Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Starting a #MakerEd Class For Middle School

So I'm cheating a bit to really call this a #MakerEd course... It's not *completely* wide-open creation, and it's also not open to everyone.  Technically, @swhitmer_edu and I are teaching a fine arts course entitled "Wired For Art" that engages students in applying basic circuitry to creating personal art - garments, games, furniture, light sabers, whatever...  But we are indeed focused on basic circuitry, so I think a few might balk at our calling it #MakerEd...

That said, our class is ROCKING!

The class meets once per week for an hour and a half... Tuesday mornings, 8:30-10.  The class will run for about 13 weeks, from early September until late January.  Our current plan is to spend 4-5 weeks introducing tools, and then have the kids design and implement their own projects branching out from the tools they've been experimenting with.

Week 1

The first week, we introduced MakeyMakey and challenged students to create a few fun games using that awesome invention kit.  We gave them several dozen bananas and many rolls of aluminum foil, and pulled up several pre-selected Scratch games.

A basic up-down-left-right game controller

Getting more complicated: A DanceDanceRevolution Board

Coolest Day 1 Application: Finger Piano! 
Note the necessary latex glove to isolate each finger.

Week 2

The second week, we introduced a second set of tools: sewable LED circuits. We're giving the kids two weeks to create a simple snap-on cuff out of felt that includes approximately 3 LEDs in series.  Prior to our course, I modified a hoody to include 4 LEDs, so that was my demo to show how the battery holders sew into the circuit, how to loop the ends of the LEDs, how to stitch in the thread, etc.

My LED hoody, which coincidentally is the publicity image 
for my workshop at the upcoming FabLearn.

The kids sketched out their plans for their cuffs (or belts, or patches, or - in one case - frisbee), then returned to show and gather their materials.  We only had to send a few kids back to add a bit of detail to their sketches, like *where will the conductive thread actually GO?* We didn't do any formal schematic drawings at all, but just looked for acknowledgement that the circuit would need to close.

A student's "schematic" showing her double-strap bracelet with LEDs on
one strap, and snaps to complete the circuit.

Another student's slightly-more-fancy "schematic" showing her Iron Man hand
with palm LEDs and the battery held behind the thumb.

The kids aren't very far along yet, but are making progress!  They've made mistakes to lead them towards paying attention to positive/negative leads on the LEDs, and are improving in their stitching skills. (I straight up nixed one student's desire to hold his whole thing together with masking tape! Is that counter to #MakerEd dogma?) I was impressed with their diagramming skills, but not yet with their craftsmanship skills.  Befitting highly-verbal, "gifted" students who read a lot and don't get their hands dirty often... they can draw out amazing, creative, beautiful ideas and quickly get stuck on implementation.

I'm ready to fix that!