The Wonder of Maker

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As elementary and middle schools across the world take up Maker as a great way to introduce children to early engineering and STEAM (Science, Technology, Art and Math), Claire Comins talks to Bay Area educators about what it is that makes Maker so exciting

Sally Peck, Principal, Bacich Elementary School, Kentfield

This week, 200 families will gather for Family Maker Night at Bacich Elementary. What do you think is so exciting about community maker events like this?
There’s something magical about bringing school families together for a parent-child event. We have such a wonderful school, that these moments allow us to feel the special bond that we have as a school community. The energy is so positive, and the challenge of working on a maker projects allows for our moms and dads to see their children in action and really engage in creative learning – together.

What are the most inventive maker projects you have seen at Bacich? I spend a lot of time in our classrooms, and there have been many, many projects that I’ve enjoyed see come alive. Two stand out in my mind.
The first project was when our first graders were studying fairy tales. Their teacher(s) had them create Little Pig houses in small groups to withstand the Big Bad Wolf’s blow. The Little Pig homes were made of a myriad of materials and supplies. After the class had completed their homes, the teacher(s) used a fan, which blew many of the homes “down”. The follow-up discussion focused on why and how some homes withstood the test and some did not.

Another project was a math lesson where students were measuring the distance that a marble could travel down a ramp (which they created) and on to the floor. The conversation was so rich and exciting, as the children figured out the importance of the slope of the ramp and how the surface of the floor (carpet vs. vinyl) made a difference in the distance the marble traveled. Students were measuring and adjusting for hours!

I love most watching the teacher present a “problem”, and then observing the children begin to problem solve, share ideas among themselves and jump with both feet in to the challenge. They just aren’t afraid of failure!
I also love to listen to the teachers as they guide and question these magical moments. Our teachers have become so adept at not giving answers, but rather asking critical questions to build the students’ confidence and lead them to find solutions.

Do you tinker in your spare time? If so, what do you like making? Do I tinker? What a great question!! I guess I do tinker, in that I am an artist at heart. I love putting things together and designing. I love to build things in my yard and garden, such as stone walls and garden beds. I am a master gardener and have a magnificent yard that is beautiful all year long!

If you could invent anything, what would it be? My husband and I always say that we should have invented the jogging stroller! We have two children who endured miles and miles with us running with them in their baby strollers. Back in those days, there wasn’t anything like today’s stroller, which have the shocks in the wheels and the strength of those new machines.

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Kevin Cutler
Innovation and Integration Specialist, Bacich Elementary and Kent Middle School


What do you think is so exciting about Maker?
I think a hands-on approach is always beneficial in education. It really helps to give kids a conceptual understanding of the subject matter before branching off into the abstract. Plus, making taps into kids’ natural creativity and allows them to take ownership of their learning.

What is your favorite maker project so far at Bacich? What made it so special? I’ve enjoyed working with LEDs at different grade levels. The fourth graders worked on parallel circuits and made some really interesting designs, while the first graders had a lot of fun making simple circuit artwork (e.g. angler fish with a glowing light, a dog with a glowing nose). I liked the LED projects because they made circuitry accessible and fun.1st Grade Simple Circuits

4thgradeparallelcircuits

Do you tinker in your spare time? If so, what do you like making? I tinker a bit. Like a lot of people, most of my tinkering involves DIY home improvement and fixing broken stuff around my house! I also tinker quite a bit in developing lessons.

If you could invent anything, what would it be?
I’m really intrigued by Elon Musk’s Hyperloop idea. I think it would be great to build a city transit system that could whisk you around to different spots in a matter of moments.

2014-04-25 11.40.30Kidscontent writer Claire Comins is the founder of rafiakids.com, helping children and their families discover the joy of learning to make and code through classes, projects, and kits.

Technovation Challenge: Diary of a coach

I signed up to be a coach for Technovation Challenge. It’s an international girls app development competition that encourages girls to make apps that solve community problems.

Technovation helped me connect with a mentor from Salesforce. I already had a team – a group of three girls in Berkeley who are daughters of a couple of friends, plus possibly another group from a middle school local to me in Marin County.

Saturday before the first meeting: Attended a Technovation Challenge girlsmakeapps workshop. This was a demo of how to use App Inventor by Dave Wolber, a professor in CS at the University of San Francisco. He’s also the author of the appinventor.org website, a great resource for activities that the girls can use to get familiar with the software they’ll be using to make their app.

2016-01-19 16.59.02First meeting for the Berkeley team was at their home. We’d hoped to connect with our Salesforce mentor through gotomeeting but it took such a long time to get the wi-fi sorted that we went ahead and used pens and paper to do the first activity. Each girl divided a large sheet of white paper into 8 and drew pictures: 5 that said something about their hobbies, activities and 3 that were ideas for things that could make an idea for an app. I made it clear there were no right answers and so it was impossible to get anything wrong: the idea was just to get ideas out and be happy sharing as a group. I did one and reminded myself of an app idea I had long ago to create a birdsong identifier app.

Anyway, the girls came up with some really interesting observations and ideas. As an indicator of depth, here’s one of the first ideas: ‘I put world peace. Why should we be killing each other? Life is short, why make it shorter?

With that, here are other words that came up frequently in a wordle. Will be interesting to see what sticks as we move through and distill the ideas further.
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