Ever since I saw the Lilypad Arduino at a CS4HS workshop at UNSW, I was quite taken by the possibilities for making wearable technology – blending my 2 current teaching foci of computing and textiles. We got our own kits as well as primers at the CS4HS workshop and I was buzzing with excitement about it at school. My TAS boss was just as thrilled, seeing more STEM opportunities particularly for HSC D&T MDPs and set me off on a mini-shopping spree at Sparkfun electronics. I showed some of these goodies to the 2 HSC DT classes and even though many were excited about the idea, only 1 actually considered creating wearable technology. Still, there’s 1!!!
Of course, there’s a wide gap between possibilities and reality and I soon had to face up to creating a prototype. At which point, busyness, end-of-year exhaustion and so on got in the way of inspiration. I had none!
Fortunately, an opportunity – need, even – came up with a fairy party (for an 18 year old, no less) and the birthday girl (a daughter’s friend) was keen to have some electronics on her costume. This was the simplest of circuits using only a battery pack and a string of LED lights. We didn’t use all 10m of it so I’ve got a bit left over which can be used when I can get the right resistor for it. Really basic stuff but the lights blink so it looked cool.
Getting a little bit more confident about playing with e-textiles, I decided to make fairy wings for my daughter who’s attending the party as well. I made the wings based on this tutorial. This shows that I’m really an electronics n00b because I wasn’t really thinking about the wires used which really made designing/sewing the circuitry more complicated than necessary, i.e. I had to avoid the wires (conductive, yes?). Anyway….
Another thing that made it a bit harder for this n00b was that I wanted a row of lights to light up. All the beginner tutorials I looked at only had 1 light. You know the feeling when you don’t know enough to even ask Google? Yes, that. Anyway, I finally stumbled on a basic explanation of parallel and series circuits and I was on my way (btw, this circuit tutorial from Sparkfun is even better; I wish I saw it earlier). Basically, I wanted a couple of parallel circuits (+ to +, – to -) for a symmetrical design.
The materials I used were all Lilypad stuff from SparkFun: SimpleSnap, SimpleSnap protoboard, 2 rainbow LED strips and conductive thread. I also used the FTDI from my original ProtoSnap kit to program the system; it doesn’t come with the SimpleSnap.
I had trouble positioning the protoboard on the wings as I wanted to make it ‘easy’ to access the negative (-) pin on both sides. I also wanted to eventually add sensors using the analog input pins. I had so many questions on how to assemble my circuits and in the end, decided for a prototyping approach. That is, I sew one circuit on, program and test. Sew another circuit on, program and test. etc. This worked and got me going. There’s a lesson right there!
When stitching, I avoided the wires on the wings by positioning them at the back and “crossing” them at the front (the intervening textile layer is enough). There are other ways, I was told, but this worked enough for me. I also learned that I don’t have to stitch all the way to the (-) pin except for the first one, i.e. The (-) circuit is one “circle” in and of itself. One of the tutorials suggested to sketch the stitching or circuits first, i.e. plan. In hindsight, I really should have. There’s a lesson right there, too!
Stitching the circuit was an exercise in balancing form and function. Stitches had to work to operate the lights as well as look good. To work, I had to ensure there’s enough contact with the right pins as well as avoid crossing over existing circuits and the wireframe of the wings. I also had to tidy up lose ends which could accidentally touch another circuit.
I kept the programming simple as the party was looming and I had no time to learn enough C to make it more fancy. I wanted a finished product!
Attaching the wings to the costume and covering the main board proved challenging as well. I guess, I really didn’t think through the details of the final design from the beginning. There’s a lesson right there yet again!
However, it all came together in the end and the wings worked…and it was an amazing fairy party. I also have a working prototype to show students as well as play with. What was a mere possibility months ago is now an evolving reality.
I’ve learned so much. I have wings. I will fly. :-)
click photos to enlarge – you’ll have a closer look of the pins used…and my sewing
(video of wings – mov)
This post is about my 9 IST 2014 Game On project originally premised on the notion of making the world more humane (see links for related posts). This was essentially a project-based learning approach (PBL) and it had the 8 essential elements of PBL according to the Buck Institute of Education (BIE), a PBL leader. It’s tempting to see how I’ve done against that checklist and I dare say it was a good PBL but what I really want to do here is ask the harder question of whether or not this project has achieved what I set out to do.
That is, has the project somehow made the world more humane?
Have the process and product of answering the driving question – “Can developing games help develop resilience?” – somehow created a more humane world, on top of achieving curricular outcomes?
The previous Game On event post has partially answered this … and it is a YES. Connecting with others. Making time for play and enjoying it. Celebrating achievements. Laughing out frustrations. Giving feedback. All good stuff and all told from my perspective.
Let me share what my students said. I used one of Harvard University’s Project Zero Visible Thinking Routines, “I used to think…now, I think” as a student reflection tool. I’ve quoted a few below but if you want to read more, find it here - SDP reflection (PDF).
on Game Design
|I used to think…||now I think…|
|Would be pretty easy as there are so many games already made||It’s challenging but now I realise how creating a game isn’t so simple and coming up with a new idea is not as easy as you think. However, designing games is a rewarding process and is absolutely fun.|
|It is easy to come up with an idea and develop a game and it is the programming and algorithm which is the difficult part in the game designing process.||That coming up with ideas take up a lot of patience and skill. It is vital to come up with an idea which has a vitally fun and interesting output. It is essential to consider how the gamer or viewer will find the game as well.|
|That games you could just tell the computer what you wanted without having to use certain blocks and that it would be quite simple once you have an idea, it would do the rest for you.||Actually, there are specific instructions you must use to make games. You have to be determined because sometimes things don’t work and you have to try again.|
on Software design and programming
|That software design and development has to strictly follow the design process of design, produce, evaluate.||That evaluation is the most key part of design as it enables communication between the designer and user.|
|That it was really boring and that there wasn’t really many things you could do with software. Also, that people just made things that already existed and that it wasn’t helpful or fun.||Software design and development is very good and useful and there is so much you can do with it that is not already created but you make new things and new ideas.|
|It really only involved one person and that you always typed in binary.||It involves a whole group of people for it to be successful. Now I know there are many other computer languages that you can use.|
on being a Software Designer / Developer
|That it was a simple and mindless job people did and that it was boring and stressful.||It takes a lot of creativity and thinking to be able to design and produce something. Also, that although it may be stressful, it’s a lot of fun and incredibly rewarding when you see your finished product.|
|That in order to create a good idea, it was only the creator’s mindset or viewpoint on it that shaped how it turned out.||That repeatedly seeking advice and information is important to keep you on the right track. Reviewing your work from different perspectives help in taking your creation to a new level.|
|You didn’t need to know much maths.||Never have I been so wrong.|
|It involved a set of rules to need to follow to do your job.||It involves more creativity. Successful games have creative people who made them.|
They’re thinking of software as a creative process and tool.
They’re thinking of and “using” others.
They’re thinking of writing games for others to enjoy.
They’re seeing challenges – and perseverance – as a way to learn.
They’ve realised that their thinking has changed.
This being the last teaching day in 2014, it is good to reflect that teaching can be good. It’s not always good but good times, like this, make up for when it’s not so good.
Perhaps a relevant recap to where this “journey” started with a quote from John Maeda (Make it more humane) is this new video by @veritasium looking at the on-going search for technology to revolutionise education, and I quote…
The foundation of education is still based on the social interaction between teachers and students. For, as transformative as each new technology seems to be…, what really matters is what happens inside the learner’s head and making a learning think is best achieved in a social environment with other learners and a caring teacher.
I’m so proud of my year 9s for hosting a fantastic Game On 2014 event – I daresay it was better than Game On 2013!
Some things stayed the same: the platform (arcade or studio on web Scratch), the coders (9IST students, except last year I also got the year 10s to do it so they could experience it), the venue and schedule (lunch towards the end of the school year). I invited again many teachers from other schools to get their students to play. Food. Prizes – still to be won by writing games reviews. The PBL itself was very similar to last year (here’s a link to my intro lesson) including the inspiring TED talk on games by Jane McGonigal. She wished us luck
Some things were different: I managed to get our school ‘s year 2 students who are also learning to code to also play and review games – that’s pretty cool. Many of the my students wrote 2 games so even though there were technically fewer developers, there were just as many games as last year. We also had a different sponsor – Atlassian (Thank you!!!)
Another big difference is that I got my students to do more, i.e. write request for sponsorship, get approval for the event, plan the menu, take photos, solicit game reviews and even write an article for the newsletter. So apart from being game designers and developers, they’ve had a taste of event management. After all, it was like a product launch They felt accountable to Atlassian, to me, to players of their game and ultimately, to themselves. They took ownership of the event and they should be proud (as am I).
Well done 9IST and thank you for making Game On 2014 a fantastic event!
Here are some pics from the event (all half hour of it!):
Even with delegation, this is a big event that takes time and effort especially during a busy time of the year. . BUT, it is worth it. Here’s an insightful article written by one of my students, Harini Lakshminarayanan (with permission):
and I quote:
I believe this event was a great opportunity to understand the success behind each IT product. This event has given all the year 9 IST students an insight into how IT works in the real world as it is more about the success among the user and the suitability of the product to users.
Come and play : bit.ly/ABBGO14 – you don’t need a Scratch account to play unless you want to comment or better yet, make your own.
“Don’t make the world more high-tech, make it more humane.”
This quote is from a Fast Company article, 10 Crucial Lessons From History’s Graphic Designers, attributed to John Maeda. I’ve never head of Maeda before but the quote really struck a chord with me as this is exactly what I’ve been pursuing in my IST projects this year.
For example, year 10s tried to answer ‘How can multimedia help engage learners?‘ They are also currently working on “How can robots help solve the plastics problem?” Year 9s tried to answer “How can digital movies help address teens’ problems?” and this year’s crop of videos are particularly good. Year 9s are also currently working on Game On 2014, which will be bigger and better than Game On 2013. I actually launched the year 9 project with the quote above and Jane McGonigal’s TED talk on building resilience (strengths) through video games. One of her most salient points is this:
Good games should …bring out [the best] in players…courage, creativity and empathy…really tap into strengths.
That is my current challenge to year 9s. I’m excited because I believe this class gets this ‘humane’ thing. They are girls who understand the beauty of a flower as Richard Feynman puts it, in the context of computing; they will never look at software in the same way again. This is more of the ‘make it more humane’ stuff. Learning Science helps us understand the world we live in; ipso facto, learning Computer Science helps us understand the digital world we live in…and in understanding, we have a better hope of engineering a better world, digital or otherwise.
What I’m seeing is increased engagement, particularly with year 9s and I feel I struck a goldmine in engaging girls in computing. The catalyst for blogging about this is the story of the women behind Vidcode (Alexandra Diracles and Melissa Halfon ) – where they talk about what it could be like if there were more women in computing along with their journey as a startup company. They echoed some of the issues mentioned in Fortune’s Why Women Leave Tech article. I am hoping these Vidcode women never leave tech, and instead continue to build more humane tech….better futures.
A more humane future, a better future, or preferred future (in ACARA’s Technologies curriculum parlance) is possible and worth pursuing. This is why I am passionate about increased diversity in computing and at the moment, I’m working on addressing the pipeline though issues remain in the industry (re: why women leave tech – read it). And while I still maintain the question ‘why is it so hard to get girls to study computing?’ (a post written just over a year ago), I feel somehow that I’m moving towards the right direction. Some of the strategies I shared in that post are working for me and it feels good to look back to it a year later and be able to see positive changes.
There is hope.
According to GoodReads, the actual Maeda quote is:
“The problem isn’t how to make the world more technological. It’s about how to make the world more humane again.”
This isn’t just about teaching, learning or using technology. It’s not just about integrating technology. It’s about creating technology to make a more humane world…and you don’t have to work in IT to do this….more likely, it would be work with IT for the vast majority…so, a bit of computer science for everyone, yes? (go on, read the Richard Feynman link above).
Tomorrow, my classes and club will begin participating in the NCSS python programming Challenge 2014. It’s our second year and I’m quite excited as it’s a really fun challenge.
Like last year, I introduced the software programming and design topic using dance; except this time, I actually linked it to computational thinking straight away – decomposition, pattern recognition, pattern generalisation and abstraction, and algorithm design. Timing was on my side as the year 9s have been learning new dance steps in preparation for the Year 9 dance. Plenty of inspiration in terms of computational thinking processes, value of coding, control structures and even functions…with parameters!
There is so much hype on teaching kids to code – nearly 12 million views of code.org’s What most schools don’t teach and the rise and rise of many learn to code sites. There’s also the impending implementation of the Digital Technologies curriculum, etc. etc. etc. But for me, it’s far more than the hype – I actually love teaching students to code.
Learning to code is more than just about writing code; it’s the least of it, in my opinion. It’s all the other stuff about computational thinking and systems thinking and critical thinking and creative thinking. That’s a whole lot of thinking – and doing – right there!
With computation thinking, I think it’s important to point out that we all do most of this already.. in real life! Think of all the procedural and component-based stuff like recipes and routines we have, for example. What is less common is algorithm design, especially in school where we teach ‘tried-and-tested’ algorithms. This is true not just in mathematics where we teach (and test) mastery of algorithms but also in humanities subjects like English as we teach the “right way” to write essays, for instance. In schools, it’s rare for students to design their own algorithms, their own way of doing things. Learning to code provides opportunities for algorithm design, encourages it even. And I love it.
Systems thinking is taught in many subjects. We are surrounded by systems. We’re made of systems. But, it’s rare for students to make their own systems. Learning to code provides opportunities for designing systems.
Teaching kids to code can be daunting and having set “courses” do help. Learn.code.org is a good entry point for beginners (students and teachers alike). I also recommend NCSS python programming Challenge . Both are challenge-based and fun.
I also think it’s a good idea to expose students to the experience of learning another language, mapping similarities and differences – the meta stuff. This includes reflecting on problem-solving methods and attitude when faced with difficulty.
I enjoy doing the challenges with the students. Sharing the joy of wrestling with knotty problems and working out solutions. I love that I have a window to how they think. I love it when they come up with creative ways of thinking and solving problems. I love that they don’t ask “when I’m I ever going to use this?” because it’s fun just getting through it. I love it when they teach each other and work together and share frustrations and wins together. This, for me, is the fun stuff…and I’m lucky I get a chance to be part of it because I teach coding.
The best part is that I get to play along.
print (“NCSS 2014, here we come!”);