Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Vex Robotics: A Great Makerspace Addition



This is the second school year that our school library has offered a makerspace. There has been a lot of trial and error to grow the space. Our Vex Robotics team now meets in the space and I co-sponsor the team. Talk about deer in the headlights, that's how I felt to sponsor the team for the first time. But, I quickly discovered Vex and makersapce are a perfect fit.

The Vex kits arrived in a plastic tubs. The kits we ordered included lots of plastic pieces, sensors, and a brian (all of the pieces and sensors operate through this component). If you have never seen a kit before it very much like a Lego kit.

It is the kids job to build a robot to complete specific tasks. To get the job done, teamwork is essential. Which means the students need to learn how to resolve conflict and stay on task to complete the robot in time for competition. This year the Vex IQ Bankshot challenged students to build a robot that could pick up as many balls possible with limited time placing them over a fence, the robot needed to shoot balls into a hoop, and then drive up a ramp knocking as many balls off the ramp as possible. Students are also given the opportunity to code their robot to complete specific tasks.

To prepare for competition students meet before and after school to work on their robot, coding, and practice driving the robot. Competition day feels like game day. It's a loud gathering place filled with nervous energy and lots of adrenaline. It's also like a maker faire seeing how all the different teams built their robot and met the challenge.

Vex Robotics and makerspaces have a lot in common. Both encourage problem solving, collaboration, and innovation. These are life skills that students need time to practice.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Maker Faires: A Place to Share


Whether makers construct an intricate project or use their creativity to construct a quick little project a Maker Faire will give makers a venue to share their work. It is also a great place to learn about makers and projects constructed locally.

 In the book "Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom," Martinez and Stager state students will Think, Make, and Improve (T.M.I.) when completing an ideal makerspace project.  Students construct something outside of their head that is shareable in a makerspace projectThere is always room for improvement, a project is never complete.  A Maker Faire is the prefect place to share work and begin the improvement process. 

Maker Faires can be found all around the world, the two largest World Maker Faires are in New York City and in San Francisco where it all began in 2006. These family friendly faires are hosted by Make Magazine, and they also offer Mini-Maker Faires in smaller towns around the world. To find out more visit the website. After attending the Mini-Maker Faire in Houston and Austin, it is interesting to see the city's personality reflected in the faire. The Austin Mini-Maker Faire had lots of food trucks, music, and artsy tinker sessions. The faire in Houston offered lots of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) related tinker sessions. 

Robotics is the theme of my school's makerspace this year. This was also the first year my school and two other schools in my district shared a booth at the Houston Mini-Maker Faire. My students were invited to share a makerspace project. I prompted by students to create a robot that does something and share it at the Houston Mini-Maker Faire. A couple of students met the challenge. One student went home and built a robot from scratch using Raspberrypi. He coded the robot to travel in a straight line and turn. Another student spent his makerspace time building a VEX Robot with a claw, so it could pick up small items. It was amazing to see these students use their imagination to create their project. At the faire, I saw them thinking and tinkering to perfect their robots. Sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn't, but they had the grit to see it through and share a workable project with other children their age. 

Consider hosting a Mini-Maker Faire at your school or public library. It will give makers a chance to build efficacy, grit, and perseverance. It's also a great way to build community and collaborate. Click here to find out more about planning a Maker Faire, or plan a small event just for your school or library patrons.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Coding is For Everyone


Last year our makerspace started with a coding section. It all started with participating in the Hour of Code. Fifth grade students came into the library and spent an hour working on the self paced lessons offered on www.code.org Most students chose to complete the puzzles with Elsa and Angry Birds. Once students completed all 20 puzzles, they got a certificate stating they had finished an Hour of Code. Once the makerspace sessions started students where able to take their coding skills to the next level by using Scratch. The most creative project I saw last year was created by a student using Scratch and Raspberrypi. He created a video game based on his favorite television show, Dr. Who using Scratch, and he could operate it through Raspberrypi. Coding is not always easy; I saw students try and fail a lot as they were learning to code.

The Hour of code is a nationwide movement December 7th - 13th to encourage everyone ages 4 -104 to try coding. This year is different. I don't want students just playing as they hopefully learn to code. I want to make sure they are learning about coding.  To do this I realize I will need a lot more volunteers and well planned self-guided learning experiences for students. Lowering the adult: student ratio as they go through their self-directed instruction on coding, will give students more support as they learn. The web-site offers new self-paced tutorials for students each year. Code.org offers support to continue coding instruction and opportunities beyond the Hour of Code week. Participants who sign up for Hour of Code have an opportunity to win $10,000.00 in technology for their school. 

Currently at Ed White Makerspace, students can select coding as a topic to explore for 5 weeks and learn about as they complete self guided task cards or projects. They can learn more coding techniques on Raspberrypi computers using Scratch task cards or Minecraftpi task cards. This year we are focusing on creating and programming robots in our makerspace this year. Students have the option to build a Vex Robot and code it, or code the Sphero or Ollie robots. These robots require an i-touch 6 to use the coding APPS Tickle or Sprk. To find out more information on teaching coding to students, read this Edublogs article. 

Books to Check-out 
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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Robot Books and More

Robots are a great way for students to learn more about coding, circuits, and more. Students have the opportunity to invent and create when working with robots. Grit, and perseverance will be needed from students working with robots. Failure and frustration are a part of the tinkering and creating.

This year robots are the theme of my library's makerspace. Students will be given the tools to create a robot. Then they will learn of the resources to create and invent their own robot using recycled materials. The robots will be required to move and perform one task. Students will create a brief presentation explaining how their robot operates and information they learned in the process of creating their robot. Students will share this information at a Mini-Maker Faire hosted by Make magazine.

To get students inspired to create a robot, I will share a list of robot themed books.

Little Robot
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Baby Brains and Robomom
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Boy and Bot 

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House of Robots
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Frank Einstein

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Creating a robot on-line 
Check out this abcya web-site so students can create a virtual robot. This is a quick and easy way to introduce robots to students.