Central to the PBL Cycle (see Buck Institute for Education for more info), is the "Public Product" as a final showcase of learning. See image below:
Transcending PBL, I have been tinkering with the concept of a "Public Product" and how to authentically do this in my class beyond a blog post, google document, or the myriad ways I have had students showcase their products to real audiences beyond the walls of our school. All efforts felt/feel forced.
To tackle this in problem, in my Introduction to Robotics Class this year, in addition to our final showcase for teachers and parents where students presented a table (museum style) of their final invention, I showed students various "pitch" videos from the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, and challenged them to imagine that they were doing the same, and to create a video for their invention as if they were going to build a campaign around it. Click here for the simple instructions I gave to my students.
Albeit a hypothetical scenario, by starting with actual videos that contain real dollar amounts raised visible next them, the reality and power of showing your work in beautiful an meaningful ways online was evident. See a sample screenshot from a sample Kickstarter project below. Click here for the pitch video.
To be honest, 5 minutes showing my students pitch videos from Kickstarter empowered them to produce amazing public products more than any rubric, speech or guest lecture I have prepared for them. The final showcase was amazing and their pitch videos, although rough drafts done on via their phone cameras in one class period, embodied and relayed a feeling of potential.
Below are images from one students final project (an Arduino ultrasonic cane for the visually impaired).
It's absolutely no secret that I'm a huge fan of leveraging the MakeyMakey circuit (http://makeymakey.com/) as an instructional device. While there is an obvious connection with such things ha as inventions during a youth science camp, or more creative solutions such as challenging high school chemistry students to create titration "drop counters", the ease of entry and almost limitless potential of this device is incredible.
That being said, the simplicity coupled with power of the MakeyMakey can at times make it seem often, especially for younger learners, as a toy rather than what it is: a modified Arduino Leonardo microprocessor. Keeping this in mind, I have been on a journey over the past two weeks to try and leverage the Arduino Leonardo as a MakeyMakey to create a much better flow in my high school robotics class between programming with the Arduino UNO, and transitioning into using the MakeyMakey as a remote control device.
For example, beginning the year with the Arduino UNO grounds students really well in basic line coding and also input-output microprocessing. From there we transition into using the mBOT, given it's integration with the Arduino language. The integration with the Arduino IDE provides a fabulous flow for high school robotics students. Moreover, with the introduction of the 2.4 GHZ wireless connection between the mBOT and a computer (does not work well with chromebooks) students can easily use Arduino to create their own computer based remote control for the robot.
An obvious connection at this point would be to then leverage the MakeyMakey to create their own remote control repurposed from every day objects such as aluminum foil and Play-Doh. In past years this is been very successful and I say things like "all your long we've been using the Arduino and now you're using a modified Arduino to control an Arduino robot!" Students love this but because the MakeyMakey is so simple to use it's hard for students to make a connection between a raw Arduino interface and the modified appearance of the very aesthetic and simple MakeyMakey.
Back to my point. I am happy to say that I have successfully been able to re-create a MakeyMakey from an Arduino Leonardo and I am very excited to use this in the last phase of robotics class this fall! I am hopeful that the raw look of the Arduino Leonardo with the exact same functionality of a MakeyMakey will create a sense of connectedness in the course for students beginning with simple Arduino UNO programming, ending with leveraging the Arduino Leonardo to create a MakeyMakey mBOT controller. At the conclusion of the year I will show them then the modified Arduino Leonardo "MakeyMakey" as a way of emphasizing invention and accessibility for all.
Below is the instructional video I used as a guide in the creation of the Arduino Leonardo based MakeyMakey Feel free to reach out if you have any questions and expect future blog post on the efficacy of this integration.
Like many teachers, I have always struggled with making assessment meaningful for students. After reading Show Your Work by Austin Kleon I moved from student Google Doc lab reports in chemistry class to blog posts. My goal was for student to build a public archive of curated work that students can feel proud of. For the past few years student blogging has been a success. Click here for an archive of this year's chemistry blogs.
Keeping the above in mind, this is my first year teaching a robotics class in the curriculum and I wanted to institute the same blogging strategy. Unlike chemistry, my robotics class didn't show as much enthusiasm about the blogging process. When I asked one student why his answer was fascinating: "The stuff we make in Robotics class doesn't feel like school. It feels real. Blogging feels like school. They don't really match."
Over the past two years, many of these student's teachers have embraced blogging, and while I firmly believe it to be a powerful, public and authentic medium for sharing work, it was clear from the above response, and others I have gathered, that the students yearned for a more authentic, less contrived vehicle to break down the barrier between the "real-world" and school environments. Our answer: Instructables! Whenever I have to learn how to create anything I, and my students, use Instructables. It's just what we do.
Because Instructables represents a place where "real" people, go to create "real" things, and is run by a "real" company (Autodesk), whose software we use to create "real" prototypes, it felt like a perfect place to help students, in a Robotics class where building authentic "real" prototypes is core to the class ethos, engage in a type of "real" world product showcasing. Once the decision was made (two weeks ago), I jumped in headfirst, and invited students to use Instructables to post not only share their most recent inventions, but outline their design process.
The student's products exceeded my expectations and reminded the power of not only a public product, but also how the power of outlining and unpacking the invention process into steps for others to follow. Instructables provides a fabulous medium where this process happens, not via a teacher created rubric, but via observing the thousands of examples that already exist on their website! Below are three student created examples from my Robotics class at Sonoma Academy.
I recently gave my robotics students an invention challenge using the MakeyMakey designed to tackle the perceived conceptual disconnect many science students feel between the living and the nonliving world. Click here to access a copy of the invention cycle template students used.
The prompt was simple: Invent and build a prototype that solves a problem for another living individual. Below are a few examples of student prototypes:
In addition to my vocation as a High School Science teacher, this summer I spent three weeks facilitating science camps for elementary age students. Planning, organizing and teaching science camps has always been a small, but very fulfilling part of my work as a teacher during the summer time. This summer I decided to organize and formalize the process and launch my own series of camps. Click here for more information and media from each camp.
In the past, although very rewarding, science camp was full of engaging activities that lacked meaning in the world outside of the classroom. Activities such as "BattleBot" competitions, Roller Coaster construction and Robot "Tug-of-War", while rich in problem-solving/design strategies, were poor in their ability help campers make connections between their experience in camp, and the power of such devices to create greater good in the world.
One such device, the MakeyMakey, has been an integral component to every science camp I am involved with. The MakeyMakey is an incredibly powerful device that triggers computer actions using any type of conductive material. The below video provides more information about the MakeyMakey along with specific examples.
As the video so clearly demonstrates, the MakeyMakey is an engaging piece of technology with incredible potential as a tool for budding inventors. Click here to hear Jay Silver, share more about the implications of MakeyMakey in education. Also evident, is the tendency, especially for the young campers (5th-8th graders), to leverage the MakeyMakey as a video game controller. Why wouldn't you? Playing Mario with PlayDough, Pacman with graphite from a pencil, and Flappy Bird with a banana is awesome! Moreover, game controller development provides an engaging entry point for introducing young learners to an engineering/invention design cycle.
Keeping the above in mind, what has always inspired me about the MakeyMakey, is not it's ability to to transform objects into game controllers, but how it redefines the way in which we can interact with our computer and the world around us. Jay alludes to this potential in his TED talk when he talks about the father who used MakeyMakey to create a device to help his son with Cerebral Palsy control his computer. This has implementation has always inspired me and it has always been my intention to flow from a game design invention cycle in a typical Day 1 of camp, to an invention cycle where campers use MakeyMakey to design assistive technology for individuals with physical disabilities in Day 2. However, although cognitively dissonant, camper's deep engagement with using MakeyMakey as a game controller often proved to be a roadblock in motivating them to tackle different, more serious applications.
Serendipitously, as I began my planning for camp this, I stumbled across the below video by Tom Heck who works with Jay Silver in the MakeyMakey education department. Tom was inspired by MakeyMakey's potential as an assistive technology tool to help empower students with Physical Disabilities. Subsequently, Tom developed an incredible program where he empowered students to design, prototype, refine and deliver MakeyMakey based assistive technology devices for targeted to the specific needs of actual individuals. See the below video to learn more about Tom's work.
I love the way Tom formalized the use of the MakeyMakey as as powerful assistive technology device, while also acknowledging and leveraging its power as a fun piece of technology to do such things as a play computer games. Inspired by Tom, at this year's camps I began, not by showing the MakeyMakey introduction video embedded above, but by showing Tom's TEDx talk. I followed Tom's talk with a brief introduction to the MakeyMakey and challenged campers all to build a PacMan controller. The video game application allowed campers to familiarize themselves with the MakeyMakey playing a video game, but because they all played the same, somewhat outdated game, it was clear that there was a greater purpose to the activity. Following the development of the PacMan controller, I immediately gave campers the following challenge:
Using the MakeyMakey, build a device that will allow a person with Quadriplegia to control their computer effectively and efficiently. Up, down, right, left, click and space motions are required.
Unlike Tom's students, my campers will not directly deliver the device to an actual individual. However, following Tom's TEDx talk with this prototyping activity proved to be very powerful for both the campers and myself. A completely different, more action-oriented, tone to all the subsequent camp activities was set. Pictures of a few different assistive technology prototypes from are shown below.
This activity has completed reframed the way I see the purpose of summer science camps, and has inspired me to take the prototyping phase to the next level and recreate Tom's project with my students in our Intercession course next year at Sonoma Academy. Moreover, this activity has provided yet another reminder that teaching is not only about content, but about WHEN you teach specific content.