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Bringing “Maker Ideas” into Learning

obamaWhen I was growing up, my mother was known to sew clothes every weekend. She made most of our clothes when we were younger and all of her own for years. She even made our prom dresses when we were in school. I grew up around her “crazy” ideas during school dance planning time. Think…Cinderella carriages and horses covered in glitter…all formed from wood cut in our driveway. For black history month one year, she even made a wooden President Obama and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (I definitely questioned her on creating a wooden cutout of President Obama’s signature but clearly she ignored me)

My mother was and is a “maker” and more than likely, so are you.

 

Being a “Maker” Isn’t New or Necessarily Tech

In education, we have a way of taking a “thing” and reframing it to be something else…to fit our ideas or the latest trend of the moment but making isn’t new. Making has been the fabric of mankind since we existed. It’s not just technology and specifically coding. It’s not about devices. It really is about the synergy and application of ideas and passionately bringing them to life or even the need for a project to be real and the ability to create it.

The “new to us” part though, is not just making a horse and carriage of wood and glitter but maybe one that twinkles on command or moves through some animatronic lens. It’s making the wooden “President Obama” recite some of his famous quotes/speeches or even tweets from his twitter account because it was coded to do so. It’s my nephew, the puppet maker, creating puppets that respond to buttons that he has coded to its appendages or a prom dress drenched in LEDs programmed to dance to the music. To be clear, knowing my mother, her creations would have definitely done these things if she had the skills to do so. She has definitely created her share of pieces with integrated lighting. (Christmas lights were her “LED” of choice)

The “new to us” part is this idea of being a maker who takes advantage of accessible technology, embedding skills that could foster even greater potential and pathways in its creators. Technology in making has lead to some of the greatest innovations and in schools, providing pathways to create in this way can be a game-changer as our students craft the future of innovation.

With that said, it’s important to remember that tech and making aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. My nephew makes amazing puppets and while he would love to learn to do animatronics, which he is, he also loves making puppets for “person to puppet” analog performing. He naturally embeds physics in his designs and continued iteration. Without tech, his puppets are completely innovative.

In schools, the tricky part is that the “maker movement” is still so new as a phrase that access varies as to what or if kids will be able to create. I’ve seen everything in school makerspaces from purchased board games and puzzles to blocks, legos, art supplies, devices and app-coded robots. Yes, a makerspace can have plenty of supplies but perhaps a great question to ponder when creating these spaces is…

What are kids making? Who do kids want to make? What do kids need to learn in order to make? 

It’s also not a bad idea to ask…”What problems do kids want to solve? We should also recognize that “making” for creative pleasure and problem solving are equally as necessary and should both be accessible.

 

If my nephew’s school had a makerspace and it was only filled with coding programs and app-coded robots, this would not serve him. A tech only program serves the purpose of exposing kids to tech but it misses the mark on taking advantage of skills that build from analog creativity.

At the same token, a makerspace that doesn’t include tech, misses the mark on providing access to tinkering with tools that could inspire tech-infused innovative pathways, new passions or even future/career aspirations.

The Makers of CTE (Career and Technical Programs)

I believe that it was John Spencer who once spoke of the “maker spaces” of CTE programs.  CTE programs have been teaching kids “maker skills” forever from woodshop to metal shop, electrical engineering, Information technology, culinary arts, robotics and so on.

The problem was that until now we have looked at CTE as the courses that kids do in addition to their core learning and not as skills and creative venues integrated into all learning. Many also often view the CTE courses themselves in isolation. We also haven’t necessarily taken advantage of the creative commerce associated with such creativity or empowered our kids to do so. Some schools and programs run “fabrication labs” where kids actually sell their pieces much like FFA kids profit from…well, you know.

Yes making is about creative fun, but what if we taught our kids how they could turn their ideas into entrepreneurial ventures or took their creative ideas to new levels by simply thinking…”yes and”, then entrepreneurial ventures from making would be accessible by more than just those with the information needed or the tools to do so.

Early Learner Making in Lufkin (my school district)

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 7.51.46 PMEarlier this year, I challenged our ambassador teachers to explore maker spaces. I didn’t define it for them and only provided a tiny bit of information. I asked them to research and find ways to bring this creativity into their classrooms. A few teachers jumped in right away and started “makerspace Fridays” where kids worked in stations creating everything from stop motion videos to minecraft, class pet habitats, circuits and so on. They were so excited and in awe that they took their classes on a field trip to a maker event at a museum out of town. They dug even deeper by incorporating coding and lego robotics with the help of a few engineers from Lockheed Martin. This same class coded Dash & Dot to deliver valentines (filmed with a parent’s gopro camera) and created circuit driven cards for their moms on mother’s day.

operationAnother class integrated makey makeys into math class by having the kids code operation games with scratch and the addition of cardboard, paint, copper tape and foil. She found this lesson on the makey makey site.

Both of these super creative ventures happened in gifted classrooms and if we are only doing this in gifted classrooms, then we are inherently creating an inequity around something that is as human as breathing.

For me, providing creative pathways for all kids is a priority and as our instructional technology director, it is equally as important that we can do so while building much needed technology skills within our kids…all kids.

Building A Maker Mindset

 

As with most ventures, doing this takes time and training for kids and teachers…unless you decide to not wait on teachers while front loading the students with skills of interest. (Read to learn how we are doing this)

Our high school CTE program is so amazing and fluid that we often see partnerships between CTE and fine arts where kids are collaboratively cross-creating because their teachers understand the power of doing so. We do not have a single maker space for all students …yet. However, our CTE director is committed to finding a way to do it which is promising.

With that said, empowering our community of “makers” from the time that we get them, regardless of space, is honestly critical to inspiring passion-driven learning that leads to unlimited opportunities.

…which should be the purpose of school to begin with…

Creating a Purposeful Environment for #CSforAll

makerEarlier this year, I had the pleasure of being a part of two pivotal moments. The first was visiting Microsoft’s “Education Underground” and getting a tour of their “Garage”, an extensive makerspace for Microsoft’s employees to tinker and build. Weeks later, the second moment was being invited to the White House during #CSEdweek, to an event created to bridge educators with developers, creating platforms to help teachers teach and learn more computer science. It was at this event that US CTO Megan Smith, walked in with “tools of making” and challenged us to think not just about coding alone but about building computational thinking which could be done beautifully through making.

In the months after both of those events, I decided to learn as much as possible about purposeful coding/making. I took courses online and I mean that I took everything from CS50 (an amazing MOOC taught by a Harvard Professor) to courses on web design, CSS and Python from Code Academy and General Assembly’s Dash platform. I also went to Raspberry Pi Academy and brought in code.org to train all of our grades 3-5 teachers…twice. I bought books. I read “Invent to Learn” and explored everything that I could find about Standford’s FabLearn and MIT’s Fab Lab.

I also made wearables, an auto-tweeting bear and got involved with our high school’s First Robotics team.

 

Then, I went back to my roots…Braeden. I remembered his desire to create animatronic puppets but giving up on the idea because neither he nor I knew how to do it at the time. Of course, that has changed now but I wonder how many kids can’t envision creating something through coding or making because they did not have the access, materials or time to do it.

This summer, I am facilitating two weeks of making for our students. The first will take place in June and the second in July. Our goal is to reach 150 students, providing them all a raspberry pi and certain students a Microsoft Microbit. We’ll be coding, but we’ll be doing much more than that. The kids will apply STEAM concepts to create tangible projects. They’ll be using anything from scratch or Microsoft’s Touch Develop to python and even C++. We’ll teach them to not just code but to do so with purpose.

Beyond these two weeks, we are also preparing to support these programs on all campuses moving forward. Like Microsoft’s Garage, every kid should have access to design, build and code. They should also have the choice as to how they do it. Our role is and should be to make sure that they have the pathway to learn and apply. Application of the learning matters.

At the same token, so does exposure.

Had I not gone to the Microsoft Underground and engaged in the most thorough makerspace that I’ve ever seen, I’m not sure that I would have realized the impact on what such access could be on our kids. Had I not experienced Megan Smith, almost begging that we didn’t view coding as an “end”, I’m not sure that I would have thought beyond getting kids on code.org. I certainly would not have planned these camps because I would never have taken the extensive steps that I did to learn first.

We’re starting at a good point to change computer science in our district but we have so much more to do because giving kids the exposure and space to learn and apply doesn’t matter if we don’t fully expand our high school computer science offerings beyond being only a 3rd/4th year math class. As much as I agree with CS counting for math, it is also bothersome that kids won’t get to take CS until Junior Year in this system. Knowing as many CS majors as I do now, it’s kind of odd.

Understanding where you want to go with #CSforAll is just as, if not more, important than starting.

I say all of this to say that if we only do “drag and drop coding” and never think beyond that to applying these concepts with purpose, what’s the point? Also, how do we determine what this purpose is? What role do students play? How are we making sure that there is continuity in learning if kids want it?

One more thing…

How do we make sure that the kids who get to apply their learning aren’t only our gifted or affluent kids? It would be a shame if kids of poverty only got code.org lessons while everyone else gets to go beyond that.

Thank You Mr. Guidry, Band Director #ThankATeacher

Well before the official “instrument tryout” day, my mom sent my dad to look for my first flute. It was a used $50 pawn shop find, my ticket to beginner band class. During tryouts, my mom was told that I could not play the flute. They said that I had a tear drop upper lip, making clear sound virtually impossible. It didn’t matter as my mom stood her ground and insisted that regardless of what they said, I was playing the flute…so I did.

My start as a flautist was terrible as I was literally the worst or 2nd worst, consistently. It was hard being surrounded by so many amazing flute players, girls who took private lessons weekly, a luxury that we could not afford. I used to daydream that I was one of those girls in special classes. It just wasn’t possible.

Eventually, I got tired of being dead last and started practicing more. With this came improvement and in a years time I could finally play well enough to challenge for the top chairs.

As a 7th grader, I decided to try out for middle school honor band, a district and region wide endeavor, involving multiple school districts from the area. I have no idea why I decided to do this because unlike the other girls, I was not taking private lessons, almost necessary at this point.

This is where Mr. Guidry came in.

For those of us trying out for honor band that could not afford private lessons, our band directors worked longer hours to provide extra practice time and support. It’s odd that as I write this, the magnitude of such a sacrifice is finally understood. They literally sometimes worked 14-16 hour days for us.

One night, while practicing with Mr. Guidry, my $50 flute finally gave in. I was weeks always from tryouts without an instrument to play and in tears. I was stressed out and done!

Mr Guidry did the only thing that he could do. He loaned me his flute and continued our lesson. He also gave me a pretty tough talk about never giving up, commending how far I’d come in such a short time.

I don’t think that I made honor band that year but what I gained was so much more. With Mr. Guidry’s help, I improved so much that my parents decided to sacrifice and invest in a brand new flute, after consulting with Mr. Guidry, of course. (This $1300 sacrifice meant that I could not take drivers Ed. I was well aware but chose a flute over driving anyway)

He also helped my parents secure an affordable private tutor for me, one that would stay in my life, even to this day.

In a years time, I not only made the next honor band but went on to repeat this feat throughout high school.

Band is what paid for my first few years of college and I have Mr. Guidry to thank for that too. Had he not believed in me and invested his free time in not only my performance but so many others, perhaps I would not be where I am today.

Thank you Mr. Guidry for the tough love and dedication to hundreds of kids that you supported. 

Thank you for believing in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.

Blogging, Challenges of POC in Edtech and #EdtechBOC 

Blogging, Challenges of POC in Edtech and #EdtechBOC 

Earlier this week, I shared a post centered on lack of diversity of online Edtech spaces and in the days since, many conversations were had amongst my POC in Edtech peers about our own experiences and contributions. 

Theses kinds of conversations, the difficult ones meant for private POC spaces,  are necessary in order to push and support growth amongst each other.

When I started to look for Edtech blogs written by techs of color, it was alarming to learn how many weren’t writing and sharing our  work. There were some, but not many.  It made the argument about our missing voices almost null and void because..how can we diversify contributions when people aren’t sharing?
As we discussed further, the realities of the lack of such sharing were obvious and real. 

Being an educator of color in many schools across the country can be difficult, especially when you are the only one. Being a technologist of color gets even trickier…especially when your reality of being a classroom teacher was one filled with moments that made you question your contributions and worth.

You know…because you’re joining a field that has historically been notorious for silencing people like you.

You can be technically strong, supporting thousands of students and teachers but still question your own voice and contributions because this is the result of not only years and years of living the same cycle of silencing but also often a continued reality when working in schools with peers and administrators who seem to live to “bring the expertise down a few notches.”

Like my mom used to say, “They don’t want you to be smart.”

The beauty of having these conversations behind closed doors and devices is that in that same spirit, we can build each other up. Those of us with experiences and open pathways help steer our sisters and brothers on the intricacies of building and developing an online portfolio of work.

Like a few of my peers, I am lucky to be in a space and career where I don’t experience negativity or forced silencing. This is my privilege and also our collective duty to be the voice, ears and support for those who are not so fortunate.

After much discussion, @EdtechBOC was born. Right now, I’m developing EdtechBloggersofColor.com (Still under development) to be a informational site serving to both amplify work and continue to build community for those of us who tweet, blog and podcast or want to do any of those things.

This week, we’ve have brand new domains purchased and new blogs started because we finally had to have THE TALK about what we needed to do for ourselves to progress the work being done for our kids…work that has been traditionally done in silence. 

Waiting for someone to “invite your voice” isn’t an option because we can amplify and advocate while still being active collaborators in all other spaces. Being in all spaces is key.

For those of you wondering why we are pushing for more techs of color to be content creators, aside from the fact that we should…there are real implications of not doing it in this field.

Many of my Edtech peers of color are also goal setting for future growth in technology education. Before even getting an invite to interview, there’s a great chance that you are being searched for what you contribute and your greater academic impact.

This is where the online portfolio, blog or profile becomes even more important. For those wishing to consult, you better believe that it matters.

As my mom says…Give them no reason to deny your worth, aside from their own bias.

Now, I won’t pretend that creating a hashtag and a Twitter account solves the deeper issues that exist but the more that we challenge ourselves in our safe spaces to step out of the safety zone, the stronger our collective becomes.

None of this means that there aren’t contributors of color now. There are so many so please don’t let this blog post permit you to create an excuse for more exclusivity.

Instead, lets be proud of the fact that this medium of online communication and collaboration has created a means of people who share many of the same filtered realities to find each other and change it for ourselves and our students.

CSforALL Through The Eyes of a Former Student, Current Computer Science Major

CSforALL Through The Eyes of a Former Student, Current Computer Science Major

A few months ago, one of my former students, Saul C., added me on facebook. He is now at a University here in Texas and after a few exchanges back and forth…more or less, him learning about my current work versus my former math teacher life, he told me that he was majoring in computer science. Our reconnection happened at a time when he was applying for a scholarship for future hispanic engineers. He didn’t even need to ask. Of course, I wrote it.

Just to provide a little background, Saul was in my geometry class. He sat quietly to himself most days as an observer and deep thinking problem solver. He was, and I am sure still is, one of those young men who had great reasons to question so many of our daily norms…replacing them with much more fluid ways of working. I can literally close my eyes and see his “thinking” face now, which usually led to some conversation full of “whys?” That’s who he was….and still is…I’m sure.

In our school, we did not have a real computer science program. I know this because a couple of our Upward Bound Math/Science kids were in our interpretation of those courses and let’s just say that the Saturday road trips to UT Arlington for class were quite humorous.

Saul’s high school choices, outside of core learning, were literally band, choir, auto mechanics, woodshop, cosmetology, art, FFA and sports.

When Saul got to college, at some point, he found computer science and fell in love with it.

There is a great deal of chatter happening around CS right now. How will we teach it? Who teaches it? Who trains them? Who pays for that training?

I went to Saul for his opinion. Below is our exchange…shared with his permission. I’m going to say that if you read this and do not understand why EVERY kid deserves this opportunity…and what it means, I can’t help you beyond this.

Why did you choose CS?

Saul: I feel the future holds many opportunities for CS majors. I can apply my skills to help any industry with their problems. I just need a basic understanding of the problem and I can make a program to help them. The things I can make are also limitless. (sidebar: I’ve never heard these words from him…ever. I feel empowered right now)

If your High school offered an extensive CS program, would you have taken advantage of the opportunity?

Saul: I would have tried a couple of programing classes if my school offered them. I possibly could have started on my future a lot earlier.

Do you think having that experience would have helped you now?

Saul: You best believe they would have helped me a lot when I first started programming in college! It was the first time I ever saw a computer language. Furthermore, I struggle a lot in that class because I didn’t have any basic knowledge of programming. I feel like I’m not on the same level as the other CS majors because they’ve been at it since they were in high school. I keep trying and I seek help when I need it. So I’ll be good or better as them some day.

A couple of things…

While there is a massive push for accessible computer science for kids, I agree with Pernille Ripp, in a sense that not every kid wants to code and that kids need access to a plethora of creative pathways. At the same token, we haven’t even considered computer science as a necessary discussion…until now.

And…That’s just not okay

I look at Saul, who found his way into a program at his university and wonder how many kids could have a real interest but have zero awareness? How many kids could be empowered to develop future technologies while solving current problems if they were able to explore early?

How many Sauls have we failed along the way by not creating this pathway…no different than learning math, science, history or reading.

Of course, the same can be said for the arts. Believe me, I am definitely an Arts Ed advocate and perhaps we should consider the new language of ESSA in this case and think of our students as whole people. What are they missing because we haven’t yet gotten the vision to provide it?

Dear Saul, I hope that you get that scholarship and I hope that you never give up on your dreams…even and especially when they are hard. I’m even prouder that you found what you were looking for…finally. Thankful for the moment at Texas Tech when this door became a possibility.

Marketing or Growth: What Does It Mean to Be An Innovative Educator?

Marketing or Growth: What Does It Mean to Be An Innovative Educator?

If you want to see corporate marketing at its best and worst, look no further than edtech created “educator honors”. These technology based programs that label and badge teachers as “ambassador”, “innovative”, “distinguished” or “certified” are considered “honors” within the education field as entry into these “elite” programs often represents a teacher who is not only… Continue Reading

Confessions of a Digital Leader: Learning New Technology, A Necessary Evil

Confessions of a Digital Leader: Learning New Technology, A Necessary Evil

Daily, many of us in these roles expect teachers to be open to learning new technology…new ways of doing things. I’ll admit that it’s sometimes frustrating when learning something new becomes so much of a hassle that it’s completely unreal.  At the same token, I also have to admit that our version of “this is… Continue Reading