Making and Literacy Guide for Doll-E 1.0

When I started at JoyLabz in July, Doll- E 1.0 by Shanda McCloskey was still a fairly new release.

This adorable picture book, is about a tech savvy young girl named Charlotte who is given a doll by her parents and she’s unsure at first about what to do with it.

Throughout the book, we see Makey Makey references. In one scene, the dog is even playing a banana piano! (And correctly grounded!)

So I knew I needed to make a guide that coincided with this great little book. (Have I mentioned about much I love combining making and literacy? I love designing maker activities that coincide with great books. Check out this wind tunnel activity based on Rosie Revere Engineer!)

The first thing I thought of after reading this book, was how fun it would be to hand kids a box of spare parts and let them create a doll or a robot. One of my favorite easy maker projects last year was handing 2nd graders junk in paper bag to make robots. (Thank you, Angie O’Malley for the idea!)

But I wanted to kick it up a notch and have them create something they could connect to Makey Makey AND Scratch.  In the book, Charlotte attempts to increase her doll’s database, and this made me think back to a workshop I led in San Angelo this summer. During this advanced maker ed workshop I had teachers take apart toys and re-make them after exploring microcontrollers.

One thing I always focus on during a workshop is “invention literacy” or the ability to look at how things work and make new things.

So during this workshop something one of my participants said stuck with me. I showed these ladies how they could create multiple sound effects by creating variables in Scratch. This would allow them to make multiple sounds on just one button press. After showing them how it worked, one of the teachers said, “Oh! So this is how my granddaughter’s doll works?!”

It was a great a-ha moment for both of us. It helped me reaffirm that one of the best ways to learn how something works is to take it apart, and that another way to become more fluent in invention is to try and create your own version of an invention! (How do we guide kids to think, “Oh, this is how a talking doll works, now can I make my own?”)

Based on the book, I thought it would be good for students (and makers of all ages) to build their own creation and give it a voice.

So I handed my own girls a pile of junk and said, “Make something!”

They made very different creations!

If you want to see how my girls got their creations to talk or you want to make your own talking toy- The full guide for Doll-E 1.0 is now available in Labz!

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Cardboard Automata – Simple Machines and Storytelling

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Third grade spent about three weeks last month creating their own cardboard automata! It was a powerful combination of literacy and making. As the students were already studying procedural texts and simple machines, I thought it would be the perfect time to teach them how to make their own cardboard automata.

Prep Work

I printed the automata tutorial from The Tinkering Studio to help students build their simple machines. The teachers requested having the students attempt to create the automata by reading and following the instructions since they just finished studying procedural texts.

As I hadn’t made automata on a massive scale yet, I asked some of my maker friends about the best way to get mutliple frames made for quick automata building. J.E. Johnson ended up cutting them for me on long cardboard he uses when he leads his own automata workshops.

The marvelous Aaron Graves cut many many circle and oval shapes so 3rd grade students could focus on building a machine and not just cutting out shapes. (Even though cutting out shapes is a great activity for another time!)

It took quite a bit longer for students to make their automata than I initially planned. I told teachers we would focus on creating the automata in our first session and then the next week, let students focus on the story telling element. I mistakenly thought it would only take two 45 minutes sessions to build an automata with an amazing creative character on top. It ended up taking two sessions for most students to build the machine. While some students were still tinkering and trying to fix mistakes on their machine during the third week of making!

Even though the machines took quite some time to build, it was a great exercise in simple machines AND storytelling.

As the time progressed, the stories got more and more intricate and interesting. Each class had a different dynamic. Some focused on quirky characters, while others had almost a diorama effect. Check out student work below:

Flat Panel Drawing

On the third week of the activity, I told students to create a flat panel drawing as this was the last week we would be working on our automata. I told Mrs. Schlung that I wished we were making automata twice. One build just to understand how to build it and how the machine works. Then have students make it a second time to add more focus on the storytelling element or character on top. Mrs. Schlung suggested that next year it might be better create an automata earlier in the school year with the two-sided flat drawing, and then later in the year we could build a second one with more character development or story background. (Especially as a way of building skills throughout the year.)

StopMotion Automata

Another idea for extending this project is to create stopmotion videos of the working automata. It’s actually a great way to introduce the concept of stopmotion with elemakers. It’s simpler than a LEGO minifig stop motion (which I did with second grade earlier in the year), but still a fun way to learn how to make your own stop motion animations.

If you decide to make your own cardboard automata, make sure you have plenty of patience, and step back often to let your little learners problem solve on their own. This is a great activity for students to make something and gain independence in figuring out how to get their machine to work.  By the end of three weeks, almost all of the students had a working machine, and lots of kids had great ideas on characters and stories their machines would tell!

Those that didn’t finish, start every library visit with, “Mrs. Graves, can we work on our spinny things?”