Monday, 21 November 2016

Doing something beyond ourselves

The last time I made an electronics project was in grade 9.  It was a light tree.  A large metal box would hook up to a stereo receiver and pick up the analogue audio signals.  The box would translate the signals into different frequencies which would light up one of the three different coloured lights hidden underneath light globes.  It's gone now, but I kept it around for decades.

There has been something stuck in my mind for some time: meaningful making in Connections-based Learning.

It is so natural.  When provoked by a connection, the natural question to ask our students is:

Now that we know what we know, and have seen what we have seen, and have met whom we have met, what are are we going to do about it?

But also:

What are we going to MAKE about it?

I found the perfect connection to develop my chops in meaningful making several months ago.

I met John Howe in Denver Colorado at ISTE 2016.  He is a pilot, a Smart Exemplary Educator, and a big proponent in STEM education as a STEM institute director. He was presenting in one of the digital playgrounds in front of a bunch of engaged educators.  During his presentation, he shared this video on Engineering Brightness.

I was floored.  This was it.  If ever there was a meaningful making endeavor, building lights to combat light poverty was it.  I stuck around after and asked John about this Engineering Brightness company.  He was clear to say that Engineering Brightness was "more of an association".  He shared about this association and the grass roots nature of the association between the handful of classes involved drew me in even more.

Addressing light poverty. Printed circuit boards. 3D printing. Soldering.

All this was well beyond my capabilities.  You know my experience with electronics: nothing since grade 9.  Add to that I had no supplies, no Makerspace, no 3D printing experience.  The only thing I could do was what I have been teaching my students all this time: make connections.

Really, to do anything amazing, you have to make connections.

I immediately made a connection with a fellow Canadian who had some experience in Engineering Brightness.
Ian Fogarty is an award winning high school teacher, a past NASA researcher and currently co-director for the SHAD network (to name only a small part of his impressive portfolio).  He lives on the other side of the country but he was quick to try to help me out.  We chatted over Skype and he shared his story and passion.  A few weeks later, I was surprised by a package he sent to me: a light prototype.

Meanwhile, I began a connection of another kind.  I sought funding for materials through My Class Needs and Fuel Your School.  Here is my "fund me" page.

At this point, the funding level is low.  In fact, I am not sure if I will get any funds in this way.  But should a perceived lack of funds stop the process?  Not without pressing deeper into the connections.  I added connections from teachers at my school.  Abraham and Ollie, two of our Industrial Design teachers, were quick to come on board.

Most recently I made a connection Eliadio Jimenez Made and his team in the Dominican Republic.  It began as this simple tweet.

I now have a Skype chat set up with Eladio, Dennis (also in the picture), and some of their students.  They will share some of the conditions of the communities surrounding them with my students and give me the chance to ask: so what are we going to do about it.

The idea here is that I have no idea where this is going to go.  And the much bigger idea is: that is okay.  If we are wanting to ask our students to step out of their comfort zones, share their work in portfolios, make meaningful connections, and do meaningful things, we must be willing to do this as educators ourselves.  Blog posts shouldn't only contain the successful, but the not-yet-successful, and the I-hope-this-works, as well.

I am excited to see where this goes and am enjoying the journey and relationships built on the way.

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