Adapting a Makerspace Curriculum During a Pandemic

A representation of my Brooklyn brownstone.

When Distance Learning started it was hard to adjust mentally from teaching a space filled with tools and resources into teaching out of a studio apartment with not many materials. For my 5th and 6th graders who were learning Tinkercad, I realized I was given a huge gift by having it as a learning resource. I started thinking of it as a tool to design models and blueprints rather than as a way to 3D print designs.

The first project I created was to have students put on their architect hats to design buildings of their choosing either recreating something they love or using their imagination to build something new. They were thrilled to design on Tinkercad without size or detail constraints.

I’ve structured my classes so in the beginning we either look at a slideshow together to discuss the project at hand or I have them review the project requirements as a group. They then work on their projects while I screen share my version of the project they’ve been assigned. I also let them as questions and share their screens if they need my input on their design. Lastly I reserve the last 10-15 mins for each student to share their screen so the rest of the class can see their work be inspired and so I can hold them accountable for the class time.

We then moved on to thinking about Interior Design. The project my students are working on now is designing their Dream Spaces. They are required to have 5 pieces of furniture, a floor and walls and make sure it’s functional for the activities the space is designed around.

My Dream space. Who doesn’t want to slide to get downstairs!?

Illustrator for Self Portraiture

During these days of distance learning, maker educators are all having to be flexible with their curriculum. I live in about 200 square feet in Brooklyn and I definitely didn’t have even tape in my apartment when my school decided to close due to Covid-19. I am incredibly lucky that my students all have their own MacBooks as well as Adobe Creative Suite, giving me options on how to pivot my Digital Arts Class.

For my 7th and 8th grade classes, I decided it was time to think about using Illustrator, but not with a focus on using it was a tool to design projects for the vinyl or laser cutter. I’m thinking this as a way to strengthen their connection to using Illustrator as an artistic vector based tool. My first prompt was to use Illustrator to design a portrait. I required them to use the different shapes tools and to not rely on the brush tool because there’s a loss of control when using it on a trackpad.

My school is using Zoom for distance learning and I’ve found it wonderful to start a lesson with a Google Slide presentation to set up the project. I started with this project with self portraits by Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Basquiat, Gustave Courbet and Picasso to show students they can portray themselves in more a more abstract setting if they preferred. I made a point to discuss backgrounds and how they can help with self-expression and hidden meaning. After the slideshow, students get to work while I also work on the project and if they have questions they are allowed to share their screen. The last 10 minutes of class has been students sharing their screens to share their progress. I like doing this because it holds them accountable for the 20 minutes of work time. So far the projects have been amazing!

Construct3D 2020 & Empowering Girls in the Digital Fabrication Process

Over President’s Day weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Construct3D Conference at the Rice University campus. I must say all the sessions I attended truly enlightened me and ignited my passion for 3D design and printing in the classroom. Hearing how 3D printing is involved in the films created by Laika Studios, medical schools, prosthetics and K12 classrooms illuminated how far this practice has come and how much is still possible in the future. I also loved how Gary Stager talked about using prompts in the classroom with project-based learning. Definitely going to be keeping that in mind as I introduce different projects!

While I was at the conference, I gave a 10 minute talk on Empowering Girls in the Digital Fabrication Process. It was fun to share my experience in the classroom with other educators, especially problem solving how to create a bridge between crafting and technology. The presentation I shared can be viewed below!

A Digital Fabrication Christmas

Finished star

For the first time ever, I got my own Christmas tree. It was a spur of the moment decision to make my apartment more festive. After picking up the tree on the way home the gym, I had to figure out how I was going to decorate it. I’m a huge fan of not buying ornaments and have truly avoided it over the years because it’s just more fun to make them yourself. With 3D printers at my disposal I realized I could have a lot of fun designing ornaments as well as a star to top my tree!

I first went to work on the star and decided I wanted to be a star but also use my trusty soldering iron to get it to light up. I wanted to make the star as hollow as possible so I could make the LED inside pop as much as possible. I decided to use my favorite color changing LED’s with a battery pack with a simple slide switch. I hot glued the battery pack to the back of the star as well as some of the loose wires. I’m so excited to add it to my tree!

Next was planning the ornaments. In the past year I’ve realized how deeply I’m drawn to geometric shapes. Luckily Tinkercad makes that need of mine quite easy to execute. Since my tree is on the smaller side, I made the ornaments a bit smaller. I chose to use white filament because I love the matte look it provides. But I also went crazy and decided to see how glitter looked on them. They look more crisp without the glitter and it’s fun having a blend of some with and without the glitter.

Empowering Girls in the Makerspace

Feminists Unite!

Next to sustainability, empowering girls in the Makerspace has been my focus for this school year. This initiative came after seeing how girls were using the makerspace during the first year of operation. They were building interesting creations but they generally chose to experiment with more traditional crafting materials. I’m totally for this but I wanted to find a way to create a bridge between crafting and digital fabrication.

First sketches

To get this initiative off the ground, a Feminist Maker club was created. Using the term ‘feminist’ was landed upon because it’s inclusive and I wanted anyone who was interested to join. The first task for this club was to create logos for our identity. They first sketched out the designs and then I showed them how to use Illustrator so the designs could get transferred to various digital fabrication software. Each member designed their own and in the end we organically ended up with two design options. Currently we’re using the vinyl cutter and the embroidery machine to show off the logos. The next step to start thinking about how we want to utilize them i.e. keychains, t-shirts, totes or even jewelry!

Conditional Art Vinyl Experiments

After designing vinyl initial stickers in Illustrator with my 7th and 8th graders, I wanted to continue their connection with using Illustrator, Silhouette Cameo and the process for applying vinyl to surfaces. The inspiration behind this project came again from Erin E. Riley’s The Art of Digital Fabrication.

My makerspace has a pretty big white wall which I’ve been waiting to utilize. After reading the section in Erin’s book on Design With Rules, I decided it would be a great jumping off point for what I wanted to do with my students.

After exposing students to Sol Lewitt and his use of Conditional Design blueprints, I gave each student a slip with a specific design rule on it. Each student then had to utilize this design rule in Illustrator, setting their project size to 12in X 12 in, the size of a vinyl sheet. Once students completed their design rule, they would use the Silhouette Cameo to cut out the design. Each student’s vinyl sheet was to then be transferred onto the wall I spoke of earlier.

Examples of rules were:

  • Fill your page with no more than 15 triangles. Using the “Line Segment Tool” fill the rectangles with lines. Make it so the lines in triangles next to each other are moving in the opposite direction.
  • Fill your page with acute triangles of varying sizes. Make sure an angle on each triangle connects with 1 additional triangle.
  • Fill your page with no more than 15 triangles. Using the “Line Segment Tool” fill the rectangles with lines. Make it so the lines in triangles next to each other are moving in the opposite direction.

One outcome I didn’t expect from this project was how having students add their designs to the wall would give them additional ownership of the space. They proudly share with each other which design is their own. The effect is also quite stunning. I’m looking forward to see how they use Silhouette for personal projects going forward.

Cardboard Connections

As I prepare to teach my first grade students, I made sure to carve out time to prepare a cardboard technique example wall for them to refer to. Last year I made fast, scrappy examples and I’m so excited to have something that can live in the makerspace as a reference for everyone.

Cardboard is such an incredible materials to use for a number of reason. Firstly, it’s free thanks to all the deliveries happening at my school. Secondly, it’s so malleable. These examples of techniques truly highlight all the possibilities. I also love that tape isn’t always needed when connecting cardboard pieces together. I find students assume the more tape they use the better. In my focus on sustainability I’m trying to use as little tape as possible on projects and showing these techniques will hopefully empower students to realize tape doesn’t solve everything.

Experimenting with these types of connections will be the second class focus with the first graders. I will have them simply experiment with connecting cardboard together using several techniques to see what they can create. Our first class together will be a scavenger hunt of looking for specific materials to orient to them to the makerspace. These first graders will have never taken class with me before I want to make sure they understand the room and where to find certain types of materials.

Interactive Robot Designs

For the first time, the 6th graders entering my classes already have a foundation with using 3D design which is allowing my to start them off with projects involving higher levels of thinking. One of their projects this year is to design interactive robots using Hummingbird Kits. Unlike the project I did last year with 4th grade, the 6th graders will be required to use several types of sensors in their designs to allow for an interactive experience. I’m also giving them option of 3D designing aspects for their creations.

When designing my example for my students, I really wanted to make it able to move using a sound sensor. The tricky part was adjusting the code for the sound sensor so it wasn’t overly sensitive. I really wanted it to only respond to my voice or to the sound of clapping hands. The distance sensor was placed in lieu of eyes so that the mouth would open or shut if someone was close by.

Reacting to the sound of my voice!
Distance sensor in use!

Vinyl Name Logos in Illustrator

This school year I’ve opened up my 7th and 8th grade classes with learning the basics of Illustrator to increase the skill level of my students. Last year we primarily used Tinkercad with the laser cutter because I didn’t have the time to focus on how to teach to students. Over the summer I made sure I strengthened by connection to Illustrator so it could be tool students could rely on.

I’m continually inspired by Erin E. Riley’s new book, The Art of Digital Fabrication, and decided students first Illustrator experiment will be designing their initials using as few shapes as possible to be cut out of vinyl on the Silhouette Cameo. I showed my students first how to manipulate shapes using shapes and the Direct Selection Tool. I also modeled how to add anchor points so they could truly sculpt shapes easily. The Pen Tool was also introduced to see how they can create different shapes depending on they movie their cursor. In the lesson, I used my own initials, as seen below to provide them a foundation.

Last year my students used the Silhouette Cameo a good amount, but they mainly used the trace tool to recreate royalty-free images they found on the internet. This year they are only allowed to use it on original designs since they all know Illustrator. It will be interesting to see if this new distinction will increase their creativity. Also now that the project is complete, the 7th and 8th graders all have their new initial stickers decorating the front of their MacBooks Airs, making for great PR! I decided to my design on my coffee mug because if it gets lost, I will be quite upset.

Pencil Holder Design Challenge

Pencil Holder Design Challenge

I’ve been teaching 3D design and modeling for the past 5 years. I’ve changed my curriculum up throughout the years but this project has always been a mainstay. It allows for the perfect amount of creativity and problem solving from students. The variety of ideas I’ve experienced over the years is incredible! Students can express themselves through abstract design, use their imagination to conjure up new animals or even design a battlefield where the cannons hold the pencils. I did this project with 5th grade for the first time this year and their creativity has blown me away.

For this project, students have to design something that can contain at least 1 pencil. It can’t be larger than 5inches by 5 inches. I also restrict students from using copy-written material and using their names. They will complain about this but in the end their projects shine as a result. I always tell students who want to put the name of their favorite sports team on something to show me that sport visually instead. Classic show versus tell mindset.