Students as Teachers: Week 2 in the Makerbot 3D Classroom

The Makerbot 2X Replicator 3D printer has brought some exciting, vigorous learning into my grade 8 classroom. My room is full at lunchtime and after school with kids experimenting and curious teachers and students observing. On a couple of occasions, I’ve even had to kick a few students out after 5 p.m. I had no prior experience with these printers. While fascinated with the articles I’d read showing how they are used in meaningful ways, I had never seen one up close until ours arrived in my classroom. In a previous post, I wrote about how students dove in, setting it up. We’ve had the printer now for eight days. In this post I’ll share what the students and I have learned together. When the tech department teachers paid a visit to our room, these 13 and 14 yr. old. “geniuses” explained how the machine worked, its maintenance requirements, cost and time of production for each model, their newly acquired vocabulary and their next steps.

Makerbot has an excellent site complete with instructional videos and an expanding page offering uses in education. Last week, when we were struggling with the Makerware download, I submitted a support ticket. The Makerbot support team was responsive and within a few days, and the software fixed, we had the program loaded onto all laptops and netbooks.

In order for students to understand what a 3D printer could produce, we spent a class period touring thingiverse. This is a design community where students can discover what others have created, and because designs are licensed under  Creative Commons, anyone can use these. The students learned how to download and print a few items from thingiverse – guitar picks, hockey stick and puck. Students are very respectful and conscious of the cost associated with printing, and so they weighed and determined the cost of each item based on a filament cost of $58/kg. The time to print each item is determined not only by the size but by the resolution, so they decided to compare the quality and time of a detailed castle in high, medium and low resolution.

Medium Resolution

High Resolution

Comparing resolutions (Left t0 Right): Low, Medium, High

My next door teaching partner, Marc Westra, and I wanted students to understand that 3-D printers aren’t a fad, just used to manufacture toys. They offer benefits to society that most of us haven’t even imaged. As part of a reading activity, students explored Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and sites such as to discover a multitude of uses.

This week as more students chose to spend their lunch hour in my classroom, I suggested the kids play with two design software programs, Sketchup and Auto123D (I had no experience with either). They picked up Sketchup very quickly. One student designed an army tank, then the group worked together to determine how to export the file into Makerware and print (export, save as .OBJ file). Once in Makerware, the students decided they needed to add supports for the overhanging parts of the tank which are removed after printing. All of this was happening while I was learning how to use Auto123D from Riley, another gr. 8 student.

During the next class that followed lunch, while I was teaching Language, the printer softly sang out its robotic song of beeps and bells as it churned out “Joey the Tank”.

From design to creation

Yes, there were some mistakes (yeah!) which they’ll solve and reprint. Still, the students were pretty proud of themselves after creating and printing the first original 3D model at Madill.  Skills used: collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, communication and problem solving.

Rear view showing supports

Joey the Tank

In the following class, I had these students introduce Sketchup to 60 of their peers. They’ve written an extension by creating a model for the students to produce in the next lesson. For me,  the most important piece of this experience is recognizing who these “teachers” are. A few are those “C” students who fly under the radar in the regular classroom. Now, they have moved from learner to teacher.

Student teaching students

Some students prefer Auto123D as the design software. Using the app 123D Catch, they discovered how to turn photos into a 3D models of themselves. Their goal is to create their entire class in 3D.  Other designers/entrepreneurs in class want to design and sell (as a Gr. 8 fundraiser) FE Madill “stuff” – iphone cases with the student’s name embossed, guitar picks, and more.  Their list is growing and will lead to another branch of learning including marketing and economics.

Success comes in many forms and pathways. Providing opportunities for students to explore areas of their interests strengthens our connections with them.  While there may be no direct mention of computer design structure in the Gr. 8 curriculum, the critical thinking skills they are developing as they collaborate and share is enriching their self-directed learning. It’s fascinating to experience. I’m looking forward to seeing how students and other teachers in our school use this 3D technology.

The 3-D MakerBot Arrives at F.E. Madill

This morning there were 3 big boxes in the office with my name on them. The sides were labelled with the big M…as in Makerbot. I was nervous – I wasn’t sure I could set this system up. But by the end of the day, at my students’ insistence, and with my teaching partner’s support (Marc Westra), these kids had taken over, finding the YouTube video I’d told them about that guided the process. My Gr. 8’s unpacked and put together F.E. Madill’s MakerBot 3-D Replicator 2X Printer. Some of them I expected to be involved; others surprised me. These kids are fearless; I needed that. Can’t wait to see what our students build with this machine!

The boxes arrive!

The Old and the New. Hope they get along….
The Old and the New. Hope they get along…

Supporting our Students with “Talking Text”

Over the past few years, I’ve had some of my students use the Livescribe or Echo smartpens for various oral assessment pieces. These smartpens contain a camera at the tip of the pen which read the unique pattern of dots on the special dot paper which the user of the smartpen has written on. By creating a pencast, this pattern is replayed as it tracks your handwriting.

The dot paper is regular paper which can be reproduced using a colour laserjet printer. Students using a smartpen can write as much or little as they need with the pen. The built-in microphone allows the students to record audio, adding details to their answers that might have otherwise been lost due to their struggle to write. The audio recording of their voice is added to what they write, creating a pencast. This pencast is uploaded to the computer where the teacher can see and hear the student’s thinking.

This year in my classroom, there is an increased need for accommodations during assessment, specifically reading the test to the student. While all the students had initially been trained on programs which provided text-to-voice, the students weren’t using them, finding them “glitchy, took too many steps”. Without extra support in the classroom, it’s difficult to meet the students’ needs. For this reason, I was determined to learn how to add an audio recording of me reading the test which the student could easily follow and replay as much as they needed.

Here’s how:

1. Convert text to pdf: I write my test in Google Docs, then download it as a PDF (File, download as..). Save where you can easily find it.

2. Print the test onto the dot paper: Make sure your bottom margin is large enough (1 “) so your text doesn’t overlap the record/stop buttons on the bottom of the dot paper).

3. Record your reading of the text: Use this printed test to complete your audio recording using a smartpen. I draw a circle or star beside each question as I read the test so students know where I am. You could also click stop after each question was read, then record. Regardless, students can replay as much as needed before moving on.

4. Upload pencast to Livescribe: Connect the smartpen to the computer and the recording is uploaded. The only visuals that appears on the page are the circles that I drew (see below – no printed text).

5. Convert recording to a pencast pdf: right click on the page, choose computer, choose audio pdf. Save.

6. Add the text to the pencast: Open Adobe Acrobat Pro, then find and open the just saved pencast.

7. Add the text as a watermark: Click – Document, watermark, add.  Browse – find your text pdf on your desktop. Unclick “scale to relative target page”, OK.

8. Email the file(s) to your students. They open it with Adobe Reader (version 10 or higher should be loaded on their computer (free)).

Link to the actual pencast. Download, then open in Adobe ReaderCellular Transport Quiz pg 1 final pencast pdf (1)

So what did the students think?

photo (14)

“It was easier.”  “I could just click the download, and it started.” And the surprise comment (and my favourite)..

 “I liked hearing my teacher reading to me.”  🙂

The Idea Hive 2013/14 Begins

Today the tag line that follows my blog title “Teaching with technology in a Gr. 7/8 classroom means sometimes you fly by the seat of your pants.” was relived-in a positive light. The Idea Hive, heading into another year, was set for our first Skype call at 10:55 EST.  While my teaching partner, Clarence Fisher, in Snow Lake, Manitoba, has very patiently tolerated the many snow days, and therefore class cancellations, we’ve put him and his students through over the past few years, I’m sure he (well, no one actually) expected today’s potential cancellation due to fog and bus delays, that almost offset our first classroom connection.

Actually, it was perfect! It gave me time to train two of my students, Jake and Riley, to run and broadcast the event live from our internet radio station, 105theHive, which I’d thought of while setting up this morning (there’s that “flying by the seat of your pants” mantra). They were awesome!

And by the time the students arrived and were directed into the largest classroom that could hold all 80 +, we were right on time.

With a grade 8 student body this large, none of this happens without the support of my fellow gr. 8 teachers. Mlle. Riley, the French teacher, offered her large classroom as the Skype site. Mr. Westra, my Language teaching partner, is supportive of jumping our language program into whatever unfolds during this adventure. And Ms. Martin, the math teacher, was willing to give up teaching time, in an unusually chaotic day, so all students could participate. As we re-introduce the Wingham end of the Idea Hive with gr. 8’s on a rotary schedule, we are not only bigger in student number, but in supportive teaching staff as well. I’m excited for this new transition.

Jump over to the Idea Hive to view more pics and listen to the broadcast recorded live today.

New Connections in the Idea Hive 2013/14

Book Club Revisited with HT Recorder

I haven’t done Book Clubs (also called Literature Circles) with my intermediate students for a couple of years now for a variety of reasons (size of class, off-task chatting) but I decided to try them again, with a few changes. Glad I did.

Getting back into Book Clubs was a bit of a daunting task. I have several (many!) boys in my grade 8 class this year who boast about their hatred for reading and writing. Luckily I have a few good books up my sleeve for these tough nuts!

Similar to previous years, I used smaller pieces of work to model and practice making connections, determining emerging theme, inferring and asking evaluative questions. And similar to those boys that say they hate books, their written answers looked like carcasses after the feast. A few bones, nothing meaty.

It’s during the book club discussions where the rich conversations and evidence of understanding usually pour out of many students. I saw the same phenomenon recently, during an observation of a 12U english class where students had to write, then discuss, an issue. The girls wrote and wrote, while most of the guys sat back. When it came time to discuss the work, again, many of the boys said little until they were asked by the girls in the group to contribute and clarify their answers. Then their opinions poured out. With that in mind, I decided this year to take a colleague’s advice and sit in on each meeting rather than having all 6 or 7 going at once while I circulated. I didn’t want to miss any of these conversations which I would eventually be using as a reading assessment piece.

Books were chosen by the students, and groups were formed based on those choices. I set up a small table and chairs at the back of my classroom (yes, it’s crowded). During the week 1 meetings, I was part of the discussion, prompting them to share their written, point-form answers from the Book Club prompts and asking clarifying questions. Their voices low and shy, some of them clearly did not want their buddies overhearing their responses while the rest of the class worked quietly on an independent assignment. And yes, that part took time to establish as well. But by week 2, after each student had been through one cycle of book club meetings, they realized the importance of keeping the room quiet so they could hear each other.

As we moved through weeks 2 and 3, I began to pull back from the conversation as students gained confidence in their discussion skills.  On the 4th and final week, I didn’t sit in on the meeting, but I had them record the discussion using the ipad app, HT Recorder ($6.99). I had already recorded their conversations the week previously so they wouldn’t be distracted by it. HT Recorder picks up even the quietest voice, and skips sections where no one is talking, so you’re not wasting time while listening to the recording later. It’s easy to make clips and share full or partial recordings. Reading a student’s bare-bones written response while listening to their recorded conversation makes assessment much more satisfying as students prompt and question each other for richer, more detailed answers. The fact that I’m not sitting with them, obviously marking them, I think allows for a more fluid and natural, on-task conversation.

HD Recorder

But while my kids sit in groups on a daily basis, it was clear during this book club, they need more work on asking clarifying questions and having the confidence to challenge each other’s answers.  These skills are coming, and we’ll keep working on this in the next round.

While looking for a way of changing up the next book club, I recently read  Mardie’s Muse Literature Circle prompts which I’m going to adapt for my students. Mardie generously describes the process, including examples and prompts her grade 7 students use.

Book Club Novels Used
Skate by Michael Harmon (great for reluctant readers)
A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt
Lush by Natasha Friend
Four Steps to Death by John Wilson
Wounded by Eric Walters
Summer Ball by Mike Lupica
Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

Favourite Holiday Memories on #105theHive

As part of an oral and written language arts assignment, the grade 8B Mustangs made their premiere on #105theHive. While they were nervous, they all presented their favourite holiday memory, and they soon realized sharing over the airwaves isn’t that bad. Stay tuned for more shows from the 8B Mustangs at FE Madill.

You can listen to the students in the following order by clicking the link below. Order of presenters:

Bianca, Kendall, Craig, Niah, Logan, Brittany, Jacob C, Savannah, William, Melissa, Ryan, Nicole, Preston, Guin, Brayden, Nicole, Karissa, Jacob P, Shelby H., Amy, Dylan, Shelby A. and Emily .

Pop Art Shoes

One of my favourite go-to blogs for grade 8 art lesson ideas is Mrs. Art Teacher! Recently I came across an art teaching community, The Smart Teacher, and found an activity I knew my students would love where they Create their own dream shoes at Converse, Nike, Vans or Adidas sites. I combined the later lesson with the Pop Art Shoe lesson as listed below.


-students created their own dream shoe online (45 min.)
-drew the enlarged version using contour lines, colour with tool of choice (90 min.)
-created a background using lines and patterns as described in the Pop Art Shoe lesson
painted their background using tints and shades (1 ½ – 2 hrs.)






















I am not an “artist”, but in spite of my ability, I think my students did a great job.