Saturday, October 5, 2013

My First Maker Faire

What is MakerFaire?  Basically it's a grassroots movement where DIY aficionados get together to display their projects and inventions.  It consists of both low tech and high tech projects.  I discovered the MakerFaire and MakerCamp concepts recently. After having learned programming with Scratch and Makey Makey, I started seeing other uses for this programming language.  One was Raspberry Pi, which is a mini computer used to teach computer science to kids.

I saw that there was going to be a mini MakerFaire on August 24th, about an hour and a half away in Dover, NH, so I decided to go.   I was interested to learn more about Raspberry Pi and robotics projects, but there were a lot of other interesting exhibits, like felting, jewelry making, and old fashioned ice cream maker and digital music. One of the exhibits at the Dover Mini Faire was a demonstration of the Raspberry Pi.  A professor of programming at SNHU, Don Norris, was demonstrating how Pi could be used to program a robot.  I was excited to learn about his book Raspberry Pi for the Evil Genius.  It has a lot of good information and programs to get you started.

But I also enjoyed seeing a new invention by a young man which can be used to type with one hand.  It's called Jester Type and here is a video of it in action.

I was also interested to see demos of 3D printers.  This one was built from a kit by an Exeter, NH high school student:

All in all it was a great Faire.  They plan to do it again next year, so I'm hoping it's even bigger and better!  Check out the MakerFaire site to find one near you!

Teaching Kids "Real Math", and Writing and Social Studies and...

Conrad Wolfram's TED Talk addresses the problems with decreasing math proficiency in schools today and suggests that the cure to the problem is to use computers to teach math.  He claims that schools put too much emphasis on calculating by hand.  He says that computers were created to do calculations and that doing hand calculations is an ancient subject.  His argument is that in the real world engineers and others use computers to do mathematical calculations.

We should be teaching students to do things they way they are done in real life. They need to learn skills that they will utilize in their future. As Wolfram says, the best way to solve a problem is to use the right tool for the job.  I think what he says about math can apply to any subject.  When teaching writing, whether it be creative or persuasive writing, why make kids use paper and pen instead of using a computer.  When they get out of school, if they get a job working in an environment where communication is done by computer, they are going to need to be able to communicate electronically, and I don't mean via texting.  Computers can do the menial tasks, like spell checking, so that the students can focus on the task of formulating their ideas and getting their point across to the reader.  With applications like Dragon, Kurzweil, or Text Help, students can work on getting to the point of their writing, rather than the mechanics of spelling the words. Most mobile devices have built in spelling and reading assistance as well.

Yes, these are assistive technologies, but some people need assistance.  I like to compare the use of technology to assist people with difficulties to wearing glasses to see.  Would you say that the person wearing glasses has an advantage or is cheating?  Maybe in Ben Franklin's day that might have been the discussion, but we are living in the 21st century now.

The same could be said for social studies, or science or economics.  Why learn about other countries from a book, when you could connect and collaborate with students from another country via Skype?  There are lots of sites with economics information (like the US Debt Clock) or science simulations. This is authentic learning!