Invention Literacy PBL- A Visitor’s Perspective

As I’m wrapping up the last round of this year’s invention literacy PBL, I wanted to share a visitor’s perspective. New middle school librarian, Kelly Korenek, came to visit during the beginning of our building phase, and she sent me this note after leaving the buzz of Mrs. Feranda’s students prototyping:

Dear Colleen,

Thank you for allowing me to step into your Maker World today. You’ve created much more than a space-you have created a true maker culture at Ryan HS. As I begin my personal journey, I will reflect on all that I’ve learned from you. Here are a few highlights from today:

  • I observed most students working collaboratively with partners. Students were engaged, on task, and shared the workload. Several students verbally expressed their excitement about their inventions. Many students were re-creating items that are currently trending, and I believe this had a huge impact on their level of engagement and effort.
  • Students could verbalize their plans when asked, describe the materials they had chosen and why, and list specific materials that they were going to bring from home. Initial research and planning on the collaborative Google docs seemed to provide students with a clear purpose and sense of direction. I asked one group of students why they thought they had been assigned this project. Their response was, “So we can learn how to communicate better and work with other people to accomplish something.”
  • I was impressed with the level of collaboration between you and the classroom teacher. Your roles were clearly defined, but you worked together and overlapped in many cases to ensure that students had support at their point of need.
  • You allowed students to create and learn through trial and error. One group was designing a projector with sound. Rather than directing them to the Little Bits right off the bat, you allowed them to tinker-they thought that they might be able to use the speaker in the old laptop. Even though the two students realized that their initial plan was not going to work, they did not give up. Most students seemed quite comfortable with the invention process. While some students struggled more than others, I did not witness any group “give up.” Students were focused on looking for alternative sources or new prototypes. I witnessed a lot of GRIT!
  • As a middle school maker-librarian, I will have to make decisions regarding the types of tools I will keep in my makerspace- particularly those for cutting cardboard. I have to factor in the age and maturity level of my students. Safety training is essential. When students don’t follow the rules, they lose the privilege to use the tools. I heard a lot of complaints during the class in which students lost some of their tool privileges. Responsible making and safety procedures are a must.
  • Partnerships were key to student engagement and success with this project. Students whose partners were absent lacked motivation and direction. Students fed off of one another’s strengths, enthusiasm, and energy. They made jokes as they worked, they had fun, and they tossed ideas back and forth until something stuck-then they went for it! PBL is the best way to prepare our students for the future-they must learn how to communicate their ideas, listen to others, solve problems, and learn from failed attempts. It’s a messy process (figuratively and literally!) but it is well worth the effort to teach through an authentic, hands-on process.
  • The best teachers I had growing up were the ones who really challenged me. Your students were given the freedom to create what they wanted using whatever materials they deemed suitable. That in and of itself is, in my opinion, quite challenging. Standardized testing has, unfortunately, created a culture of multiple choice solutions. Kids have grown accustomed to learning a strategy to find the “right answer.” So many of our students don’t know how to think critically or reach the conclusion that there may be an unlimited number of “right answers” – an abstract concept that is difficult for many students (and adults!) to comprehend. This invention project was a huge challenge, and because you and the classroom teacher established high expectations from the outset, most students met or even exceeded the expectations. These students will remember you, and they will thank you for this opportunity to learn through making. I want to provide my students with the same kinds of opportunities to learn authentically.
  • In any given  group, you will always have kids who readily accept a challenge and wow you with their results. You will also have kids who struggle-who have no earthly idea where to begin. Interestingly, the kids who excel and the kids who struggle with a project like this are not necessarily the ones you might expect. A teacher-librarian must be willing and able to support all students. I observed you providing support at all levels. Some students were challenged to add a technological component while others were directed to look at a real guitar for guidance. This kind of support requires the librarian to build relationships with teachers and students.

Building a space, gathering the materials, developing the knowledge, and creating a culture of collaboration is a process. I am so ready to get started! It was impossible NOT to get caught up in the students’ enthusiasm, and I enjoyed observing them learn through a truly organic process. Your makerspace is not the norm, but I believe that your advocacy for makerspaces is making a huge impact on our profession and overall school culture.Thank you again! I’m looking forward to learning more and sharing my knowledge with my students next year!

All the best,


Thank you for letting me share your letter, Kelly! I loved seeing the outsider’s perspective because you noticed so many things I hadn’t even thought about!


Programmable Paper Circuits Workshop at ISTE with Chibitronics

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ISTE Workshop

I spoke with Jie Qi today to talk about her plans for the Chibitronics Love to Code workshop I’m helping her with at ISTE this summer.


Because if you attend, you’re going to be one of the first #edtech teachers to have access to her and Bunnie’s awesome new Arduino board that you can program with your PHONE or a Chromebook! (No software downloads for the Arduino IDE! HOORAY!)

In this 3 hour workshop, you’ll learn to craft paper circuits, learn about Arduino coding, and make something pretty rad you can show off to all of your friends.

So why haven’t you signed up yet?

Why Paper Circuits?

Okay, so you might be thinking, why paper circuits? I still remember my first adventure with Arduino at the Denton Public Library. I was so baffled at wiring things to a breadboard and then writing my first code. It was a lot to take in: reading circuitry diagrams AND learning to write code. (Read another post about getting started with Arduino here.) When I tried using Arduino with students at Lamar, I usually only had my students tinker with code or attempt to wire up a project, I felt like introducing both at once would be too confusing.

Then something magical happened. I started a club for my middle schoolers with the Chibitronics Circuit Sticker Notebooks. I learned all about simple and parallel circuits alongside my Circuit Girls. Then I started sewing circuits and programming Lilypad Arduino projects. And suddenly, all of that wiring on breadboards MADE SENSE to me! The tangible nature of laying out a circuit just made it all click for someone visual (and hands on) like me.

So for teaching students new to to these concepts, I like to start with paper circuits before moving to sewing circuits. (And if they are interested, THEN we get to move into programming. However, if you just want special effects and aren’t ready to program, the Chibitronics Effect Stickers are another alternative for adding new ideas to your projects!)

Why Program Paper Circuits?

You still might be asking, why program paper circuits? I can already program with a regular Arduino. What makes programming paper circuits special? Well, I think there are a couple of things about programming paper circuits that are amazing.

  1. Some students follow and create Arduino projects, but never really grasp how to get a project off of a breadboard and into the real world. Programming paper circuits could get your students thinking about real world applications. Plus, it’s like creating your own PCB out of paper and copper tape! How cool is that?
  2. Being able to clip an Arduino board onto a paper circuit makes computational tinkering much more accessible than hard wiring/breadboarding/soldering a project!

I’m excited for this board to come out and buy a class set for my library. Plus, I’m stoked to see what other teachers’ students do once they get hands on experience with coding and wiring components with the Chibitronics Love to Code board.

This new Arduino board from Chibitronics is going to make it even easier for students to understand how a microcontroller works and how they can “wire ” it themselves. 
If you want to learn more about programming your own paper circuits, sign up for this awesome workshop in San Antonio at ISTE this summer. You won’t regret it!

Link to ISTE Workshop!

(See my previous post about using this board for light-up poetry.)

Here’s a run down of all the sessions I’m involved in at ISTE:

June 24- 28: ISTE , San Antonio, Texas