Posts Tagged ‘STEAM’

So, I’ve been thinking about how spending a few hours in the MakerSpace does wonders for my general sense of well-being.

The other day I went up there first thing in the morning to check on a 3D print I had started the previous afternoon. Since I am co-teaching a minor course, Digital fabrication, in the space, I try to print the designs between class meetings. On the day in question, I honestly don’t even remember if the 3D print turned out or not. I’m sure I got a few more student designs going on the other printers. My plan had been to leave by 9 am at the latest and get back to my office. However, at 10:15  I was still there. I had the lasercutter/engraver working on a couple of patterns in several different materials. Then, I noticed how interesting the cut out pieces were and the design created by the holes in the pieces of wood and plexiglass. There are easily 2 other posts about the actual work I was doing.

lasercut pieces

My focus in this post is about the time. I can totally justify the time I spend in there. I need to become more familiar with the tools in the space, and there’s really no way to do that other than by using them. So, I’m now comfortable changing the filament on both types of 3D printers; I can take apart parts here and there to clean out the nozzle on the Polar3D printers; I am getting to know some of the idiosyncracies of the printers; I unclogged the CubePro the other afternoon after quite a bit of this-ing and that-ing (so satisfying! It’s like undoing knots); I am getting better at trouble shooting, knowing when to suspect the printer, when to look at the file. This does not even begin to make me an expert. I’m also getting the hang of the lasercutter. I have realized that moving the bed up and down impacts the cut dramatically; I am a wiz at moving the laser to a good spot to cut repeated objects out of the same piece of material; I’m learning to look for any warping in the material and tape down anything I can; I’m making progress with scaling the cut or raster; I have tried cutting and rastering all sorts of materials, including orange peels and chocolate. Adobe Illustrator and I are not what I would call friends, but we are getting acquainted and taking it slowly. Again, all this knowledge that I have gained does not make me an expert in this either.

What all this does is make me a learner-a learner of totally new stuff, not just a little new. It has been so exciting and energizing. I can tell that I have reached a tipping point. I know enough to be independent, and I know enough now to feel confident trying more, which will let me learn more. Our MakerSpace leader has encouraged those of us who use the space to just do/try/fix things, but I am someone who needs to feel she has a bit of know-how before leaping in too far. I’m leaping.

As with my foray into graphic novels, I have spent time on this MakerSpace learning. A lot of time. In big chunks. I have had support and encouragement. I have talked with all sorts of colleagues about ideas for creations. My Advice station/New Year’s Maker idea continues to progress. At this point, I have more plans, and bigger plans, than I could complete in a year of solid work. (I have a tendency to plan bigger than my skills would suggest is wise. It’s one of my most endearing or frustrating qualities; you choose.) Again, my question returns to how we make time for students to do this kind of learning, beyond sports which does get big chunks of time. While I am sure the students are quicker learners than I am at this point, even they need more than a few minutes here and there. We know that learning takes time and practice that doesn’t always happen in 48 minutes segments.

So, I have been thinking about my new year maker idea, because progress is happening!

As you may recall, the plan was to make an advice station with an old rotary phone and Makey Makey. The idea was that a student would pick up the phone and hear a brief audio clip containing a bit of advice. My plan was to record words of wisdom from a range of community members. As you may also recall, I was not in possession of the skills necessary to make this work, but I had convinced some other folks it was a good idea.

Well, there is clear progress. So far, @Mr_Fornaro talked to the students in our Python class and one of them accepted the challenge of writing the code to randomize the audio file that gets played. The code has been written and is working.

@Mr_Fornaro has been working on getting the Makey Makey connected to the phone so that picking up the phone completes the circuit. In addition, he has got an audio file actually playing through the handset. Things are in a bit of disarray at the moment, but in a good way.

Photo on 2-5-16 at 9.26 AM

So, yesterday evening I sent out the following email with the subject line of  “do you have good advice for students?” (who could resist reading that?):

Hello colleagues,

A group of us are working on an installation that will allow students to pick up an old rotary phone and hear some words of wisdom. If you have some favorite piece of advice, we would like to include that in our installation. The advice will actually be spoken by you. Here is what you can do, swing by my office some time and we will record you, which should take about a minute and a half. 

We are hoping to have voices of many adults in the Shipley community. Please be in touch if you would be willing to be recorded. I can also come to you with my laptop to record.

Thank you,


p.s. You can also send me a .wav file (not an mp3). 

I sent this message at 5:27pm on Thursday and got my first reply at 5:32. We are a prek-12 school, and I have had replies from teachers in all divisions as well as non-teaching colleagues. My favorite response so far:


So I am now the collector of good advice (file that under duties to be defined later). I love this title. I’m looking forward to hearing what people share and to seeing the students interacting with the installation. It will still be a bit before our target space is available, but I’m getting excited. Time to plan the sign/invitation/surroundings.

So, I’ve been thinking about big installation type maker/art project. My New Year’s plan is to make some sort of installation myself, or with a little help from my friends.

Here are some of my inspirations:

I have been mildly obsessed with Jie Qi’s work for some time. Her interactive painting is beyond amazing.


In addition, I really enjoyed the responsive art in this TED talk by Aparna Rao.

I love her frames quickly standing at attention. And, the way she talks about her work, so serious and quiet, cerebral, is such an interesting counterpoint to the playful and lighthearted work itself.

My personal family went to see the Ann Hamilton: the event of a thread exhibit at the Park Avenue Armory three years ago, and we all still talk about it. Huge swings were hung in the Armory. The swings were also attached to a large curtain that hung though the center of the long side of the space. So, as visitors swung, the curtain undulated. There was also a sound component in addition to pigeons. Not only did we enjoy swinging, but watching the curtain wave was a different and equally engaging action. People reclined on the floor and just watched, mesmerized. (There is a video on the site linked above as well.)



Recently, my amazing colleague @Mr_Fornaro visited another school’s maker space and reported that they had rigged up a Makey Makey to two flights of stairs, not just a few steps or a few places on the railing. So, as you can tell, I start thinking on a very reasonable scale. This is what I do. It does not always produce good results.

Then I remembered a fortune that I had saved. It said:

If you want good advice, consult your mother.

Putting all of this together, I had a plan to create an interactive experience using a Makey Makey, some sort of bar or rail, a number of old rotary telephones, and recordings of real advice from real mothers. I had thought that there would be a big sign or something on the wall with the fortune/saying. When I met with tired new dad @Mr_Fornaro, he was excited to help and has some experience with Makey Makeys. He also knew of some students who might be interested in the project–more friends! As we discussed, we both simplified and built-in potential for expansion. Fantastic. One of my original ideas was to include the larger school community in advice collecting. Our thought on that: totally doable.

As I was describing this to my personal family at dinner tonight we thought of a few more ideas. (Hmm, is this a family trait to plan big? Perhaps.) Maybe it’s a booth or pay phone box that says “advice from mom” or something instead of “telephone” at the top. Then we thought, maybe it’s an advise station and different phones would have different themes: advice from mom, words of encouragement, etc. Oooooh, so many ideas.

I have to say I am so excited about the prospect of this actually getting created. Plus, my conversations about the plan totally reinforce my belief in the importance of brainstorming with others. Even though I am currently working on a post about the importance of silence and prolonged thinking, I have always been a big fan of brainstorming with other people who are also interested in generating a lot of ideas and talking around the topic. The person who wants to go with the first plan/idea/thought and finish the task is not the collaborator I am looking for. However,the person who loves a good rolling around of ideas is exactly the collaborator for me.

Back to the plan. The space we are targeting is not available at the moment, but we can get stated on our first prototypes.

Any other collaborators out there have some ideas to share?


So, I’ve been thinking about maker projects and STEAM a lot lately. I co-taught a minor class last year called Digital Fabrication. It only met a time or two a week and was ungraded. We worked with soldering circuits, 3D printing, and laser cutting/engraving. Let’s just say, I was not an expert in a lot of this.

It turned out not too many of the students were either. My co-teacher had a lot of technical skills. I provided some creative ideas, gender diversity, and a more artistic perspective. Now that it’s summer, I need to learn some more about the tools we use. We have a few 3D printers, soldering materials, and a laser cutter/engraver. I have done some soldering in the past and am a fairly confident solderer, but not exactly a circuitry expert. (When I was younger one of the things I wanted to be when I grew up was a stained glass window repairer.) My colleague and co-teacher is not only good with circuits and soldering but has also done quite a bit of 3D printing, so we have some know-how there. That leaves laser cutting/engraving wide open, waiting for an expert. My other colleague, @Mr_Fornaro has also been working on learning the ins and outs of the laser engraver.

On a VERY rainy Sunday, I went to the Department of Making and Doing to take a class on laser cutting/engraving with the @Betny802. It was supposedly about using the laser cutter for jewelry making, but it didn’t really matter what you made. We worked in Adobe Illustrator and got the very basics. There is plenty more to learn and practice, plenty. But, I now know what kinds of things I need to know, which is not only a step up, but also makes it easier to progress. Plus, is there a better way to spend a Saturday than making stuff? I will answer this for you. No, there is not.

So, we learned a few basics about Adobe Illustrator and were off. @Betny802 tweeted this at the end of the class.

I also made a chicken pendant which I put on some reddish cord I had at home. I wore it to school last week. I thought central administrative team meetings might benefit from a humorous accessory.

Photo on 7-2-15 at 3.49 PM

I can’t wait to learn more about Adobe Illustrator. Summer is so great.


So, I’ve been thinking about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) projects lately. I spent some time over winter break making Chibitronics projects with my personal kids. And then I decided to introduce paper circuitry to blackout poetry.

You know how sometimes you think 2 kids or people should be friends? You see all these connections, but they don’t? It was a little like that with my Chibitronics and Blackout Poetry matchmaking; they were not friends right away. However, as they have sat day after day near each other on my desk, a friendship has developed. Here are some details.

I started with my blackout poem.

Then, I had been playing with DeviantArt-Muro and the drawing with text options. I entered my entire poem as the text and then drew with the words in the shape of exploding fireworks, since that is what “bursts of sound and light” suggests to me. I printed this, enlarged, on to various colors and qualities of vellum. I ended up with this. (many, many tries later).

poem words printed on vellum in the shape of fireworksSo, then I used the copper tape, light stickers, and some sensor controllers to make 2 circuits that light my “fireworks”. One lights in response to sound, which you can’t see in the static image; the other is set to twinkle. However, the copper tape lines and battery folds are a little distracting, I think. Plus I wanted the actual words of the poem to be more prominent.

My next idea was to create another circuit that would be on a lower layer and position the lights at the location of the words in the poem. With one battery, the lights were not lighting consistently and were not powerful enough to be seen through the paper unless they were pressed together. I tried sewing the layers together, messed up the order, removed the thread, and then realized that another battery would help.


With all the layers together, here I am.


Issues still to be resolved:

  • How to connect the 2 pieces of vellum? or just have one and leave the bottom part “exposed”
    • sewing, glue?
  • Do I somehow cover the path of the circuit on the fireworks lights? I find it distracting.
  • How do I piece it all together
  • Does it need some color
  • Will it sit in a frame

Any suggestions would be appreciated.