Mar 25, 2012

Workshop #1: From the bust emerges new vision

So one of the funny things I realized after this workshop bust is that teachers may be the wrong population to attack at this moment. Instead it might be more important to look at the resources right in front of me: over 150 creative technologists with a diverse set of skills and many of whom are interested in learning more about education and how to teach what they know. I am not saying that my thesis is changing radically because I do still believe that teachers will become more interested in this, but I think at this point in my process and in the bigger picture of Making in education, this could be a phenomenal opportunity to begin exploring what students like us can provide.

I have spent the past week getting stuck in the minutia of my own project, subject to neglecting the bigger picture and my role within it. The most important part of my thesis for me personally is calling more attention to the Maker movement in education and new ways to bring that into different learning settings. While I love working with teachers, it is less about working with them for this cause, and more about diagnosing new solutions to broadening awareness of the problems. The problems being (1) the lack of interest in STEM learning and computer science and (2) the need for more of an infusion of creativity through an interdisciplinary approach. We (MFA D+Ters and the like) do this very well and, most importantly, we are excited by what we do and allow this excitement to infect other people.

Even though it is the end of March, I am reevaluating the lens with which I am approaching my problem. I want my thesis to be a part of the call to arms (thanks Liz) that will help build an army of makers of Makers. All this being said, I am opening the next workshop to MFA DTers.

More reflections to come, but I would really appreciate any comments from yall about this and will probably hunt some of you down for a conversation sometime soon!

Mar 19, 2012

Project Website Out of Construction!

Well, for the most part:


Mar 14, 2012

Updated Circuit (and new website!)

Here are the initial images for building instructions and the – still very much under construction – website:

Mar 5, 2012

ATtiny84 Programming. SUCCESS.

After a long, long road of Instructables, forums, and failed attempts, tonight was the golden evening: I programmed the ATtiny84 in (actually numerous versions of) the Arduino IDE.

Due to time constraints, I cannot recount here all of the failed attempts and research I have done (I hope to post about this in the coming weeks), suffice it to say that I tried many a suggested solution, from the high low tech tutorials to altering different board.rtf files to downloading different avrdude software to trying different ATtiny cores and this is what worked. I am sure there has to be a better way to do this, but I have yet to find it successfully without hardcore engaging the command line (which I am trying to avoid at all costs for conceptual reasons).

So, thanks to the technical and moral support of the wondrous Leif Percifield and Joe Savaadra, we found the most convoluted workflow for success ever. Here we go:

1. Download the ATtiny core in the Google code repository for Arduino 1.0.

2. Create a fold called “hardware” in the Arduino folder that houses all your saved sketches and place the contents of the folder there. I have tried with one other core and it does not work.

3. Make sure you have both the Arduino 0023 and 1.0 versions installed – you will need both.

4. First you need to burn the bootloader. This is the software that allows you to upload sketches via the Arduino IDE. To do this you need to be in 0023 and connected to the AVRISPmk2. Make sure the ATtiny84 is connected to an external power source. I used a 3 volt battery and alligator clips.

5. Check Tools > Board > ATtiny84@1 mHz.

6. Next check Tools > Programmer > AVRISPmk2.

7. Then Tools > Burn Bootloader.

8. Disconnect the USB cable and quit 0023.

9. Connect the ATtiny to the USBtinyISP and start Arduino 1.0.

10. Open the sketch you want to upload.

11. Select the correct board as described above, then select the USBtinyISP as the programmer.

12. Under File click “Upload using programmer” or shift + command + U.

Mar 2, 2012

Project Timeline

FEB 22
_User testing review
FEB 29
_500 word statement
_Project schedule

_Workshop Working Group (w/Kellyn, Tami, and Monica)
MAR 5/6
_ATtiny figured out
_Annotated chapter outline
_All materials ordered
MAR 12/13
MAR 14 site completely finished
MAR 16
_Final BOXES fully functioning prototype
***This is the latest possible date, but would ideally finish much further in advance***
MAR 20
_Evaluation materials finished, proofed, and printed
MAR 21
_Workshop Working Group
MAR 24
MAR 28
_Proposed copy for exhibition text
_Project production schedule
MAR 31

_Full draft of final paper
_All data transcribed
APR 11
_Coding analysis finished

APR 18
_Mock up exhibition text
APR 25
_Final project delivery with final written thesis
APR 28

Mar 1, 2012

Prototype: Let there be LIGHT!!

This is a series of LED boxes controlled by keyboard inputs via Arduino. First it wakes up, still a bit tired, but quickly decides to talk to you. But then it begins to become anxious while speaking, and its generally calm fade enter a frenetic spiral of light. Exhausted and fragmented from this bout of stress, it becomes tired again, eventually going back to sleep.

Rearrange its face as you see fit for an expression of anxiety!

Feb 29, 2012

500 Word Statement //Updated

(It’s a tad longer than 500, but I’m having trouble narrowing it to a happy medium between 250 and 500. The word battle rages on…)

BOXES (Building Open Expandable Electronic Systems) is a workshop that introduces middle and high school educators to an alternative approach to teaching and learning computational thinking. There is an ever increasing demand for more computer science in secondary school classrooms: research has accumulated over the past few years to reveal how underprepared the next generation of learners are to enter a competitive global workforce. Broadly, it means developing an awareness of the world as an interconnected systems. On an individual level, it means preparing learners to develop creative solutions to problems that have yet to be found.

The last ten years has seen an explosion of STEM (Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology) based policies intended to remedy these issues. Researchers, however, are identifying the lack of basic computational competencies and interdisciplinary practices as key sources of this problem. Computational thinking has recently emerged as a new domain that attempts to articulate these competencies and apply them to realms as diverse as art, archeology, and literature. It encompasses a set of problem solving skills and approaches derived from proceduralism, algorithmic thinking, abstraction, automation, and more. While these competencies are founded in deeper philosophical roots from centuries past, their current applicability is essential for appreciating and implementing the computer as a creative tool.

Drawing on learning theories grounded in the belief that children learn by actively constructing their world through the creation and manipulation of tangible objects, this thesis targets populations who are generally marginalized by traditional, screen-based pedagogical approaches to learning computational competencies. Specifically, it focuses on middle and high school teachers who lack exposure to engaging, alternative teaching methods and strategies.

Through literature research, observation, informal interviews, and personal experience, I have identified five barriers/points to entry for new, nervous, or disinterested potential learners: cost, materials, pedagogical approach, and practical execution. Generally, context is rarely addressed in introductory computing courses, but it can be a significant factor in reaching populations with different learning modalities. To address this, the workshop emphasizes how softer materials can broaden entry points and also employs on age-specific metaphors and themes to ground learning within a narrative framework. For example, building a box is very different then building a box that can be decorated and thought of as a castle. A close cousin of the scientific method, the iterative design process provides a rich foundation to promote self-guided problem finding and creative expression.

The boxes are constructed from a set of materials chosen specifically for their familiar properties and low cost (under 100USD for a group of 15-17). A paper substrate allows users to trace the path of electricity as it moves through the circuit before building it. Copper tape is an easily manipulated conductor that users apply to their pre-drawn schematic. Participants create their own paper PCB using copper tape and the ATtiny84, a 2 USD microcontroller that can be programmed with the Arduino.

Learners embed their circuits in individual boxes. Alone, they act as paper lamps. Together, they communicate with each other via magnetic switches under different rule sets, creating generative 3 dimensional interactive art forms. BOX makers can recombine their structures to fashion unique environments or pixelated displays. Workshop themes target specific metaphors to apply an added layer of narrative to the experience. Learners can use these boxes to create a stage for storytelling.

Three workshops will be held and evaluated with three different user sets: MFA Design and Technology students, graduate education students, and 7-12th grade teachers. Audience is the only variable; each workshop will be given with the same agenda and using the same materials.

To determine the success of my approach, I am evaluating both the toolkit and the learning that emerges from it. Specifically I will tackle (1) the system as a creative tool, (2) the level of engagement and interest, and (3) the workshop’s efficacy in reframing computational thinking concepts. I will gather data through a written pre-evaluation, personal observation, written post-evaluation, and short video interviews. I will perform qualitative and quantitative data analysis through the following two frameworks.

For the toolkit, I will take a more quantitative approach, using a new system of metrics called the Creativity Support Index. It is designed to evaluate the level of creative support for different systems, interfaces, and other tools. For learning and reframing, I will use the Six Strands of Informal Learning as an assessment framework to develop a qualitative coding scheme that is aligned with the initial data gather in the pre-evaluation. Initial codes might examine language, attitude, process/behaviors, identity, metacognition/reflection, and collaboration.

This research hopes to contribute to a growing movement of educators and designers who are reimagining what circuits and computers can look like and seeks to function as a medium to transform populations of learners and educators into Makers who can find application of their learning above a textbook and beyond a traditional classroom. All supporting content and documentation of individual workshops will live online with the goal of having other educators run similar workshops.

Feb 24, 2012