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.


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.


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


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.


Unicorn races

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


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.


(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

a little

full of ideas

in your back

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.

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.



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.

And now you get the fears, kid

Back in my undergrad days, I took a lit class on Robert Stone and Don DeLillo.  Because I was a mediocre student (who would’ve been better off working in “the real world” for a few years rather than dropping wads of borrowed money on an English degree), I remember very little about what I was supposed to have learned.  I do remember–vividly–the quote, “And now you get the fears, kid.”  It appeared in a Robert Stone novel.  Google tells me it’s from Hall of Mirrors.  I mutter that line to myself every time I panic about this or that.  I’ve been muttering that line in panicky situations since 1997.  I’m not sure what that means.  I guess it means that Robert Stone is an effective writer.

Last night I was reading my son either Cool Cars or Tremendous Tractors, when I paused every so slightly at the onset of what was almost a full blown panic attack.

cool cars and tremendous tractors

In two months I am going to be teaching a handful of seniors about making.  We’re going to be exploring the whole DIY/maker ethos and how that mentality works itself into music, art, education, technology, politics, etc. etc. etc.  I’m pretty passionate about the topic.  What I’m not is eloquent.  I’ve got lots of books, articles, video clips, etc.  What I don’t have is a bank of engaging projects we can do.  It is a class about making after all.  It makes sense that our projects will tie into the kids’ interests, so having a list of things to do isn’t necessarily realistic at the moment.  Did I also mention that this class needs to include elements of government, ethics, and economics?  Scheisse.

Sometimes I stumble across things like this:

and this:

Kent/Cage Rules for Students & Teachers

I think, “Yeah.  It’s going to be ok.  It’s all going to be ok.”

Then the fear sets in.

Spring semester seniors taking a class on making taught by someone who had to call her dad to come fix her leaky porch.  That’s cute.


But hey.  I did disassemble and reassemble that Makerbot extruder the other day.  And I did just get my Radioshack electronics Learning Lab.  Wheeee!

It’s not necessarily what we know January 7th, but what we learn along the way.

Alright.  I feel better now.  Thanks.



Rules for teachers and students

Kids come back tomorrow.  I’m ready to see them, ask about their summers, fall into the reassuring rhythm that is the school year.  I’m also nervous.  My librarian colleagues and I are dividing the current shared middle and upper school library.  An academic commons, which will house the upper school library will open in 2013.  The middle school students will return to school in fall 2013 to a renovated library just for them.  It’s exciting, but it also means there’s lots of weeding, evaluating, shifting, cataloging, and whatnot to be done.  The process involves spending a lot of time with our library management system and dusty books and that bores the s**t out of me.  But that professional existential crisis is a story for another time.

This spring I’m teaching a section of senior seminar.  My topic: the DIY/Maker movement in politics, art, technology, etc.  I’m looking forward to it.  I’m also nervous.  What if it bombs?  What if no one other than me thinks the DIY/Maker stuff is fascinating?  I glanced at my student roster.  There are a bunch of smart, talented kids in that class.  Here’s hoping I can engage them for how many weeks?!

The 10 Rules for Students and Teachers circulated around Camp Magic Macguffin this summer.  After my first reading, I knew I wanted to incorporate the spirit of this list into the DIY/Maker senior sem.  I’m pretty sure that my kids and I should get “There is no win and no fail.  There is only make” t-shirts.

Oh, that’s totally going to be a project.

Cage's 10 rules for teachers & students

(BTW, here’s a bit of background info on the above list from Brainpickings.)