Where I’ll Be – SXSWedu 2018

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I love SXSWedu! It’s one of my all-time favorite edtech conferences. I attended and spoke in 2015 and met so many great educators that have become great friends of mine. Every experience at SXSWedu transforms my teaching practices. Last year, I led a core conversation with my buddy, Jay Silver on Invention Literacy, and attended a material exploration workshop that changed the way I introduce making to my students and workshop participants.

This year I’m excited to be on an epic panel:

Thriving Makerspaces in Low Income and Rural Schools

Wed, March 7  | 11:00-12:00 – Austin Convention Center Room 3

This is going to be a one great conversation! Aaron, Paula, and I work at very different schools, yet we are all successfully implementing maker education with low income populations using low cost tools. We believe making should be accessible for all, and we can’t wait to share our success (and failure) stories!

Here’s the blurb in case you haven’t clicked into the session info yet!

“Our panel, including a librarian, teacher, director of a makerspace, and a non-profit leader, will discuss and share their observations and experiences in creating successful and sustainable makerspaces in low income and rural schools. Educators in low income and rural communities face challenges in implementing hands-on learning, including financial, cultural, and systemic barriers, which need to be addressed in order to authentically provide maker education for all students.”

After this session, I’ll be signing books on Wednesday, March 7 from 12:30 – 1:00pm on Level 3 of the Austin Convention Center in Room 10C.

Other Sessions I’m looking forward to…..

Jeff Branson from Sparkfun Edu mentioned some great sessions that I’m equally excited about! One of which is:

“Toy Hacking puts the students behind the curtain of consumer products, gets students active under the hood with toys they know as consumers. While the rest of the world spray paints wires pink to get girls into STEM, we empower our students to take control. Toy Hacking teaches electronics, CS, gears, drafting, sewing, as well as literacy rich documentation skills. This is a choice-rich, no kit, open-source, low-cost curriculum. Come play and learn with us, and bring it to your class tomorrow.”

Monday is jam packed with greatness, here are a few quick highlights:

“After attending SXSW EDU in 2017, Saurabh returned to India and opened one of the first makerspace dedicated exclusively to kids in New Delhi. His son had already taken a liking to making activities and he was able to find a community of children to join in the holy grail of learning – maker space activities. Utilizing his learned makerspace knowledge he was able to successfully teach math, science and English to the young students at his maker space in New Delhi.”

This session will be epic! I spoke with Ela Ben-Ur last year during one of her mentor sessions and was blown away with the Innovator’s Compass!

“Five simple questions drive design thinking and many methods for unsticking different problems. We all ask those questions—just not consistently. What happens when students, and adults around them, use those questions as a visual compass to find new possibilities in their everyday challenges—from conflicts to homework? See learners of all ages getting unstuck on their own and together. Hear their impact stories. Practice with your peers. Leave ready to empower anyone to navigate challenges.”

“As virtual and augmented reality applications make headlines, teachers may be wondering how they can meaningfully bring these tools to their classrooms. Not only do these technologies allow students to understand the world around them in new ways, they are also allowing kids to create their own worlds. Come learn from a panel of cutting-edge educators who are utilizing Unity tools to teach students 21st century skills, empowering the next generation of coders, artists and designers.”

“Transform flights of creative fancy via hashtags and doodles, mashups and portmanteaux, Oreo cookies, and LEGO bricks into pathways for students to demonstrate content knowledge, critical thinking, and the problem solving that will serve them best no matter what their futures may bring. Structured to maximize takeaways and firsthand experience, learn how explanation, rationale, and intentionality elevate our classrooms into places where students shift from passive riders to active adventurers.”

“Makerspaces can provide even more powerful learning opportunities when an element of diversity is purposefully integrated into the maker experience. In this session, join the conversation with a panel of different types of library professionals and learn ways to infuse a variety of cultures, appeal to different ages and genders, and expand awareness of different socioeconomic groups in makered activities to cultivate a broader understanding of the world for a deeper learning experience.”

Tuesday Highlights

“Kids today have a lot to deal with. Like adults, kids stress out about work, school, relationships; a myriad of things that they have no control over. In this session, attendees will get the opportunity to experience how elements of hip hop and yoga can help kids cope with stress, overcome social anxiety, and express themselves creatively. Attendees will get the opportunity to experience how the two correlate through self-exploration and collaborative activities.”

Wednesday Highlights

“In the last decade, libraries have transformed, from the traditional book provider to become the community anchor where the next generation technology innovations take place. Drawing from initiatives such as the Libraries Ready to Code project and IMLS grants, this session provides perspectives from thought leaders in industry, government, universities, and libraries on the role libraries play in our national CS education ecosystem and work together with communities to support youth success.”

“What makes a great ed game? We asked the kids who are playing them in classrooms. Game designer/teacher Steve Isaacs’ students reviewed some of the world’s most popular classroom games and created several short videos like the popular “What Kids Think of…” YouTube series. iCivics CEO Louise Dube’, Games for Change chair Asi Burak, and games scholar Matt Farber will discuss what these students have to say in a session that is sure to challenge academics, designers, and educators.”


“Science has inspired artists to consider scale and has given us tools to see the world from an up-close perspective. In this workshop, participants capture still and film images from a digitally fabricated webcam microscope that can be made inexpensively with low or high-tech tools. This open-ended activity invites people to explore possibilities while encouraging the artist and scientist in all of us to zoom in and find beauty in the world up-close. BYOD (laptop) to this session.”

Thursday Highlights

This is an epic line-up. I saw Lisa Brahms, from MakeShop, speak in DC during the Capitol Hill Maker Faire in 2016. You won’t want to miss this session!

“Making Spaces is a partnership between Maker Ed, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, and 15 Regional Hubs to form a national network which has supported the integration of making in 60+ schools across the country in the first year of the program. Panelists will discuss their successes and challenges around sustainability, fundraising, and community building, as well as share visioning and goal setting tools from the Crowdfunding for Making in Schools Toolkit.”

There are so many awesome sessions! It’ll be hard to decide between them all. I’m looking forward to a stellar week of learning and connecting with other educators.

Maker Mindset and our Invention Literacy PBL

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(If you haven’t read my other posts on invention literacy, this project was inspired by Jay Silver. Read more posts about invention literacy at RHS here.)

I had some visitors in my library makerspace last week that were wanting to add an aspect of maker education into their own libraries.

As they walked around our space, visited with my collaborating English teacher, and witnessed students prototyping for our invention literacy project, they said something surprising.

“We noticed you have traditional wooden library chairs and tables, so it isn’t about the furniture, is it? Maker Education? It’s about the mindset?”

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One of the best things about this Invention Literacy project is that students can come in with little to no maker experience and become completely immersed in the maker mindset with one simple question, “How does ____ work and can I make my own version with limited materials?”

Let Students Own the Learning

Students brainstormed inventions, researched the history of their invention and crowdsourced some ideas for making, then begin building and prototyping with cardboard and other materials. Mrs. Melvin and I noticed that in the beginning, her students were asking us for a lot of help and weren’t spending enough time finding solutions to their own problems. So early on in our PBL, Mrs. Melvin told students, “This is about you tinkering and figuring things out. Don’t ask us questions, instead, see if you can find the answer yourselves. Plus, if you don’t have a material you think you need, see if you can substitute a different material. You can use anything here in the maker storage bins.”

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We quickly saw our students transform and begin finding their own answers by trying out different material types and learning new skill sets. My favorite things that blossomed from Mrs. Melvin’s directive was:

  • Inventive material usage -lots of tinkering with motors for cars, a swamp boat with computer fans, and catapults made from knitting needles.
  • Tinkering to problem solve -students hit roadblocks and instead of asking for our help, they had to tinker to debug and creatively problem solve! (YES!)
  • Learn skills when needed – Mrs. Melvin and I taught quite a few kids how to sew circuits, Mrs. Moor taught students how to sew, I gave quick lessons in soldering, using a saw, making a DIY switch, etc. IT WAS AWESOME! It was great to see students pick up skills when needed to move their project along. MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld wrote about this phenomena in his 2005 book Fab (see quote below.) If you are doing a similar project and your students need to learn to solder to complete a project, teach them to solder! If they need to learn 3D design to create a solution to an existing problem then let them teach themselves how to use 3D modeling software.

“Once students mastered a new capability, such as waterjet cutting or microcontroller programming, they had a near-evangelical interest in showing other show to use it. As students needed new skills for their projects, they would learn them from their peers and then in turn pass them on. . . . This process can be thought of as a “just-in-time” educational model, teaching on demand, rather than the more traditional “just -in-case” model.”(Gershenfeld)

  • Focus on perseverance not failing – When things didn’t work, Mrs. Melvin and I encouraged students to continue to tinker and not give up. This is part of the mindset that seems to often get overlooked. Yes, failure is okay, but it is really persevering (and creative problem-solving) that we want our kids to gain as a life long skill.

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A Warning on Inventive Materials

If you tell your students to get inventive with materials and then give them free access to your maker supplies, they might end up turning double-pointed knitting needles into catapults, paper circuit templates into decoration for their cardboard Skee-ball machine, and who knows what else into an invention prototype. I should’ve known this would happen after talking with Krissy Venosdale at SXSWedu, but I didn’t think my teenagers would tear up things that were so obviously not consumable. Lesson learned! I am now working on labeling materials as consumable and non-consumable and moving maker supplies to different spots in the library for different purposes. (Maker storage update post to come! I’ve moved consumable materials far, far away from non-consumable ones!)

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Equitable Access to Making

I love how this project allowed an entire class to make cool stuff and try on the maker mindset. If you truly want to provide equitable access to making for your own students, you’ll have to make time for students to explore ideas and come up with creative solutions. This project is an excellent way to provide time for creative problem solving and teach students to be self sufficient in their learning. (And while I’d love to be able to offer this class to my 2,000 students in my school, I also know that won’t be possible to do in one year. However, it could become a project that one whole grade level could tackle!)


Some Student Projects in the Making

When I started this post, we were in the very beginning of our Invention Literacy project, and the students have astounded me EVERY DAY since then! I want to share some of their works in progress so you can see some of their process and I will share their final projects in an upcoming post.

Car Tinkering

I shared #LEGOtinkering during our material exploration, but somehow, our students ended up doing a lot of car tinkering! Some students got very creative with gears and finding motors to power their cars. Plus, we had one student build a pretty cool classic truck with Hummingbird Robotics.

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#rhs Ss using #crazycircuits to light up #LEGO car.

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Cardboard Creations

If you don’t have access to any fancy “makerspace materials” just stock up on cardboard, hot glue, and tape. You’ll be surprised at the amazing things students can make with cardboard!

Circuit Madness

Tons of our students really wanted to make things blink and light up. These students learned about simple and parallel circuits as well as conductive materials. Something that made me smile was the student with the “swamp boat” talking about how he didn’t know ANYTHING about electricity before this project.


As much as I love electronics, my students don’t always gravitate towards this style of project. Here are some of my favorite gadgets by Mrs. Melvin’s students.

It is about the Mindset

So no, maker education is not about special furniture, or even about specialized equipment. Instead, it’s about developing a maker mindset and spreading a culture of creativity throughout your school. As a librarian, it’s about developing partnerships with teachers and bringing inquiry, curiosity, and an inventive lens to collaborative lesson planning. As an educator, it’s about giving students the opportunities to find their inner awesome, think for themselves, and gain creative confidence. And while it might seem like you need a 3D printer or a laser cutter…. you don’t. You just need some creative storage solutions for lots of clean recyclables, hot glue, and CARDBOARD. Once you get those things organized, start finding ways to incorporate the maker mindset into everyday classroom curriculum.