NWAIS Fall Educators Conference Maker Play Space

At this year's Fall Educators Conference, Brad Baugher of host school Oregon Episcopal School organized a Maker Play Space demonstrating technologies and projects from 4 NWAIS-member schools. The event featured a great exchange of ideas and opportunity for teachers to explore and discover. Brad contributed this write-up of the event.

I am the Director of Educational Technology at OES. I’ve been here since 1980 and have been working with integrating technology in the classroom since the early 1990’s. The boilerplate description is: to help guide the evolution of the school’s academic technology philosophy and strategy, plan for and implement educational technology initiatives, facilitate faculty member and student inquiry into uses of technology to support teaching and learning, and support the integration of information, communication, and technology literacy standards within the instructional program.

I’m convinced that we are at a crossroads moment when Seymour Papert's vision of "constructionist learning" can finally be realized through the Maker movement in all of it’s facets, bringing students to the functional understanding that they really are the architects of their own learning. (I’ll step down from the soapbox now ;>)

This year’s Fall Educators Conference proved to be the perfect venue for showing teachers and administrators why people are so excited about designing, making, and engineering  and what it means for student learning. Everyone seems to have heard about the Maker movement, but without seeing it in action folks are really left to their own devices when trying to sort out how and why it might have such an impact in schools. Since the 2014 conference theme was Create Play Wonder, we created a Maker Play Space to showcase some of the more well-known making and tinkering activities that are available.

Setting up “stations” at tables and work areas in an open space allowed participants to see, learn about and play with the materials and devices that were distributed around the room. Teachers and student helpers staffed the stations to explain the activity and encourage attendees to give it a try themselves. This open-ended, hands-on approach was just the ticket to create the atmosphere of creative involvement we were looking for.

While the number of interested and engaged visitors to the Play Space was impressive, one of the best things about the session was that it represented a collaborative effort with folks from five different NWAIS schools jumping in to either set up activity stations of their own or to volunteer to help staff an existing station. Many conference participants commented on the fact that different schools were working together to make the play space such a success. Many thanks to all who helped and I hope we will be able to collaborate like this again on future projects.

Here’s a rundown of the stations that were available during the play time:

Student projects - Various NWAIS Schools

Some of the most promising entrepreneurial and creative kids seem to be drawn to the Maker arena and we were able to feature a couple of projects that really illustrate that fact. One student was incensed at the price of filament for 3D printing so he developed a system for making his own. Another project involved creation of a pair of adaptive glasses that includes the ability for the wearer to make adjustments for magnification, brightness, and contrast. Conference attendees loved talking with students about bringing their ideas to life.

Little Bits - Colin Monaghan, The Evergreen School

Little Bits’ mission “to put the power of electronics in the hands of everyone” has led them to create simple, functional parts that connect magnetically to form circuitry that allows people to easily build and quickly prototype using switches, sensors, motors and other output devices. This let conference visitors have fun learning and playing with a little or no technical knowledge and experience.

Tinker Camp - Rob van Nood, The Catlin Gabel School

Rob van Nood’s cardboard design and build area proved to be a very popular activity. Rob is the EdTech coordinator at The Catlin Gabel and also runs a summer program that encourages kids to create their own unique solutions problems. Using sheets of corrugated cardboard appropriate tools and supplies he allowed visitorsto build creative artifacts they could take with them. His battery powered cardboard cutter and electric scissors were quite a hit.

Makey-Makey - Debra Thomas, Oregon Episcopal School

One of the most surprising stations for visitors was the computer interface kit called Makey-Makey. With this simple to use computer interface kit, people can build touch-pad activities that are fun to create and play. One set-up demonstrated a “banana piano”, which uses a Scratch program, a Makey-Makey kit and some bananas as keys that generate sound when they are touched. Another activity used play-doh and Makey-Makey to build game controller to play Pac-Man.

Design Challenges - Brad Baugher, Oregon Episcopal School

At this station participants were challenged to devise a way to get a ping-pong ball from the top of a strand of fishing line down a slope to the bottom in exactly four seconds. They were given other materials and tools (scissors, tape, straws, dixie cups, metal washers, etc) that they could use for their solution the challenge. The idea was to present a fun and engaging problem that could be approached in a multitude of ways and give visitors the opportunity to test and refine their theories.

Lego Wall and Stop Motion Animation - Anglea Hancock, Oregon Episcopal School

We at OES wanted to build a Lego Wall for a few years now and this conference gave us the push we needed to go ahead with the project. Angela Hancock, the Lower School EdTech coordinator,  glued green lego sheets to a 4 by 8 foot sheet of particle board  which acted as a vertical building surface. Using lego bricks and a stop-motion app on an iPad mini, visitors had the opportunity to see how students could build their their own stories and bring them to life.

Arduinos & Wearable Computing - Debra Thomas, Oregon Episcopal School

EdTech teacher Debra Thomas showed visitors that circuitry and electronics can be used to design art projects and projects that can be worn on the body. At first it sounds more complicated than it really is, but with a little cloth or felt, some conductive thread, LEDs, metal snaps, a coin battery and a switch its amazing what a person can invent. Throw in a Lily Pad Arduino kit and you really have some flexibility. A second station with a more general Arduino demonstration was available for visitors to check out how a programmable micro-controller interface works.

Raspberry Pi - Ed Cecere, Oregon Episcopal School

The smallest, cheapest computer around is the Raspberry Pi. Ed Cecere, Upper School EdTech coordinator at OES put together a demonstration that showed off just a few of its features. Conference goers had a chance to see how this simple, yet powerful system allows students to attach peripherals, run programs and use the internet all from a system that costs about $40 and fits in the palm of a hand.

Digital & Paper Book-making - Angela Hancock, Oregon Episcopal School

Angela Hancock also led participants through a project that has younger students work together to create digital books that can then be turned into traditional paper books, complete with sewn bindings.

Coding with the iPad - Angela Heath, Annie Wright Schools

Angela Heath, EdTech director, brought along some iPads with apps specifically targeted to teaching students in elementary grades about coding. Sometimes just having the time to find good resources can keep teachers from moving ahead with teaching programming and coding. Teachers especially liked having access to someone who did a great deal of research and could make recommendations.

Squishy-Circuits - Angela Heath, Annie Wright Schools

Angela Heath was generous enough to also bring along materials for squishy-circuits, which allows students to create circuits and explore electronics using play dough. Using both conductive and non-conductive recipes for the dough, and some batteries, lights, switches and motors, kids can come up with highly inventive projects while learning about circuits.

3D Design and Printing - Ed Cecere, Oregon Episcopal School

One of the most popular spots in the Play Space was the station that featured the 3D design software called Tinker CAD and a Makerbot 3D printer. People were very intrigued with the idea of creating objects in software that could then be downloaded to the printer to become a physical reality. The most interest was generated by a working prosthetic hand made from parts that were entirely 3D printed.