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What Worked Wednesday: Sugru + littleBits March 18, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Makerspace!, What Worked.
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What Worked Wednesdays | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

“What Worked Wednesday” is a blog post series about ideas that I have personally tried in my library and/or instruction.  Each post includes an idea that worked in my school library and how it makes my life less stressful, more organized, and/or more manageable.

I’ve just discovered Sugru®, and it is AWESOME!  Sugru® is a moldable putty that sticks to almost anything and dries into a silicone-based rubber.  It’s tough, waterproof, and heat-tolerant.  In other words, Sugru® makes things elementary kid-proof.

What I love most about it, however, is the philosophy of fixing and adapting anything to make it better, stronger, more personalized, or more useful.  I’ve blogged before about how delicate some of the littleBits™ are, and how I’ve replaced several because of broken wires and loose parts.  Well, I wish I had known about Sugru® when I bought my first set of littleBits™ back in 2013.  A couple of hours and a $22 Sugru® multi-pack would have saved almost all the Bits I’ve replaced, and it would have paid for itself by now.

So today’s idea that worked:

Mold Sugru® around the wire connections and fragile parts of littleBits™ to reinforce the connections and prevent damage.

Four mini-packs of Sugru®, color-mixed to approximately match the Bit colors, were enough to wrap around all the wire connections and make our littleBits™ MUCH stronger!

How this idea saves money:

Use Sugru to make littleBits stronger and last longer | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

Our “upgraded” littleBits with Sugru protecting the wire connections.

When combined with some beginner soldering, I fixed a littleBits™ fan, one of my proudest maker moments!  That fix saved about me about $15.  Additionally, I reinforced the connections on all of our wires, long LEDs, servo motors, light wires, a UV LED, a roller switch, another fan, and the last 2 original 9V battery cables.  Sadly, I wasn’t able to salvage any of the vibration motors, so I’ll just need to buy new ones.  When I do, though, you can bet that I’m going to encase the delicate wires and connections in Sugru®!

Overall, if you’re going to use littleBits™ with elementary students, I HIGHLY recommend Sugru® reinforcement.  You will thank yourself later!

P.S. I’m not being paid to say that.

Images by Collette J. at A Wrinkle in Tech

Freebie Friday! – Learning to Code Library Center March 6, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Makerspace!, Reflections, Tablets & Apps.
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Blog Freebies | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

Happy Friday everyone!

After an insane week like this one, it’s always nice to end on a positive note and share a resource.  Starting with the next cycle of library classes, I’m expanding the Puzzle App Center to include another option — learning to code.

Admittedly, the official Hour of Code Week was in early December.  Our school participated, but I don’t believe the PR hype that learning to code is a required skill for 21st century life and employment.  Am I the only tech geek that thinks this way? 

Yes, it’s true that some students will discover that they really enjoy coding and/or that they are good at it.  Some might eventually want to make a career of programming.  For other students, learning to code is just one means of building creativity and problem-solving skills.  And it’s certainly not the only means to that end.

For still others, programming won’t be remotely interesting, and that’s okay too.  That’s why I think it’s so important that students have as many choices, opportunities, and experiences as possible when they are in elementary school.  Sometimes you have to try a lot of things before you find what you like, how you learn, and what you’re really good at.  After all, isn’t that one of education’s core purposes?

At the “Learning to Code” library center, students will have a choice to use the Scratch™ web-based block programming language, or the Scratch™ Jr. app, or the Lightbot™ app.  Scratch™ has long been recognized as an exemplary and accessible way for children (and adults) to learn and write programs.  Students can create videos, stories, games, and much more within the Scratch™ programming environment, and save their work from week to week by creating an account.

More recently in late 2014, the FREE Scratch™ Jr. iPad app was released, and the Android app is due to be released by the end of March for devices running Android KitKat (4.4) and up.  Tablets running Android JellyBean (4.3) will be compatible later in 2015.  I know I’m “counting my chickens before they hatch” by starting the center before the Scratch™ Jr. app is released, but after looking at the website FAQ, I’m confident they’ll deliver.

Finally, the Hour of Code 2014 version of the Lightbot™ app is FREE for Apple and Android devices.  I haven’t tried the either of the paid versions yet, but once students finish all of the Lightbot challenges, then I’ll probably buy one or both.

If you’d like to try out the Learning to Code center in your library, makerspace, or classroom, you can download the center signs by clicking the image below, or by right-clicking on the image and selecting “Save Link As.”  The Word document download is editable, but the clipart is flattened to respect the designer, Sonya DeHart Design.

Learning to Code Library Center FREEBIE! | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

I’d love to hear what you think of the center in the comments!  Do you teach computer programming and/or coding skills in your curriculum?  What resources and tools do you use?

“What Worked” Wednesday: Keeping Books Visible on Library Shelves February 11, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Library Space, What Worked.
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What Worked Wednesdays | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in TechI’m starting a new series based on several of the “ideas that worked” that I’ve previously blogged about, such as Cheap and Easy Library Decorations, our Library Treasure Store program for K-2 students, and the Whole Number Dewey modified library classification for elementary students.  Each post will include an idea that worked in my school library and how it makes my life less stressful, more organized, and/or more manageable.

Today’s idea that worked is:

Use shallow cardboard boxes to keep books
forward on library shelves.

How this idea lowers my stress level:

Books pushed back into the shadows of a shelf are one of my librarian pet peeves.  Elementary students probably think they’re being helpful when they do this, and I have no desire to spend valuable instruction time teaching them to leave the books where they are. 

"What Worked" Wednesday: How to Keep Books Visible on Library Shelves | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in TechTo keep my sanity, I collect small, shallow boxes and put them behind chapter books so they can’t be pushed back.  So far, I have about 25 shelves completed, and to my eyes it does make the books more visible.  It’s especially helpful for “first chapter books” aka easy readers, fiction novels, and our easy nonfiction books.

I plan to add more boxes as I find or get them until I complete the rest of the first chapter books section and the fiction section.  I haven’t compared circulation stats yet, but I’m wondering if they will increase or not with more light shining on the book spines.

Try it out, and see if you like the brighter look of your library shelves!

 

Makerspace Mishaps: Fixing and Replacing Broken Parts February 7, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Makerspace!, Tech Tips.
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When you start a makerspace and begin letting students build things that move, light up, and generally do cool things, eventually something will go wrong.  Of course, because Murphy’s Law of Education is always in effect, that’s usually when an administrator walks in.

Makerspace Mishaps: Fixing and Replacing Broken Parts | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

When that happens, you just have to smile and ask students, “Now what did we learn from this?” and hope that the observing administrator will see the learning along with the so-called “failure” of the project.  Also, you should always have some bandages, gauze, and no-latex gloves on hand, just in case.  Thankfully, I have yet to use my stash of first-aid supplies for a makerspace accident.

If nothing else, parts will occasionally need to be replaced, and that’s something I’ve learned the hard way that you need to include in your budget.  If you can buy a gift card with your budget funds, it comes in really handy for replacing parts as needed.

For instance, since starting our makerspace with about 100 littleBits™, these parts have broken:

  • 2 fans (a wire broke in both cases) – Both replaced.
  • 1 roller switch (repaired 3x with varying levels of success) – Too fragile to replace if/when it breaks for good
  • 1 vibration motor (temporarily fixed with solder) – Replaced
  • 1 wire Bit – Still looking for a replacement wire to fix it (the Bit parts are fine)
  • 1 pressure sensor – Not replaced; we have extras
  • 1 bend sensor (probably from bending the wrong way) – Not replaced, too fragile
  • Every single battery cable that connects the 9-volt batteries to the power Bits – Replaced with these from Adafruit; no problems since then.

To be clear, most of these parts are already fragile, and I think littleBits™ generally makes high quality products.  Wires snap pretty easily, but occasionally can be soldered back together.  I still haven’t learned to solder yet, but fortunately my husband has saved a Bit or two this way.

Besides learning to solder yourself, Super Glue® or any other plastic glue is a great material for fixing.  I’ve also heard of, but haven’t yet tried, using Sugru™, a non-conductive putty that hardens into rubber.  Since I have very limited instructional time with students, I usually end up doing repairs myself, but older students could certainly learn to fix parts too.  Especially if you are lucky enough to have a flexible schedule with time for a Maker Club.

It might seem like a lot of budget funds to allocate for your makerspace, and you might be thinking it’s not worth it with tight budgets.  For comparison, track the cost and amount of print books replaced simply because the binding wears out, the cover falls off, or it’s worn beyond circulation.

When I did this, I found that I spend WAY more on replacing damaged and worn out books than I do on replacing makerspace materials and fixes.  My professional opinion is that if we want to move forward and provide ALL of the types of resources students need to be successful today, we need to invest some of our budget in new programs and ideas, like a makerspace.

If you have a makerspace, I’d love to hear how you fix your components, and how often you need to replace parts.  Do you know any tips or tricks?  Share them in the comments!

Welcoming New Students to the Library Mid-Year January 17, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in PSLA, Tech Tips, What Worked.
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Welcome to Our Library: Introducing New Students to the Library Mid-Year | Mrs. J in the Library at A Wrinkle in TechFor many students, January brings not only a new year, but also a new teacher and a new school.  Lately, I’ve been thinking about how to teach just-moved-in students about our library procedures without interrupting the routine and momentum of the rest of the class.  What I came up with is an Orientation Welcome Center that new students complete before choosing other library centers.

The inspiration for this center came from Judy Moreillon‘s presentation at PSLA 2013.  She suggested that to “flip” the library in a way that is effective and feasible, librarians should create video tutorials that are available 24/7 for students, parents, and community members on the library website.  Of course, video creation and editing is *INCREDIBLY* time-consuming, but once you have a good-quality tutorial, it hopefully won’t need to be updated for a couple of years.

With that idea in mind, I made an orientation video on one of the library Nexus 10 tablets.  It took about 10-12 takes, but I finally managed to create a coherent video touring the library, explaining library policies, and demonstrating how to find books and check out.  One of my next goals is to make a second video showing how to search Destiny Quest, but that will have to wait.

Once I had the video done, it was pretty simple.  I uploaded the video to the library Dropbox account that syncs with the tablets and made the link into a QR code on Kaywa.  At this center, students use a library tablet to watch the video on the Dropbox app or scan a QR code to watch it online via Dropbox or YouTube. If you’d like to make your own orientation center, you can download the free Microsoft Word file below and create your own video for students to get acquainted with the library (or your classroom).

Welcome move-in students to your library or classroom with a video tour to introduce routines | Mrs. J in the Library at A Wrinkle in Tech

Right-click the image and click “Save Link As” to download this FREE center for your library or classroom!

Do you have a technique for introducing move-in students to the library?  Share it in the comments!

Full Disclosure: This post contains a referral link to Dropbox.

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