I am blessed to teach at a school that incorporates an "Intersession" program into the month of January. Upon returning from winter vacation, students sign up for a two-week-long, 9am-3pm, course of their choosing. Courses are offered by individual teachers and represent areas they are deeply passionate about and would not have time to expose students to during the normal school year. Courses spanned from Fly Fishing, to Mural Painting, to Molecular Gastronomy, to Virtual Reality and even a course designed to break as many Guinness Records as possible in two weeks. Needless to say, it is incredible to see what students can produce an do, when the pressure of grades are removed and students are given ten full days to slowly dive deep into a subject area.
Over the past two years, in addition to my role as a high school science instructor, I have have developed a growing passion for facilitating youth science camps. The MakeyMakey, given its simple implementation, and incredible potential for open-ended invention has always been an an important tool for sparking an interest in science and invention at my camps. See the two videos below to learn more about the intricacies and development of the MakeyMakey.
As is evident in the above videos, while it is an extremely flexible design tool, when introducing young students to the MakeyMakey it is very tempting for them to immediately begin designing video game controllers. While not inherently a bad thing, the potential for more meaningful invention is incredible. Keeping this in mind, I have always wanted to teach a class that leveraged the MakeyMakey as a tool to empower students with either severe physical or intellectual handicaps. The ability to repurpose everyday objects to interact differently with a keyboard, as well as the ability to program and interact with a myriad of different online modules using physical, tactile objects, opens up a world of possibilities for creating Assistive Technology.
My desire to develop such a course was amplified when I stumbled across this website and the below TEDx talk by educator Tom Heck.
Tom and his students brought to life the exact experience I was dying to create, and his website provided a detailed roadmap for how to make it happen! I immediately contacted Tom, and shared my ideas with him. Tom was gracious, excited to collaborate, and eager to discuss his process.
Back to Intersession. My growing passion for leveraging the MakeyMakey as an invention tool, interest in Assistive Technology development, and Tom's TEDx talk serendipitously overlapped at the right time and it was clear that Intersession would be a perfect opportunity to create such a course! After establishing a strong relationship with a local middle school teacher of exceptional students, a few months of brainstorming, I developed this course, and Assistive Technology devices that leveraged not only MakeyMakey, but also Arduino and Scratch, were created and delivered by a passionate team of 11 Sonoma Academy students. Needless to say, it was one of the most powerful two weeks of my career as an educator!
Below is a playlist with three videos captured when delivering the devices to students.
Below are a myriad of different pictures taken during the two-week Intersession course.
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 May of 2013 I was asked to speak on TED's first ever TV special, TED Talks Education, As a full-time classroom science teacher, I am confident that any number of my current colleagues at Sacred Heart Cathedral, future colleagues at Sonoma Academy, or the myriad of other teachers I have collaborated with in a professional development context, could have delivered the same message about the importance of cultivating student curiosity and inquiry.
Since TED, I have had the opportunity to work with many teachers I would have never met before, and I am so grateful to my colleagues for allowing me the freedom to connect with other teachers and students around the globe. However, staying grounded as a full-time teacher has always been, and will continue to be, central to the way I define my vocation and efficacy as a teacher. More importantly, it has given me the opportunity and desire to empower my students in the way I was empowered. This desire was the catalyst of TEDxYouth@SHC.
A 100% student developed, curated, directed and produced event, TEDxYouth@SHC 2016, our second TED event, was a huge success. Topics included Sex Education, HIV Awareness, Gender Equity, Jazz Piano, Building Homes, Racial and Religious Misapprehension, Speech and Debate, and much more! In 16 tears of teaching, TEDxYouth@SHC 2015 and 2016 have been, without a doubt, the most powerful experiences I have had as an educator. Moral of the story: If you want something done well, put it in the hands of your students! It took 16 years to truly learn that lesson.