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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Rerun: Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding by Linda Liukas

On 03, Jul 2017 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Hello Ruby

This one is a little out of character because Ruby is (obviously) white, but it’s worth it for having a girl involved in coding! I used this book this past year with my second grade class to begin teaching them about how computers think. Hello Ruby does teach basics of coding, but for me it was important for the kids to learn how computers access information as early as possible. In just a couple years they will be asked to do some online research and they need to understand how best to go about it BEFORE they start out. That doesn’t mean they’ll do it perfectly the first time or even fully grasp what is going on, but it’s about putting the scaffolding in place. A second book in this series is coming out this fall and I’m excited to see how I can use that.  In addition to going through the book with my second graders, my own daughter loved the book and activities. She didn’t get all of them as she was only 5 when we read it, but she still really enjoyed it.

Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding by Linda Liukas

From Goodreads: Meet Ruby—a small girl with a huge imagination, and the determination to solve any puzzle. As Ruby stomps around her world making new friends, including the Wise Snow Leopard, the Friendly Foxes, and the Messy Robots, kids will be introduced to the fundamentals of computational thinking, like how to break big problems into small ones, create step-by-step plans, look for patterns and think outside the box through storytelling. Then, these basic concepts at the core of coding and programming will be reinforced through fun playful exercises and activities that encourage exploration and creativity.

Hello Ruby is an interesting hybrid of chapter book and activity book. Oddly, though, the activities are included in the back half of the book and not in or at the end of each chapter. The introduction also says that the book is designed for a parent to read the story to their child(ren) and work through the activities together.

The story is cute and simple with a pretty easy reading level (with some help a second grader could manage), however it jumps from something realistic into what I think is Ruby’s imagination. Ruby’s dad has hidden gems and left her some cryptic messages as clues to finding them. I was a little confused as to how Ruby managed to create a map for a world that I thought was supposed to be around her house, but ended up with a river and a forest. I stuck with it and the story eventually made more sense, it just required accepting that this was not our world. I’m not sure kids will be thrown by the leap into Ruby’s imagination since they are less familiar with genres and rules about worlds and stories. Some of the chapters were a little confusing unless you looked at and did the activities with them.

I did appreciate that the activities built on each other, getting more difficult as the book went on. One helps kids understand Booleans which I might have to use in the library when we talk about them.

I’m going to spend next week going through the chapters and exercises with my daughter to see how engaging it is for kids (I realize she’s a little younger than this is probably gear toward, but it will give me a sense). Considering it needs a parent to go through it with the child (not a bad thing! I wish more parents of older kids were still reading and working with their kids), it’s probably not the kind of book that would be popular in my library. It should work for a public library or a home collection if coding is popular. What I think I might do is buy it to have in the makerspace I run.


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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Makerspace: I Want to be a YouTube Star

On 06, Feb 2017 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Forgive me, but I’m about to get a little passionate about kids and education. We recently had an author come visit our library (shout out to Bruce Hale, he was awesome and we have a lot of budding author/illustrators thanks to him!). He was really great with the kids and had lots of interaction with the audience and at one point asked what some of the kids in the audience wanted to be “when they grow up”. It’s a pretty traditional and mundane question and we got the range of answers: vet, doctor, lawyer, engineer, architect. But we also got a couple YouTube stars. That led to a couple chuckles and a lot of eye rolling from teachers.

I had forgotten that I had heard a rant about this a few months back. I cannot, for the life of me, remember where or who was ranting or anything beyond a collective hand wringing over “kids these days”. But I think we need to stop wringing our hands over this particular phenomenon and need to step up to harness this interest. (I have a lot of choice expletives about getting off kids backs when it comes to things adults deem unworthy, but I’ll spare you that rant for now.)

For starters, “YouTube star” is a pretty nebulous concept, especially for these kids. Why don’t we roll our eyes at lawyer? I mean for a third grader what the hell does being a lawyer mean? Nothing more or less than a YouTube star. It has very little meaning to them. Except it YouTube star DOES mean these kids want to be content creators. We love to spout off about how we’re teaching kids skills for jobs we can’t even imagine. One thing I think we can know about their futures is that they will need to be content creators. Be that writing, report making, building, or scientific research. They will be creating content of one kind or another. So all those potential YouTube stars have a head start over their peers in that they already want to be doing what they probably will be doing.

Instead of rolling our eyes, we need to be harnessing these kids’ energies and interests and showing them how to bring their ideas into the world. Teach them to record themselves, make podcasts, write scripts, sing, play instruments, draw and animate, and make technology a tool (e.g. stop fucking wringing your hands over kids using technology). Teach them to make things and sell them on Etsy. Help them find what they are good at and enjoy and then help them put it out there into the world. Encourage them to be creative. Certainly if you have a makerspace, this is where it comes in and plays a HUGE role in our children’s education. But even if you don’t, that’s okay. Providing them with the support and a few materials is better than all the eye rolling and hand wringing I see going on right now.

As a fairly creative kid I made all kinds of crap. From voice recordings on an old-ass tape recorder we had, to scripts for a TV show I performed in a box, to fully illustrated picture books, to weird “inventions” out of leftover foam, and comic books. I even sold them to my friends and family so I could go to the drugstore after school and buy comic books, candy, and makeup. There is no reason any of those projects couldn’t be updated with modern technology and put online. And no reason why we shouldn’t be encouraging our children to use their creative skills to make a few extra bucks to pay for fun little things. Why should be discourage our kids from doing these kinds of things? Because a few crusty, technology-phobic teachers think kids shouldn’t want to make money or create videos?

YouTube star is probably not a realistic life goal for most of our students, but let’s not lose sight of what these kids are really telling us. Instead of throwing up your hands, help them form that interest into something they can be proud of, even if that involves wacky videos posted to their YouTube channel.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Notes From the Makerspace: Technology in Makerspaces Not Necessary

On 05, Nov 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

So things are chugging along in my after school makerspace. There’s always a lot of banging and glueing and pandemonium. There is never enough duct tape. Or wood scraps. Or wheels. I am constantly reminding them to stop wasting water or stop stabbing each other with their creations. Every time I say something I thought I would never say. We are working on leaving the room as we found it (so I don’t have to spend a ton of time after they leave cleaning and sorting), but other than that it’s great.

I read a blog post today, though, that talked about a librarian hesitant to jump into makerspaces. She got some good inspiration and is off looking for more inspiration and ideas. I want to share how I recently worked a makerspace into my library and library curriculum in case any one out there is wondering about one way to approach this concept and I will in my next post, but what I want to address today is something this librarian mentioned that had kept her from really looking into them: a malaise around or fear of needing lots of technology and also not knowing how to teach coding. I want to get this out there before I even start talking about what I did. Technology is not essential or necessary to have a makerspace. The only technology I currently have in my makerspace is broken down computers and appliances for the kids to harvest for parts or explore the innards of.

The other important thing to know and understand is that makerspaces are about letting the kids make discoveries and learn on their own. You do not need to provide the content, only the space and supplies. You can certainly answer questions and point them in the right direction, but I think the most important part of makerspaces is how they are student inquiry driven. It’s a place for teachers and parents to step back and let their kids go.

Kids will ask you for what to do next and what to do, but if you refuse to tell them they eventually come to rely on themselves. My line is “That’s not my job, that’s yours. Take a look around and see what you can use.” This looking to adults for what to do and fear of making mistakes is something we have taught them in traditional schooling and it takes some unlearning, but I can tell you from experience all kids come along and start figuring things out for themselves. They stop needing you except to remind them that the glue is in the same place it’s been in for a year.

I do occasionally put out some set activities for the kids, but they never do them (except the slime kitchen which they LOVE with a fiery passion). They have their own ideas that need expression and they go for it. It’s amazing to see what they can create with some cardboard and tape. It’s amazing to see the stories they create to go with their inventions. And it’s most amazing as an adult to realize they don’t care if their broken computer with a speaker glued on top that they call a state-of-the-art sound system doesn’t actually work. It does in their mind and in the narrative they have created. (This really happened last week.)

None of this is limited to the preschool set either. I have fifth graders who are just as into cardboard and tape and imagination as my second graders. And there’s a makerspace elective in the middle school that’s come to this point too. The teacher used to give them a challenge or task every time they came to class, but one day he gave them a loose challenge that involved cardboard boxes and their enthusiasm and creativity EXPLODED that day. He was so amazed he’s stepped back a lot and simplified even more and gives them a lot more freedom. And those kids are all the way up into eighth grade.

So sure, makerspaces are nifty if they have technology in them, but only if it allows kids to get creative and helps them bring their ideas into being. It’s by no means necessary. And please, please, please do not make it seem like you are the one giving them the ideas or that you have all the answers. They get plenty of that everywhere else in their lives. Give the kids the tools, space,  and knowledge to figure things out themselves and find their own creativity, intelligence, and strength.

As a side note, I do teach the kids how to use our tools (drills, saws, hot glue guns) if they don’t already know. I will help them do things like cut large pieces of wood or whatever that it would be too time consuming, physically taxing, or developmentally inappropriate for them to do. I also do some front loading with new students where I step back gradually from helping them find what they want to do in the space and think about how to solve problems. I am, though, always intentionally vague with ideas I give them. It’s a process and some kids come along faster than others, but they all get to a point where they see me as an interference.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Notes From the Makerspace: Hanger Catapult

On 14, May 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Just three more classes this school year for the Makerspace. While I intend to do some reflecting once it’s over. I also will share my planning for the Makerspace summer camp.

This week, though, I was just quickly going to share a popular project that I set up for the kids a few weeks ago. It is a wire hanger catapult. It requires only a few supplies and the kids got really into it. They started to tweak the design so they could launch heavier things and so they could aim better.

Here are the instructions for making the catapult. I came across the idea on Pinterest and is on the blog A Little Pinch of Perfect.

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In Remix

By Elizabeth Wroten

Notes From the Makerspace: Making in the Library

On 12, Mar 2015 | In Remix | By Elizabeth Wroten

So part of my goal with the Makerspace has been to get out of our space and into the library and the classroom. I have also mentioned in other posts that I volunteer in the Lower School library. I have now combine the two and the librarian and I have planned a week of making in the library for all the grades of the Lower School (except Pre-K)!

The program won’t be complicated, a few tables and stations set up with various Makerspace activities, provocations as I like to call them. While I run the after school Makerspace as a pretty free-wheeling place with snacks, loud noises and free making this is going to be a little more tightly controlled because of the number of students (I have a limit of 10 students after school and these classes will have closer to 22) and because these kids haven’t had a year to learn what makerspace is all about. If it works well, maybe it can be a regular event and/or have a maker station out every week as an option for the library.

Each station will have materials set out with a question, an example, and an inspiring, related book. In this post I thought I would share what the stations will be. They will run in the second week in March and after that I will share thoughts on how to improve and how it went. I broke the activities down into groups for Kinder and 1st, 2nd and 3rd, and 4th and 5th. This limits the variety of supplies we would have to obtain and cuts down on set up.

Kinder & 1st:

  • water color & salt
  • paper tube marble runs (back of shelves)
  • foam bead necklaces
  • building with recycled materials
  • exploring lines (wire, markers, string, glue, paper strips)

2nd & 3rd:

  • gumdrop structures
  • marker explosions
  • building with recycled materials
  • plastic marble runs with blocks & recycled materials (Rube Goldberg-esque machines)
  • squishy circuits (
  • rock painting

4th & 5th:

  • Take-apart table (essentially a table with e-waste and screwdrivers for the kids to deconstruct)
  • Snap Circuits
  • Drawing with circuits (using copper tape and LEDs to embellish drawings)
  • Hand sewing bean bags, finger knitting & spool knitting
  • building with recycled materials

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Notes From the Makerspace: New Space!!

On 12, Feb 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

So since I posted last about the Makerspace we have moved into our forever home. Hooray! There were just a few thoughts I wanted to share on setting up the new space and its pluses and minuses and also a bit of reflection on how the Makerspace ran for the first part of the year.

I think I touched on this in a previous post, but we lived out of bins at the start of the school year. It was not ideal, but it definitely worked. If you don’t have a permanent space it’s a great alternative. My one piece of advice is to be sure you advocate for enough space to store a fair number of bins. I had to reduce my storage footprint in the classroom which meant the bins had to be packed just so to fit. It was a like a brain-teaser puzzle. Set up took at least a half hour while I meticulously unpacked each bin so the supplies were out and available to the kids. This also meant it was nearly impossible for me to have the kids help clean up, so I would spend an hour and a half after they left cleaning, sorting, and arranging our supplies until they fit. I often found myself throwing things away to both make the clean up process go faster and because I just couldn’t get it to fit. It was frustrating, but the kids were happy and that was what was important. If you can have bins, but don’t have to fit everything in perfectly it will make this type of storage so much easier and you’ll be able to have the kids help clean.

Our new space is not entirely ours (which is totally reasonable as we’re only there one afternoon a week), but we have been given a slice of counters and cabinets. I was able to move out of the bins and into the drawers and cabinets. I sorted our supplies and now instead of having to take everything out of the bins I labeled their places and the kids can find tools and supplies on their own. My advice here is be sure the kids know where stuff is and don’t pack it in too tightly if you can help it. It will be the bins all over again.

I still have large bins with miscellaneous bits, cardboard/paper, and fabric which I lift down off the counter. I also still have to get out and set up the sewing machines and few things that are stored too high for the kids to reach, but set up takes almost no time. And clean up! The kids can help! And they totally do. I haven’t bragged much about my kids before, but they are fabulous, wonderful, amazing! When we moved in I told them I would be stopping them about ten minutes early to start cleaning up and they totally rose to the task. Of course there is always one kid (never the same kid) who is up against the clock trying to finish before they have to leave and I let them go. I’m more interested in letting them give in to their creativity and focus than forcing them to clean up. They always end up helping the next week anyway.

A word about tables. You can use any table really, but you want some that are fairly stable and large. The tables in the art room were awesome. The kids could clamp down a piece of wood and saw away without the table budging. Our new tables, not so much. But they work so I’m not complaining. Our new tables are also a bit shallow, but again they work fine. Finally, if you have younger students, have a shorter table if possible. The regular height tables are fine for sitting and working at, but if they need leverage to saw or hammer or anything, they’re at a distinct disadvantage. We’ve had this problem in both rooms and my solution is to help them saw. Again, it works fine, but in an ideal world we’d have a short junky table for using the tools on. If you have options just keep these things in mind.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Notes From the Makerspace: Culture of Permission

On 15, Jan 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

After a couple weeks of the Makerspace is starting up again. We have not moved into our new space yet, which means we’re still living out of bins. It’s not so bad. Clean up just takes forever because every last supply has to fit into a box just so, so that it will all fit back in our storage corner. This is not helped by the fact that I let the kids go during the hour and half I have them. I would rather they were engaged, excited, and making something rather than feeling like they couldn’t make a mess or touch anything which leads me to an article I came across on the Inquire Within blog about Inquiry and the Culture of Permission. For the record I did not/have not watched the video yet so I can’t vouch for it’s relevance or quality, but the post itself is great.

I think I already do this in my Makerspace, but it’s a good thing to think about and be sure I am giving permission to try out ideas instead of shutting the kids down all the time. It’s a short read, but well worth it. There’s some good food for thought, and even though it was written more with classroom teachers in mind, I think the culture of permission is essential to a makerspace.


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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Ashley Bryan’s Puppets

On 08, Jan 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

PuppetsAshley Bryan’s Puppets: Making Something From Everything by Ashley Bryan

From GoodReads: Daily, for decades, Ashley has walked up and down the beach, stopping to pick up sea glass, weathered bones, a tangle of fishing net, an empty bottle, a doorknob. Treasure.

And then, with glue and thread and paint and a sprinkling of African folklore, Ashley breathes new life into these materials. Others might consider it beach junk, but Ashley sees worlds of possibilities.

Ashley Bryan’s two-foot-tall hand puppets swell with personality and beauty, and in this majestic collection they make their literary debut, each with a poem that tells of their creation and further enlivens their spirit.

What an incredible book!

I could see that some of these puppets might look a little creepy to kids and I was fully prepared to do damage control with my daughter, but she was totally enthralled with them. Just reading the introduction where Bryan talks about finding bits and bobs on the beach that he uses to make puppets had her asking to make her own puppets from recycled materials around the house. She was really captivated by the poems that accompany each puppet and the close-up pictures of each puppet only made her more interested in making her own. They are incredibly charming from the frog to the elephant, they have amazing clothing and are composed of all sorts of objects.

The book is laid out with a series of two page spreads that show a line up of several puppets. Each spread is followed by pages featuring a portrait of each puppet and a poem about them. The poem titles are the names of each puppet and are a variety of African gods, goddesses, and words. A few of the puppets shown do not have their own poems which Bryan had done deliberately. He encourages readers to write their own poems for the characters. These puppets are amazing and paired with the lovely little poems that bring them to life and highlight some of the objects used to make them (e.g. a glass for a hat or bird bones) really makes for a striking composition. I am not normally one to enjoy poetry, but children’s poetry is usually pretty good. This is even better because of how it works with the puppets.

This is definitely a book for savoring and poring over again and again. The puppets really invite many closer looks. Every time it seems you notice something new about their construction. While I think kids will really enjoy the short poem format with the gorgeous pictures, I think this will make a great classroom resource. It’s easy to see how this can provide inspiration for using recycled materials, for looking at materials in a new way, for writing poems, and for making puppets.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Notes From the Makerspace: Project Roundup

On 18, Dec 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

As the new year approaches the Makerspace is looking at a new space opening up. Well, new to us at least. I’m super excited that we won’t be living out of boxes and bins anymore and think it will encourage the kids to dive more deeply into their projects and interests. To celebrate our first trimester I wanted to include some pictures of a few of the awesome projects the kids have made over the last couple months.

I also just wanted to share that I had a new girl join last week and she came in with no idea of what she was going to do. By the time she left she had designed and made a dress. She wore it home!!!!! Makerspace for the win!!!! It was simple and made from a fleece fabric that didn’t really need any hems made, but she dreamed it up, cut it out, and learned how to use the sewing machine so she could pull it together. Did I mention she is in third grade?

Sadly I can’t include any pictures of the kids. When we did the marshmallow challenge we got a slow motion video of one of my boys smashing a structure. He was thrilled to be allowed to break something. Here is the structure he smashed:

And here is a picture of my three-year-old daughter visiting the Makerspace and learning to use a tool herself. Don’t underestimate the abilities of kids!


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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Notes From the Makerspace: Warm Fuzzies

On 16, Dec 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I just had to share this conversation. It took place between one of the girls who is in the Makerspace and her mom.

On the way to school this morning, my daughter said, “I don’t want to go to school today, mom.”
When I asked her why not, she replied, “Like, there’s no Makerspace today. So, what’s the point?”
This is coming from a kid who LOVES school, by the way.
Well, I couldn’t agree more. That sure made my day. 🙂

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