Come #HackYourHoliday with Me and littleBits!

littleBits MeetUps: Come #hackyourholiday

I’ve been so excited about this.  If you haven’t heard, littleBits are now available in RadioShacks across the United States, making it much easier to purchase them.  To celebrate this new partnership, littleBits is hosting a series of meetups at Radioshacks around the country. These meetups are a chance for visitors to learn more about how littleBits work and how they can be used to #HackYourHoliday.

Guess who’s leading two of the meetups in Florida? :)

littlebits meetupsUnfortunately, I was getting over a cold today, so the Brandon meetup is actually rescheduled for Wednesday, November 26 at 1:00pm.  If you’re in the Tampa Bay area, I’d love it if you’d stop by and say hi.  If not, see if there’s a meetup close to you and check it out, it should be lots of fun.  And stay tuned to my Instagram account to see me all decked out in my littleBits t-shirt and purple Santa hat :)

Screenshot 2014-11-24 14.38.12





Our Awesome Whiteboard Wall

our awesome whiteboard wall

This past week, our library and Makerspace got one more step awesome with the addition of our whiteboard wall.  This was a project that I had dreamed of doing for awhile, and I finally took the plunge about a month back and created a DonorsChoose project to get whiteboard paint and lots of dry erase markers.  I had originally planned to go with IdeaPaint, but the vendor (Blick) was out at the time my project was funded, so I ended up going with WhiteyBoard instead (through Quill).  I’ve read mixed reviews on both.  Eventually I’d like to try out IdeaPaint to compare the two, but for now, this is what we have.  Check out this video to see it all coming together:

(Video was made with an iPod touch, Stop Motion Studio and iMovie)

Here’s the supplies we needed:

Sanding the wall

Sanding the wall

The first step is to mark off the section of wall you will be painting with painter’s tape.  You can only do up to 50 square feet at a time, so I created this wall plus a mini wall.  I used chevron frog tape for the top of the wall to give it a zig zag pattern.  Once everything is marked off, sand down the wall really well.  You want an ultra-smooth surface to paint on, as this will make it easier to write on with markers later.

Priming the wall

Priming the wall

If your wall isn’t already white, you’ll want to prime it (unless you’re using clear or black whiteboard paint).  I probably should have primed it twice, but once was still sufficient.

Waiting for the paint to cure

Waiting for the paint to cure

After the primer dries, you can paint on the whiteboard paint.  Here’s where you have to make sure that you follow directions carefully, as each brand and type varies.  It usually consists of mixing two different containers together to make the paint.  You have to mix for a set amount of time, and then you have an hour to paint everything before your paint starts to get too thick.  I used a high density foam roller, which helped to create a really smooth surface.  The hardest part comes next – waiting three to seven days for the paint to cure (this brand was three, other brands can be up to seven).  I painted it over a holiday weekend so that it wouldn’t be as difficult on my impatient students.

Drawing on our wall

Drawing on our wall

Once it was all cured up, I put the markers out and let the students loose.  It got a little crazy the first couple of days, but it’s calmed down a bit now.  It’s mostly students writing their names or making doodles.  One thing I quickly noticed is that generic whiteboard markers don’t erase well, so I’m only keeping Expo markers out.  Also, red markers are a lot harder to clean than other colors.  I plan on using it to create pop-up surveys (ie – write the title of your favorite book) and create art contests (ie – draw a rocket ship).  It’s been a lot of fun.

Here’s the pros and cons of creating a whiteboard wall this way:


  • Cheaper than mounting an actual whiteboard
  • The novelty of writing on the wall draws students in, lets them feel free to draw whatever
  • Immediately inviting and interactive


  • Cheap markers don’t erase well
  • Markers are ghosting a lot (leaving traces even after being cleaned)
  • Doesn’t dry erase well – you have to use a board cleaner to get everything off

Our whiteboard wall may not be perfect, but my students certainly love it.  I might consider eventually trying a different brand of whiteboard paint or a more permanent whiteboard, but for now, it’s pretty awesome.

Writing on our wall

Writing on our wall

Do you have whiteboards or other interactive spaces in your library?

The Arts and Crafts Makerspace

The Arts and Crafts Makerspace

I covered Arts and Crafts in my Makerspace Wishlist series back in April.  Since then, I’ve had a lot more arts and crafts activities in my library, and I realized that I needed to revisit this and update it.  I’m covering some of my favorite craft activities here, as well as some general craft suggestions.  Check out my Makerspace Arts and Crafts Pinterest board to get some inspiration for your next crafty project with your students.


Perler Beads

Known as Hama beads in Japan, these are plastic beads that are laid out on pegboards, then melted together by ironing them through a sheet of wax paper.  I usually do the ironing, although sometimes I will have a responsible student do it for me. Check out my Perler beads Pinterest board for ideas and inspiration.

  • Perler Beads – get lots, with a variety of colors
  • Storage – I love these Plano Stowaway boxes for organizing our Perler beads.  I got mine at Walmart.
  • Pegboards – get a variety of sizes of shapes.  You can never have too many
  • Tweezers- Makes it easier to do detail work
  • Thread – there’s lots of great patterns for weaving bracelets with Perler beads.

Duct Tape

Duct tape is always a great craft supply to have out.  It’s good to have a large variety of prints and colors.  I like to have a mix of solids, “boy” designs, and “girl” designs.  I put that in quotes because I’ve seen boys make hot pink leopard wallets and girls make camouflage bows for their hair.  Also, make sure you have duct tape scissors.  Regular scissors get gummed up quickly, and I’m too paranoid to have exacto knives out.  Get some books out with sample project ideas too.

Origami/Paper Crafts

This is a classic, and it’s so easy to set up.  I get a nice assortment of origami paper, some markers and scissors, and a lot of origami pattern books out, then I let the students at it.  Don’t forget paper airplanes – designing and testing out paper airplanes is always a fun activity.  DIY bookmarks are another great, easy one to set up.  Be prepared for a lot of clean-up afterwards.

  • Variety of origami paper, including solids and designs
  • Variety of construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Various types of glue (mod podge, gluesticks, liquid glue)
  • Tape
  • Markers, crayons, colored pencils

Cardboard/ Recycled Crafts

One of my favorite Makerspace activities has been the Cardboard Challenge, inspired by Caine’s Arcade and the Imagination Foundation.  It’s easy to get a lot of these supplies donated too.

  • SKIL 2352-01 3.6-Volt Lithium-Ion Multi-Cutter – great, safe way to cut cardboard.  I love ours.
  • Lots of packing tape – bonus if you have a dispenser with a handle
  • Hot glue gun – requires supervision
  • Rubber bands
  • A variety of cardboard boxes
  • Shoe boxes
  • Paper tubes (paper towel rolls, toilet paper rolls, etc)
  • Bottlecaps
  • Plastic bottles
  • Styrofoam
  • Old magazines
  • Soda tabs
  • Materials to decorate with (markers, glitter, yarn, etc)

Fiber Arts

There’s so many different types of fiber arts out there.  The easiest ones for students to get into are weaving and felting.  More advanced crafts can include knitting, crocheting and sewing, but they may need more support.  Getting a lot of good books and providing links to good online tutorials is a great way to get kids started.




  • Variety of yarn
  • Knitting needles (I love circular needles, but some people do prefer straights)
  • Crochet hooks


  • Beginners sewing machines
  • Handsewing needles
  • Buttons
  • Fabric (felt is a great way to get started)
  • Fabric scissors
  • Thread
  • Other notions

General Crafting Supplies

Many of these items work great with things in all the other categories.  It’s best to get these in bulk from some place like Blick Art Supplies.  A lot of these are easy to get donated as well.

  • Mod Podge
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Glitter
  • Sequins
  • Rubber bands
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Markers, crayons, colored pencils
  • Paint, paintbrushes
  • Felt
  • Foam
  • Fabric scraps
  • Pom poms
  • Glue
  • Construction paper
  • Tape
  • Staples/Stapler
  • Cotton balls

Electronics Crafting

There’s lots of great ways to bring electronics into your crafting.

What are your favorite arts and crafts activities to host in your library?  Do you craft in your free time too?

Weekly reads: November 16, 2014


*Welcome to Weekly Reads.  As I read blogs, peruse Twitter, and save things to Diigo throughout the week, I come across a lot of great resources that I think others would benefit from.  This post is my place to bring together some of my favorite finds of the week and share them with you.  Enjoy!*

Note: I’ve got two DonorsChoose projects up right now:  one to create a Robot Petting Zoo in our Makerspace, and another to create a mini aquaponics garden in our library with our Environmental/Marine Science classes.  If we get these funded before November 25, I can get started with these projects before the winter break. Please consider donating and help our students have even more awesome experiences in our library.  Thank you!


Education/ Libraries

Technology/ Tools

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Robot Petting Zoo and Aquaponics

I can never gush enough about how much I love DonorsChoose.  They’re such an amazing resource for educators.  I would estimate that at least half of our Makerspace has been funded through DonorsChoose.  If you’ve never created a project with them, you owe it to your students to do it (check out my tips for posting a project here).

I’ve currently got two DonorsChoose projects up and I’d love to share them with you – not so much to get donations (although I’d love it if you’d help out) but to help you get ideas of the many possibilities that DonorsChoose offers.

First up, our Robot Petting Zoo:

We have LEGO Mindstorms in our Makerspace and my students enjoy them, but I wanted to bring a greater diversity of robots into our space.  Specifically, I wanted robots with a low threshhold, that students could quickly learn how to play with.  I also wanted them to have more advanced features for students to explore.  Thus, enter Sphero and Cubelets.

Sphero is a robotic ball controlled by a device like an iPad, iPod touch, or phone.  It’s got tons of apps and lots of possibilities for students to learn how to program.  Plus, these guys are seriously fun.  Cubelets is a modular robotics system that I got to try out at ISTE.  Each cube has a different function, and can be combined in an endless amount of ways.

The Robot Petting Zoo currently has $174 to go, and the SPARK match is good through Friday.

Jr Ponics - a kid friendly aquaponics kit

Jr Ponics – a kid friendly aquaponics kit

My other project focuses on Environmental Science.  We have a marine science class at our school, and I frequently collaborate with that teacher.  With this project, we plan to collaborate on a mini-unit about aquaponics and indoor air quality.  We’ll research how aquaponics works and how it can provide a sustainable food source.  Once we get the systems set up, we’ll take nitrate, temperature and other readings.  We’ll have two different kinds of fish (a beta in one, tetras in the other) and we’ll compare how the two systems work.

The other portion of this project involves bringing some nature into our library.  We’ll study how indoor plants can affect air quality, mood and other factors.  The students will then work in groups to decorate a recycled planter, which we’ll plant succulents in to grow throughout the library.

The students will be documenting both of these projects, and we’ll be displaying our findings throughout the library.  Plus, the library will finally have some pets :)

Our Aquaponics and Nature project has $184 to go with a match from Paul G. Allen, but that match is only good through November 30.  The SPARK match is good on that project until Saturday.


Weekly reads: November 9, 2014


*Welcome to Weekly Reads.  As I read blogs, peruse Twitter, and save things to Diigo throughout the week, I come across a lot of great resources that I think others would benefit from.  This post is my place to bring together some of my favorite finds of the week and share them with you.  Enjoy!*

Note: I’ve got two DonorsChoose projects up right now:  one to create a Robot Petting Zoo in our Makerspace, and another to create a mini aquaponics garden in our library with our Environmental/Marine Science classes.  The code SPARK is good for matches through the end of the week.  Please consider donating and help our students have even more awesome experiences in our library.  Thank you!


Education/ Libraries

Technology/ Tools

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Build of the Week: K’nex and littleBits Laser Cannon


K'nex and littleBits laser cannons

There’s something about teenage boys and an obsession with weapons and war-games.  My students had been building all sorts of crazy machine guns lately, so I decided to try to harness that interest by challenging them to create laser-cannons.  We combined several different littleBits with the guns made out of K’nex to create different types of lasers.

We used buttons and roller switches as triggers.

We used buttons and roller switches as triggers.

We found that both buttons and roller switches worked great for triggers. We used copious amounts of scotch tape to attach our bits to the K’nex.  We also used some tape to mute the buzzers so that they weren’t too loud for kids studying in the library.

Adding a buzzer for laser sounds.

Adding a buzzer for laser sounds.

To create the laser light, we used long LED bits.  There was also a lot of wire involved, and we used a fork to activate more than one bit at once.  Later, we added a pulse so that the light would flash when the button was pressed.

My students are now talking about setting up a laser tag game in the library.  Not sure how this’ll work, but we’ll see :)

Written Conversation Strategies and MakerEd

Written Conversation Strategies and MakerEd

I’ve been working lately on finding more ways to collaborate with my teachers on lessons.  While starting up a conversation with our marine science teacher, I learned that she was working on a unit about coral reefs with her students.  Working together, we came up with a plan to focus on coral reef restoration.  Inspired by the amazing Buffy Hamilton, I decided to use Written Conversation Strategies with them.  Buffy has written about this extensively on her blog, and she’s an amazing resource, and I borrowed a lot from how she introduced this strategy to her students.

zoom writing

Busy at work annotating the text

To utilize this strategy in my lesson, I started by using Gale Science in Context, which my district has a subscription to, to find four articles related to coral reef restoration.  I aimed for all the articles to be roughly the same length (a page and a half) and I focused on articles that offered specific examples of artificial reefs in coral reef restoration.  I printed out copies of the articles and taped them to butcher paper.  I then put one of these sheets at each of the four tables, along with bins of markers (I chose not to go with sharpies, because I prefer something I can clean up if it gets on the tables.)

Using Haiku Deck, I created a brief presentation to introduce the students to the concept of what we would be doing and what was expected of them.  It took a few minutes and a little prompting to get them started, but they quickly started discussing and annotating the text with one another.  It became clear that this would not be a silent activity, as the students were actively moving around and discussing their articles with one another.  They were adding questions, comments, reactions and doodles to respond to what they were reading.  I gave them about five minutes per article and then directed them to rotate to the next table.

While there certainly were a few off-topic doodles and discussions (somehow Spongebob came up in every class) for the most part the students were on-topic and on-task.  If I found that they were starting to lose focus, I would rotate them early, but for the most part, they loved this active learning activity.  Students were standing, sitting on tables, walking around, and making use of the Hokki stools.  I have a very kinesthetic group of students at my school, and this activity was perfect for them.  They were much more engaged than if they had each had to read the articles silently.

Writing around the text

Writing around the text

After the students had annotated all four articles, they got back into their original groups to discuss and summarize what they learned.  We then talked as a class for a few minutes summarizing our articles and what we learned.  I had them use our whiteboard tables to write down their summaries.

Now that we had spent all this time reading and learning about coral reef restoration, we applied what we learned with a hands-on MakerEd activity.  I showed the students some creative commons images of artificial coral reefs.  I then challenged them to create their own model of an artificial coral reef using LEGOs and K’nex. It was a really fun activity.  As I walked around, I asked students to explain their rational for their creations, and most of them had good answers.  Examples including creating little caves for fish and other creatures, making natural looking shapes to help undersea life feel at home, etc.

building corals

Overall, I was really pleased with how this all came together.  The students had a lot of fun, were engaged in what they were learning about, and came away with a curiosity to learn more about coral reefs.  I will definitely be using ideas like this in future lessons.

Have you ever used written conversations strategies or MakerEd activities in your lessons?  What was your experience?

Stewart Cardboard Challenge Wrap-up

Stewart Cardboard Challenge Wrap-up

For the month of October, our after-school STEAM Maker Club has been focusing on the Cardboard Challenge.  We started off by watching the short film on Caine’s Arcade together.  If you haven’t seen it, watch it right now:

My students were inspired by all the amazing games made by Caine, and immediately started working on ideas for their own games.  We brainstormed on paper first, then we brought out the cardboard and started proto-typing.  The first game to be created was dubbed “The Best Game Ever” – it involved rolling a K’nex piece down a ramp and trying to get it into a bin.

We invited students to come and try the game, and everyone loved it.  That led to another group of students creating a game they called “The Second Best Game Ever”, so as not to conflict with the original.  It was a basketball game made with a spoon and rubber band catapult.  The idea is to try to use the catapult to launch a LEGO piece into one of the baskets.

Another great creation was a giant crane game.  One of my students took  giant cardboard tube and rigged together a claw mechanism using K’nex and yarn.  When you drop the claw over a roll of duct tape, it would retract as you lifted and pick it up.

My students had a lot of fun with this activity.  It helped that I purchased this cutting tool on the recommendation of another cardboard Maker on Twitter – it made it easy and safe for my students to cut their cardboard, since the thought of giving them box cutters freaked me out a bit.  Towards the end, they started to get a bit restless though.  I think next time I’ll schedule a tighter deadline and create a proper arcade day for them to show off their creations.  Right now we’re planning an after-school game day fundraiser in the media center, which will include video games, computer games, maker activities and our cardboard arcade.  But I don’t have a date set yet, and I think that’s why the project waned towards the end.  Still, it was a great beginning of the year project for our STEAM club, and one that I’ll definitely do again.

Cardboard antics :)

Cardboard antics :)

 Have you ever done the Cardboard Challenge with your students?  What was your experience like?

Weekly reads: November 2, 2014


*Welcome to Weekly Reads.  As I read blogs, peruse Twitter, and save things to Diigo throughout the week, I come across a lot of great resources that I think others would benefit from.  This post is my place to bring together some of my favorite finds of the week and share them with you.  Enjoy!*


Education/ Libraries

Technology/ Tools

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.