Maker Faire at B & N

You know the Maker Movement has taken off when a huge national chain like Barnes & Noble gets involved! I was delighted when I first saw a flyer for a  Maker Faire happening at Barnes & Noble stores just over a month ago. Barnes & Noble has teamed up with Make: Magazine (one of my favorite resources for learning about Making) to create this event. It is also sponsored by some of our favorite creation companies like Little Bits, LEGO, Makey Makey, and Snap Circuits, to name a few. As an educator who is so invested in the Maker Movement and providing opportunities for students to be innovative creators, I am so glad that students across America will have a chance to experience Making with high-tech items and learn from other Makers at this event.

I got in contact with the manager at our local Barnes & Noble to learn more about this great event so I could share it with my Makerspace Intramural kids at my school. The event will run from November 6-8 and there will be all sorts of different activities all day long throughout the weekend. He said they were given fun high tech items, like robotics and circuits, that people will be able to play with and learn from, there will be demonstrations on how to use many of the items, and there will even be Makers from throughout the community there to present.

I know the kids in my Makerspace group are very excited to attend and see all that they have to offer, as am I! Check out the images below to see the MakerFaire schedule at Barnes & Noble stores across the nation:

Another great thing I noticed on the Barnes & Noble website is that they are now selling many of the Maker materials that they will have at their Maker Faire. From Sphero to 3D printers, they are selling some really great Makerspace items! If you host a book fair at their store like we do, it's a great opportunity to shop for your school Makerspace while earning money for your school.

I, for one, can't wait to check out the Barnes & Noble Maker Faire and applaud them for recognizing the importance of giving the community a chance to explore, create, and be innovative by providing this event. I hope to see more businesses embrace the Maker Movement and find ways to get the community involved. Check with your local B & N store if you want to see what great opportunities they will be providing that weekend.

Here is a fun video they put together to promo this event:

It's Time to Celebrate Education

This summer I was selected to be part of the Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship. I had the opportunity to travel to Grand Rapids to meet the other fellows, talk about important issues in education, and learn how to promote our voices as educators. There were many valuable lessons shared during this time that have helped me change how I look at education and helped me to adapt my role as an educator. One of the things that has stuck with me as I started this school year was the importance of celebrating all that we are doing in education.

Despite the criticisms that we hear about public education in America, those doing the criticizing are often not in the position to see what is really happening in our schools. I did not have to look far to find examples of educators who should be celebrated for their dedication, innovation, and commitment to creating an excellent education for their students.

In my position as a Media Specialist, I have the awesome opportunity to work with many different people at our school. I often help teachers with technology questions or resources, collaborate with them about a lesson or unit, or push-in to teach a topic that integrates technology or literacy. In just the first few weeks of school, I worked with educators who were doing great things! I saw teachers lead students in the creation of digital portfolios for the first time, teachers eager to incorporate Makerspace activities into their curriculum, teachers learning new software so they could create hands on lessons for their students, and teachers discussing how to use digital stories in their classroom after viewing a presentation on the topic that a colleague and I presented earlier this year. There are teachers diving into lessons that incorporate technology in meaningful ways to help their students achieve success, and teachers who are willing to try new things to create the best educational opportunities for their students. There is collaboration, innovation, creativity, and an enthusiasm for learning among our school.
A Maker creation by one of the teaching teams

These characteristics could also be seen when we kicked off our school year with a Makerspace Challenge for teachers. The challenge had obstacles, time limits, varying degrees of difficulty, a range of materials, and above all, an emphasis on the importance of collaboration and creativity to share your message. It was a fun experience that highlighted the upbeat attitudes and innovative mindset that make great educators.

In the short time we've been back in school, I can already celebrate the many lessons I've gotten to teach across subject areas, the numerous teachers who I've gotten to plan with or discuss technology ideas with for their classes, my super motivated and dedicated news crew kids who wasted no time creating a great show, the kids who are already jumping into the Makerspace activities with enthusiasm, the students who are eager to talk with me about books they've read or want to read, and so much more.

It can be easy to get caught up in the stresses that come with going back to school.  It is easy to focus on the negative, but it is so important, for our students and ourselves, that we don't. There will never be enough time for teachers to achieve everything they plan to accomplish, and things may not always go as expected (in fact, they probably won't), but it is important to take time to reflect on what has gone well and celebrate it. It's time for all educators to speak up and share the incredible things they are doing. There are great things happening in our schools thanks to dedicated educators, and it's time to start shouting it from the rooftops. I urge all educators to spend time throughout the year reflecting on their successes and to share those celebrations with colleagues, Twitter, or in a blog post-just be sure to share some of the greatness going on in your classroom or school!

Seven Tips for Starting a Makerspace

Many of my posts have focused on our school Makerspace and the Makerspace Club. While I've already shared some of my favorite activities and some of my Makerspace stations, I thought it would be helpful to share some tips for how you can start your own school or classroom Makerspace.

Tip #1

You don't need to buy it all

When you start researching Makerspaces, you will see that there are a lot of cool tools out there. 3-D printers, Arduino, Hummingbird, Sphero, circuits, and more. I would caution you to not buy every last tech  tool and gadget that you've seen in other Makerspaces right from the start. It can be really exciting to see 3-D printers, robotics, and more, but there is a benefit to starting small. Just like you wouldn't just blindly buy the newest and shiniest computers on the market for your whole school, you shouldn't just jump into buying every gadget and gizmo that's out there without doing your research. What do you want to achieve with that tool? How will it help your students learn, create, or discover? Can it be better accomplished with another material? There are plenty of Makerspace recommendations out there, take your time to explore what the purpose of the materials really are before spending money. If you're looking for starter items, check out this post or if you're looking to see how we've used some of our favorite items, look here.

Tip #2

Think creatively to fund your space

Use extra bookshelves for storage and
display- here's our Breakerspace after 
a fun day of breaking
Once you have done your research and have chosen the materials/tools that you are most interested in, the tricky part can be figuring out how to actually fund your Makerspace. Remember that many items, Legos, K'Nex, household items like duct tape, yarn, batteries, old technology for your take apart station, etc., can be donated. Reach out to your school community through a school newsletter or website to see what your community will donate. Also, look to garage sales or Salvation Army for great storage units or building items like Legos. There is no better time to recycle or re-purpose items than when you are building a Makerspace. I use extra bookshelves to store and display our Makerspace and Breakerspace items and old magazine holders to display Maker books for students. Our school/district PTSA and Student Council have been great funding sources as well. Don't forget to look beyond your school and see what district or state grants may be available. You can also look into crowdfunding through sources like,, or Both Donors Choose and Digital Wish have been great sources for providing tech materials for my students. There are also many technology or STEM-related grants out there that can really make a difference. Major businesses like Best Buy offer technology grants or check out Funds for Teachers to explore grants by category.

Tip #3

Collaboration is key

A Makerspace is about collaboration in so many ways. It is certainly about student collaboration. Students work together to design, build, and create. It is so fun to see how students naturally come together to explore in the Makerspace and develop theories to test. As a Maker educator, it is also very helpful to collaborate with other Maker teachers. Using resources like blogs or Twitter (try #Makerspace or #MakerEd), you can learn so much about what others are doing, what has worked, what challenges they have encountered, and opportunities to ask questions. Don't be afraid to share or learn from others. It will make a tremendous difference in the experiences that you provide for your students and will help to challenge your thinking and move you forward.

Tip #4

If you build it, they will come...with a bit of modeling

It may seem like as long as you buy the materials, kids will flock to the Makerspace. With time and modeling, that will happen, but you need to make sure that kids know what a Makerspace is and guide them through what they can do. I created a promo video and shared it on our morning news show to first share what we had in our Makerspace and when it would be accessible. Between that and starting a Makerspace Club, word began to spread about the neat things kids could do in the Makerspace and soon kids were exploring before school and at lunch daily.

Tip #5

You don't have to be an expert

As teachers, we sometimes make the mistake of thinking that we have to know everything. When really, kids learn best by doing, exploring, and even making mistakes. That is what a Makerspace is all about. I introduce my students to our Makerspace, share examples, and offer challenges, but I don't claim to be an expert on everything. You will often see me sitting with the kids during our Makerspace Club experimenting with them. My favorite phrase during Makerspace Club seems to be, "Let's try it!"

Tip #6

Utilize Challenges 

It's hard to rate my favorite days with our Makerspace Club, but if I had to, it would be the days that we have challenges. Challenges can be as small or as big as you want them to and tend to develop and change based on the students' ideas throughout the challenge. Sometimes our challenges take a day, other times they'll take a week. We've done paper airplane catapult challenges, Sphero race challenges, and more. We don't focus on winning or losing, but rather the process, design, and planning. I emphasize that challenges are about the thinking process rather than a competition. The kids love the build up designing and creating for whatever the challenge may be. I have designed Makerspace Challenge Cards so that we always have challenges to choose from and multiple challenges can be going on at once. This is great because we have limited materials and lots of interested students. Check them out if you're looking for guided challenges for your Makerspace!

Tip #7

A Makerspace is a journey

This is the most important tip to remember when creating your Makerspace. Our Makerspace evolved throughout the past year, and it absolutely will continue to evolve this year. When I first looked at what other educators had done with their school Makerspaces, I felt inspired, but overwhelmed. I found myself starting with lots of questions that could only be answered by actually creating a Makerspace and adjusting it as needed. What I really learned after one year with our school Makerspace is that Makerspaces really do need to adapt and grow based on your students' interests. Once you see how your students choose to use the Makerspace, you can make choices and activities that build on their interests.


If you're looking to start or enhance your Makerspace, I created a Makerspace Kit Bundle. It includes signs, challenge cards, a Makerspace journal, and more items that we use in our Makerspace. I also have these Makerspace items individually here.

Tech Tools: Symbaloo

One of my favorite ways to bookmark, organize, and share websites is with Symbaloo. This website allows you to create visually appealing tiles to link to other websites. I have found Symbaloo to be extremely useful on our school website and on my own website. I have also found it useful for organizing sites that I frequent personally and for creating lesson resources.

How It Works:

After opening a free Symbaloo account, you can create your first webmix. You are given the option to create your own, or to type in the type of webmix that you are looking for. Using the second option, you could just add a pre-made public webmix to your Symbaloo account. For example, if you type in "research" and find a research webmix created by someone else that you like, you can just choose to view it and add it to your account. Symbaloo also has a Symbaloo Education version, which is loaded with pre-made educational webmixes.

If you're creating your own Symbaloo, give your webmix a title and get started choosing the sites that you want organized on the particular webmix. I have a number of different Symbaloo webmixes set up that I use to share different information with students or teachers.

When adding sites, you type in the website address, choose or upload an image, and color background and then save it to your webmix. Often, the logo of the website you are linking will pop up when you type in the website, allowing you to easily add the image to your tile. Many popular educational websites are pre-loaded and will populate as you begin typing them. You can also search for tiles by category or title.

A Symbaloo for students
A great thing about Symbaloo is that it is very easy to go back and edit the tiles. To re-arrange the order, just drag the tile to the new space. To add more or less spaces, just use the arrows provided. Symbaloo has a share button that makes it easy to share the link to your Symbaloo or embed it on your website. If you later update the Symbaloo, you can just click on 'Update my Webmix' and your embedded Symbaloo will automatically update on your website.

Suggestions for Ways to Use Symbaloo at School:

Our 'Research Sites' Symbaloo
The way that I use Symbaloo the most is to share websites with our school community. I have created a Symbaloo directed towards students, one towards teachers, one for our Makerspace, and one for research lessons, to name a few. Each of these different Symbaloos has useful links for that group or subject. Within a Symbaloo, I also have color coded the tiles to help organize similar sites.

I also created a Symbaloo for our school website with each of the teacher's class websites linked to it. I used the icons/stickers provided by Symbaloo to showcase which subject that class is and color coded tiles of teachers who teach the same subject.

The other way I use Symbaloo is to bookmark sites that I like or that I use frequently. You can set Symbaloo as your homepage and customize the background to your choosing. This makes it really easy to quickly find the sites that I use daily.
A Symbaloo linking to class websites

I have also seen teachers create a different Symbaloo webmix for each grade or subject that they teach and embed them on their website for students to easily access links at home.

Though I have not had students do this, students could easily create their own Symbaloo webmixes of sites that they use frequently at school to access quickly at home as well. Note: If you purchase a premium account through SymbalooEdu, then you have more control over what sites your students link to and see.

If you have other ideas or suggestions for how you've used Symbaloo to organize information for your school or classroom, please share!

This week I'm linking up with The Teaching Trio for the Technology Thursday Link Up!

EdCamp Detroit from an EdCamp Newbie

Early in the morning on Saturday, May 9, I wished my husband luck with our lively 2 year old son all day and headed to my very first Edcamp. I had heard about Edcamp Detroit on Twitter and seen it mentioned by so many great educators online that I knew it would be a great opportunity to advance my learning.

In order to reflect on the great experience and share with others, I thought I'd write about what I experienced at Edcamp Detroit from an Edcamp newbie's eyes.

What is an Edcamp?

  • Edcamps are not your typical educational conferences
There was no keynote speaker, no lengthy program describing who would be speaking and what their credentials were, no session guide to view online the night ahead of time, and no vendors there to promote their products. In fact, it very purposefully lacked these things. 

Although, there still was some pretty great swag-I'm looking at you bright orange Edutopia bottle. 
  • At Edcamp, the attendees are the experts
It lacked all of the previously mentioned typical components of an educational conference because at Edcamp, it is all about learning from each other. The attendees share what they know, what they've done, and how it has impacted their classroom. You are actually hearing from other educators about their experiences in the classroom or school. A giant grid with room numbers and times was written on a white board and the attendees who wanted to present filled it up with topics that they were interested in. While many came prepared with presentations or slideshows, it was clear that others just had something great to share and this was the perfect platform.

Photo courtesy of Ben Rimes

  • You have a voice (and others want to hear it!)
When I attend educational conferences, I typically expect a sit and get experience. However, at Edcamp, your voice is encouraged. Not only to present, but to participate in sessions, ask questions, and even share your own experiences. Plus the sessions were in classrooms, not huge conference halls, which certainly added a level of comfort and familiarity that encouraged active participation. I was happily surprised to find myself asking questions and sharing my own experiences at different sessions, when all I thought I would be doing was listening to others. It made it so that the sessions truly became applicable to what I am doing and helped me to build connections with other educators who have similar interests.
  • You decide where to go and for how long
We were told right from the start, by Edcamp leader Nick Provenzano, to vote with our feet in the sessions. If we decided we weren't interested or wanted to hear someone else speak too, it was totally encouraged to get up during the session and leave. That was a foreign concept to me. Yet, plenty of people came and left throughout the sessions that I attended and nobody batted an eye. I actually had planned to leave one of the sessions I was at halfway through to catch another one, but I was so engaged in what the speakers were sharing, that I forgot all about it. While that option does exist at all conferences (you know, free will and all), it certainly isn't always encouraged. I thought that really gave people the freedom to make sure the conference met their needs and to make every minute count.

Lessons from the Sessions
  • Re-designing learning spaces can create opportunities for more collaborative learning and more engaged students
Furniture photos courtesy of Ann Smart 
I attended a session led by Ann Smart and Lauren Villaluz all about redesigning learning spaces. They both had spent time researching effective learning spaces and helped schools to redesign learning spaces in a way that would make learning more collaborative, flexible, and engaging. I was very interested to hear how the Media Center at an Adrian school had been transformed from an unused area to a hub of activity. Luckily, our Media Center already is a hub of activity (just stop by right when school opens and you'll see what I mean), but it certainly had me wondering how I could make the environment even more student-centered and allow for more flexible learning spaces. They spoke about everything from choosing mobile furniture that serves multiple purposes to the type of lighting being used. It was awesome to hear from the kids themselves how school had changed for them because of the redesign. In the classrooms they had everything from mobile chairs and tables that made it easy to collaborate to smart TV stations so students could share tech projects with peers. The Media Center had more comfortable gathering areas, an array of seating types, and Hokki stools, which I think would be a great addition to our Media Center. A really key message that they had was to ask the students. That seems so simple, but really, how often do students actually get to give input on what their classroom or Media Center will look like? I loved the approach at Adrian Schools to give students the leadership role in their redesign. This session helped me to really view our school learning spaces and consider how they could better encourage collaboration, flexibility, and learning for our students.

  • The Maker Movement is making its way to classrooms and Media Centers everywhere!
  I also had the opportunity to listen to Jennifer Bond and Michael Medvinsky talk about their experiences with Makerspaces within their classrooms.They kicked off the session with an activity to remind us that we are all Makers. They shared great Maker projects that their students had done and really discussed with the group what it means to be a Maker and the collaborative nature of Making. When talking about assessing what students create within Makerspaces, they said that their rubric is asking if you solved the problem. They talked about Making as looking at problems or challenges and finding ways to solve them. With Jennifer’s group, the students were tasked with creating Rube Goldberg machines that required them to analyze the situation to create a functioning machine. Listening to students discuss the elements involved in making the machine function as they hoped it would, emphasized just how important the process of creating and collaborating really is.

Our Makerspace
The various Maker sessions that I attended reaffirmed to me how important it is that our students are given the opportunities to design, explore, create, solve problems, collaborate,  tinker, and make mistakes. Whether it take place in a dedicated school Makerspace, a mobile Makerspace, or through classroom projects and activities, the opportunity to be a Maker allows our students the chance to drive their own learning and collaborate in an authentic manner.

Collaborative learning in our Makerspace

And if the conference weren't enough...

The food trucks were pretty great too!

Enough said.

Obviously I had a great time at EdCamp Detroit and I really recommend it to all educators who are looking to expand their knowledge and inspire their learning!

Photo from EdCamp Detroit

Makerspace Showcase: Stop Motion Video

You know how sometimes your students just do something so neat that you want the whole world to see it? One of my Makerspace Club students did just that at our club meeting this week!

The truth is, they are all always doing such cool things that I wish we could show off all the time. However, most of the time, they are engaged in activities, like playing with the Makey Makey, which we can share in pictures, but you really have to be there to get the full effect of how neat it is.

Stop motion videos are a little easier to share though, so, without further ado, here is a stop motion video that one student made in under 30 minutes yesterday.

I was so impressed with his great video and just had to share it with everyone!

He used the Lego Movie Maker app to create this "video game" stop motion video.

To see some of the earlier stop motion videos that students made and the apps they are using, check out my earlier post on stop motion animation.

If you have any feedback for him, I'm sure he would appreciate it. :)

Tech Tools: Pocket

It's been a while since I shared a tech tool, so I thought I'd share an app that I've been using all the time lately. I thought it would be fun to try my first link up too! So I'm linking up with the Teaching Trio blog this week to share technology tips with other educators!

I first heard about this app in a Twitter chat a few months ago, and I've been hooked ever since.
Image Credit:

The app is called Pocket. It's a free app that lets you easily and quickly save images, video, websites, and other text all in one place. You can also view it online at

When I get involved in Twitter chats with other educators, I notice that great websites and articles are mentioned frequently. However, I want to stay engaged with the chat, so I always feel like there's no time to check the sites out. Pocket lets me conveniently save these links, videos, and more all in one place. Then, when I have a little extra time, I can go back and read these resources. If I like them, I can star them to make them easy to find, or share them out through social media links within Pocket. If I've decided I've read the article and I'm done with it, I can click the check mark and it moves out of 'My List' and into the 'Archives'. I can also decide to delete it completely.

Even better- once the items are saved to Pocket, you can view them even if you are offline!

Image credit:
I almost exclusively use Pocket through the app on my phone, however, I am easily able to access it on my computer and view all of the same items that I had saved to my Pocket app. I love that I can save items from my phone and access them from my computer or iPad later.

One of my favorite features of Pocket has been how neat and readable the screen looks. In 'My List' it shows the item title and a picture from the item, as well as a short description or introduction. With all of the different articles I have saved, these little thumbnail images are great visual reminders for me. When I first heard about Pocket, I wondered what the advantage was over just bookmarking the items. I have to say, besides the huge advantage of being able to read the articles when offline, the format makes it so much easier to find articles and star your favorites. When viewing it in your browser, the articles are set up like tiles, similar to Pinterest, which still makes it very readable.

As an educator, I am constantly coming across ideas that I want to use later, articles that I am interested in but just don't have the time for, or videos that I want to share with students later. This really is a great tool for busy educators who are constantly finding information online that they will want to access later. It's easy to access, easy to find content, and easy to share the information with others. What educator doesn't need a tool to make their life a little easier?

Makerspace Club: Visiting the Robot Garage

Our Makerspace Club had our last meeting for the winter session last week. After such a great club, I wanted to make sure we went out with a bang!

I had heard about a great business in our town called The Robot Garage. The word robot was enough to draw me in of course, but one look at the activities offered on their website, and I was sold. Robots, Legos, plenty of space to explore-what more could we ask for? I contacted the store and was thrilled to hear back from them that they would be happy to host our club for a session.
The Robot Garage logo

The owner of The Robot Garage, Sarah, came to explain to our group all about how and why she began the store. She then took the time to ask every single student what their favorite activity in the Makerspace Club has been. I loved hearing these answers because they were varied and showed that each student was able to find their niche within the club. The favorite club activities that were said the most were the Makey Makey (no surprise there!), taking apart computers, and creating videos using stop motion animation or green screen. 

As opposed to having the kids do a structured activity, which The Robot Garage does offer, Sarah encouraged them to just take the time to explore-something this group does very well!

In the drop-in room there were tables set up with different activities. The group took turns moving from table to table and exploring.

There were five tables and plenty of pieces for everyone to get their hands on something. The tables were:

  • Lego Table
  • LaQ Table
  • Robot Table
  • Plus Plus Table
  • Lego Duplo Table (our group was too old for these, but my son would love this table!)
A LaQ creation made by a
VHMS student 
There was no doubt that battling robots was the most popular choice. In fact, Sarah kept bringing more robots to the table so more kids could join in the fun. They did great with taking turns so that everyone had a chance to try to flip robots. Our school has an awesome Robotics Team and some of the members of the team are also in this club, so they had great insight to share with the group about robotics too.

The LaQ, Lego, and the Plus Plus Table were all so much fun for the kids too. They created all sorts of colorful items that they shared with each other. Some kids worked together to build their creations and others worked independently, but by the end of our time at The Robot Garage, they all had created something new. 

LaQ pieces from

It was neat to see items we had never heard of before. The kids all had spent plenty of time building with Legos, but seeing what they could make with LaQ and Plus Plus was really neat! The LaQ blocks advertise that there are an "infinite possibility of creation from just 7 types of block parts", while Plus Plus, a Danish company, advertises that there are "endless possibilities" for design with just one plus shape that comes in many colors. The kids put these claims of endless design possibilities to the test and built some pretty neat things during our one hour visit!

The LaQ allowed them to build intricate designs, while the Plus Plus were easy to manipulate, allowing for everything from stacking towers to writing out words. Both of these items were developed in other countries, so it was also great to get a different view of the different types of things that we could build with.

Here are a few pictures of our trip to The Robot Garage so you can see all of the fun that we had!

Sarah and Laurie also shared with our kids about all of the awesome robotics camps they offer and that kids can attend drop-in sessions where they can explore some more! I thought that was great information for our Makerspace Club students, as it gives them another avenue for making. It was an awesome experience and I'm looking forward to working with The Robot Garage again soon!

Makerspace Challenge: Paper Airplane Catapults

As I mentioned in a previous post, I try to go into each club meeting by introducing the students to a new item we can use in our Makerspace, or concept to consider, or video to watch. At this point, we have plenty of materials and plenty of stations to explore, and I certainly don't want to keep adding 'stuff' just for the sake of having lots of 'stuff' in our Makerspace.

 From what I've read and from my own experiences, a Makerspace really shouldn't be all about the stuff. Much like technology use in schools really shouldn't be about obtaining all the latest technology without a learning need to support it, a Makerspace shouldn't just focus on the collection of item after item. Both should really focus on enhancing learning and critical thinking skills, the fun gadgets should always come secondary to that. I'm not saying that we won't ever try to get more or different materials, but it's impractical and takes away from the purpose of a Makerspace if we're just adding new things to play with every single week. I want students to explore what we already have and if they're very familiar with an item, I want them to either find new ways to make use of those items, or to dabble in something else. Our Makerspace Club is all about exploring and experimenting. In order for the students to grow as thinkers and tinkerers, they need to challenge themselves to try new approaches and try new things. 

With that said, I decided it was time for a challenge!

I follow some amazing Media Specialists and educators online who have been kind enough to share their Makerspace journeys. In Twitter posts I read by Colleen Graves and Diana Rendina, I learned that they were collaborating on a Makerspace catapult challenge where students created all different kinds of catapults. From the pictures and videos they shared, it looked like they had a lot of fun in the process. 

Middle school students actually being encouraged to fling things across a room in a competitive (and collaborative) manner? Now that sounded like fun!

The same day that I read about their catapult challenge, a fellow teacher gave me an old book he had about how to make paper airplanes...and so the VHMS Paper Airplane Catapult Challenge was born! The kids were given two club sessions to create their catapults and airplanes. They could work in teams or by themselves. At the end of the challenge, whichever team could successfully create a catapult that launched a paper airplane the furthest would win!

The challenges I've read about online have largely been with two different schools, which I  hope to do in the future, but just doing it within our club really worked great too. The spirit of friendly competition was in the air as the kids hid their catapult designs from each other and tried to test them out in secret! Humorously enough, they found that the catapults really limited how far a paper airplane could go when compared to throwing it, but that just made for more of a challenge! They used Legos, rubber bands, paper clips, pencils, or K'nex to build their catapults. There were a few who had never made a paper airplane, so the book came in very handy. They also experimented with different sizes and shapes of airplanes to see how they would fly.

The winning team ended up with an airplane that shot all the way across the Media Center! 

 The kids loved the challenge! They wanted to do more, but unfortunately we were out of time-until the new spring session begins after break! Our last winter club session would be taking place elsewhere as a special, celebratory field trip. It was totally optional to participate in this challenge, but most of the students jumped right into it. They were discussing trajectory, the weight of materials to use, the type of materials to use, and more. They experimented, and failed, experimented some more, and continued with different designs until they found a catapult and plane that would fly the best. They were collaborative and engaged critical thinkers!

Based on the great response to the VHMS Paper Airplane Catapult Challenge, I am hoping to have more challenges in our spring session of the Makerspace Club. Whether it be collaborations with other schools (please contact me if you would be interested), or fun competitions within our own club, having a challenge activity is a fun way to encourage a different type of thinking that inspires students to work together and really engage in many of the elements of learning and exploration that a Makerspace is designed to encourage!

Reflections on MACUL

This past Thursday I attended the MACUL conference for the second year. As I expected, I left feeling motivated, inspired, and a little overwhelmed. When you are learning from some of the brightest, most innovative minds in education, I think it's safe to say that you will leave feeling that way. But, that overwhelmed feeling is okay-because a day later, after a much needed night of sleep, it is what challenges you to look at your own teaching and integration of technology, and make it better.

The MACUL conference is all about the use of technology in education. What I found myself hearing from the various sessions were different definitions about technology from each presenter. That evolving definition was interesting to me, because when it comes to education, there really isn't just one predetermined answer to why we use technology or what it is all about.

In reflecting on the sessions I attended that day, I was able to define technology in the following ways:

  • Technology is about CREATING. 
If you've read my blog you know that my passion project is our school Makerspace. So, it's no surprise that when I saw that Sylvia Martinez was presenting on Makerspaces all day, it was the first session that I loaded in my fancy MACUL app. In her first session she talked about Makerspaces as a global revolution. People of all ages want to create. They want to explore, invent, design, build, try, collaborate, and share. Further, they want to use technology to do it. Sylvia talked about the use of technology in Makerspaces. She said that technology really is a key component in an educational Makerspace, especially when looking at them from the perspective of integrating STEAM concepts. That's not to discredit the crafters of the world, because there is no doubt that someone who knits a sweater is creating something amazing (I sure couldn't do it), but from an educational standpoint, she said that she believes Makerspaces should integrate technology. She mentioned one of our school's favorite Makerspace items- the MakeyMakey, but also shared great examples of Arduino projects and Hummingbird Robotics, to name a few. One thing she said that I really agree with is that
"Makerspaces are not about the shopping, they are all about the learning stance". We can get caught up in what the next cool gadget is out there to add to our school Makerspace, but at the forefront of a Makerspace should always be questioned, will they learn from this? We may not know exactly what or how much they will learn, but all of that exploring, designing, and creating, should certainly help our students to grow as learners and Makers.

  • Technology is about COLLABORATING
There are a number of ways to collaborate using technology, but one of the most popular forms of collaboration in schools right now is through the use of Google Apps for Education (GAFE). I had the opportunity to attend one session on GAFE that really highlighted the collaborative features of GAFE. The presenter, George Couros, shared a Google Doc with his PLN on Twitter to ask educators to share their blogs. Within minutes, that doc was pages long. Many of the people filling it out were not in the room, but had just clicked his link from Twitter. It was a great example of how GAFE can be used to allow people to interact. We've used GAFE at our school for two years now, and the various ways that I've seen educators and students work together has been amazing. Whether updating minutes for an SIP meeting, having students work together who are in different classes, or allowing a teacher to provide immediate feedback, GAFE has changed the education world. 

  • Technology is about CONNECTING
When I was doing my masters program, I had to set up a Twitter account, but I will admit, I barely used it. I didn't know anyone else using Twitter and 140 characters felt so restrictive. Little did I know, that Twitter is not just a great tool, it's a necessity for educators who want to stay connected. I slowly waded into the Twitter pool last year, and this year I think it's safe to say that I am fully submerged. You miss out on some amazing things about MACUL if you aren't on Twitter. I kept TweetDeck open throughout the day and found that I was learning about other great sessions all day too, thanks to #MACUL15. Throughout the day I was seeing great links tweeted out and apps suggested that I would have otherwise missed. I left with so many resources saved to Pocket for me to check out later that I am very grateful for. I also was able to find new educators to follow and learn from. Plus, MACUL Quest was happening on Twitter. I didn't win any prizes myself, but it sure was fun to see them tweet out prizes and the educators who found them! The connections made through Twitter are just one tiny example of the way that technology connects us of course. From Google Hangouts to Skype, I saw amazing examples of how technology is bringing people together in ways that never would have been possible before. 

  • Technology is about LEARNING
This one is obvious perhaps. From sessions about augmented reality uses in the classroom to reading strategies and project based learning ideas, technology helps us to learn. It is a tool that brings learning opportunities to us in incredible ways. Students can take virtual field trips that take them around the world, ask an author a question about a book they are reading, or have their questions answered in seconds. There is no doubt that technology has changed how we learn and how much information we have access to at any moment. There were so many sessions at the MACUL conference that provided inspiration for learning through many different technological formats.

  • Technology is about IMPROVING
In the keynote, George Couros shared a video that reminded us of the absolute power of technology. This video showed a baby who was deaf and thanks to technology, was going to be able to hear. You can see the baby's features change as he hears for the first time. I dare you not to tear up, just a bit. 

This is why we have Makerspaces and why we use technology. To continuously make things better and test the limits, so that these very real and necessary improvements to human life are possible. I'm not saying that playing with a MakeyMakey in our after school club will change the world, but it may give our kids the opportunity to start thinking about things differently. It may encourage them to start wondering what else they can make and what else they can do if they just keep creating and questioning.

  • Technology is about RELATIONSHIPS
This one is my favorite take-away from MACUL. When I listened to George Couros, the keynote speaker on Thursday, present, I can honestly say I laughed, I cried, and I felt inspired to share what I learned. At the heart of his presentation was the message that technology is all about building relationships. This message really stuck with me and caused me to reflect on all of the relationships I've built thanks to technology. Technology gets a bad rap for isolating people. We see people looking at their phones and assume that they are doing so to tune the world out. When really, technology is bringing people together in mediums that were not possible before. Whether people are checking Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Twitter, Skype or a number of other social media apps out there, they are opening them up to someone else's world. We are connecting with a larger number of people in more intimate ways than every before. We are seeing photos of their babies just after they were born, watching videos of their children perform, and reading articles they read simply because they shared them and we trust their judgement. Technology connects us not just to our friends, but to people who would otherwise be strangers. Through blogs and Twitter, I've been able to find and learn from educators with interests similar to mine. I've used social media to discuss educational topics with people who would otherwise be perfect strangers, to connect with our school community, and to stay in touch with friends across the globe. Technology causes us to work together, share ideas, and create communities near and far. 

I'm sure as I continue on as an educator and as technology continues to change, these definitions will change and evolve. It's been fun to reflect on another great year at MACUL! Next year I'll be presenting at MACUL about the grant my colleague and I were awarded, so I'm sure it will be an even more rewarding experience!

Makerspace Activities: Stop Motion Animation

One of our latest adventures in our Makerspace has been experimenting with video production.

The first type of video production that we experimented with was stop motion animation. We had Legos and we had iPads, so it was a match made in heaven.

For this activity, I downloaded two free apps: the Lego Movie Maker app and the Stop Motion Studio app. Both are great for beginners. 

The Lego Movie App is great for the true beginner and it comes with fun titles, intro slides, music, effects and more.It also guides you through how to take the pictures and add the various features. It is an excellent app for beginners and really helps kids begin to understand how stop motion animation works.

                                                Lego Movie Maker App

Here is an example of a Lego Movie Maker video that was made by a couple of kids in the Makerspace Club. They did this on their very first try!

The second app that I downloaded for this activity is called the Stop Motion Studio app. This app is also great for beginners. You can set a timer to record many images and record your voice. If you're willing to pay for it, there are also some other neat features to add to this app. You can purchase an extra, like green screen, individually or buy 'The Feature Pack' to get all of the extra features, like movie effects, themes, sound effects, and more. That certainly would be worth it if you were really enjoying creating these types of movies. At the moment, we are just beginning to explore what stop motion has to offer, so the free version worked just fine for us.

Stop Motion Studio App

Here are a couple videos that kids made at a club meeting using the Stop Motion Studio app.

I was really impressed with how quickly everyone picked up how to make a stop motion video and the creativity involved. All of the students who experimented with stop motion animation were able to create a finished product, and most did it in 30 minutes or less. This is a great, engaging, creative activity for our Makerspace! 

Makerspace Club: All Hands on Deck!

One of the things that I was most concerned about when starting the Makerspace Club was making sure that all students could be active participants the entire time. I wanted students to have choice, explore different items, and most of all, to have fun. I knew that I needed to create a bit of structure, without it feeling like there was too much structure.

One of the ways that I have been able to ensure that all of the kids in the club can be hands-on the whole time is by creating 'stations' and taking the time at the beginning of each club to have a group meeting about all of the options available to them. At the group meeting I introduce new materials, review what we already have and what we've already done, and share Maker videos for a little inspiration.

We then make stations with all of the different supplies and students are free to roam from one to another. The stations have been split up as follows:

The Creation Station-

Here we use Lego bricks, wheels, car parts, and people to build whatever their hearts desire! Vehicles are definitely the most popular item to build, and they sure have been creative with them. I also highly recommend purchasing the Lego Education Community Set. The kids love all of the different people and accessories that they can mix and match. I've heard some very funny and clever stories about their Lego scenes, usually beginning with the Lego people. There was a chef who only cooks with bananas and lives in a tree and an 'undead race car driver'- to name a few. We also pull out the K'nex in this area. I will say the Legos have definitely trumped the K'nex in popularity so far. I also purchased the Lego Play book for this station and I've seen a number of kids flipping through it for inspiration. Other creation items include cardboard building pieces and origami.

The Breakerspace-

This station is a student favorite! I first read about having a take-apart station on Twitter from Media Specialist Laura Fleming and I thought it would be so interesting to actually get to tear apart technology! Here students have the opportunity to completely disassemble old, obsolete desktop computers, laptops, CD players, phones, and other old tech items donated by staff. Our first time incorporating the Breakerspace, there were four very determined girls who managed to take the entire computer apart and rebuild it within an hour! Listening to the kids talk through what each part does and why it was installed a certain way is so interesting. The critical thinking skills that they use while taking apart the old technology are really incredible! This was the easiest station to build. I just put out a request for old, unused technology, and the supplies started pouring in! Just make sure to remove any batteries before letting the kids go to town taking apart the technology.

The Makey-Makey Station-

Yes, the Makey-Makey gets a station all by itself, because it's that special! Seriously, the Makey-Makey is a must for a Makerspace. We have kids gathering around the kids who are using the Makey-Makey totally in awe.

Makey Makey Dance Dance Revolution
is a favorite activity!

They experiment with various conductive materials to create game controllers and play a variety of games online.
 We now have three Makey Makeys and they are always in high demand!

The Circuit Station-
We have a great snap circuit kit and it is one the favorite things to experiment with. The kids have made solar-powered circuits, circuits that buzz, and circuits that make a fan fly into the air and spin around! It's been fun to see all the variations of circuits that they create! We also have a Little Bits kit that the kids have had fun with developing circuits that spin or buzz or have a variety of different effects. We'd like to get a few more pieces added to this kit eventually so we can use them with the Lego creations. At our last meeting, a student had tons of fun making a buzzer that attached to your arm so you could surprise people when you shook their hand.

The Computer Station-

Coding, online Legos, exploring Google Earth, the sky is the limit for the kids who go here. When I asked if they preferred to build with Legos online, a few students said yes because they aren't limited to a certain number/type of blocks. They also showed me all the neat things you could do with Legos online. For coding, a few of the students have decided to continue past the hour of code event or past what we did in coding club. Some are completing the multi-level course from while others have moved to sites like to try their hand at writing code.

The Virtual Reality Station-

Here we experiment with 4-D apps, both educational and the just for fun ones. We use many of the apps that I posted about here. I just love hearing the excited reactions as the images pop off the screen!

The Movie Making Station-

This is our newest station that we just added last week. I had been interested in what we could do with stop motion animation, and it turns out, so were many of the kids! A few were already very experienced with stop motion animation, while others were brand new to it. I was so impressed (I find myself feeling that way a lot with this group!) with the great stop motion videos that they made in a very short time! A few kids have been asking if they could keep working on them at lunch even!

Check one of the cool stop motion videos below:

Check out more of our stop motion videos here and here.

The Sphero Station-

The latest addition to the Makerspace has been a Sphero station. I'm planning a whole post dedicated to the amazing Sphero and the great things my Makerspace kids did with it. A Sphero is a great tool for learning about programming and robotics- or just a really fun way to control and drive the robot all around your school and experiment with apps and new ideas. We did a little of both!

Our Sphero Maze Challenge
Painting with a Sphero was a messy, but successful experiment!

And On and On We Go!

Having a variety of options and encouraging experimentation in different stations has really helped to make our Makerspace successful. I love that each week it grows and changes. I really believe that a Makerspace shouldn't be a stagnant thing. It should always be adapting, growing, and changing just as our students are!