Meeting of the minds

The seniors in the DIY/Maker class spent the past week working on randomly selected DS106 assignments.  The students will present their assignments and some reflection on the process Monday and Tuesday.  Based on what I’ve seen this past week, I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say and what they’ve created.

I printed out 16 assignments on cards and had the students select an assignment in the spirit of the white elephant gift exchanges.  The students in my class are extremely nice.  No one wanted to take another person’s assignment.  There were two students who absolutely hated their first choice, and since I have no spine, I let them select another assignment.  One student selected Logos for the Zombie Apocalypse.  Another student picked How to _______.  Both asked me if it was ok if the hand drew the pieces for the assignments, and since I have no spine, I said yes.  That’s been rolling around in my head for a couple of days, and I’m interested in knowing why they didn’t want to use Photoshop or Gimp.

Since it’s pretty important to model what one asks of their students, and since I got all nostalgic by visiting the DS106 assignment bank again, I decided that I should something too.  So I did.

One of the students drew the Dancing Jim All Over the World assignment, but traded it in for something else when she discovered PhotoShop to be a little intimidating*.

Every now and again there’s a tweet, an article, a thread on a message board, a internet something that makes one stop and say, “…. the hell?”

That’s how I reacted to this tweet from Jim Groom.

 

It just seemed natural to dance Jim right into the UVA boardroom for this assignment.

Bava in the boardroom

Bava in the boardroom

Like most DS106 assignments, this one didn’t match my vision.  But that’s ok, because it’s still pretty rad.  Also like most DS106 assignments, this one took a lot longer than I had planned.  And that’s ok too.  A few Gimp and PhotoShop tutorials from the Interwebz assumed more knowledge than I had.  They were also several years old.  I some how ended up figuring things out myself with the help of a short, two-year old forum post (from something that I now cannot find) and the little PhotoShop knowledge that I acquired last summer.

Done.  For now.

 

* She did end up using PhotoShop for her other assignment.

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I am Morgan Freeman (or librarians can get you things)

Last summer I did the “One Archetype, 5 Movies, 5 Seconds” DS106 assignment (with some liberties… my video lasts 18 seconds).

The more I think about it, the more I should’ve added this clip from Shawshank Redemption.

Maybe it’s brain damage from the 18 months of sleep deprivation I suffered because my son was a poor sleeper for… well… 18 months.  Maybe it’s a result of parenting a full-speed-ahead three-year-old boy.  Maybe I’m just small-minded.  Whatever the case may be, that scene from Shawshank Redemption runs through my head pretty often while I do my work.

I’m a librarian (in case you’re new here).  More specifically, I’m a librarian in an independent school.  I find that on a daily basis I experience some kind of work-related existential crisis.

Sometimes the existential crisis is triggered by a conversation that goes something like this:

Student: “I have to write my Honors English paper.  I have two paragraphs written.  I don’t know what I’m going to write for my third paragraph.  I need another source.”

Me:  “When is your paper due?”

Student:  “Today.”

Me:  “Yikes.  What are your sources?”

Student:  “The book and some education web site.”

Me:  [thinking to myself, ‘WTF?’] “Have you looked at any of the subscription databases?”

Student:  “Like JSTOR?  No.”

Picard face palm
Picard face palm

My frustration doesn’t lie with this student who has waited until the last minute to write this paper (turns out that it was the rough draft that was due today).  My frustration lies in the existence of the research paper.  In this case it seems so….  pointless.  The student isn’t invested in the topic.  The student knows how to game the research paper assignment.  An article from The Huffington Post is accepted as a legitimate source.  Why go through the hassle of searching a subscription database when you can just throw a couple of words in a Google search and come up with 1000-word McArticle?

I don’t know how I feel about it.  One one hand, using HuffPo or The Guardian probably best represents how the average person satiates his/her curiosity in something they’re only mildly interested in once he/she leaves school.  Maybe it’s authentic–representative of how we operate when we’re not being graded.

On the other hand, I’m appalled.

I think my main source of friction lies in the traditional research paper.  It seems so meaningless.  I say this as someone who liked writing research papers in both high school and college.  Admittedly all of my selected topics were pedestrian: “The Role of Women in ____” or “How the City is Portrayed in ____.”

My god I could crank those papers out.

It wasn’t the exploration of the literature that I loved.  It was the hunt for information.  Following the breadcrumbs.

I guess that’s why I do what I do now.

If I can’t find, the article “Prevention of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury in Athletes: a Review” in the school’s subscription databases, where can I get it?  How kind is the open web for a request like that?*

Being a librarian is a lot like being a private investigator.  Or it’s like being “Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding” from The Shawshank Redemption.

We’ve been known to locate things from time to time.  And I’m not just talking about books or academic articles.  Librarians are the mother effing Power of Pull.  Here’s a broad assumption: if a person decides to go to library school, odds are that person had trouble committing to just one subject area.

OK.  The point….  I think….

Librarians are about matchmaking.

Flickr photo by Brandon Christopher Warren (cc license)
Flickr photo by Brandon Christopher Warren (cc license)

Librarians are about putting the person with the right piece of information–the right thing–at just the right time.  Sometimes that information/thing is a book.  Sometimes it’s an article.  Sometimes it’s just showing a student with a little bit of downtime how the Makerbot or a Makey Makey works and watching them play for a little bit.

It’s always about inspiration.  Or at least it should be.  There is nothing more uninspired than a student jumping through hoops to complete the tired, meaningless research paper.  I think it’s time to offer more options.

I’m having a hard time making a point.

Here’s what I’m trying to say:

While I believe in the traditional roles of the librarian–embedding information literacy and information seeking within the curriculum (just to name a few)–I think students are better served when teachers and librarians collaborate to tap into the resources that engage the student.

As Erin White so eloquently tweets, the librarian is uniquely positioned to match people with information, technology, and other people.  The librarian can bridge disciplines.

If a student is writing about science in Cat’s Cradle, maybe it would be more interesting to let that student contact local scientists and technologists and find out their opinions on science for science’s sake or science with purpose and then compile those interviews into an edited documentary or audio essay.

At the end of the day, this is what I want for the students I work with and my son who will one day be going to school somewhere: (1) an environment that encourages the exploration of passions/rabbit holes/questions (2) an environment that allows for choice (3) an environment that provides time, a place for solitude, and a place for collaboration (4) an environment that that understands and values the significance of stocked knowledge, information flows, and networks and one’s ability to navigate and pull from those very different pools at just the right time.

 

*Turns out, not very.  Though I did eventually find the article.  Because I am awesome.

blank paper + markers + public venue + high school kids =

Disaster, right?  Not entirely.  The DIY/Maker seminar students took over three blank boards in the hallway for a couple of interactive art projects.

photo(5)

The board on the far left was based on the “Before I Die” project.

photo(6)

The board on the right are coloring pages that can be removed, colored, and tacked back up.  The project was born out of a class conversation about the the effects of a large-scale construction project currently taking place on campus.  Fencing went up around much of the interior of campus.  Convenient paths from getting from on building to another are blocked for now.  The students say its reminiscent of prison or some post-apocalyptic zombie world.  Our question was how can we bring some whimsy to this situation?

It took maybe one school day for students to populate the “Before I Die” walls.

Some comments were reflective.  Some were silly.  Some were knee-deep  chest-deep in the waters of inappropriateness.

photo(2)

Unicorn races

Some reflections were scratched out either by the contributor or other students (maybe even staff/faculty).

photo(4)

Here are some questions/observations I’ve been rolling around in my head:

  • Does a space like this create yet another place where someone can be mistreated by his/her peers?
  • What are the implications of anonymity?
  • If a community sets the standards, how does the community enforce those standards?  Who is the enforcer?  How is that determined?  And what happens when different subsets of a community have different standards?
  • Why are spaces like this so appealing?  What is it that makes people want to share?
  • There is a secret language on these boards–a lot of inside jokes–that alarmed (perhaps rightly so) some staff and faculty.  Is the alarm warranted?  Is the “secret language” reminiscent of children’s made-up languages or is the intent not as innocent?

Senior seminar meets again Tuesday.  I’m hoping we’ll have an interesting class discussion.

 

Better living through better hacks (or be your own tech support)

Tonight was my greatest achievement in… well, a while.  I worked most of the week on a 30 minute presentation for VSTE’s VirtualVA2013 because I’m that kind of person.  Not an overachiever, but a non-talker… an introvert… an internal processor.  And then there’s the fact that I can’t pronounce words like “inquiry” and “peripheral” thanks to my Cumberland County slur.

I talked about the importance of third spaces and how they’re vital to the cross-pollination of ideas and the nurturing of the adjacent possible.  I talked about the Academic Commons that will open in 2013.  I talked about makerspaces.  I don’t think I sounded like a lunatic.  I think I made sense.  I think the presentation went ok.  I’m really excited about getting more involved with VSTE.  But what I’m really proud of is solving the gigantic Java tech issue I experienced all by myself.

The brief timeline of events:  (1) Java wouldn’t launch when I tried to get into the Blackboard Elluminate room.  (2) I think maybe it’s because I’m trying to log in too early.  (3) That’s not the case.  (4) I think, “Well, it worked fine Tuesday.  (4a.)  Check Blackboard Elluminate support page and see this:

Announcement: Thursday, January 31, 2013 – Some Mac OS users are unable to run Java. This issue will prevent users from opening any Java based application including Blackboard Collaborate Web Conferencing, Elluminate Live! 10, SAS, Blackboard Collaborate Voice Authoring, and Wimba Classroom. We are investigating alternative options and will provide update in this area as soon as possible. Click here for more information.

Crap.

(5) I try to update Java  (6) Software update wants to connect to school’s software server.  I’m not at school.  (7) Being mild panic attack.  (8) I vaguely remember logging into the school’s server via a VPN a few years ago.  Surprisingly, I still remember how to do it.  (9)  Update Java.  (10)  Still no go.  (11)  Fine.  I’ll do this workaround, which involves the terminal and sudo and warnings that you had better be sure about what you’re doing:

WARNING: Improper use of the sudo command could lead to data loss or the deletion of important system files. Please double-check your typing when using sudo.

But what the hey.  Java was screwed anyway.  I had nothing to lose but the connections with other educators and the time I spent preparing.

And there we go.  It worked.

Here’s the thing though: If it weren’t for my failed attempts at C programming and Unix school and a Linux class, I don’t know if I would’ve been comfortable futzing about in the terminal.  If it weren’t for past experiences, I probably wouldn’t have known to access the Collegiate server through the VPN.  Even though updating Java didn’t work, it was a possible solution.

What am I getting at?  I think I did some creative thinking under a deadline, and I’m pretty pleased with how things turned out.

And this brings me to my Maker Manifesto that I did for senior seminar.

Maker manifesto
Maker manifesto

Figuring out how things work–even if it’s just trivial figuring–is empowering.  Having some idea–just a basic idea–of how things work or talk goes a long way in finding a solution.  That’s one reason why this maker movement is so appealing.  To make something, you need to know about all of its parts.  You need to know how it fits together.  Crawl under your house and spend an afternoon rerouting water lines and you’ll really develop an appreciation for indoor plumbing.  You’ll also develop an understanding for that system.  Understanding the system leads to better hacks, better solutions, and maybe better systems.

Making is happening

so much depends
upon

a little
notebook

full of ideas

in your back
pocket

So sorry William Carlos Williams.  That was awful.

But you know what’s not awful?  A notebook for your ideas, sketches, and sundry observations.

Notebooks.  Essential.

Notebooks. Essential.

We made notebooks last week.  I didn’t do a formal lesson on how a notebook should be created.  There were no mandates on the number of pages or how it should be bound.  A variety of notebooks in a variety of sizes with a variety of bindings resulted.  They’re even being used.  WINNING!

Maddy's notebook

Maddy’s notebook (above)

Woody's notebook

Woody’s notebook (above)

Today we’re firing up the laser cutter to cut personal manifestos regarding making/creating (or what it means to be an artist, dancer, writer, hacker, musician, etc.)

I did a couple of test cuts this morning.  Here’s the laser cutter in action:

and a couple of test cuts…

Test cuts

Test cuts

Can’t wait to see how the class goes.

Week’s end

The first week of the spring semester is over, and there’s lots to think about.  My senior seminar class started up Tuesday, and I think it went ok.  We spent Tuesday-Thursday (we don’t meet on Fridays) immersed in a couple of “design sprints” (thanks to Andrew for that phrase, which I had never heard before), a short discussion on what it is to be a maker, and the set up of class blogs.

The design sprints included a Daily Create-inspired video project.  The prompt:

Today is the first day of your last semester at Collegiate.  Tell us what will make this semester radically different.

Our second design sprint involved the making of sketchbook/notebooks using cardstock, paper, sharpies, brass binders, embroidery thread, and a host of other supplies.

Also, I’m not quite sure how the exercise went over.   Everyone participated, and without an tutorials they all created something.  My favorite was “Notebookception”–a notebook within a notebook within a notebook.  I’ll have to do some debriefing Monday.

The deeper I get in this maker/hacker rabbit hole, the more problematic my ignorance of electronics becomes, so I’m sitting in on Physics II: Electronics.  Day one opened with a review of some Physics I notes.  Personal electronics labs similar to the one below were handed out.

Radio Shack electronics learning lab

Radio Shack electronics learning lab

The week ended with finding the resistance of circuits and the current and voltage across each resistance.  I even have a homework assignment.

physics homework

physics homework

Participating in this class has been an especially interesting experience.  First, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such unbridled enthusiasm in a classroom.  The majority (if not all) of the students are seniors.  They have a special interest in the topic.  They want to be in that class.  I think that accounts for a lot of the enthusiasm.

Secondly, some of the class is lecture, but the format is really more of a work-at-your-own-pace/independent learning environment.  Although the class is confined to the upper school schedule, the students have some flexibility within that 45-90 minute period (the length of class periods vary depending on what day of the week it is).

I’m looking forward to watching how students teach each other as they embark on their own projects.

One of the best things I heard was, “Mr. P____, can you please tell my coach that I can’t make it to practice this afternoon, because I have to work on this [labs in his electronics kit].”

Ok.  I have homework to do.

Why do we make?

I don’t have a definitive answer to that question.  Maybe the answer lies in Shop Class as Soul Craft or some article I could find in JSTOR.  

I’m going to go out on a limb and give the non-committal answer that people make for different reasons:  necessity, compulsion to make something out of nothing, the challenge of the puzzle, curiosity, and maybe even the satisfaction of seeing a successful finished project after hours/days/weeks/months/years of invested time.

I don’t even know what I make these days.  I knitted in the past.  Dabbled in quilt-making.  I spent a summer during my undergrad years in the dorms during summer school.  One of my hall mates had a sock monkey from his youth (this was before Paul Frank, thanks).  I decided then that I had to have one too.  A lot of time was spent making sock monkeys and weird sock creatures for friends and family.

Weird sock creatures
Weird sock creatures

Having a kid has cut into my time to work on fiber/textile projects.  I dread (am intimidated by) home improvement projects.  Yet I find them to be really interesting once I’m immersed.  I spent a day one summer under the house rerouting a water line.  It made for a pretty interesting day once I got past the camel crickets in the crawl space.  What’s the most fascinating to me about these home improvement projects?  It’s a peek into how the guts of a house work.  It’s interesting to see how things are put together.  That’s really something I never cared about until I bought a house.

camel cricket
photo credit: lobstar28 via photopin cc

Lately I’ve been interested in projects that seem doable mainly because I don’t know enough about the topic at hand to feel otherwise.  An example?  Arduino.  Raspberry Pi.  WordPress.  Google searches and Youtube videos bring answers or at least more breadcrumbs.  The internet keeps the trail warm I guess.  At this early point I don’t even care if a finished project results.  It’s just cool to have something to sink my brain into.

Getting ready for Tuesday

For a few months I’ve been thinking about zipping over to the Wal-mart and picking up 16 or 17 of these pocket-sized composition notebooks for the kids enrolled in the DIY/Maker seminar.  Then I’d have to ask myself, “Why buy these notebooks when the students can make their own?”

Notebook.  Fun size!

Notebook. Fun size!

Recently Jared Nichol posted a link to Studio H, which looks like a pretty inspired maker program in California (by way of Bertie, NC).  The kids open their semester making sketchbooks.

 

And so it will be done in Richmond, VA next week.

I decided to whip up a quick prototype of a sketchbook before a rare chance to have lunch with my husband and before receiving a call to pick up a sick Jobot from school.

poor kid

poor kid

I used some cardboard for the front and back covers, which is too thick and rigid for my taste.

covers

covers

I folded up some paper…

paperpunched some holes…

holesmade an attempt to stitch the covers and paper together*…

bindingand then wrapped it all up with some duct tape.

finalopenfinalIt’s serviceable.  I’ll use a heavy cardstock or a thinner cardboard next time.  I’ll also use less embroidery thread to avoid the rat’s nest.

I did like the running stitch that I ended up doing.

MSruch1357350419So that’s that.  The new semester starts Tuesday.  I have some vague idea of where we’re going the first few weeks.  After that it gets kind of foggy.  I’m trusting that the kids will help guide our path.  After all, the direction we take depends on what they are interested in doing and what they want to make.