Lessons They Won’t Forget...

Emerging technologies like 3D printers, robotics, circuitry kits (and Makey Makeys) are fast becoming essential learning resources in every modern classroom. Helping busy teachers and trainees keep pace is no mean feat -- but that’s exactly what the SELF* Design Studio team at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro is dedicated to.
*Student Educator Learning Factory

‘Making learning fun’ is an old adage that either induces a collective groan, or conjures images of Big Bird and co. merrily exploiting the alphabet and numbers 1 thru 10 on uncharacteristically chipper New York City street corners.

But Matt Fisher is a man on a quest to make learning an enjoyable experience; for both teachers and students. Quests are something of a speciality at the SELF Design Studio -- a teacher education lab focused on STEAM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) -- where Matt works as assistant director. In fact they play a central role in the creative learning curve...

The studio is part of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s (UNCG) School of Education. It’s a dedicated makerspace designed to give pre-service teachers access to a variety of emerging technologies and tools -- like Arduinos, 3D printers, littleBits, and Makey Makeys -- providing them with opportunities to experiment with different resources.

“We call it play-testing,” says Matt. “Our aim is to help pre-service teachers understand how to use these amazing new tools -- to boost their confidence and enrich their classroom activities.”

The studio officially opened in Fall 2015 (thanks to a Teacher Quality Partnership grant from the US Department of Education), as both a campus space, teacher’s tool library, and as a way of fostering closer collaboration between the university and local schools.

“In our partner schools we have a lot of very experienced teachers, who often aren’t all that comfortable with technology” Matt explains. “Then we have maker tech-savvy pre-service teachers from UNCG who are looking for local internships. The relationship is mutually beneficial.”

The SELF team also holds regular maker workshops and professional development sessions for local teachers in their schools. But as Matt’s all too aware, a teacher’s time is stretched at the best of times.

“If a teacher is going to integrate technology, it has be meaningful, worthy of their time investment, and easy to use. If they they run into problems right away, you can bet they they’ll give up on it. That’s why we really like the Makey Makey; it’s one of the easiest tools we have. Teachers don’t have to install any drivers or download anything. USB in… Boom, you’re ready to roll.”

Every time a new group visits the studio, Matt and the team start their sessions by showing the Makey Makey intro video, before making ‘Human Bongos’. UNCG’s pre-service teachers can take part in Maker Quests; self-guided workshops in 3D modeling and printing, circuitry, basic tinkering, movie production and editing, (and more).

“We emphasize that the quests are an opportunity to play and experiment,” says Matt. “The connection to the curriculum or subject matter can come after the students understand how the tool works and what it’s limitations are.”

Makey Makey-specific projects include a Holocaust Survival Voice poster where the students linked real audio from holocaust survivors to a poster controlled with a Makey Makey; an ‘About Me’ project for a social studies method class; a Moon Phases Scratch game; a giant circuit board* made by wrapping huge objects in aluminum foil; and a Journey Through the Human Heart -- a project which was shown at a recent teachers’ conference.

“People were really were interested in seeing what they can feasibly create with students that would tie into curriculum; especially in the public school setting where lessons need to be taught in 45-60 minutes,” Matt explains.

Matt and the team also work with a lot of methods classes across the university’s School of Education; such as Writing, English, ESL, Science, Social Studies, Math, Specialized Education Services, and Professions in Deafness courses.

Matt has big plans for the studio; he aims to offer classes to any student across UNCG who is interested in integrating new technologies into their learning.

“The aim here at the SELF studio is to give our students a chance to learn in a way that really speaks to them,” he says. “I had a student say to me recently: ‘This place reminds me of my middle school because I was just so happy there.’ We aim to give students and teachers a similar experience: a chance to experience and create something meaningful with their own hands.”

“When I was in middle school, we had an amazing program in which I made a bench in wood shop, a tool box in metal shop, a skateboard pillow in sewing, and coded my first program in BASIC programming language in computer class. I like to think the SELF studio -- or any makerspace -- is a modern version of that environment.”

Best of luck Matt and co! For a closer look at the SELF Design studio, follow them on Facebook and Twitter. And be sure to check out their other great Makey Makey projects..

Here we are at #uncgmakers summer camps building crazy teamwork games. This is made with Scratch programmimg and a MaKey MaKey.

Posted by UNCG SELF Design Studio on Tuesday, June 30, 2015