The Next Phase of the Maker Movement? Building Startups

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The Next Phase of the Maker Movement? Building Startups
Zainab Oni, speaking at the Mouse 20th-anniversary event

“Everything that is old is new again!” Daniel Rabuzzi exclaims, his eyes light up with excitement that seems to match the glowing, handcrafted flower pinned on his vest. He’s talking about the next wave of the Maker Movement, big news buzzing amongst makers in the inner circle.

Rabuzzi is the executive director of Mouse, a national nonprofit that encourages students to create with technology. The organization, now celebrating 20 years in operation, is part of the worldwide Maker Movement, encouraging students to get creative (and messy) when using technology to build things. Rabuzzi calls his work at Mouse “shop and home economics for the 21st century,” and his students “digital blacksmiths.”

Mouse students showcasing green energy ideas

Rabuzzi, like many experts within the Maker Movement, believes the heavy emphasis on standardized testing in schools, which has pushed the arts, shop and home economics into the shadows, is what spurred outside groups like Mouse to begin hosting alternative makerspaces for students. Throughout the years, Rabuzzi has seen the movement evolve. Most recently, he’s seen technology become more directly integrated with making, along with an uptick of women in leadership.

“It can’t just be the boys tinkering in the basement anymore,” says Rabuzzi, pointing to women in maker leadership, like littleBits founder Ayah Bdeir, who encouraged more young girls to enter the space.

Now Rabuzzi, along with makers, investors, and journalists, are buzzing about what they describe as the next wave of making: the Maker economy, which many believe will transform manufacturing the United States by integrating with the Internet of Things (IOT), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI).

“There is all this talk about bringing back manufacturing to America, and I feel like this is going to come back on a local level,” says Juan Garzon, former Mouse student, who started his hardware company. He believes that personalized goods designed and manufactured by Makers through mediums like 3D printing will drive the return of domestic manufacturing.

“The future of manufacturing is not a big plant, but someone designing what they want and developing custom made things. It sounds so sci-fi, but it is within my lifetime,” continues Garzon.

News reports from Chicago Inno show that custom manufacturing designed by makers might be an active part of the domestic economy sooner than Garzon realizes. Inno reports that several Maker-entrepreneur spaces are popping up in the city with hopes to develop places where creators can build scalable products to be manufactured, creating new businesses.

Audience members viewing Mouse student’s VR projects

For many, talk of 3D printing and merging Making with AI are bleeding edge topics, far away from today’s realities. But for technologists supporting Mouse, this the world they want to prepare students to be a part of.

Mouse students at the 20th-anniversary party are already getting started. At the event, some students proudly showed off projects they designed in 3D spaces that can be viewed and altered in virtual reality. Many of the projects students worked on required a mixture of creativity, technical skills and awareness of the societal needs. Displays showcasing green energy projects along with digitalized wearable technology for persons with disabilities were all throughout the room. Still, Rabuzzi imagines more.

He hopes that through making, students can test the limits of new technologies and do good for the society. “How do we use Alexa and Siri in the Maker Movement?” Rabuzzi wonders aloud. He describes his idea of using AI to support students in designing, prototyping and creating new learning pathways in future, but admits that he doesn’t have the funding or technology for such ambitious projects now. He hopes that some of Mouse’s corporate funding partners are interested in supporting the endeavors.

“We are preparing today’s young people for a cyber future,” he explains. “In the old days if you had a clever idea you had to go into a big company to get it done. Now you can make it yourself.”

An Inside Look at an Award-Winning Maker Program

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Making turned New Jersey middle school students into teachers for a weekend—and sent some of them to the White House.

School ended in June 2016 with a crescendo of activity we had worked all year to orchestrate, bringing bigger accomplishments than we’d dreamed of. Our year-end adventure began in Washington, D.C., where my students’ work with design earned us an invitation to the White House for the kickoff of the 2016 National Week of Making. As one of two representatives from New Jersey, I represented not only my students but effectively all K-12 educators in the state for whom making is a way of teaching and learning. Though making is not new—creative individuals in communities and schools everywhere have been doing this work for years—its increasingly high profile certainly is. Making matters. And design thinking matters to makers.

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Students work in the author’s digital shop class.

At the beginning of the National Week of Making, I set up our exhibit at the National Maker Faire. Eleven students, including four who had just graduated eighth grade, would spend the weekend explaining how design thinking drove our program’s work and their learning. Kids used student-built prototypes to explain how they employed design thinking to solve problems and make the world a better place.

We set up stations where Faire attendees got to experience prototyping for themselves, tackling design challenges based on the Extraordinaires Design Studio and expertly explained by our kids. The kids’ efforts garnered not one but two awards: Best in Class and Editor’s Choice.

The next day, three teams of seventh-grade students traveled to Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia to present their ideas for making hospitals less scary for child patients.

A group of nearly 70 people, including relatives, friends, hospital professionals, fellow educators, and members of the press, watched the student teams present their ideas and recommendations. It was a very good day. And it was just the beginning, as these students would work with JeffDESIGN over the summer to learn valuable lessons about what it takes to get an idea from concept to production in the real world.

In the span of four days, our kids met and conversed with hundreds of people about their accomplishments as designers, experiencing a level of personal and professional validation that many adults rarely get to enjoy. It was a fantastic end to a fantastic year.

So how is our program growing, changing, and adapting this year?

Initiative One: The EPICS Curriculum and Processes

We have adopted the free and fabulous EPICS—Engineering Projects In Community Service—as the heart and soul of our program this year. I attended a summer training at Purdue University; it was exhaustive and a great investment. EPICS is all about documenting design thinking processes. To that end, they have assembled a massive library of resources, including fully editable and customizable documents teachers can use to plan projects.

I love that the EPICS framework is just that—a framework. It provides a flexible structure I can modify as necessary to suit our processes and needs. As of this writing, we are still deep in that customization process; I expect that it will take most of this year to finalize. When we are done, we’ll have a powerful, document-driven, human-centered methodology to guide our work in design.

Initiative Two: Bringing the Outside In

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Students use the laser engraver.

Last year, students connected with professional designer Meghan Holliday, who spoke about her life and work as a designer. This year, we’ve got Andrew Coy, senior advisor for making in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, sharing why making is critical in schools today; Alixandra Klein, a Vermont-based entrepreneur who makes jewelry using a laser cutter and upcycled materials, talking about the importance of art and creativity; and Dr. Jorge Valdes of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office(and also a high school science teacher here in New Jersey) discussing intellectual property, patents, and the inventor’s mindset. And all of this is just for Design Experience One.

Initiative Three: Changes to the Instructional Environment

We were fortunate to acquire an Epilog laser engraver last summer. It has quickly proven to be a game-changer for our program, capturing imaginations and literally igniting creativity like no other tool previously. Our new “soft seating” area includes a SMART Board 6000 interactive display, an Ikea coffee table (donated), an Xbox 360 (also donated), and a leather couch I found for sale on Facebook for $75. The combination of these items has made a terrific small group instructional area, while providing kids who have lunch in my room a chance to enjoy some gaming.

Final Thoughts

The new school year has gotten off to a good start. We’re creating an entirely new understanding of design thinking in Digital Shop, an amalgam of our shared past experiences and the practices of some of the world’s best design thinking practitioners. It’s ridiculously hard work, alternatively frustrating and exhilarating, but totally worth it.

Ideas For Teaching With Cardboard in Makerspaces

Cardboard Creators: Reusing to Learn

October 25, 2016
Switching from high school science to middle and high school gifted students has reawakened that sometimes uncomfortable sense of discovery of new teaching, where so much seems imperfect … I’m working with the mantra of imperfection.

That’s a good mantra for my students as well. Some students have never swung a hammer, threaded a needle, or made a model that was not outlined on card stock. Common day experiences have been digitized in our world, and access to extra materials is extremely limited for others. My solution: create a makerspace in my classroom and offer design challenges students can do with little more than string, glue, and cardboard. Cardboard, my makerspace material of choice, is available in every home in America.

From mac and cheese boxes to a shoebox, cardboard is a material that puts students on a level playing field. It’s free. Students can cut thin stuff with scissors or score corrugated material with a pair of safety scissors, and tape is cheap enough that I can send a partial roll home with a student who needs it. Kids in families who cannot afford clay or craft kits or have little money for additional classroom supplies can still imagine something using materials that belong to them. That equals the playing field among students who ‘have not’ with students who ‘have’ adequate resources.

Sure, many educators say, but this is learning time. How can cardboard be transformed into learning strategies benefiting students across disciplines? Here are four sample cardboard projects to get started.

1. Three-dimensional thinking by building artifacts. While it may seem unusual to us as educators, take the time to ask students how many have been in a barn, gone to a zoo, camped in a tent, or taken care of an animal. So many readings describe experiences for which students have no background knowledge. For example, Finding Winnie, the winner of the 2015 Caldecott Medal, is filled with unfamiliar venues. It took the illustrator, Sophie Blackall, over a year of research to visit all the places referenced in the book. My youngest middle school students are trying to build a single item model for just one scene in the book, ranging from an ocean liner to a tree to an antique car.

2. Imagining a Character. Middle school students love the idea of cosplay. Designing cardboard armor to imagine a warrior or superhero in a story is a simple way to use materials to portray their vision. The prompt can be as simple as, “Design a character to defend the castle.” It’s powerful to have the ability to create even an imperfect vision, instead of a project executed primarily by an overly helpful parent. Student processes are best remembered when the mistake or chance for failure becomes the driver for the learning.

3. Design thinking prototypes. The goal of design thinking is to solve a problem using a process of listening and developing empathy. Students struggle with this because they often design for themselves, rather than for a specific audience. After reading spooky stories that tie into both the Halloween season and the idea of justice, my students still struggled with the idea of putting themselves in another person’s shoes. How America is dealing with the idea of ‘liberty and justice for all’ is an example of a difficult idea. We used design thinking as the introduction to a conversation on empathy. Before the extended conversations at the end of the unit, I wanted to know if students could listen carefully. For one assignment, I asked them to set up a display prototype that combined scary elements from the stories and a building to contain a prisoner. While the artist of the classroom created a skeleton playing a trumpet by using scissors, this student didn’t follow directions, and his client (the teacher) was unsatisfied with the result. In contrast, the winner of the challenge created two ghosts out of cardboard shoulder pads and a turret out of thin cardboard, creating a powerful classroom lesson about utility versus perfection as well as listening.

4. Modeling. How does osmosis take place? What caused the creation of the universe? These are powerful questions, deep questions, and ones for which a teacher might not have the answer; however, they are just the type of questions my gifted students might ask. I pair students with an outside mentor via Skype or Google Hangouts by using the power of social media to find willing experts. To help students process difficult ideas, the Next Generation Science Standards recommend models as tools. Students often don’t think about making their own models unless teachers expose them to the idea as a strategy. Cardboard models are one way to go deeper in visible thinking and to augment visual notetaking. As described in Harvard’s Project Zero, initiatives like Agency by Design requires students to look closely at what they are doing to help discover complex ideas. When the students push back, I remind them of James Watson and Francis Crick, and how the cardboard models they created led to an understanding of DNA.

Tips on Creating a Cardboard Makerspace

  • Collect one or two plastic tubs of materials for your classroom.
    • In the first tub, start saving oddly-formed shapes of cardboard packaging from the IT department, or even toilet paper rolls. Corrugated cardboard is especially hard for younger students to cut. Resist the temptation to put full boxes in the box, or students will simply use them without modification (something I learned in this challenge).
    • In the second tub, place tape, string, and remnants of duct tape. I simply placed a box at my local church and asked for donations of half-used tape, white glue, and crochet thread.
  • Find donated materials. Reach out to close friends on Facebook, or check with a hardware store or custodian for unwanted materials.
  • Get a grant or donation from a big box store, or organize a campaign onDonorsChoose.
  • Build rubrics so students have a framework of expectations, but be willing to revise them as needed. The first creations may not be as rich as you expect, but this provides opportunities for further learning.

Building creations and making cardboard artists will also build memories in the journey of learning. Along the way, new skills and collaboration will help us become better learners.

Minecraft May Finally Be Coming To US Schools

dogonews

By Kim Bussing on September 11, 2016

Photo Credit: Minecraft: Education Edition

Shortly before the school year ended in June, 1,700 kids American kids got to do what most students can only dream of — play video games in class. No, the 100 educators that allowed this were not slacking off. They were helping Microsoft beta test a new Minecraft Education Edition, which the company plans to offer to schools across the globe within the next few weeks.

While the computer game, which challenges kids to use their imagination by building futuristic virtual worlds, has been offered in Swedish schools since 2013, it has not been widely embraced by educators elsewhere. But project director Deirdre Quarnstrom believes that this new education version, where students get to create their own stories and games, will be a huge success with both student and teachers.

Photo Credit: education.minecraft.net

Of course, the classroom version will have some differences from the traditional game you might play at home. Non-player characters, placed into the game by teachers, will provide guidance and narration, while a chalkboard will allow them to write instructions. A control panel called Classroom Mode will enable educators to grant students access to resources, monitor their location, send messages, and even teleport students to the right place should they wander off or get lost. Teachers unfamiliar with the game can select from numerous pre-created immersive lesson plans that range from exploring the Temple of Artemis to modeling biodiversityloss.

For educators concerned that bringing video games into the classroom might reduce classroom collaboration, there is a multi-player mode. Using this, students can enter other’s games and help their peers solve an issue they may be struggling with or test out new ideas.

Photo Credit: education.minecraft.net

However, while these features add more structure and allow teachers to give specific assignments, students still have complete freedom to use their imagination and creativity to program a game based on their interest, whether it’s a science-fiction movie or their favorite fantasy series. Quarnstrom says Microsoft has kept the game “pure” to ensure kids (aged 5 and above) have an authentic Minecraft experience.” The director believes that “a lot of what creates that kind of magical educational experience is the no-rules sandbox environment. Students really feel inspired to keep going and set up their own challenges, which is exactly what educators want to see.”

The students and teachers fortunate to be selected for the June beta test seem to agree. 13-year-old Elena Rezac, who built a quest-driven maze inspired by the science fiction movie,”The Maze Runner,” says that the game is “lots of fun because you can do whatever you want.” Her teacher, Steve Isaacs, approves of the game because it encourages students to be inventive. The educator says that the game’s varied choices allow every kid to find an area where he/she can succeed.

Photo Credit: education.minecraft.net

The Minecraft Education Edition that is expected to cost between $1 to $5 a student, will be launched sometime this month. Meanwhile, educators can introduce gaming to their classrooms by signing up for the beta version. While it doesn’t have all the features of the final product, it is a good way how students engage with this popular video game, without paying a dime.

Resources: Fastcompany.com,the verge.com,cnnmoney.com

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/ZVZm85lI5QI?rel=0&showinfo=0&wmode=transparent

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/hl9ZQiektJE?rel=0&showinfo=0&wmode=transparent

Design Thinking and the Deskless Classroom

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Back-to-school conjures images of desks in neat rows, and the smells of crayons and glue. Teachers work hard to make warm, inviting learning spaces for students, but let’s take a step back. What does a desk represent? Imagine a classroom that looked less like a traditional classroom and more like an artist’s studio. Our physical environment, as explored in The Third Teacher, tells us what is possible in that space. What if, instead of making our space for our students, we made it with our students? This is what design thinking allows us to do.

Last September, the day before students returned, I looked around my classroom and panicked. Bulletin boards were bare, and there was no furniture. I said to myself, “Parents are going to think I don’t care!” But the opposite was true after I took a risk: instead of me decorating a classroom for my students, we made a learning space together. After all, I work here, but so do they. Design thinking our way through making our own learning space was, hands down, the hardest and best change that I ever made as a classroom teacher.

Why Design Thinking?

Increasing student engagement by taking the leap into a deskless classroom required an introduction to design thinking and the support of my admin. Creating a learning space through design thinking is about fostering student agency from the outset. Students are more engaged in this space. More than an interior design project, rethinking a learning space is about remaking not only the space, but also the learning that happens there. Design thinking is about finding a real-world solution to a real-world problem.

How to Use Design Thinking for a Deskless Classroom

Step 1: Create empathy

Students explored where and how they work best and what might be done in this space if it could be remade in any way that they needed. At first, I had a hard time taking a hands-off approach and letting students own the space. I let go of my ownership by trusting them.

Step 2: Ideate

Brainstorm. To begin, every idea is a good idea. Students brainstormed and shook loose hundreds of ideas on sticky notes and chart paper. A silent gallery walk of all the ideas allowed us pick out the best ones.

Step 3: Prototype

After brainstorming, students sketched. Initial sketches led to the project-based learning where students measured the classroom and created a scale model. They discovered that the limited amount of space meant planning how to make it work best.

Step 4: Test, build, and tell the story

Volunteers helped construct and move furniture, but students were in charge of furniture placement, right down to arrangement of the bulletin boards. Rethinking our space on a limited budget meant that students had to get really creative. They looked around the school for unused furniture, asked for donations, and wrote letters to admin asking for funds. After the build, students reflected in their visual journals about how this space might work for them and what goals they would set for themselves.

Making It Work Day to Day

The deskless classroom looks like a space with no structure, but the opposite is true. In a space where more choice is available, students need to be held more accountable for their behavior and work outcome. This is still a fine balance for children in primary school. Self-regulation is difficult for some (let’s be honest — it’s hard for lots of adults, too). So there must be a balance of choice and self-regulation. Remaking the space means putting students at the center of their learning. Giving them the privilege of choosing where and how to work requires them to take responsibility. And they will.

Many Iterations

Looking back at last September, I remember my feelings when the classroom was done! And then . . . it wasn’t done. Some elements worked, and others actually made me a little twitchy. In the end, every member of the classroom community needs to be comfortable with how it works. Some elements were taken out. Others were added. This space constantly flexes to meet the needs of students.

When is a good time to start creating a deskless classroom? Now! There will always be reasons not to take the risk in learning with students, and honestly, I expected a lot of pushback from parents and admin that just never happened. Students in my classroom don’t have an assigned space, but it’s never been a problem. I know that my room can be confusing for some people first walking in, like substitute teachers or other teachers’ students when we exchange classes. My solution has been careful routine building with students to help them take responsibility for the space.

Taking a leap into something new with students can be scary but also incredibly rewarding as they take ownership not only of the space, but also of the learning. Part of the reason for the space’s success is that it’s not mine. It’s ours. And now that I’ve ditched the desks, I’m sure I’ll never go back!

Whether you’ve visited a deskless classroom, taught in one, or have further questions, please share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Empowering Students With Design Thinking

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It’s a cold January school day in South Carolina, and while temperatures hover in the thirties, the stiff breeze makes it feel like it’s in the teens. Despite these conditions, the bundled-up middle school students press on with their assigned tasks: this group is moving pallets, that group is hammering them in place. Another carefully studies the blueprints of the tiny, 250-square-foot house being built, using what they’ve recently learned in math class to determine the angle of cuts for the lumber, and then passing along instructions about where the boards should be placed.

As I assist some students with holding up a heavy section of pallet-constructed wall, I glance over at Luca, a seventh-grade boy whose eyes are filled with wonder. “Never in my life did I think that I’d be building a house, Mr. Riddle, especially one that can be used to help the homeless. And we’re just kids! This is amazing!”

Working outside in this frigid weather is tough. Yet the students are inspired to complete the project because they’ve developed newfound empathy for the homeless in our community, and working in these conditions deepens that understanding — especially when they think of those who slept outside the night before in a makeshift camp only a few miles from the school.

Instead of sitting in a classroom and learning from a textbook, these sixth- to eighth-grade students have been empowered to apply their studies in an authentic way. The SFCSxDesign Pallet House Project is only one example of a growing number of educational initiatives nationwide that encourage students to tackle real-world challenges through utilizing the design thinking process.

Establishing a Mindset

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to problem solving that begins with developing empathy for those facing a particular challenge. In schools, it can serve as a framework for providing students with meaningful work that allows them to grow in their ability to define problems, empathize with others, create prototypes of their ideas, and hone those prototypes through multiple iterations until they have generated a viable solution to the challenge at hand. Design thinking encourages students to have a bias toward action (don’t wait until you’re older to make a difference; do it now!) and because of its reliance on rapid prototyping, frees them to embrace the notion of failing forward (it’s OK to make mistakes; that’s how we learn).

While there is a specific process that design thinking follows, perhaps its greatest impact on our students has not been in learning the methodology itself but in the establishment of a mindset that promotes an understanding of others.

As a growing number of schools adopt project-based or problem-based learning, some fail to realize that students become effective problem solvers only when given meaningful, relevant, problems to solve. We may say that we want students to apply their knowledge and skills in innovative new ways, yet too often we limit them to glorified word problems or a collection of worksheets, usually within the walls of a single, subject-specific classroom.

Head Knowledge and Heart Knowledge

We decided to shift that paradigm by setting aside two weeks in January as a “mini-mester” designed to provide students with immersive experiences that required them to use the design thinking process to solve messy, real-world problems. During this time, we ditched our regular schedule and designated grade-level teams of four or five students each who would work together all day. Each teacher served as a mentor for no more than six teams.

Students were first provided a series of challenges that allowed them to become familiar with the design thinking process and how it works. During this time, they learned ways to effectively define a problem, have empathy for those facing the problem (the user), develop prototypes of solutions, and work through multiple iterations of the prototypes driven by user feedback on their designs until the best idea ultimately emerged. These challenges included topics such as redesigning the school’s cafeteria experience and creating prototypes of The Perfect Classroom. Learning the process through these challenges prepared students for addressing the tougher, more complex problem that came next: designing solutions for poverty.

To accomplish this task, students needed to develop a deep understanding of the issue that comes from both “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge.” This required them not only to conduct traditional research of poverty-related topics (accessible resources, transportation, food deserts, homelessness, educational attainment, etc.), but also to learn directly from those whose lives had been effected by one or more of these problems. Therefore, we brought in speakers from local service agencies, journalists who cover the plight of the homeless, and those who have personally experienced homelessness or extreme poverty. Empathy develops through listening to real stories by real people.

Motivated by what they had learned and empowered by the belief that they could make a difference, our students decided to tackle the issue of homelessness by constructing a dwelling from reclaimed shipping pallets as a model for transitional housing. Along with building the house, each team also created a plan for an entire transitional housing community, based on precedent studies of other successful communities of this type nationwide.

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Once completed, all plans were submitted to a local development group that is designing a mixed-income community for our city. This team volunteered to review our students’ work, judge the strength of each design, and provide feedback on each plan. In the end, they identified a sixth-grade team as having the strongest overall plan, stating that it was the most viable, practical model and contained a combination of elements that are frequently found in successful transitional housing communities nationwide. They were amazed that all of this work had been accomplished by children.

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The Learning Potential

At the end of our two-week design challenge, one of our new sixth-grade parents approached me to discuss her son’s work. “What kind of crazy school sends your kid home excited about what he’s learning and believing that he can change the world?” I waited. She smiled and said, “The kind of school that I’m thrilled to have my kid attend.”

Two weeks. That’s it. Through tapping into the learning potential of design thinking, our students received more education in those two weeks than they ever would have in a “sit-and-get” classroom.

What could you do with two weeks? Imagine what could happen in your school. Imagine the impact you could make if you broke the mold, made the time, and empowered kids to believe and know that they can change the world.