Prototyping a Coding Class for All

We believe that all learners should be exposed to programming regardless of their professional aspirations. Programming develops skills in critical thinking, problem solving, and structured planning through the experience of creating something. In addition to cultivating these important life skills, programming assists in demystifying technology, allowing the learner to make sense of how electronics work in the world around them. As we move into an era of enchanted objectswearable technology, and the Internet of Things, we believe learning programming is vital.

Creative Coding
This semester marks the start of ASB offering Creative Coding in the High School for students in grades 9 to 12. Students will learn the core concepts of programming through personalized projects, explore different methods of interacting with computer programs (Xbox Kinect, mobile phones, etc), and produce creative solutions of their own. In addition, learners will apply the concepts they’ve learned in math, physics, and other subjects within their programs. The goal of the Creative Coding class is to empower every student with the essential skills that coding develops.One of the most important decisions that we agreed for Creative Coding was to use the Processing programming language. The Processing website describes its language as:“…a flexible software sketchbook and a language for learning how to code within the context of the visual arts. Since 2001, Processing has promoted software literacy within the visual arts and visual literacy within technology. There are tens of thousands of students, artists, designers, researchers, and hobbyists who use Processing for learning and prototyping.” (Processing.org)

The power Processing offers over other languages is its’ ability to make programming available and engaging to learners that may not have ever tried programming. The code written in Processing creates a visual output that makes it easy for a learner to see what their code is doing. A drawing program can be made in less than 10 lines of code, something that would require a couple hundred lines of code in a language like C++ or Java.

This allows learners to engage in creating programs that are meaningful without have to include libraries, produce extra code, or any of the other hurdles that exist in traditional programming languages. It just works! Processing code looks very similar to and uses the same concepts as the popular computer science languages, making it easy to transition if the learner decides to study a computer science or related field.

We look forward to showing you some of the projects that come from the Creative Coding class in future blog posts.

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Maker Activity: Cardboard Automata

This video is part of a series of tutorials for integrating Maker Activities created by myself and John Kilbane at the American School of Bombay.

In this Maker Activity join me in creating your very own moving automata out of nothing but recycled materials. This is a great activity to introduce any age student to mechanical engineering concepts such as axles, gears and cams and can be scaled to show different forms of energy by adding a motor and a solar panel.

Supplies Needed:

  • Tape
  • Straws
  • Wooden Skewers
  • Cardboard (along with something to cut it)
  • Glue Gun or Tape
  • Markers (Or anything you want to use to decorate your display)
  • Something To Poke Holes With (I use a screwdriver)

Laser-Cutting Workshops

The Student R&D Maker Task Force has been exploring new concepts in making, programming and other technologies, and using their learnings to create workshops for other High School students. The goals in creating and running these workshops are to introduce students to ways the tools in the maker space can be used, to diversify the types of making done and to demonstrate the importance of making through projects.

Student R&D Team examines the laser cutter's settings.
Student R&D Team examines the laser cutter’s settings.

Inspired by the SAISA Art Festival New Media and Stencil Art workshops, the Student R&D Maker Task Force is exploring the types of activities they can run using the stencil and laser cutters. The task force started by first creating projects of their own. This required learning and testing different image editing softwares to understand how images had to be prepared for cutting. In addition, they practiced cutting on a variety of materials, each of which required different settings on the laser cutter.

The Student R&D Maker Task Force’s laser cutter workshop will task students to work together to create a laser cut piece that will later be added to a collage. Students will find digital images of their favorite characters, icons, and other things that inspire them. They will then use an image editor like Adobe Photoshop, GIMP, or Pixlr to edit the image in preparation for laser cutting and etching. The Student R&D team will be on hand to support the use of the image editing software and laser cutter.

We hope this workshop will inspire students to use the laser cutter more for creating art, prototypes, and push the boundaries of what can be done with it. Stay tuned.

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SAISA Art Festival: Stencil Art Workshop

Stencil art is a method of creating artistic pieces using cut out stencils. This style of art has been popularized in recent years by street artists such as Caledonia Dance Curry (also known as Swoon)Ron English and the infamous Banksy. While street artists typically use billboards, walls, and other public surfaces as their canvases, some artists create works on poster boards and other materials.The style of these street artists served as the inspiration for our South Asian Inter-Scholastic Association(SAISA) Art Festival workshop.

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Students at the workshop were first introduced to the style of art by the workshop’s leader, Jon Denhartigh. Jon, spent time talking about some examples of stencil art he had created and the artistic process he followed with each piece. Each successive artwork demonstrated an evolutionary step in his mastery of stencil art which students appreciated. Afterwards, the students started on a quick activity to give them a taste of what it was like to go through the stencil art process.

Each learner was given a sheet displaying an image of themselves 4 times. They were tasked with cutting out a different color from each image, the whites, the highlights, etc. Students then layered these stencils and spray painted onto compressed wooden boards. They assessed their works and reflected upon the ways they could make them better.

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The class then moved on to brainstorming works of art based on the festival’s theme, Justice. Students had used Art Knives for the earlier activity and were introduced to our Silhouette CAMEO Electronic Cutters. The CAMEO allowed students to alter their images digitally, in tools like Adobe Photoshop and GIMP, then select areas to cut out with the Silhouette software. After two days (about 15 hrs) of cutting, spray painting and sponging paint, students displayed their art for the rest of the festival’s students to see.

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While it sometimes looks like technology does all the work for us, this workshop demonstrated that some technology shifts the work from one form to another. Students that used the Electronic Cutter spent a lot of time experimenting and reflecting on their art works as a whole while those that cut their stencils by hand spent time experimenting and reflecting on the best methods of cutting out their stencil. A few students used a combination of both methods to complete their pieces.

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Maker Challenges in the High School

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When making happens in our classrooms, it usually occurs in a workspace where students create projects led by their curiosity or while applying something they have learned. This is an integral part of developing their maker skills. In addition, we wanted to push the boundaries of their knowledge and application of skills. To do these, we developed a series of different challenges that run periodically with our High School Students, called Maker Challenges.  

Check out our chapter, Maker Challenges in the High School, in Future Forwards Vol 5 here.

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Maker Activity: Recycled Robots

This video is part of a series of tutorials for integrating Maker Activities created by myself and John Kilbane at the American School of Bombay.

Make your own motorized companion! In this installment of our Maker Activity series, Linus creates a simple robot and explains how you can create your own using only a motor and recycled materials.

  • Supplies Needed:
    • Alligator Clips
    • 9V Battery
    • DC Motor
    • Cardboard (along with something to cut it)
    • Glue Gun or Tape

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Student R&D Workshops

As mentioned in a previous post, one of the goals of the Student R&D Maker Task Force is to create, test, and evaluate Maker activities. On that front, this semester’s group is focusing on diversifying the types of making done in the maker space, exposing new students to making, and demonstrating ways making can lead to greater understanding. With this in mind, Student R&D has planned a variety of workshops ranging from introductions to tools in the maker space to 3-hour project builds.

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In our first workshop, held last week, the students of our Student R&D: Maker Task force invited their peers to learn more about the 3D Pens using the newest version from 3Doodler. Our Student R&D members started the workshop by guiding students to choose from a variety of stencils, followed by explaining the different buttons of the 3Doodler as well as common troubleshooting techniques. Afterwards, an exploratory session of drawing, making mistakes, and rejoicing at final projects took place.

Student R&D had a few takeaways after this workshop. Students really love the hipster glasses and lunch is a good time to hold this type of tool introduction workshop. Most of the students that attended during 1st lunch came back the minute 2nd lunch started. In addition, a few students mentioned that the video we created about 3D pens made them excited. These sorts of videos show students what they can expect and what’s possible. It also may have contributed to the hipster glasses trend.

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Maker Activity: Circuit Games

This video is part of a series of tutorials for integrating Maker Activities created by myself and John Kilbane at the American School of Bombay.

Add a little excitement to your day by making a circuit game! In this installment of our Maker Activity series, John teaches how to use a simple piezo buzzer circuit to create different types of games.

The Impacts of Exploring

Whenever I am learning a new tool or working with new materials, I usually start by looking up a tutorial. When working from a guide, I don’t have to worry so much about failing, figuring out where to start, or creating a final product. But sometimes, I find myself unknowingly relying on guides and forgetting about the possibilities that sometimes arise from just exploring.

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When we work on our maker projects, we often source our materials from different shops online and within a week or so it arrives in the maker space. I’d been told a place called Lamington Road was Mumbai’s #1 place to get electronics components. I’d always wanted to go but, it’s usually way easier and convenient to order online. It wasn’t until I had forgotten to order a component on my list that I actually visited.

When I arrived, I saw a street lined with every type of electronics component you could want, from LEDs to computer motherboards. I spent about 2 hours perusing the wares each storefront had, filling my Google Keep with project ideas and information on components I’d never even heard of!

From this, I was reminded that while It is undeniably easier and more convenient to order things from online or work from a tutorial, sometimes the biggest impacts come from discovering something through exploring. I learned of the many different types of LEDs which helped us improve our LED Constellations activity as well as inspired a new activity we’re running using LEDs in clothing.

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Learning through exploration is the main reason our school maker spaces provide access to a wide variety of tools and materials. This type of learning often leads to student projects like the robotic handsvideo games that interact with you in the physical world, and hanging ball pianos. Lastly, it helps show us in the R&D department what the impacts of our prototypes are and where they show room for improvement.

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Making It Matter

Maker Saturday was started with the goal of empowering students with making and tinkering. In an earlier post, we wrote how this year we are focusing specifically on developing a set of “maker skills and dispositions”. One thing we’ve noticed is that some families or children tend to develop an affinity for certain activities. As opposed to varying all of the activities each time, we’re seeing what happens when we use the same activities but alter the challenge.

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Lego Mindstorms
Building robots and tools using Lego Mindstorms is an activity both parents and students love. For the first Maker Saturday we ran an exploratory activity and encouraged free play. We noticed some new interest in Mindstorms and some experimental play from the students and parents that had used Mindstorms before. In addition, one little boy made a controller for his robot which inspired our next activity.

October’s Lego Mindstorms activity involved using prebuilt robots and instead focused on creating and programming ways to control the robot. This activity had very different results. While some focused on creating a controller for their robot, most decided to use a controller that was already built to get their robot through the track. While this developed some interest in robots, it missed the mark on making an impact on maker skill development.

Moving forward, we’re looking towards printing our own manuals and build guides to increase the amount of building that happens with Lego Mindstorms.

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Ozobots
Ozobots are another crowd favorite. September’s Maker Saturday was the first time we unveiled these awesome, line-following robots. We printed out sheets for the commands, covered a big table with white paper, and placed out bins of markers letting parents and students explore. There was a lot of doodling as well as some commands being successfully issued but it needed something.

The next time we held the Ozobots activity we printed out a lot more sheets. This time we not only provided  sheets with commands but examples of racetracks, mazes, and two laptops ready for those willing to code their bots using a Scratch-like programming language. The activity had many visitors with many attempts at different types of racetracks. In addition, a handful of students and parents teamed up to program their Ozobots to move and dance.

We’d like to stress the programming of the Ozobots a little more in future activities.

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Paper Circuits
The first Paper Circuits activity was again, very exploratory. Students and parents experimented with creating circuits using the Circuit Stickers Kit. Different types of circuits were created from greeting cards to glowing robot eyes. The engagement was there but some creations were very similar. With experience running the station and a love of stars,John Kilbane had a great idea for the next iteration.

LED Constellations directed students and parents to create their favorite Astronomic images. This activity was made to show a different way of using the circuits to create things. It inspired many constellations with some students experimenting in creating tiaras. There was even a student who was so engaged they spent their entire 2 hours at the activity.

This activity is becoming a lot more popular and we’re looking into how to incorporate it into activities that help students use these circuits in more novel ways. We also think this may help generate an interest in soldering.

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Keeping Some Variety
While we varied the ways we challenged our students and parents in our other activities we still feel it is important to add new activities. We’re keen on incorporating soldering into a Maker Saturday activity as well as different activities that promote robotics, programming, engineering and so on. In addition, this past Maker Saturday had an activity encouraging the use of creativity by building with cardboard as part of The Global Cardboard Challenge.

For more information about Maker Saturday, how it is organized, and the activities we run, check out our chapter in Future Forwards Vol 3.

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