Making Space for DIY Innovation on Campus




This week I will be at the NJEDge.Net Annual Conference whose theme this year is Rethink Refresh Reboot.- three things you should get from any good conference. NJEDge.Net is a non-profit technology consortium of academic and research institutions in New Jersey. It supports its members in their institutional teaching and learning; scholarship; research and development; outreach programs; public service, and economic development, and provides our broadband statewide network.

I'll be doing a 2-hour workshop on "Making Space for DIY Innovation on Campus" with Danielle Mirliss from Seton Hall University and Emily Witkowski, from the Maplewood Public Library.

We deliberately avoided saying "makerspaces" in the session title for two reasons. One, people who have heard of the term immediately envision a very techy room with a 3D printer and scanner and lots of computer parts, and although that does sound like a makerspace, that's not all the spaces we are talking about. These spaces can have hand tools, wood and fabrics, sewing machines, laser cutters and many other devices and tools. And they might be called innovation spaces, fabrication labs, rapid prototyping centers or hackerspaces.

These places over the past decade have increasingly increased as community spaces offering public, shared access to high-end equipment and guidance to using them.

You can work with technologies like desktop fabrication, physical computing, and augmented reality in these do-it-yourself workspaces. Naturally, the first subject areas to build and use makerspaces in schools were the STEM areas, but we are also interested in the way they are being used in for applications and research in the humanities and arts.

Our workshop will offer information on creating, branding and maintaining spaces on campus, in libraries or in the community. We will also show examples of DIY projects and discuss their applications to the classroom, and participants will try a hands-on activity.



 


Kindergarten Engineers


microfilm plane

I was thinking about my earlier post about "learning engineers" after I came across a video storybook on pbslearningmedia.org called "David and Kayleen Design a Glider." Actually, the first thing I thought of was really the hundreds of balsa wood and paper gliders I had made as a kid.  From those pre-cut balsa wood airplanes that all my friends bought, built and broke, to the ones I ended up building from scratch using balsa, paper and scraps, I learned the basics of aerodynamics.

Eventually, through a middle school club, I learned to make beautiful rainbow-winged microfilm planes (like the one at top) with rubber band motors that could fly for several minutes in a gymnasium or the several airplane hangars our club visited. It was pretty nerdy at the time and I loved it.

Years later, as a middle school teacher, I had a devoted little club of kids building planes from paper that were part engineering and part origami.

Building these airplanes is a way to learn about aerospace engineering, but it was also a way to learn how to follow instructions, about precision and about learning from the mistakes you and your fellow engineers made.

That video storybook page says that it is a way for children to learn about "the design and structure of airplanes and gliders, and are encouraged to understand the innovation process."glider

I did some digging online about the lesson and the "hoop gliders" they were building. I know that design from a book I had when I was doing that club that contained plans for folding prize-winning paper airplane designs. The hoop glider doesn't look at all like what most people would envision as a glider - which makes it a good choice of a design to use to get kids thinking about why planes fly.

One of the things I found online was written by Tom Jenkins [@tomjenkinsstem], a middle school science and STEM teacher in Ohio. He wrote Kindergarteners Are Born Engineers about a lesson he did using the video and hoop gliders with a kindergarten class.

hoop gliderHe started them talking abou how planes fly, and asking what engineers do and, as you might expect with kids that age, the discussion went in many places. I totally get that part of it involved Thomas the Tank Engine, as many kids think of a railroad engineer first. Eventually one student says that engineers "build things” and that gets him into his true mission.

They select materials and then test and measure the flights of  the gliders of their own creation. One student suggests using aluminum foil for the hoops because it is lighter, and another suggests instead strips of manila folder “because it’s less floppy.”

Sounds like a fun and good lesson. But what is most interesting to me about the lesson is what Jenkins fears and discovers.

He was afraid that the class of little ones would test the gliders, see many of them "fail" and then end up crying. He has seen that happen with older middle-schoolers.

As expected, most of the planes crashed quickly. But "not one student cried or was disheartened at all. In fact, they all ran back to their workstations and started discussing a new plan. They had failed and that was okay. They had learned a lesson and were going to continue to improve their designs until they were successful."

That is huge.

PogoAnd then Jenkins realized that the problem is himself - or as Pogo said it years ago, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Jenkins: "These kindergärtners get it. They understand that learning is a collaborative process. Oftentimes you have to discuss the problem in order to find the best solution. Failure is also an option, and as long as you learn from your mistakes, it can be a positive experience. They had lived the engineering design process their entire lives."

He concludes that although he usually spends the first few weeks of a school year the engineering design process (and in his situation, to older kids), they already knew it and he was probably breaking them.

Kids entering school may be more likely to not fear collaboration, experimentation, guessing at a solution and even failing than the older ones who have been "taught" by assignments, correct answrs and grade to be more hesitant.

Failure is still often discouraged as a learning experience - intentionally or not - rather than seeing the gift of failure as a learning tool. We need to remember that children have "an innate ability to learn through the iterative process" and are closer to being engineers and scientists than we give them credit. Not only STEM but STEAM (with that important art and creativity segment) and DIY and maker brought into the K-16 classroom is powerful.



Pogo Earth Day 1971 poster, licensed under Fair Use via Wikipedia



 


The Return of the Autodidacts



"Autodidact" has its roots in the Ancient Greek words autós, or "self" and didaktikos, meaning "teaching."  Dacticism defines an artistic philosophy of education and autodidacticism (also autodidactism) is used to mean self-education.

Learning that is self-directed about a subject in which you have little to no formal education is hardly a new trend. Before we had any formal educational systems, everyone learned on their own. From the primitive person knocking rocks together to create a tool, to a much more privileged autodidact like Leonardo da Vinci, to the home-schooled and largely self-taught inventors like Thomas Edison, we learned on our own and through the informal teaching and example of others.

Before schooling, there were less-formal ways of being taught through craft guilds, apprenticeships, tutors and mentors. The Industrial Revolution and the accompanying creation of schools changed that.

My title,"The Return of the Autodidacts," may not be completely accurate since they never left. Schooling has made learning less self-directed, but everyone has always learned on their own to some degree. It does seem that in this young 21st century, there has been a noticeable increase in learning outside of schools. The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and Maker movements, free and open online courses (MOOC) and even schools based on Self-Directed Learning (SDL), all indicate a desire to learn that is disconnected from organized classrooms and credits, certifications and degrees.





I have been writing about School 2.0 (AKA Education or University 2.0) for about six years and a lot of that touches on the idea of the individual taking the initiative and the responsibility for the learning that occurs. I heard a lot about "student-centered learning" at the end of the last century. Much of that came from the rise of online learning where the instructor has less ability to be the center of the learning.

Allowing a "student" to select, manage, and assess their own learning activities, on their own schedule opens up learning - and creates problems, especially if you are in the business of traditional education.

Lately, I hear the term "Self Directed Learning" (SDL) used more often and I see it attached to traditional schools. Some of the methods used by autodidacts have been co-opted by schools. Although it is still more likely that you would find a makerspace in a community setting or within a library, you are also seeing them as part of a school from grades K through college.

Self-directed learning also plays a role in movements such as home-schooling, experiential education, open schooling and life-long learning.

Proponents will note that the benefits extend beyond learning knowledge and skills and into a learning mindfulness for setting personal goals, planning and taking action to meet those goals with evidence of having learned. Self-improvement, personal and character development are central themes of SDL discussions. SDL involves initiating personal challenge activities and developing the personal qualities to pursue them successfully.



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Do-It-Yourself (DIY) is the method of building, modifying, or repairing something without the aid of experts or professionals.

The motivations to go DIY are many. You might not have the money or the traditional tools and resources to buy or even make something. Perhaps the item just isn't available to you, or even to anyone. You may be disappointed in the quality of existing products. You may want a personally customized version of something. Maybe it is a sense of pride in creating something on your own, whether it is for your own use or for display or sale.

The term "do-it-yourself" has been associated with consumers since at least the early 20th century when it was usually connected to home improvement and maintenance (such as an automobile) activities. By the mid-century, it was in more common usage due to the emergence of a trend of people undertaking home improvement and various other small craft and construction projects as both a creative-recreational and cost-saving activity.

The maker movement grew from the DIY movement and led to communal spaces (makerspaces) that allowed access to workspace, tools and materials that many individuals could not afford. At one time that may have meant power tools, but today it includes laser cutters, 3D printers and computer-aided design tools. These spaces also can offer informal training and mentoring from other members. It brings the old models of craft guilds, apprenticeships, tutoring and mentoring back. Perhaps, it truly is a time of the return of the autodidact.





 


Virtual Reality on the Cheap

Assembled Google Cardboard VR mountImage: Google Cardboard via Wikimedia Commons
Remember when Google Cardboard was shown at last year's at I/O?  This cheap virtual reality (VR) device made of cardboard and rubber bands turned out to be the big buzz for many people. Sure, it wasn't the fancy Google Glass, but it was Google.
It has been a year and is anyone really talking about Glass anymore? The official website is a dead end.  Google Glass is wearable technology with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD). The idea was to experiment with a mass-market ubiquitous computer. It has information in a smartphone-like hands-free format and a wearer can interact with the Internet via natural language voice commands.

Google Glass sold for $1,500. In January 2015, Google announced that it would stop producing the Google Glass prototype but remained committed to the development of the product.

Cardboard, on the other extreme, is decidedly low-tech. It is cardboard, with lenses, a few patches of padding and Velcro, and a rubber band to keep it from sliding around. The expensive part is that you need to add your phone.

cardboard
You download the Cardboard app from Google Play or Apple's App Store. There are a number of versions of Cardboard that you can buy now.

It is not meant to be Google Glass. It is closer to using Oculus Rift or Samsung's Gear VR.
You hold Cardboard up to your face like the old toy View-Master I had as a kid. Now, that old toy is coming back with some help from Google as part of Google's goal to expand Cardboard's use.

Though the term "virtual reality" has been around since 1938, the use of it to mean an artificial reality in a technological way is from the 1970s. One should not confuse virtual reality with augmented reality. VR and AR are similar in immersing the user, but AR users continue to be in touch with the real world while interacting with virtual objects around them. VR takes you out of the real world and immerses you in another world. Sometimes that immersion is so immersive that users get dizzy or nauseous, especially with software that emphasizes motion like the early days of wide screen cinema and 3D films.

The DIY nature of Cardboard is appealing and with a phone and an investment of $20 or $30, you can give a VR headset a try.

 

Maker Spaces and Libraries




In my preparation for presenting at the Connecticut Education Network's Annual Conference on May 15, I have been getting more into the maker movement and makerspaces.

My presentation is on "Flipping Professional Learning" but it is paired with one on makerspaces in libraries and my flipped activity for participants is from the makerspace world.

Makerspaces are frequently found in libraries. A makerspace is a place where people come together to design and build projects. Makerspaces typically provide access to materials, tools, and technologies that individuals probably don't own (such as a 3D printer and scanner) and allow for hands-on exploration and participatory learning. They are also known as fablabs (as in fabrication), hackerspaces (but don't think only of computer code) or tech shops.

The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement goes back a lot further - maybe centuries back. Your grandparents were probably DIY'ers out of necessity. But makerspaces strive to be more than workshops with tools.And libraries have evolved to be more than just collections of books. Libraries as community centers for people to gather and work together makes them a natural place for makerspaces. Those spaces are being reconfigured around broader learning and research needs and less around the management of a print collection.

Makers might be writing and illustrating a e-zine, creating an Arduino to program a robot, screenprinting t-shirts, or creating model houses with a 3D printer. Besides offering tools and equipment that are too expensive or specialized for most people to own, these spaces also provide a gathering place for like-minded makers who can mentor and collaborate.

As The Makings of Maker Spaces: Space for Creation, Not Just Consumption says “Maker spaces in libraries are the latest step in the evolving debate over what public libraries’ core mission is or should be. From collecting in an era of scarce resources to curation in an era of overabundant ones, some libraries are moving to incorporate cocreation: providing the tools to help patrons produce their own works of art or information and sometimes also collecting the results to share with other members of the ­community.

The maker movement rose out of hacker and DIY cultures and moved into community centers, church basements and libraries. But as the maker movement migrates into higher education, engineering schools have been a natural place for maker spaces, but in the best cases colleges are taking a more multidisciplinary approach. The space can be a meetup for artists, musicians, writers, engineers, architects, entrepreneurs and computer scientists to exchanges ideas.







Makerspaces: A New Wave of Library Service: The Westport (CT) Public Library  from ALATechSource