Whimsy + Reading Cave Update!

One of the words that kept popping up at CMK14 was “whimsy”, and ideas about why whimsy matters have been percolating in my mind.  Today I was reminded of this, when I was showing a really amazing teacher I know what can be done with a Makey Makey.  (I showed her this video, which I imagine everyone has seen, but in case you haven’t, there it is!)  The first thing she said was, “Why would you want to do that?”

And, of course there are many answers like, because it is fun, because you can, because it will give you another idea for something else to try, because it is inspiring to others. That being said, it is perfectly natural to have the reaction she had (and don’t get me wrong — she enjoyed the video very much!).  As educators we are so programmed to not “waste” time, and it is pretty reasonable to be terrified of doing so.

So, what about whimsy, and the fear of wasting precious minutes on doing something that might be perceived by others as whimsical, and therefore lightweight and not significant (like a crocheted interactive reading cave, for example?)  Here are two reasons!

First of all, whimsy is a great motivator!  It gets people’s attention, because we crave the delight that it produces.  If kids make something that makes other kids smile and laugh, they are going to want to share it with as many other kids as possible. Those kids are going to want to try to make something just as splendid, and they will then come up with something slightly different and also whimsical and marvelous, and it will create some kind of an intrinsically motivating learning cycle. In fact, maybe it should have an education-y graphic and name, like the Whimsy Industriousness Complex:

The Whimsy Industriousness Complex 2 - New Page






Secondly, whimsy can help you bond with your students and create classroom identity. When a teacher and her/his students create something whimsical together,  it brings them closer. The delight the whimsicality creates among the participants is like a captivating little secret that only that group shares.  It doesn’t matter if it is something techy-amazing made with 3 arduinos, a toaster oven and a llama or a ridiculous new verse to a classroom song for Morning Meeting.   If you create something together and laugh about it together, it will strengthen the ties you have with and among your students and there is no doubt that will make your job easier and more fun, and everyone will learn more.

So as an advocate for whimsy, here’s an update on the (achingly slow progress of) my Interactive Reading Cave (or, just to stay education-y, the “IRC”.)  Last week, I spent a bunch of time testing materials, and found that contrary to my original thought that I’d have to 3-D print a giant crochet hook to pull it off, a size P hook and four balls of simultaneously crocheted plarn would do the trick.  (Do I still WANT to print a giant crochet hook?  YES!  I hope I do!  I could probably crochet an entire classroom, or a bridge or something with that giant hook. )



Last week: 4 Balls of Simultaneous Plarn!


Then I went on vacation for 5 days, and didn’t do much, so here’s what the IRC looks like today:


It’s bigger, really it is!








The promise of the whimsy/delight I will have when my second graders are reading in this cave is keeping me motivated!  And, I am piously proud of all the plastic bags I am recycling.

In a couple of weeks, I am going to share my CMK14 experiences with the rest of our faculty and pitch my ideas for Tinker Time and our Makerspace.  Of course, we’re going to spend the day making and tinkering, and I can’t wait, even though  I know it will be a hard sell for some.  I am going to have to bring all the motivating whimsy to the day I can possibly muster!  Wish me luck…

PS — Here’s the tutorial I used to make the plarn — I just used plastic bags instead of t-shirts, which would also work well, I think!

Also, here is a whimsical picture from my vacation in Cook Forest State Park.  Enjoy!


Constructing Modern Knowledge 2014

CMK14 Reflections

I am still coming off the intellectual high that  Constructing Modern Knowledge 2014 produced in me. CMK14 was for me, the ideal PD experience – not a conference, but 4 days of being given access to all the techy-makey materials and expertise you could want, and the only rule being you have to be making something. While I was there, I tried to remember the last time I had the opportunity to explore ideas and materials for four straight days with no other responsibilities, and I am sure the last time I did this was preschool or kindergarten, maybe. At first I was chalking this up to working teacher-mom life, but I am sure this is true for almost all adults. WHY?

Anyhow, during these four days, 180 educators from all over the world were given the opportunity to choose a project to work on with others or independently, to switch projects, to float around in a haze of amazement looking at what other people were making, and to play. Just to give you a smidgen of an idea of what kinds of things all these amazing people ended up making, here you go:

Arduino-powered t-shirt that plays multiple songs

Arduino-powered t-shirt that plays multiple songs

Beautiful Makey-Makey wall sound sculpture with heartbeat

Beautiful Makey-Makey wall sound sculpture with heartbeat

(Everybody loves a) Giant Robot!

(Everybody loves a) Giant Robot!

Constructing Modern Knowledge is organized by Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez, who wrote Invent to Learn.   At first, I joined the “Fly on the Wall” group, based on an idea that it would be fantastic to invent something that allowed parents to get their elementary school kids to more easily communicate something about what they did during the day. The first day we spent almost the whole work time hashing out ideas, which inevitably got more and more complicated. None of us felt like we knew how to start actually creating our idea, which had morphed into some kind of wearable camera/recording device that would transmit information to parents wirelessly via Twitter, or something like that.

Then, that night we took a trip to the splendidly stunning MIT Media Lab. While we were there, reading the descriptions of all the dazzling projects they have underway, we realized we were basically trying to invent something like Google Glass. Well, you can’t fault us for thinking big, right?

The next day, we all decided we’d work on learning some more basic circuitry and programming, and so we ended up engaging in several days of supportive parallel play. Rather than collaborating on a mind-blowing finished project, we were a group that helped each other figure out smaller things. I worked on sewing a twinkly soft-circuit with a Lilypad Arduino and began learning to program it.


 I played with Turtle Art, and had about 150 eye-opening conversations with other elementary teachers about things they are doing with their kids. Others at my table created light up bracelets, Scratch classroom noise level indicators, Scratch games, and played with Lego Mindstorms.

On Tuesday night, I couldn’t fall asleep after an enormous Brazilian feast (it might have had more to do with the Caipirinhas than the food, since I’m a vegetarian)! And, I realized that what I wanted to do was make an interactive crochet reading cave out of recycled plastic bags, and that I was going to do it IN ONE DAY. This cave would hold a couple of kids and pillows and would sparkle with little led’s which would be activated by a sensor when the kids got in, along with having a recording device that would let kids record little mini-book reviews for the next kid who got into the cave. The next morning, a lovely fellow CMK-er (yes, she is from Cleveland and I am from Pittsburgh, but we managed to get along anyhow) took me to Michael’s and I tried to find a GIANT CROCHET HOOK! Which, they really didn’t have. So I bought the biggest one they had along with some cheap-o yarn to see how far I could get holding several strands together for the stiffest fabric possible, and after about a whole day of hand-busting stitching, I ended up with this:

First attempt at interactive reading cave aka "somewhat malformed future cat bed".

First attempt at interactive reading cave aka “somewhat malformed future cat bed”.

 What this taught me was that I needed different materials, a better tool, and a different design. At first, I was feeling more than a little disappointed that I wouldn’t have an amazing invention to show off at the Friday maker-faire, but this is PROCESS, right? This is what kids go through all the time in my class when they are making Hummingbird robots in the spring and realize a flying robot might not happen in the amount of time we have.  In this post by Sylvia Martinez,  Seymour Papert’s fifth big idea of the Constructionist Learning Lab is Taking Time. So now I am home, and I am trying to TAKE the time to finish my idea, despite the barrage of life responsibilities. I have found a bigger crochet hook, thought of a new design, ordered some Lilypad Arduino stuff and discovered two places nearby in Pittsburgh where I can use a 3-d printer (here and here (No Fab Lab or makerspace at our school – YET!) I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!

This post is crazy long, so I’ll wrap it up with a little list of topics my mind craves more time to engage with:

  • High-low tech – Personally and professionally fascinating and inspiring for me
  • Lifelong kindergarten
  • Getting overwhelmed by choices (where to start with so much amazing stuff to learn, teach, and do!)
  • The idea of learning from the Ether when people are creating side-by-side
  • The idea of helping teachers to be comfortable with not being experts before they try something.

More on all this soon! Thanks, Kentucky Avenue School, for allowing me to go to CMK14! Thanks CMK14 for filling me up with inspiration and ideas.