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 Intro to Rosie Revere, flying things, and a wind tube!

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Three summers ago, Aaron made our kids a wind tunnel so we could play and tinker with flying things during the heat of Texas summer. We’d seen a few huge versions at places like the Perot museum, Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, and Austin’s The Thinkery. I believe Aaron began building the wind tunnel with these plans from the Tinkering Studio.  It’s basically a cheap fan, some embroidery hoops, and plastic for poster frames that he ordered here.

That summer, our kids flew paper objects, sponges, and beachballs. They crumbled paper, made cones, and tried all manner of things. We brought the wind tunnel to a makerspace we were running at a local conference. The adults we met didn’t seem as interested in the wind tunnel as the young kids who enjoyed exploring properties of fast flying materials. Until I noticed Josh Burker re-iterating flight designs with a multitude of materials, I was unsure how to get adults interested in this quick prototyping tool.  Josh’s wind tunnel explorations focused on slowing down an object, getting the design to float in the wind tunnel, and tinkering with design materials. Over the years, I watched him continually testing materials and trying new concepts.

Then last summer Josh and I led a tinkering workshop for the Pinecrest Innovation Institute. During this massive tinkering sessions, adults explored the wind tube, marble machines, paper circuits, and Makey Makey. I loved watching adults play to learn, tinker with design, and prototype new ideas. At one point, Josh even designed a Makey Makey musical machine inside the wind tunnel!

As school started this year, the plastic in our own wind tunnel was busted, plus I was worried our wind tube design would tip over on my elemakers. As I read Rosie Revere Engineer early on in the school year, I was sad I didn’t have the working wind tunnel for my students so they could iterate flight designs. This is such a great book focused on tinkering and perseverance. Perfect for introducing prototyping flying thingamajigs.

Fast forward to January. Aaron fixed our wind tunnel and luckily for me, I hadn’t read the book to third grade yet. Plus, I’d found a lot of other great books about flying to share with my students. As I thought about the wind tunnel activity, I realized that I wanted to scaffold the flight explorations by grade level. Another consideration was how could I keep the maker mania low so that kids could be wowed by the wind tunnel, BUT still focus on building and rebuilding flying thingamajigs. Oftentimes the excitement of shooting something up the wind tunnel overpowers the experience of design and personal enjoyment of test flights. I wanted kids to focus on perseverance and continually creating different iterations of flying things, not just flinging things into the tunnel (plus, I wanted each student to experience the joy of their own flying thingamajig taking fligh!)  So I came up with a few simple rules to use with all of my classes.

  • Only one prototype in the wind tunnel at a time.
  • Wait patiently at the line for your test flight instead of crowding the wind tunnel.
  • Once you’ve tested your flight design, go back to the tables and redesign it to see if you can get it to fly faster, slower, float, etc. (Or get it to work if it didn’t fly or float.)

Then I broke the activity down by grade level.


For kindergarten, I took papers from the recycle bin and cut them into four pieces. Each kinder maker was only allowed the one piece of paper. They could add tape, tear it, cut it, or fold it to see how these simple modifications can effect the flight of the paper.

One of my favorite things about this activity with kindergarteners is that it helped me teach the littles that they can create on their own and test their own ideas. They do not have to have someone else fold, tear, or make everything for them. Many of them asked if I (or the teacher) would fold or cut their paper for them. Instead of doing so, I told them to try their own designs and see if it would work.

Kinder flying thingamajigs! #makered #elemaker #storyofmason

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Letting students work completely on their own helps build creative confidence. It also helps them test their own curious ideas, rather than letting the teacher totally guide their learning. It fosters independence, trouble shooting, and problem solving

By the group of kinder, I added small scraps of paper in the center of the table to see how they would adapt to more materials. Students added papers together and called them other inventions.

He said he made a drone! #elemaker #makered

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1st Grade

With first grade, I set out only paper and tape. At some point, a student noticed the pencils on the table and decided he MUST make a pencil fly. He tried design after design after design and it wouldn’t work. Then he built this huge and glorious tubular design to make a pencil fly. The other students in his class quickly took on the challenge to make pencils fly. Watch their flying pencils below.

Other students noticed pipe cleaners and added them to their flying thingamajigs. Some flying things began to look like story characters.

2nd Grade

For second grade, I set out a pipe cleaner and a paper. At one point, I changed it back to only paper, then gave them a pipe cleaner after their first successful paper flight.

With the added materials, students began to make things that resembled other objects and other flying things.

I loved this 2nd grader’s flower flying thingamajigs! #storyofmason #makered

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This was an amazing flying thing by a 2nd grader! #makered #storyofmason

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2nd grade flying thingamajigs! #makered #storyofmason

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3rd Grade

Third grade actually kicked off this activity as they are working on engineering and simple machine concepts for this IB planner. I gave them more materials before I decided to simplify for the younger grades.

I set out feathers, pipe cleaners, foam sheets, and recycled paper. However, since they tend to over use materials, I told them to only take four items to begin making a flying thingamajig. Thingamajigs quickly turned into birds, flying hats, and funny pipe cleaner characters.

This activity really helped kids tinker to better understand the concepts of flight, velocity, surface area, and it helped them tinker with the idea of tinkering! I loved how students would watch their thingamajig fly and immediately set to work on hacking their design to fly higher or float longer in the wind tunnel.

Impressive flight height by 3rd grader’s flying thingamajig! #makered #storyofmason

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This floating box built by a 3rd grader amazed me because, most students concentrated on height. I loved that this student transferred the idea of the hot air balloon to a floating box.

The floating box by 3rd grade student. #windtunnel #makered #storyofmason

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My own 8 YO, was out during her class’s test flights. But the next morning she designed this beautiful floating butterfly.

What next?

Fourth and Fifth are already asking if they can use the wind tunnel. During the experiments with other grades I had ideas for furthering our tinkering. I wondered what kindergartners might do with pipe cleaner? What if the challenge was to create a floating character? And then write a story about your character’s life? Or maybe even designing a character and then writing a how-to as an example of procedural text? What about flying sentences like the way airplanes used to fly messages behind them?