student helper who got snipped at by a parent who insisted on doing things the way they thought they should work, but then was upset when it didn’t work at the end. I got snipped at myself. People! These are middle school kids volunteering at an event! The kid’s stress kind of became my stress, and I ended up taking over more than I wanted to and more than I believe in doing, just to try to protect my kids and myself from snippy adults. Blergh.

I wonder if, by changing how we do education, and incorporating frustration and failure more consciously as something to be expected and even embraced, we might create adults who will welcome those moments when their children are wrestling with something that doesn’t come easily or doesn’t work the way it should. I know it is hard for me as a parent/teacher–as evidenced by my stepping in when the kids were uncomfortable with the cranky adults!! It’s a hard line to walk, and it’s hard to know when to step back and when to step in.

In the end, though, it was a good experience for all of us!

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The Faire!

The very idea of trying to write about the Maker Faire is overwhelming. There was so much to see, and I had such a wonderful time, I don’t even know how to begin to process it in an articulate way. So I guess I will just do some highlight bullet points and see where that takes me.

1. SEW for SOS. The kids represented. On day one, their booth (and some other booths–not just them) was in a not-great location, kind of set off from the main activity of the Faire. This was probably both a good and a bad thing–they didn’t have to be overwhelmed by too much activity and chaos on the first day, but they also didn’t get to be in the thick of things. On day 2, however, they were moved to a better location, and the action picked up. I don’t know if they counted how many pillows were sewn, but I do know they ran out of stuffing and also won a Blue Ribbon award from Make. I was really proud of them–it’s not easy to do all that traveling and be “on” for two straight days with thousands of people walking by and asking about your project, but they handled it like pros.


Blue Ribbon Award presentation


Writing messages to go inside their pillows.


So proud!

2. Physical computing.  I think this is what might have most interested me–exhibits where folks were combining microcontrollers with real world materials to make stuff do stuff. Some of this was robotics, and some just off-the-wall creative stuff.  I could see my students having so much fun exploring this kind of thing–I kept snapping photos so I could share with the kids and see what inspires them.


Combining old pinball tech with arduino to create custom pinball machines. The guy who made this was AWESOME.


Cool cube with spinning things


Boat thing made of Lego connected to a microcontroller


Lego car connected to microcontroller

3. 3D-printed artwork. I will confess that I have not been as moved by the whole 3D printing revolution as some folks. I think it is extremely cool and has amazing potential for the world (and I was really intrigued by the two displays I saw devoted to 3D-printed prosthetic hands), but I happily breezed past most of the 3D-printing exhibits. Until I came to Shane Hope‘s exhibit.  Here’s a photo of his sign, because the description is still a bit incomprehensible to me:


Here are a few of his pieces:

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I’m not an art critic at all, but these pieces were super compelling for some reason.


4. Good people, doing what they love. It’s wonderful to be able to just stop and talk to people about their work and passions. I didn’t do nearly as much of this as I wish, in retrospect, I had done. But even when I couldn’t stop to talk for long, the energy coming off of these people just filled me up.


Sparkfun Guy!


Teen inventor/innovator


Robot artist

5. Weird stuff.  Giant cardboard robotic dinosaurs with kids inside. Crocodile bicycle trains. Huge robotic creatures. Sculptures made from junk. There was no limit to the weird and wonderful.


Huge Flow game


Cool machine that tracks data


Giant robot


Life size game of Mousetrap


Junk Sculptures


Cardboard robotic dinosaur with kid inside

Honestly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  I had an amazing weekend, and I’m so grateful to have been able to attend the Faire. I also had a wonderful soup dumpling dinner in Flushing with friends; a chance to visit with a former colleague while we explored the Faire together; an amazing hotel experience and view; and relatively smooth travel.  A++ weekend!

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Parent’s Night + New York = Nap

Last night was Parent’s Night for the middle school. The library hosted a number of information tables (fine arts, auxiliary services, PE), plus the food, so we were pretty busy! It was great to see so many people and to get some parent perspective/feedback on the things we are doing in the library. We heard about our interns loving being interns, our readers loving our collection and suggestions, and our makers loving the Makerspace. How nice it is to hear, “Every day when he gets in the car, the first thing he talks about is what he did in the library today.”

To make things a little more fun, I set up a Makey Makey/Scratch piano with playdough keys and a Make an LED Throwie for Your Child station.  (Throwie = LED + battery + magnet + tape.  Makes a simple little light that can stick on your locker or refrigerator.) I didn’t know what to expect in terms of interest, but I think parents made at least 75 throwies! I hope they stayed lit overnight because a bunch of parents put them in their kids’ lockers to surprise them this morning. My test one lasted a few days, so I think it was probably okay, but you never know. And I wasn’t there to find out because. . .

I’m in NEW YORK CITY! for the World Maker Faire, where the SEW for SOS kids will have an exhibit. I am so excited to see the Faire!

When I got to my hotel (after a smooth but exhausting morning of travel–two straight nights of 3-4 hours of sleep did not make for a happy traveler), the guy at the desk asked if I wanted a smaller bed in exchange for a room on the top floor, on a corner, with a better view. I said yes. This (poor picture, sorry) is what I got to see this evening:


Once I got in my room, I decided to close my eyes for a few minutes.  I woke up several hours later, thankfully in time to catch that sunset.

And that is all my news! I’m going to try to crash early so I am well rested for a busy day tomorrow of Maker Faire and evening of seeing some local friends.

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Independence, Frustration, Etc.

I was greeted this morning by this lady on the library door.


I thought she was a he, but a student corrected me and told me that the presence of wings means she’s female. Another student added that female praying mantises (manti?) bite the heads off males. Amusing start to the day!

Last night’s #makered chat on Twitter was about frustration, so I had that topic on my mind today.

It’s interesting how some kids want a lot of help, and others clearly want to be left alone to just explore on their own and only seek me out to share their successes. I am trying hard to build a culture where, when they do want help, they can ask each other instead of me or another adult. It takes some time to get this going, especially at the start of the year with a whole new batch of 5th graders. Today I caught myself falling into the old habit of doing something for a kid because the bell is about to ring and they want to be finished and they say, “Will you please help me do this last part?” Once I recognized it, I stopped, but it’s funny how easy it is to go into that “fix it” mode when you have a kid who has been working hard on something and just desperately wants to see the finished product. But it won’t kill them to either wrestle with it themselves after school or come back tomorrow! I know this! D’oh!

What they wanted help with: origami.  I made a variety of little origami things the other day when I was waiting in the library for my daughter to finish sports practice, and I have them out on the circulation desk. So today I had kids wanting to make cubes and ninja stars.


Meanwhile, the Raspberry Pi crew continues their work–I have no idea what they are doing exactly, but they are focused and happy. The Flying Box boys are really progressing with each new iteration of their project–as I told them today, whether or not their creation flies, they have really impressed me with how each new version is clearly a thoughtful attempt to fix a problem discovered in the previous version. The box itself was actually gone today, replaced by much lighter “legs.” (Wish I’d snapped a pic, but I was pulled into origami world before I got a chance!)  These kids are really a model for perseverance and analysis of problems. I want to bottle what they bring to the Makerspace!

Another great day in the library!

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I have nothing particularly interesting to report, but it was a joyful day in the library.

  • Some kids are playing with the Raspberry Pi (it has been in a box in the Makerspace since last spring, but it was only just discovered last week when we did our enforced clean-up!).
  • The Flying Box kids are continuing their work.  One came up to me and said, “So here’s our hypothesis.” (Someone has been listening in science class, right?) They think they either have the propellers on wrong or “maybe it’s just too heavy.” But I did witness the hovering they’ve been talking about, and it’s pretty exciting. They are now seeing if they can get coin cell batteries, which are lighter, to provide enough power to make the motor run fast enough.
  • The Library Intern program continues to grow. I need to at some point get a photo of my colleague surrounded by eager interns. They like to all talk to her at once.  🙂
  • I sat and made origami boxes with a 5th grade boy as the chaos of collaboration/help time swirled around us.

A very good day.  Especially for a Monday!

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