New Project: Maker Learners

In this article I introduce my new pet project: Maker Learners. A drive for a community of teachers, parents and hobbyists focused on maker centered learning.

I’ve been somewhat absent from this blog for some time. I wanted to finally share a project that’s been taking up a lot of my free time for a while.. To understand it’s intention, purpose and logic I think I should cycle back a number of years.

For the majority of my teaching career, I’ve had some kind of educational blog. From mrcopeland.science to mracopeland.com, I never quite knew what to call my ‘digital soapbox’. I always struggled to create a clear identity for the space and I think that’s been the case until recently.

My first educational blog was a Frankenstein’s monster of poor digital art and terrible formatting. There was no clear purpose for the blog but I’m grateful for the lessons in writing and working with WordPress that came with creating it.

I’ve spent some time thinking about the problems and topics that I really want to give my free time towards. For the first time I feel that there’s a clear connection between my personal and my professional identity, and that connection is the ‘maker movement’.

Maker Ed

I first encountered the maker movement when my school put me on the Harvard Education course ‘Thinking and Learning in the Maker Centred Classroom’. The timing couldn’t have been better, as I’d also recently discovered the Shenzhen Electronics Market which was a short journey from my school. What ensued was a period of profound discovery of the breadth and depth of the maker community as both a hobbyist and an educator. 

I still identify as little more than a beginner but given the aforementioned breadth and depth, I wonder if it is possible to ever feel that you are an expert at all things ‘Maker’. I hope not, as this is a large part of the appeal to this serial hobbyist. 

I have been fortunate to spend the last three years working within one of Hong Kong’s exemplar school-based maker spaces. This has exposed me to a huge variety of technologies and tools but it has also made me privy to the mindsets and philosophies of brilliant colleagues and a wider learning network of some of the most talented ‘Maker Educators’ across Hong Kong and beyond. Makers like Ringo Dingrando who first introduced me to the Arduino ecosystem and Paul Marriott who’s constantly sharing new projects, Malc Summerton who walked me through building my first 3D Printer and Jason Prohaska who showed me that the maker mindset is a valuable attitude for teaching but such a great attitude to share with your own children too.

My first ever Arduino build was completed during a workshop held by Ringo Dingrando. The ‘Trump Bot’ was given an extended ‘splint arm’ so that he could ignite a bonfire to signal the end of the training.

In time I have grown convinced that every student should have access to a maker space or a ‘Maker Centered Classroom’. In trying to achieve this I have run into the perpetual problem that plagues all educators: Time (or better put, lack of it). Whilst unstructured tinker time is an ideal for many schools, for most it is seen as an unrealistic transaction of valuable contact time with our students. Now, I am not here to argue the merits of inquiry over directed learning, or structured vs unstructured time. Instead I want to propose a framework for meeting in the middle, the topic of this article, Maker Learners.

Introducing “Maker Learners”

I decided that I wanted to create ‘Maker Learners’ a long time ago, and its creation has been a slow process. From creating a WordPress website and attaching a personal domain to it, to creating custom fields and forms so that community posts are possible, to working with vector graphics to create a logo and an ‘identity’ for the space, I think it’s fair to say that the Maker Learners project has been my most ambitious ‘Maker project’ to date. 

I’m still learning something new every time I interact with this project. I finally have the website ‘community ready’ – you can create an account and this will allow you to create your own profile and to post projects as an author. Projects will need to be moderated by me and hopefully eventually, other moderators.

My hope is that Maker Learners will become a space of curated projects that are designed to connect ‘Maker projects’ to academic learning in a way that they can be easily picked up by teachers or parents wishing to encourage maker education in their students and children, or even beginner makers like myself to discover not only new maker technologies, but the underlying academic connections that can be discovered through their design and application. I feel that this might be a little confusing to someone that hasn’t obsessed over the idea for a couple of years, so I’m going to share a couple of my favorite examples of ‘Maker learning’…

Wave Science and Piezo Buzzers

When showing students one way for programming a piezo buzzer to sound at a particular pitch, we found ourselves writing code that would place a potential across the piezoelectric material at a frequency equal to that of the desired pitch. This lead to conversations about sound waves, pitch and frequency, and the time period of oscillation.

3D Printing and Measurement/Uncertainty

3D printers can make all sorts of things, but what about measuring instruments? What is the accuracy of a 3D printed ruler? Challenging students to create unique measuring instruments that measure lengths, area’s or volumes in graduations that become their own units is a brilliant way to lead students towards thinking conceptually about measurement and uncertainty and the requirement for standards.

Python Code and Probability

I believe that all students should have access to computational thinking and computer science in middle school. However, I also believe that all science high school students should have access to computational science for simulating and testing predicted models. One of the core understandings of using computation to test models is how to add randomness and run the model a couple of hundred or thousand times. (A project that began in Maker Learners but is growing legs of its own is Python Physics)

Of course, my examples are all drawn from my professional experience as a physics teacher. I am sure there are plenty of excellent connections between making and learning that teachers from other disciplines are able to create, and that’s why it will be so crucial that this space eventually becomes a community, not a soapbox. 

I began this article explaining that I never knew what the right ‘Identity’ for my blog should be. Well as you’ll have seen by now, I’ve identified what I want my energy to go towards and it isn’t something to be mine alone so ‘AnthonyCopeland.com’ is never going to work. I’ll still post the odd thing here – a reflection on something I’ve done, seen or read and maybe the odd resource or material that doesn’t really apply to Maker Learners. Primarily this page will act as a digital portfolio for me to share things like my experience, education and to share projects I’ve completed. The most useful of these I will probably share in long form via Medium.

Do keep stopping here if you’re interested in hearing about what I’m up to but more importantly if you or anyone you know might be a Maker Learner at heart – please do reach out to me and we’ll see what we can make together!

You can contact me directly at makerlearners@gmail.com

Thanks for taking the time to read this update. If you want to reach out to me about any of the topics I write about, please don’t hesitate to use the ‘Contact Me’ form or if that’s not working (I just deleted a plugin thinking “Why the heck is this installed” and well… it turns out it was powering the “Contact Me” page – D’oh!) email me directly at acopeland.ed@gmail.com


Key notes on a Keynote

A reflection on a mini-keynote I delivered for a two day, whole school technology focused CPD event.

Today marked the second day of our whole school CPD event focusing on learning technologies. To kick off the day, my fellow coaches and I were given two slides and a few minutes to address the whole school with what we felt would be pertinent. This is a short post on the key  topics I touched  upon  during  this  micro-keynote.

We are very fortunate at RCHK to work within such a technology enhanced learning environment. We have access to handycams, professional microphones (Clip on, shotgun and handheld) and a green screen recording studio. We have dozens of makeblock robots, Micro:Bits, Arduino’s and enough Lego Mindstorms for 2:1 use across an entire year group. We have Macbooks and iPads available on loan and Adobe products to download and use… But I’m just labelling STUFF.

These are just things, and when we focus too much on the things the conversation starts to turn towards technology implementation. People ask questions like “What can I have?” before they have figured out what they need.

Instead, I urge colleagues to draw out the concepts that the new technology represents. The new ways of thinking or enhancements to their teaching and learning. When we focus on the concepts, the conversation turns towards technology integration. We start asking questions like “How does it allow me to better connect with the pre-existing learning outcomes?” or “What new ways of thinking does it achieve that could not be achieved without it?”

So before our administrators, budget holders, teachers, support staff and technicians went forth to attend workshops designed to show off a myriad of wonderful shiny new technologies, I had one simple piece of advice:

Remember that it will be the successful integration of technology into our teaching and learning that drives successful implementation of technology into our learning spaces, not the other way around.

Later on in the day I was part of an evaluation meeting for our CIS accreditation self study when the following “Essential Question” from the evaluation rubric was shared with us:

“How is the school’s approach to teaching and learning influenced by digital resources and technology?”

Sensing the long road ahead I sighed and patiently uncapped my pen to put the horse back before the cart…

“How is the school’s approach to teaching and learning digital resources and technology influenced by digital resources and technology? teaching and learning?

Instructional Technology Coaching: A Framework for Curriculum Planning and Development

This is undoubtedly the most important series of posts in this section. Here I am attempting to create a framework for coaching across a secondary IB school.

‘Instructional Technology Coach’ is a nice title because it puts the instruction before the technology, so we’re on the right foot immediately. You see, I would like to start by addressing the misconception that LT Coaches are primarily teachers of technology or worse, as it removes us from teaching completely, IT support. If a school is sufficiently technologically enhanced then IT support should be available elsewhere within the school.

Continue reading “Instructional Technology Coaching: A Framework for Curriculum Planning and Development”

Festive Turtle Art

A Christmas tree drawn with Python Turtle

This month I have been working with one of our technology superstars in the mathematics department to see if we could enhance a preexisting unit on angles by introducing the students to the Turtle library in Python. Each lesson would begin with a structured introduction to the math, followed by either an introduction to new Turtle commands or a deconstruction of an existing Turtle program and finally a challenge that required students to draw a word, shape or pattern.  For building the challenges we are using Repl.It

The students took to the code a lot faster than we expected, which I think is a credit to the work being done in our primary school. The students already have three years of block based coding experience under their belt and my general impression from time spent within classes was that the students were very well prepared for transitioning to typed code.

To celebrate our students successes and the approach of the winter holidays, we challenged students to create some festive art using the knowledge and skills they have learned throughout the unit so far. The code for the christmas tree drawing shown above was shared with the students and deconstructed to introduce the functions in Python Turtle and to revisit the idea of a loop. 

The tree could be broken down into the following four parts, each of which allowed us to discuss a little math, and a little syntax in Python Turtle:

  • The tree trunk – This was a simple square drawn once; it allowed us to remind students of the use of loops in Python Turtle.
  • The green triangle – This was defined as a function and called three times. It was the most complex block of code as it involved writing a function that called a loop and used the correct exterior angles for an equilateral triangle (See code below)
  • The star – This was an interesting block of code because it involved looping five times and again turning the value of an exterior angle for a five point star. I was happy to be teaching alongside a mathematics teacher when introducing this shape!
  • The baubles – These were a single function to draw and fill a circle, that was called at random locations around the tree.