Through making and tinkering, students learn using their hands, grow their creativity, and become more curious about their world and testing the limits of what is possible. SparkMacon makerspace has designed a series of workshops to connect you with the essential technology skills of inventing using computer programming, digital fabrication, and robotics. Through this workshop series, our students will gain exposure to STEAM skills including coding, 3D modeling, 3D printing, laser cutting, and robot building.
Parents and kids are invited to take this workshop together. It’s a great family activity!
Month 1: May 21 – Coding: Programming is a central skill to digital fabrication, robotics, and all subject domains. During this session, students will be given a crash course in computer science, gaining a basic understanding of sequencing, looping, and variables. Resources from Code.org, Scratch, and Code Academy will be utilized, which include learning activities that feature characters from Minecraft, Frozen, Angry Birds, and other popular games.
Month 2: June 18 – 3D Modeling: Our students will learn the basics of 3D modeling objects and designing stuff for a 3D printer. Skills from this workshop will empower makers to build elements for video game worlds, art, and 3D printed pieces. We will also provide demonstrations of our 3D printing equipment.
Month 3: July 16 – Laser cutting: Makers will learn the basics of designing for the laser cutter by creating beautiful bookmarks, key chains, or jewelry. Makers will learn techniques for editing scalable vector graphics for laser cutting jobs using InkScape, a free graphics design tool. We will also introduce ways to design 3-dimensional work using various tools and cutting patterns.
Month 4: August 20 – Robotics: Building upon the programming skills introduced early in the program, students will have the opportunity to build robots from scratch using the mBot kit. Students will love customizing their mBot using puzzle based programming and the easy to assemble construction experience. Students take home their mbot to continue the tinkering fun at home.
This series will be tons of fun. Looking forward to seeing you there!
Clever teachers around the world have found ways to adapt the popular open world block-building game Minecraft to teach lessons ranging from computer programming, math, history, and more. Minecraft is like having an infinite bag of Legos. Minecraft has empowered players young and old to build amazing environments and inspires a special kind of creativity and playful collaboration. For me, I’m using games like Minecraft to teach concepts of 3D modeling and computer programming.
For many schools, if you wanted to introduce Minecraft into a computer lab of 20 students, you would need to spend $540 or more. If you’re looking for a free alternative, make sure to check out Minetest, an open source open world block building game. Giving this game a quick review, I’m impressed with the current state of the project.
Stability and speed: The game is written in C++ so that game executes much faster than Minecraft and seems pretty stable. For basic world building, the game should work just fine for you and your students.
Multiplayer: The game enables players to establish servers so that they can build together. My son and I did some quick tests building stuff together. He loved running around the world and exploring the mountains and caves. During our quick review, we tried the game on Linux and Windows. It worked pretty well.
Simplicity: Minetest can’t compete with Minecraft on every feature. For instance, the game does not support combat mode, mobs, and red stone to name a few. I have a feeling the features will only get better over time. From a classroom perspective, combat mode and mobs aren’t particularly helpful features for me. I appreciate the simplicity of the current project state.
Mods: The software does support an ecosystem of mods. It’s neat to see how the game has been extended. If you REALLY want mobs, you can get them back using a mod or software extensions. Minetest Mods are written in the Lua , an approachable and clean language. I want to use Minetest with TinkerCAD so that students can experience the joy of designing game worlds. I’m looking for a mod that would import schematic files created by TinkerCAD. It would be cool to challenge students to write their own mods!
In researching this article, I found a detailed video review by SmoothScape on MineTest. You might enjoy reviewing his insights.
Across the world, maker spaces have become hubs for creative technologists and artists to gather to share community, ideas, tools, and grassroots education. In the years that I’ve blogged on InspiredToEducate.NET, it has been amazing to see the growth of the makers movement in Middle Georgia. I still remember my road trip to Augusta, GA to visit a maker space for the first time. In 2014, My friend Brent Lanford invited me and a team of people to visit ClubHou.se to explore the potential of growing the makers movement to Middle Georgia. I became especially excited to learn about the ways you can blend project based learning, DIY, and student empowerment. The idea of helping people to grow by connecting them to powerful ideas and tools was an amazing opportunity.
Thanks to the efforts of many organizations, hours of investment and many leaders, we can celebrate that Middle Georgia has four growing maker space communities. As I’ve had the opportunity to chat with leaders of successful maker spaces, they always emphasize the importance of growing and connecting the community. In this blog post, I want to raise awareness of the growing ecosystem of maker spaces. I also challenge you to get involved, join the movement, and start turning your ideas into reality!
SparkMacon Maker Space: SparkMacon is a community innovation space equipped with art and technology tools, equipment, and expertise for students, tinkerers and entrepreneurs. Thanks to the generous support of our founding members and investments from the Georgia Technology Authority and the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, our team had the opportunity to grow Central Georgia’s first maker space community. In our vision, we hope to be the catalyst for and physical manifestation of the local Maker Movement. We have three core areas of focus: serving makers in helping them grow in STEM skills and art, serving start-ups in connecting them to local business resources and rapid prototyping, and (3) supporting the growth of our creative tinkerers. Learn more at SparkMacon.com.
Firestarter Fab Lab: For our makers near Warner Robins, GA, make sure to check out FireStarter Fab Lab. Thanks to profound investments from Flint Energies, Houston County Career Academy and their partners, FireStarter offers an amazing range of industrial fabrication equipment and a growing community of makers. Their educational programs include everything from a FIRST robotics club, fabrication workshops to classes on wood working. The educational and project work spaces are generous. Make sure to check out their impressive listing of industrial tools. I especially admire their efforts to grow business leaders and making connections to local makers. Make sure to visit http://firestarterfablab.com/ and their Facebook page to engage in their community, tools, and learning opportunities.
5/4 music space: 5/4 music space is a music incubator with rehearsal space and a recording studio. They desire to spark a new scene of music for Macon, GA. The 5/4 team have worked really hard to create an engaging environment for music creatives and help grow opportunities for local bands. They are currently hosting monthly “open mic” nights to encourage artists and fans to network. Macon is a community that loves it’s music heritage. 5/4 will be the space to grow the next generation of Macon music legends. To learn more and engage with 5/4, check out their Facebook page and their website www.fivefour.space.
Ampersand Arts: Ampersand Arts has the mission “to encourage everyone to see their creative potential by thinking outside the box of standard arts education and institutions, helping them push past perceived barriers and learn that they can make unique contributions in the arts in Macon and beyond.” This makerspace will focus on serving the needs of the arts community. As a member of SparkMacon , I’m looking forward to working collaboratively with this community. I believe we’ll find fun intersections in our combined technology and art communities. To learn more about Ampersand makerspace, visit http://www.ampersandguild.com .
In addition to the official makerspaces described here, our team has started learning about efforts to grow educational makerspaces in schools around Macon. I have wondered if it’s possible to turn cities or regions into collaborative creative communities. Some of our friends from http://www.makervillage.org/ are working to grow these kinds of communities in Rome, GA . We have the seeds of building “maker cities” today in Middle, GA! And it’s exciting!
I’m in one of those seasons of life where my schedule feels three notches beyond packed. We enjoy staying active in our church, our community, and family. My wife and I believe in the concept of going above and beyond in our professional lives too. We, however, recognize that packing our lives with more activities isn’t sustainable or healthy.
As I’ve been reading about innovative teams and business culture, I’ve been smacked in the face by this very simple idea: margin. It’s the idea of giving yourself or your team the gift of time. Here are a few places where this idea shows up:
“Innovation time off”: The post-it note was invested at 3M when a leader gave his team 20% of their work time to develop new product concepts. Innovators like Google have adopted this idea of “innovation time off” too. Through this strategy, Googlers invented amazing products like Gmail, Google Cardboard, and many others.
Create margin for your teams: In the world of engineering, there’s a temptation to plan monthly schedules down to the exact hour to make sure you’re getting 100% capacity from the team. The best teams make time to plan regularly. They, however, acknowledge that you can’t think and plan for everything. In fact, that level of planning is wasteful. It’s great to give your team margin to account for the unexpected stuff that ALWAYS happens and creates the opportunity for creative thought. The extra time can be helpful to address process improvement or reduce technical debt.
Genius hour: It’s cool to see the idea of margin showing up in k-12 education too. Many innovative educators have tried increasing student engagement in learning by empowering them to have time to learn a topic of interest to the student. In most cases, the student present their work or new knowledge to the rest of the class. To learn more about this practice, check out the following posts on Edutopia and Gallit Zvi’s blog.
In the world of personal finance, it’s a common practice to make sure you have an emergency fund to cover the unexpected things of life. I have to say that I’m guilty of not always creating margin for myself to have down time to recharge my mind, my heart, and soul. This might be prayer, going fishing or having open time to relax. This is a place of growth for me. It’s an opportunity to learn to say “no” to some good things of life to make room for the best.
What are your favorite ways to create margin for your team? How do you create margin for yourself?
In the past year, we had the pleasure of organizing our first young maker program serving 15 young ladies from our community partner, Real Impact. Through this program entitled Project Renaissance, our students gained exposure to STEAM skills including coding, 3D modeling, 3D printing, laser cutting, costume making, Arduino hacking, and robot building. This program would not be possible without the generous support of the Georgia Technology Authority and the work of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission.
We had an amazing team of teachers and coaches helping to build our students through this program. I wanted to take a moment to thank our amazing team!
Code: Stephen Finney
3D printing: Corey Robinson
Laser cutting: Patrick Hobbs
Video Editing: Larry Najera
Cosplay: Libby McCormick
Electronics: Glen Stone
Arduino: Robert Reese
Robotics: John Robison
College Student support team:
On behalf of our Macon community, I want to thank each of them for their gift of time, sharing their passion for their craft, and caring for our students. We appreciate your inspiration, leadership, and service. I’m sure that this experience will leave a lasting positive impression on our students.
We also want to extend our thanks to Geneva West and all the parents who supported the students. We appreciate all of your time and support!
Here’re a few pictures from our last DiY Arduino Robot building workshop. For me, it was very exciting to see the students complete this final workshop. We’re very proud of our students! The students accomplished the DiY robot design reviewed in this post.
We’re looking forward to repeating a 4-month maker workshop series starting in May. This workshop series will cover the topics of 3D modeling/printing, Robotics building, Arduino hacking, and code. We plan to offer tracks for adults and young makers.
In this blog post, I wanted to share a tool for anyone who cares about improving their clarity in writing. As a blogger, I always appreciate any tool that helps me communicate well. Honestly, it takes a great deal of internal focus to make sure I’m following the rules of grammar and punctuation. I appreciate any tool that helps me do this more quickly. I stumbled across a new Chrome extension to help. You can learn more about this extension at Grammarly.com. During my brief review of this free service, it feels very quick and helpful in Gmail, WordPress, and many other online services. For a detailed review of Grammarly features, check out the following video from BecomeAWriterToday.com.
In our educational makerspace, our team has promoted the python programming language with young makers. The python programming language has engaged students young and old for many reasons. The language tends to be approachable and concise. The language connects to a broad range of situations including Minecraft programming, Raspberry Pi, video game programming, and web development. Software professionals love this language too! Python is one of the most popular programming environments at Google!
Lego Mindstorms have become a common tool for introducing students to robotics, sensors, and computational thinking. I had heard that the Lego Mindstorm EV3 platform was based on Linux. I started looking into ways that you could program Mindstorm robots using python and linux.
There’s an amazing community of Linux/Lego hackers who have created a platform to fill this need. Check out http://www.ev3dev.org/ . All that you need to add to your Lego Mindstorm ev3 is a small wifi dongle, a microsd card and a way to write to it. Here’s some tutorials to help you get started with installing the “ev3dev” environment and setting up Wifi. Please keep in mind that using the “ev3dev” environment is completely reversible. Just take out the microsd card from your “ev3.”
k = getch()
if k == 'w':
if k == 's':
if k == 'a':
if k == 'd':
if k == 'f':
if k == ' ':
if k == 'q':
In my case, I added a “wifi” module to my “ev3” while using ev3dev. This enabled me to use a secure shell terminal to access the “ev3” Linux environment. This program was saved in a python script called “robot_control.py” To execute the program, I simply type the following command into the Linux prompt.
Let’s break down this program into parts. In the following section, we import some code and setup variables to access the various motors of the “ev3” brick.
import ev3dev.ev3 as ev3
In the main loop of the program, we ask for one character from the user. Based on this input, the system executes different functions in the program. The robot follows the following protocol for movement:
w : move robot forward
s : move robot back
a : turn robot left
d : turn robot right
space bar : stop the robot
f : fire the marble gun.
q: quit the program.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
k = getch()
if k == 'w':
if k == 's':
if k == 'a':
if k == 'd':
if k == 'f':
if k == ' ':
if k == 'q':
A friend of mine had just finished doing “Hour of code” on Code.org with her STEM club. She asked me to comment upon what you might be able to do next to extend their learning experiences from code.org. The website does an amazing job of introducing the basic ideas of code(sequencing, loops, decision making, variables) to young makers. In this post, I’ll share a few project ideas and products that will help keep your students engaged in coding.
Scratch – This visual programming environment from MIT Life Long Kindergarten has become a powerful tool to engage students to code creatively. Students projects range from games, to mini-movies, musical instruments and art. I recommend checking out some of the projects built by students here. I love seeing people combine Scratch with Makey Makey. It’s always fun!
MIT App Inventor – To help make Android App building more accessible to EVERYONE, researchers at MIT have released a wonderful tool to empower makers and students to quickly build apps using a puzzle metaphor of programming. The MIT App Inventor enables you to test your apps in real-time using your Android device. Additionally, you do not need to install special tools on your system since the development environment is browser based. To learn more about this tool, visit http://appinventor.mit.edu orAppInventor.org . I’ve written some sample programs on this blog post here.
Learn To MOD – The open world game Minecraft has high engagement factor with middle school students. I enjoy playing the game with my kids too. The folks at LearnToMod.com have created a comprehensive set of video lessons combined with visual programming experiences to help students learn to write their own Minecraft extensions or mods. The system uses ScriptCraftJS which I’ve reviewed in here.
Scratch with LEGO Wedo – The Lego WeDo kit enables students to program a distance sensor, tilt sensor, and a motor that interfaces with standard Lego’s . The “offline” versions of Scratch interface with the official Lego WeDo hardware introducing new blocks to the friendly Scratch interface. You can learn more about the specialized Lego Wedo blocks from this resource. You can find lesson plan ideas here.
Scratch For Arduino (S4A) – The Arduino has become an inexpensive platform to introduce digital electronics programming to students young and old. While Arduino is a simple learning platform, it can also do some amazing work like 3D printing or robotics. S4A enables students to leverage their Scratch skills to program Arduino. To get students started on projects, I typically encourage students to figure out how to blink an LED or control a servo.
http://lab.open-roberta.org/ – This tool enables you to use block programming to control your Lego Mindstorm EV3 robot. The website also includes a small robot simulator just in case you don’t have a Lego Mindstorm robot. I’m looking forward to testing this website on some actual EV3 hardware soon!
What are some of your favorite lesson plans for getting kids to code?
My kids and I really enjoy playing Minecraft together. There’s something magical about designing a 3D structure and getting to see it in a game world. Using my favorite 3D modeling tool for students, TinkerCAD, we tried importing stuff from Thingiverse into Minecraft. Here’s some of the results from our experiments.
I’m thinking about using this idea to motivate a future workshop on TinkerCAD.