Advanced Maker Ed Workshop for #SanAngeloMakers


Wanda Green of the Tom Green County Public Library asked me to offer an advanced maker education workshop in addition to a Makey Makey Teacher Certification workshop when I presented there earlier this summer. I designed this advanced workshop specifically for the resources available at the Tom Green County library system. This amazing library in West Texas not only has a fully stocked makerspace, but it has maker resources available for checkout to local educators.

Wake Up Challenges

To start the second day of making with #Sanangelomakers at the Tom Green County Public Library, I created wake up challenges to get educators associated with some very quick and informal learning tools like Strawbees, Keva planks, Dash and Dot, and using a homemade wind tunnel. (The first day was Tom Heck’s amazing Makey Makey workshop.)































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Educators really enjoyed these challenges because they instantly saw them as quick collaborative engineering projects for kids (the KEVA planks) or as a fun iterative design  intro with the wind tube. Check out these teachers and librarians playing and learning below.

During these warm up activities, I also shared my love of combining making and literacy. I just love having students build characters for stories with their hands as part of the wind tube activities. (Please go check out Angela Stockman’s Make Writing or Hacking the Writing Workshop for more ideas on this!)

Cardboard Exploration

Wanda also wanted me to share some low cost ideas since a lot of educators do not have specific funding for makerspaces and maker activities. I had educators explore cardboard techniques with this great cardboard attachment technique slideshow from the fabulous team at the Pinecrest schools in Florida. I was hoping these cardboard techniques could be used later in the day when we started exploring microcontrollers. (Because I think cardboard robots are a great intro to making!)

I also wanted to focus on cardboard cutting tools that educators could actually use in the classroom, so I brought an arrangement of tools. (I’m hoping to craft and curate a cardboard resource soon for other educators new to making. Watch this space!)

Toy Take Apart and Invention Literacy

Then my favorite part of the day was guiding educators through the parts, purposes, and complexities of animatronic toys. Our guiding theme for the day was still Invention Literacy (or learning how things works, so we can make new things.) I shared this video of Jay Silver from Makey Makey describing the concept:

If you want guidance with taking apart toys as a way of learning how things work, check out this super handy guide from Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio. Also, don’t buy new toys for this, hit up local thrift stores, or see if department stores can donate broken toys. (Thanks to @mrsk8e for this last tip!)

Educators REALLY loved taking apart toys to see how they worked. One of my favorite moments from the workshop was when participants got up and shared how they assumed the toys worked and then how the toys actually worked once they dissected and looked at what was inside.


It seems that speaking with them about invention literacy, then following the Tinkering Studio Guide and having educators draw what they thought was inside the toy before dissecting, and then really drawing what was really inside got these educators into thinking about how these toys worked.

They were also excited about harvesting toys parts for new maker projects. Check out this post from Ryan Jenkins when he was at Tinkering Studio. We collected all the skins, stuffing, and guts in boxes for the teen librarians to use for a future Frankentoy workshop. Hacking toys is not only a great way to learn how things work, it’s an awesome experience in reusing and recycling materials.

Microcontroller Exploration

My plan was for educators to mash up cardboard or toys with microcontrollers after lunch. So I created exploration stations for Hummingbird Robotics and ScratchMicro:bit and MakeCode; and Makey Makey and Scratch. This exploration really helped teachers realize what they wanted their toys to do and made them realize that they needed to tinker with each controller to figure out which one would best suit their design needs. (Ironically, Bird Brain Tech announced the next week that they have a new Hummingbird kit that will now work with Micro:bit!)

Mashing it All Up

The microcontroller exploration after lunch went well even though most of these educators had no prior knowledge. What was super cool, was that after playing with the controller, almost everyone got their toys back out before I even gave them the challenge. They were stoked to give their toys a new life with their new skills. Most of the educators chose to hack their toys instead of building something with cardboard. (But it’s still really important to offer choice for learners that are new to these concepts!) One of the coolest things was how the act of toy hacking really hit the heart of invention literacy.

At one point, a teacher explained to me that a random electronic in a toy was a speaker because it had a magnet. At another, some ladies that were at first frustrated with the microcontrollers, were excited to learn that they could program a Makey Makey to work the same as they toy that they just hacked. They could use Scratch to program Makey Makey to make three different soundbites based on a “toy press” variable. They instantaneously learned how a toy worked that one of their grand children had, and how they could use that knowledge to make a new toy with Makey Makey and Scratch.  I compiled all of the learning from toy hacking that day in the video below:

At some point in the afternoon, I looked up and it was pretty much time to go and every one was still HEAVILY involved in still tinkering with their toys. I was like, ” Um…. it’s almost time to go, how long were ya’ll planning on staying?” Toy hacking was super engaging for these teachers new to making!

I think the success of this workshop not only goes to a lot of planning, but on the open-minded and playful nature of the educators in San Angelo, Tx! It was a blast showing them multiple avenues for playing and learning in an educational makerspace. I hope they will have me back soon.

For more info on upcoming workshops from me or Aaron Graves, please visit this page.

Robotics in the Library – Webinar Wrap Up

Edit 1/28: I replaced the link below with the original “register” link for SLJ and you should be able to register and watch the webinar!

Today I presented my thoughts on integrating robotics into library programming for a webinar presented by SLJ and ISTE.  You may still be able to register and watch the session starting tomorrow.  Here are the slides I made in Canva for the session:

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To be honest, I’ve often said, “My students don’t do”full” robotic projects.” Then when I show other educators what my makers are doing in the library, they reply, “That’s a lot of robotics!”

So I think the term may need rebranding.

This conversation brings me back to this particular Twitter chat from the summer, where I said, “Oh we don’t really do that.” Then proceeded to show like 40 different robotic-type projects my students made…..

Robotics is not necessarily a team of afterschool students building a bot component by component and then battling in an arena (think Robot wars.)

Instead, I think it’s important to look at what we mean when we say “robot.” In 123 Robotics Experiments for the Evil Genius the first section tackles the ever changing definition of “Robots.” Here are some consistencies:

  • it is a mechanical device
  • it is programmable
  • it is a machine that is mobile
  • it is sensory
  • it sometimes mimics human behavior

Once you put it like that, then yes, my students at Lamar last year did many robotics projects with littleBits, Hummingbird robot kits, and of course even made their own simple machine vibro-bots.

Following this broad definition of robotics, I think working with pre-built robots like Sphero and Dash not only count as robotics they focus on one of the most important aspects – programming.

I like using these pre-built robots to teach my students the literacy of coding. I think it’s important that kids learn the language of coding because coding builds our apps, our webpages, and the many, many microcontrollers hidden in our electronic gadgets.

But another thing I love about robots are the open-ended challenges. Last week, I had BLAST students in for a design challenge with Sphero. The students were tasked with creating an obstacle course and then had to attempt programming Sphero to drive through their course. On top of that, we decided to make the entire exercise collaborative BETWEEN classes. So the first class designed the basic course, and the next class came and started adding dimension with cardboard and other recyclables. Some students even used littleBits to make “smart” obstacles.

Here is the beginning of the designing and thinking for this group project….

Blast Ss are preparing #programming courses for @gosphero. Next block will add to designs. #kidscancode #coding #library #makerspace

A photo posted by (@makerteacherlibrarian) on

The next class of students really wanted to keep using the table (lower right picture in the above Instagram) as the starting base, but wanted a more secure ramp for Sphero. They built this, but it was too fast:

Too much of an inclined plane for this @gosphero obstacle course. How will these Ss improve the design? #library #makerspace

A video posted by (@makerteacherlibrarian) on

The last class wanted to fix the speed and still get Sphero to jump out of this cardboard tube, but they were having a problem with Sphero landing “safely.”

“J” was in this group and he said wanted to build something to “swing” Sphero down to safety. Just as a sidebar, “J” is in the library makerspace everyday. He comes quite often and helps others build things, but I hadn’t seen him take charge and build his own invention until he was introduced to this challenge.

He spent about 45 minutes working on an idea with K’NEX and I have to say, this 1 minute video below might’ve made my whole year.  In fact, here is my reaction I posted on Facebook later in the evening:

“This. So much THIS. This is why having a class come in and attempt to solve a problem or complete a design challenge is AWESOME. The kid who made this Rube Goldberg-like invention out of K’NEX, comes in all the time and “messes around in the makerspace.” Today, the problem of building an obstacle course for Sphero, challenged him to think outside of his normal making routine. He decided to make a “swing” so that Sphero could safely come out of this crazy ramp. He spent his entire lunch working on it. AND IT IS AWESOME and simple and it works. Unfortunately, I did not capture the video footage of him shouting, “Yes! YES! I did it! I made a contraption and it works! After so many fails!”


This is where we can really start talking about the impact of robotics and makerspaces at school. How does this type of learning engage students? How does it help them learn to problem solve? How does it help them become innovators?

Without the problem created by the other students of incorporating this table base and ramp into his group’s design, would “J” still have made this invention?

Plus, the next day, he came to the library early and showed his other friends “his invention.” He practiced the “blind driving” exercise his teacher assigned because he wanted to be the best at communicating and driving his own course. Then all of his friends (who are not in the BLAST class) all took turns driving the course BEFORE SCHOOL EVEN STARTED!

I shared this story during the webinar and I loved Sharon Thompson’s take on it. She spoke about “J” wanting to persevere and complete this project, even though his designs kept “failing.” She spoke about the secret power robotics and coding possess by teaching our students to persevere. Her idea is that students do not get frustrated when they write the wrong line of code and get an error message. When they build a robot that fails they do not take it personal. It isn’t the same as a “red mark” on a paper. I tend to agree. Plus, I love seeing this group of kids excited about learning and excited about thinking! (I could write about this all day, but I’ve got to save some of it for the ABC-Clio book the #superlibrarianhubs, Diana Rendina, and I are working on!)

Links pertinent to my presentation:

Early Childhood- Middle Grade Robots

Upper Elementary to Middle School

Middle school to High School

Other Maker Resources