Beyond Making

I’ve been thinking a lot lately. It’s probably why I haven’t blogged.  I’ve had tons of thoughts rolling back in forth inside my mind about creativity, about learning, and about making.  I think it’s awesome that schools are revamping lab spaces and making unique learning environments, but it all leaves me thinking, what’s next for all these spaces and all this equipment pouring it’s way into empty rooms throughout the country… and world?

Kids are becoming fluent with technology skills.  Software changes on a daily basis means knowing “how to use” a particular tool is more about fluency than that tool.  Teach them skills such as import, export, what a .jpeg is, copy and paste, dragging and dropping and many programs can become second nature to them.  Kids will ALWAYS need the instruction – it matters.  But, the time spent on it?  It’s changing. It’s a great thing, empowering even.   It will open the door to much more past technology skills and makerspaces…

  • Strategies like design thinking and team-building start to matter even more.  Providing direction and stirring the learning pot keeps the atmosphere fresh and keeps the thinking vibrant.
  • Connection to real human problems means connection to real humans.  Empathy is on it’s way into schools through unique learning spaces where learning is about digging deep within ourselves to understand and help others.
  • Deeper learning, the kind with raw struggle, becomes the very thing that is necessary with a mix of skills and a need for applying it in the most authentic ways.
  • Time becomes even more important.  It takes far more time to create and develop an idea than it does to learn a few basic skills of software.  Time well spent.  But also, time spent differently than many are accustomed to.
  • Fake-ification of learning, a term I just absolutely made up to refer to how we provide kids pretend problems about pretend things and insult them with low level thinking across our school campuses in America.  It is not enough. It never was. Solving problems about Walt’s apple cart just aren’t the same as BUILDING an apple cart for your school’s garden.  One is a simple problem to solve, the other is a problem with no simple answer.

When I feel like things in my head get stagnate, I start looking at other industries.  In every industry, no matter what, design encourages digging deeper, thinking more, collaborating at bigger levels… and most of all?  It’s about the heart and soul of problem solving. The kind with real struggle. Real problems, real world, real creativity.   Beyond the makerspace, and beyond all of our wildest imaginations… the place where kids will lead us.  If we are listening.

National Week of Making Coming Right Up!


If you’ve read my blog, Twitter feed, or Instagram for more than 2 seconds, you’ve probably noticed that creativity is important to me.  Not like peanut butter is important to chocolate, but important like how humans need oxygen to live.  I’ve felt that way since I was a kid, in school, deprived of the oxygen in my learning. And every day since I became a teacher?  I’ve vowed to myself that I will make school more for kids who crave creativity.  When making came along, or intersected my world, I knew this was it.  This mindset, this beautiful way of integrating hands on design, creation, production, and fabrication?  It’s everything my worksheets were not.

Now? The whole country is getting involved and it’s exciting.  YOU can get involved, too.  The White House hosted the first ever White House Maker Faire just last year and this year, a National Maker Faire is taking place at the University of DC on June 18-19, 2016.  Tickets are available on the website for FREE!  The White House has declared June 17-23, a National Week of Making.  An entire WEEK of celebrating MAKERS!    {Note: Not sure what a Maker Faire is?  Check out photos I snapped at the Austin Maker Faire.}  It’s a gathering of all types of Makers to share their craft, inspire each other, and celebrate the creativity that each person can bring to the table.

Most exciting to me?  On Friday, I’ll be visiting the White House (eeek!) for the event kickoff and I’ll be going to the National Maker Faire on Saturday.  I look forward to capturing the experience, connecting with other makers, learning, and sharing.  Learning and sharing is really what making is all about.

To celebrate the Week of Making, I’m going to be sharing daily tips and projects for the elementary crowd and ask that YOU make a commitment to bring making into your classroom in some way in the school year ahead.  I’ll also share some amazing resources and people to connect with that you can find easily around the internet.  If you have questions about making, leave a comment here and I’ll try to make sure I answer it during the Week of Making!  Are you ready to be inspired?

unnamed (1)I can promise you that once you see your students get excited, eyes lit up, and joy on fire, you’ll be glad you opened the door to empower their creativity.  People always ask me, “What stuff do I need to order to start making in my classroom?” Nothing.  The projects I will share with you each day will be stuff you can do with stuff you have or with very, very inexpensive items.  Repurpose, redo, recreate.  Cardboard is the newest item to add to your classroom supply list.  The other comment I get from teachers is, “I don’t feel like I know enough about coding (or  3d printing or creativity or making) to get started.”  Nope.  That’s a myth.  Not knowing, being vulnerable, and taking a risk?  That’s being a maker.  And your students NEED that from you.   Somehow, it’s the not knowing that makes it all an even better and more authentic learning experience.

So, are you ready?  Join the fun in the National Week of Making by following the hashtags #WeekOfMaking and #NationOfMakers.    Let’s make school the most exciting place in a child’s life.  Together we can all share, collaborate, and MAKE the world a better place.  We can also make incredible puns about making, and that’s fun, too.














Squish the Boredom and Power Up Play with Squishy Circuits

squish1Full disclosure: I’m embarrassed of the way I taught circuits in my classroom many years ago.  I was bored with the topic.  I mainly lectured to my 10 year old students and asked them to draw a circuit. Then we moved on faster than I could grade the tests and check their regurgitation. I’m sharing this because I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.  We weren’t taught how much fun circuitry can really be, nor were we encouraged in our teacher training to veer off the path of the textbook and engage kids with Playdoh.  But everything has changed in my mind.

Squishy Circuits are featured in this amazing TED Talk by AnnMarie Thomas.    It takes the intimidation of wires out of learning about circuitry, conduction, and electricity, and puts the focus on clay, colorful lights, and your imagination.   While this activity primarily makes it way through younger maker crowds, it’s great for makers of all ages.

What do you need to get started?

You can get the entire Squishy Circuits Kit based on University of St. Thomas’s work.  The kit is honestly well worth the initial cost. It’s reusable and you won’t have to hunt around for the parts to get started.  But if you are looking to start smaller, you can purchase the materials yourself.  Here’s what you need:

squish2The minimum? A 4 AA battery pack. LED lights. Playdoh, or make your own homemade dough that contains salt.  The salt is key for conducting.

TIP: LED lights come in a variety of sizes. I love the 10mm size, especially for tiny hands, but the 3mm and 5mm size are more widely available and less expensive.  Their lights are equally impressive.

Taking it to the next level?  The minimum, plus modeling clay, an electric buzzer.   The modeling clay, a non-conductor, allows kids to build clay figures using the clay as a barrier in the Playdoh.  squish3

After the art of positive and negative creations are mastered, add in Copper tape to lengthen the leads and raise the bar.  Toss in a motor to add spin to designs. Cardboard to build bigger and better.  Cardboard, just like the modeling clay, is a great barrier between the positive and negative dough. Kids can experiment with what conducts or doesn’t conduct. Paper? Cardboard? Model Magic?  Plastic? Small wood scraps?

What do Squishy Circuits Offer Students Across the Curriculum?

Reading:  What book character can I build?  How might I light up words I’ve built with dough?  Where can I read about circuits in the library?

Writing: How do circuits work? What kind of story can I create about the creature I built with light up hair?   What will happen if I try…?

Math: How many volts are the batteries?  How many lights will this set of batteries power?   How long does my wire need to be to reach the playdough?

Science:  What is a conductor?  What materials conduct electricity?  How do I build a circuit?  How do LED’s work?  How can I use copper tape instead of Playdoh in a similar way?  Do humans conduct electricity?

Social Studies:  How might I use LED’s to light up a topographical map?  How was electricity developed and by who?  What careers are available in the field of electricity?

But these questions will be even more powerful if you start with one thing….

Play.  Explore.  Let them try things.  Try things yourself. See what happens.

And Playdoh becomes the foundation for playing, learning, and reimagining science in the classroom.  Design, dreaming, and doing.  The way it was meant to be.




Don’t Wait To Make

make1Just about every day I get an email from someone asking, “How do I start making in my classroom?” And you know what the next statement often is?  “Since I don’t have a maker space in my school.”   The good news? You don’t need a makerspace to make.  Classroom desks. The floor. The hallway. A table by the windows. Your big ol’ teacher desk. A rug and beanbags on the floor.  Provide the space in the curriculum and the time, and it doesn’t matter where the physical location is.

What if you look at one simple assignment in next week’s lessons?  A reading activity? A math assignment?  And what if you just open it up… make it more creative.  Give the kids more freedom.  Start small with one exploration.  One pile of cardboard.  One block of time for kids to create, collaborate, and design a solution to a problem.

You just don’t need the space to get started.  You just need a little courage to let go and try it.


If school had been right for us, we wouldn’t have a nation of adults that have waited for coloring books labeled “adult coloring books” to do something creative. School beat it out of us, one worksheet at a time. It made many of us feel like we aren’t creative, or worse, that a score rated us as incapable.  It pushed us along on the conveyor belt until we gave in. Conformed. Joined the masses. And stopped coloring outside the lines. It’s a sad reality that we don’t really think about, until we look at the school system that is in front of us.

10583971_10153367174363325_8377820887259269185_nFull disclosure: I just spent almost every second my holiday break creating. When I wasn’t creating, I was sleeping. I painted, glued, made, sewed, and cut. My canvas this time was our home and I didn’t ask anyone for permission to make every room as bright and colorful as possible. Fortunately, my husband knew what he was getting into when we married many years ago… I love color. The more the better.

One day, while I painted a chair, I heard a story on the news about the shortage of colored pencils taking place across America over the holidays, because of the “adult coloring book craze.” I smiled. Have we all been deprived for so long?

And the only thing it tells me is that we have an obligation to make (pun totally intended) school more for our kids. Because we don’t want them to require a personal invitation to get creative when they grow up. We want them to hold onto to that very thing that exudes joy in learning from us all, no matter our age… play, exploration, curiosity, creativity, and learning. And maybe, if we’re lucky, we can get it back for ourselves.

Because at the end of the day, when you imagine a conversation between your LED light, the battery, and the copper tape, you’ll know that you’ve fallen off the conveyor belt of conformity, and it feels great.  You’ll know that it’s silly, a little weird, and the way the google eyes on the bulb make it look alive will make you smile.  And you won’t care about any of that. The people who will say you’re “hobby” is a waste of  time?  Let them.  Because your inner soul will be smiling in a way that it’s meant to.   They just never got off the conveyor belt, and it’s not your fault.

But the kids you teach?  Now is your chance to help them.  And it turns out, that will make your inner soul smile, too.




You Totally Have Time for #HourOfCode

It’s here!  This coming week is the big Hour of Code.  You might be thinking, ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that?’ Or, maybe you’re like me, thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is my superbowl!”   Either way, whether you have an entire coding curriculum in your classroom, or have never even understood what the heck the coding revolution is all about, there is something out there for you to encourage your kiddos to try… no planning, no purchasing. Just an activity that will get it started.  There is likely a kid or ten in your classroom that thinks in the visually goodness way that coding speaks to. Trust me, often kids that are struggling in some areas, find success in coding.  Doesn’t that make it worth trying in the classroom?

Here are five ways to incorporate Hour of Code THIS week…. or the week after, whether you have one device or a class set.

1.)  Paper Coding.

On index cards, create arrows of Turn Right, Turn Left, Forward, Backward.  On the floor, use the floor tiles or use masking tape to create a grid.  Depending on what you are learning about in class, create a game board with the grid.  For example, Oregon Trail?  Add obstacles on the grid like a river, a rock, a moutain– all things students will have to navigate around.  Students write the program by laying the cards out, and another student follows the program by moving through the sequence on the floor. Young students could practice letter recognition, find numbers by rolling a dice, or even sight words.  Older students could create their own board with a historical topic, make cards to draw a task like, “Navigate from the mountain, across the river, and stop at the bridge.”    Oh, there’s no device even involved.  Just teamwork, creativity, collaboration… and fun.  This could also work on a small scale using grid paper and moving objects.

Fractus Learning offer these FREE PDF printables for coding games and some great suggestions for other paper coding!

Space Paper Coding Example

2.) Websites has three amazing ready to use tutorials that kids can partner up and try out for some collaborative fun, or dive in on their own.  Minecraft, Star Wars, and Frozen make the tasks fun and interactive, but the idea is to introduce kids to the basics of coding.  Do it along with your students and you’ll be surprised at how much fun coding is.  It’s certainly not just a boring bunch of numbers and letters like I once thought.  No experience necessary.

Scratch.  Scratch has to be one of the most underused and overly awesome things online.  I know why – it’s a bit confusing to a teacher that doesn’t have a lot of spare time to take a look at coding sites.  But have no fear!  Scratch has you covered– they offer FREE Scratch Cards for you to download and print.  And guess what, with NO experience on your part, you can hand these to your kids, and ask them to figure it out. And you will learn right along with them.  Once they start discovering what Scratch can do, they’ll be hooked.   Scratch also has an amazing little set of easy tutorials to help kiddos begin to understand coding.  Be sure to check out last years “Create a Holiday Card” tutorial… it’s a fun one, too.   So how can Scratch fit into your overpacked curriculum?  The skills it reinforces, among them creativity, collaboration, problem solving, also include tons of math skills (number sense, time, measurement, angles, shapes), could easily be used to reinforce understanding in a science or social studies topic, or could be a springboard to a creative writing project because of the interactivity. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination!   NOTE: Scratch Jr. is also available as an app, and definitely one to check out for the younger crowd.

3.) Apps

Hopscotch:  A great app to begin coding with. Similar to Scratch.
BeeBot:  Now you can code with BeeBots on an iPad, whether you own the BeeBot robots or not.

Daisy the Dinosaur: Created by Hopscotch, another fun one. Daisy is cute, too.

And to look for a few more, check out Common Sense Media Coding Apps.  This is a must use site for vetting apps and websites for the classroom or even your own kiddos at home.  Excellent rating systems and they keep it up to date.

4.) Videos

What is coding?   Great little intro for primary and elementary ages.

What is coding?  Good intro for Upper Elementary.

Should Everyone Learn to Code?   Very cool way to show kids the possibilities of the cool careers that coding involves.  Would be excellent for upper elementary and middle school.