Archive for February, 2017

So, I’ve been thinking about the catapult project in my Digital Fabrication class. I wrote the other day about my tweaks of the process and shared the image that I was using for my inspiration.

Here’s how my personal catapult is going. First I designed a new arm. I wanted to have just circles and lines and get rid of the bucket as the ping-pong ball (our projectile of choice) holder. Therefore, I made the arm from a series of circles that were the size that would hold let the ping-pong ball sit on them without falling through. Initially, I imagined that the lines/bars would have some function. However, it turned out I didn’t need them, so I broke them off, mostly. You can see the last bits of the bars as diameters in the circles, but the next version does not have them at all. The base incorporates the brick pattern and the circle. The first version flings the ping-pong ball just fine.

First I designed a new arm. I wanted to have just circles and lines and get rid of the bucket as the ping-pong ball (our projectile of choice) holder. Therefore, I made the arm from a series of circles that were the size that would hold let the ping-pong ball sit on them without falling through. Initially, I imagined that the lines/bars would have some function. However, it turned out I didn’t need them, so I broke them off, mostly. You can see the last bits of the bars as diameters in the circles, but the next version does not have them at all.

The base incorporates the brick pattern and the circle. It’s abstracted a little bit. Since the last row has an open portion, I can use that to hook up my rubber band as well. I can also put more tension on the rubber band by wrapping around a few rows, if need be. So handy.

The first version flings the ping-pong ball just fine.

When I looked at the catapult from the front, I noticed that the circle of the base and the first circle of the arm could line up better and maybe look like concentric circles if the arm circle is bigger. Turns out, I can get close, but because the arm is always on a bit of an angle, the circles of the base and the arm are never quite in the same plane. Still, I think it’s a design improvement.

Now what?

Since the catapult flings the ping-pong ball fine, at this point it’s all about improving my design. Maybe some of the “brick” pattern that is in the base should go between or across the two middle circles in the arm? The final circle has to be hollow for the ball to sit there. Hmmm.

So, I’m still thinking about this idea of the commonplace book reinterpreted. This idea fits nicely with the ideas of slow learning that were highlighted at the Project Zero conference I attended in October. We, as observers, notice things all the time, but how much of it goes in one ear/eye and out the other? Honestly, a lot of it can just keep on going since I know I see and hear an awful lot of crap. However, systems to keep the good stuff and the “it might not be so good but it is really interesting to me” stuff are key.

One of my booksnaps for "How it Went Down" by Kekla Magoon

One of my booksnaps for “How it Went Down” by Kekla Magoon

With my second semester class, I plan to keep the noticing and collecting going, but want to adjust the format a little. This course has a lot of shorter books, rather than a few longer ones. And, comparing and looking and the works in groups is a key component to the work we will do. So, I wanted a more group oriented, public system where we could put a lot of raw data. @TeacherDebra introduced me to booksnaps some time ago. Time to put them to use. I was not a snapchatter myself, but I set up a Snapchat and a Tumblr. We are gong to use Snaphat as a photo editor; I am not going to be sending snaps to the students directly. Students take pictures of passages of text that stand out to them, annotate them in some way with the Snapchat tools, save the image, submit it to our Tumblr page. (Full disclosure, I got the tumblr idea from the amazing Ann Hamilton’s habitus project and the collection of quotations about clothing she solicited through her tumblr: cloth a commonplace. Seriously, I love Ann Hamilton.)

Since we started the semester with several independent reads, it was a great way to share our books. Then, we moved on to a unit of three books we all read together. The students and I took turns leading class for these books. Part of the job of leading class was to share, before or after, a few booksnaps to support the ideas of the discussion. For the independent reading, it was a good option that helped us talk about common characteristics that we were seeing. As we moved on, I didn’t incorporate the booksnaps into class as well. Therefore, the students had a hard time remembering them too. No surprise that when I dropped the ball, they dropped it too.

We are just finishing this unit, and I am going to return to the booksnaps as we move into our next group of texts, perhaps with a little bit of focus.

Anyway, there are several things I like about our Tumblr booksnaps so far. It’s a pretty quick and easy way to collect passages, and the students are so used to the tool that they add comments and notes in no time. Therefore, I get more information about their thoughts about the books. Victory! I really just want my students to think and share that thinking with me. So, if I can find a way that accomplishes both of those goals, I’m happy.

So, I’ve been thinking about professional development lately. In addition to being part of the administration at my school, I am also part of the high school STEAM and English departments, and our division head decided to support each department in a professional development adventure this school year.

This afternoon, the STEAM department had our professional development outing. We went to Philadelphia Woodworks to learn wood turning. In our group of five, two of us (neither of them me) had used a lathe before. The nice folks at the Woodworks had the lathes all set up with blocks of wood. We had two teachers for our group who demonstrated each step and helped us along the way.

It turns out, that you can’t do wood turning left handed. I am left handed. So, here I go turning wood right handed. I am so used to reversing demos in my head that I had a hard time just straight up copying the way to hold the tools etc.


After a few hours of work, I am far from being an expert. However, it’s always instructive to be a total beginner again and think about how much information you can take in at once, how frequently you need to check in with the teacher, how hard it can be to turn even clear directions into action, how tiring it can be to concentrate really hard for a long time.

It was also a great group activity.We each left our class with a bowl we had made and headed off to the weekend.

Also, who knew I could get woodchips in all my clothes so quickly and effectively? (Imagine what happens to sand at the beach. That’s pretty much what I managed to do.)

Here we all are with our completed bowls.


So I’ve been thinking about the catapult project in my Digital Fabrication class. This is the first project in the course and the goal is for the students to gain some familiarity with the iterative design process and the 3D design software that we use.

However, this class lives in the STEAM department. The amount of art in the project was virtually nill. Earlier in the year, I already mentioned my newfound appreciation for cardboard as a makerspace material. And, I have incorporated the cardboard step in my new process here as well. However, it was too focussed on function. Although it can take people too long, in my opinion, to complete the catapult, more of that is about my management than the use or not of particular materials. Anyway, back to the Art. I vowed this go round to be more intentional about the design aspect of the project.

Here is the new process:

  • Some basic work with Tinkercad (skills based, not related to this design challenge)
  • Informal assessment of some key Tinkercad skills
  • Design walk
  • Drawings of catapult ideas
  • Cardboard
  • 3D print models, review, redesign, etc

The new steps here include the basic Tinkercad work, now unconnected to the final project (which at first seemed like a step back from an integrated approach), informal assessment, and the design walk.

CCO public domain image by Pily63 on Pixabay.

I am using this image as inspiration for my new catapult design. CCO public domain image by Pily63 on Pixabay.

The design walk was something I tried to do more informally last semester. I tried sending folks out around the campus to notice design elements in our buildings several of which have interesting and thoughtful design elements. It turns out that students going on independent design walks at the beginning of the course are not my best idea. So, this semester we went to two specific locations as a group. We went to our former library space and our newly built library space. Even though there are no longer shelves or books in the old space, the students remember what it looked like since the new space has been open for under a year. We talked about the functions that both spaces fulfill in addition to the more subtle message that each space conveyed to visitors about how to exist in the space and what it means to study and acquire knowledge.

I also suggested about thinking about their catapult as art pieces and asked them to consider in what type of museum or exhibit it would belong–to take inspiration from that discipline/time period/aesthetic in their design. I am also designing a new catapult.


Let the designing begin!


So, I’ve been thinking about when the right time for professional development is. Is there even an answer for this?

In an ideal world, professional development would happen just-in-time. The practicalities of this approach are a challenge. It’s hard to plan to attend conferences if one waits for just the right time and certainly hard to get a good airfare or hotel rate. Online, asynchronous professional development to the rescue! I’ve participated in and continue to participate in plenty of that type of learning. It’s a great option that is weather resistant and family friendly. On an individual level, I can do a lot on the spur of the moment.

CCO Public domain image by Antanias on Pixabay

CCO Public domain image by Antanias on Pixabay

However, there are some events worth the effort of planning ahead. Bigger events, national organization events, for example, do take time to plan and don’t change dates because I have had a tiring week. Whenever I plan and attend conferences, whether they are informal EdCamps, conversation driven EduCon, or conferences with big presentations like Project Zero or ISTE, I come away tired and glad to have attended. I am wondering if I can train myself to be ready for learning at a particular time of year or at a particular location. I am not being silly here. Habits are powerful. For example, I have trained myself to sit silently in a room with other people for an hour and not find it strange. For me, this habit is inextricably linked to the time and place. Another example–when I was younger I was lucky enough that my family went to a very simple house in the Poconos regularly. We didn’t have any TV or cable or anything there (it was the dark ages, there was no internet); I got used to and came to appreciate that time there was different, and more importantly for this discussion, I got in the habit of changing my mindset upon turning in the driveway. Conditioned response anyone? It is clear to me that I can and have done this on a small scale for myself. How can some of those habits of mind, attitudes, conditioned responses be applied to professional learning?

An entire faculty is never going to be in the zone at the same time. (And, if everyone were in the zone at once, wouldn’t that be some kind of foul anyway?) Maybe it is more realistic to think about the routines we can develop to do some of the get-in-the-zone work for us. How can I/we engineer that turn-up-the-driveway response when there is a schoolwide initiative that requires professional development?


So, I’ve been thinking about too many things. It’s all swirling around in my head and sometimes it gets overwhelming. I’m trying to find some books to hold me up, balance the yelling, and remind me that there is sense to be made.

fullsizerenderI turned to Maira Kalman. When my personal kids were younger, we used to read Last Stop Grand Central a lot. It was the basis of our first family trip to New York. We went to lots of the places we had read about over and over in the book. And, since my kids got me for a mom, we also spent more time that they might have liked in The Met.* Anyway, I have read and enjoyed a number of Ms. Kalman’s works and illustrations. I appreciate that she is an observer and a connector of disparate ideas. I would like to think that I connect ideas in a somewhat similar way. Although we have never met, when I read her books, I feel like we should be friends and take collecting walks together while wearing hats and stopping for snacks. Even though I know Ms. Kalman is not a Quaker, this is the phrase that comes mind when I read her books “that Friend speaks my mind.”

I need to read something that felt familiar, but that also seemed to make sense and that combined facts in ways to help me think about complex ideas rather than something that creates alternate facts to try to get me to simplify complex ideas. Ms. Kalman wrote And the Pursuit of Happiness after President Obama was first elected and she was feeling positive about the country. I would like to be able to feel that way about my country now. I remembered the optimism of the book; however, upon rereading it, I also appreciated the acknowledgment of conflict and imperfection in our origins and ourselves.

This set me on a Maira Kalman rereading adventure. Like my taxonomy projects, I thought 5 was a good number of her books to reread.

I reread The Principles of Uncertainty, which, not surprisingly given the title, is more disquieting. For example, she writes “my brain is exploding. Trying to make sense out of nonsense, trying to tell you everything (everything?) and all the while time is fleeing.” (p.11) Again, this Friend speaks my mind.

I reread Girls Standing on Lawn.

I reread My Favorite Things.

I reread Ah-ha to Zig-Zag.

(I didn’t reread Next Stop Grand Central)

I google her and wandered around her website. I read an interview with her on The Great Discontent.

For me, Ms. Kalman provides one model of how to think about the world in a personal way; she shares her favorite artworks and admires hats in one sentence and in the next takes on the contradictions in our nation’s founding documents.


*It is never too early to take a kid to an art museum, says me who strapped my daughter into the baby-bjorn carrier and headed to the Terra Museum in Chicago (sigh, so sad that it is gone) when she was 3 weeks old. It will not surprise anyone to know that she does not remember this trip.