Friday, July 29, 2016

My CMK16 Reflections


This was my fourth CMK experience (senior year, woooohoooo!!) and the second where I was honored to participate in the role of a fellow. As a fellow, my focus was helping others to experiment and construct with new materials, test their hypotheses, and demonstrate their knowledge through whimsical, stunning, technically mind-blowing, and prescient creations that could very well inform next generation technologies and inventions. (Full disclosure, my CMK registration and lodging were payed for by the Constructivist Consortium but I received no compensation for my participation.)

Constructing Modern Knowledge is for K-12 and higher education teachers, administrators, librarians, media specialists, and others, not hired programmers, futurists, or other rarefied social classes. No, these people are the heroes in the classroom who see the benefits of constructionist hands-on projects inspired by topics that interest and matter to their students, and many of them spent their own dime to attend this institute to work with other likeminded individuals to work with programming, fabrication, and physical computing and to create personally meaningful projects. Instead of asking, "How am I going to bring this back to my classroom," many freed themselves of the teacher role and acted as students working on projects that were personally meaningful. Instead of trying to scale this personally meaningful project back to their classrooms, I think many realized that the important concept to bring back to the classroom is the freedom to tinker and explore; to play with others in a materials rich environment; to collaborate and to listen to a wide variety of voices throughout each stage of the project; to draw on experts as needed but not to depend on them to provide a "recipe" or solution for one to follow; and to foster an environment of hard fun.

Community is vital to Constructing Modern Knowledge. This year I had the pleasure of seeing people I have known since my first CMK in 2010. I got to work on a wonderful project, helping with Scratch and the Makey Makey, with Jennifer Orr, who I met at CMK10.



I also spent time with Jennifer's husband Jeff McClurken, with whom I worked on my first CMK project, a LEGO RCX/MicroWorlds EX Robotics art robot.


I also got to work with Daniel and Molly Lynn Watt, educators, Logo pioneers, artists, and ukulele fans. Molly and Daniel's books, Teaching with Logo and Learning with Logo detail how they created a Logo community with school children, and the work and lessons in those books remain vital and important today. The community they built around their awesome project, various geodesic structures built from newspaper, was inspiring, ambitious, and accomplished.



José Armando Valente introduced Minsky and Papert to the Samba school concept when they traveled to Brazil in the 1970s. He is an incredibly patient and observant educator.


His wife Ann is also an amazing educator and a wonderful person.


Meeting Carla Rinaldi and learning from her was a life changing experience for me.

The participants of CMK projects quickly form communities around the projects on which they collaborate, delegating responsibilities, learning from and teaching one another as needed, sharing successes, setbacks, and accomplishing incredible amounts of highly technical work in four days.

I always look forward to working with the giants when at CMK. I presented Dr. Cynthia Solomon with her first own LogoTurtle! She in turn introduced me to Alan Papert, who admired my LogoTurtle in action.

I also had the opportunity to talk and work with Brian Silverman and Artemis Papert. Their TurtleArt is a huge inspiration to me, and without Brian the LogoTurtle would not exist.

Meeting Ben Leduc Mills in person was also a wonderful experience and I look forward to other opportunities to learn from him.

Of course, any opportunity to work with Jaymes Dec and Tracy Rudzitis leaves me energized, wiser, and laughing.

Additionally, Andrew Carle traveled all the way from South Korea. Andrew is a genius in my mind, and is one of the most helpful collaborators when I am working on a project beyond my current ability.

As with every CMK, participants are provided ample opportunity to work with an learn from geniuses. This year we heard from and talked with Mitchell Resnick and Stephen Wolfram!

Wolfram's demonstration of the Wolfram Language computation platform lived up to Gary Stager's promise of a live demonstration of "black magic." This is an amazing platform that is remarkably accessible. It should be seriously considered by any teacher or student interested in what computational thinking holds for our futures.

CMK provides me the opportunity to work with the people who find inspiration in my work. I am very humbled and appreciative of this attention and opportunity. I approach my work with whimsy, which helps distract that I often leverage very simple technologies to great effect. I was able to help several groups incorporate the Makey Makey, Scratch, the PicoBoard, simple switches, and TurtleArt into their work. My work is for teachers and their students, so it is great to have the opportunity to work with the people who find inspiration in my book and my work.

I did manage to squeeze a couple of projects in on the side as well. I worked with Cynthia and Artemis to etch into linoleum a few TurtleArt designs using an Othermill.

I also programmed a LogoTurtle drawing and added a copper tape and soldered LED circuit. I gave this artwork to Brian, Artemis, and Jasmine at the conclusion of CMK.

Manchester remains a friendly city with great food, and some interesting history. Like many American cities, it needs more money for social services, mental health, and jobs. 

I cannot stress enough what a life-changing experience Constructing Modern Knowledge is for teachers interested in becoming more powerful learners. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Tree (Cross Section) I, a LogoTurtle Generative Art Piece

I programmed a generative art piece for my friends. I used two LogoTurtle to draw the piece, which I called "Tree (Cross Section) I." 

The piece started with tree roots, based on a generative tree design I used in the Cybernetic Forest piece.

The tree is represented as a cross section.

Branches are longer versions of the roots.

Leaves are more uniform but still randomized fractals.

Overall, the piece is complex without becoming too messy.

It was fun to program this piece and exciting to work on my first commissioned piece of art. I hope they enjoy displaying it in their home and admiring the complexity.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Laser Cut and Milled LogoTurtle Chassis

One challenge in building your own LogoTurtle is producing the chassis, which needs to be as flat as possible. Oya Kosebey from The Makery offered her help in remixing an svg of the original 3D printed file into a laser cutter ready Illustrator file, posted on the LogoTurtle site.

Michael Mitchell helped me cut fifteen of the chassis from 1/4" birch plywood. They came out great, though it did take two carve passes to get all the way through the stock.

The chassis are wonderfully flat but too thick: the battery packs cause the LogoTurtle to bottom out!

I used the Othermill to etch two .125" deep recesses for the battery holders.

Assembled, the wood chassis LogoTurtle looks and draws beautifully!

The milling took extra time but I think it is worth having the chassis be 1/4" thick, since it is so flat. I would be interested to see if other people laser cut it from thinner plywood or even acrylic.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Milling TurtleArt Designs

I was lucky enough to borrow an Othermachine Othermill from a friend. My first project with it was to etch and carve TurtleArt designs into linoleum to use as stamps. It was a remarkably easy process!

I started with a design I programmed in TurtleArt. I converted the image from .png format to .svg format so I could prepare the image in Inkscape for use with the Otherplan software. I used the original Mac version of Otherplan (not the cross-platform beta) on my old iMac that I upgraded to OS X 10.8 specifically so I could run Otherplan and use the Othermill.

After sizing the .svg in Inkscape, I imported the image into Otherplan, sized the stock I was going to use in the software, and loaded the 1/32" bit into the mill.

The milling was surprisingly quiet despite the high speed at which the bits spun and etched and carved the material. The process was very interesting to watch.

It took about 45 minutes for the design to be etched and the outline to be carved. I stopped the Othermill using the software when the 1/8" bit was about halfway through the stock. I finished the stamp with a manual jig saw and a piece of Scotch Bright scouring pad.

The resolution of the finished stamp is surprisingly detailed. This stamp is about 2 inches wide. The next designs on this small a piece of linoleum should probably not use as fine a line, as some of the detail is lost at the edges. However, this stamp was a beautiful first effort and an exciting new tool with which to create.

I look forward to teaching my friend how to etch and carve his own stamps when I return his Othermill!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Playful LEGO Tinkering

As part of my Horizon's LEGO Grant Coordinator position I was invited to a couple of the sites for teacher professional development of skills with LEGO, tinkering, and learning through play.

For these sessions I defined tinkering as working with materials to learn how materials work.

I brought along three LEGO Tinkering machines that I constructed. Each was built around the Tinkering Studio's pegboard. Participants were encouraged to play with the machines, remix them, and to think about the simple technologies that combine to make complex projects.

The first machine was the perennial favorite, the spin art machine. It combined a motor, a platform, and recycled paper. Instead of paint, we used markers and crayons.


We noticed how different the ink or crayon looks while the machine spins versus how the completed art looks. The art informed us how to use the pens and crayons differently and the necessity, perhaps, or building a more robust platform so the artist can put more pressure on the paper as it spins.

The second machine I brought was an iteration of a sound machine. It uses a shaker on an arm that moves thanks to a cam. It also included a couple of the 3D printed LEGO Set Screw Pen Holders. I included some baby toys that made sounds and some upcycled containers.

With the machine hooked to the Power Functions battery pack, the motor turns quite fast.

The third machine was a storytelling machine. It used motion of the LEGO model, animation on the screen in the LEGO WeDo software, light, and shadows to tell a short story about a duck and a wolf. Part of the model is housed in a cardboard box so there is enough darkness for the light and shadows to work properly.

I really had fun with the simplicity and potential for creativity with this machine.

The participants had a good time using the machines. There were a few great remixes. 

One group used watercolors with a spin art machine they constructed.

One participant used the spin art to create more art.

This piece was incorporated in a large dry erase board portrait that I neglected to photograph, unfortunately.

This group made great use of different materials with the sound machine to tinker with sound.

Overall, the sessions with three different Horizons sites were exceptionally fun! After warming up a little with the materials the participants truly played with the machines. They were free from the constraints of following directions. The sessions focused on learning different methods of connecting LEGO, utilizing LEGO with other materials, and using LEGO to create work that they would otherwise be incapable of producing. I look forward to the work the students are able to produce!