Category Archives: Learning design & libraries

D.I.Y. Harry Potter accessory on a budget: make your own Monster Book of Monsters (with optional interactivity)

I love when I get a chance to mix books with coding. Particularly using free software like Scratch or low-cost technology like Makey Makey. I would love to share more of this and it’s a passion that I fit into my spare time around work and volunteering. I try to use these little maker projects in the Code Club I volunteer in so that kids can enjoy hacking them too!

This post explains how I made a DIY version of the The Monster Book of Monsters by Edwardus Lima on a budget. This furry textbook first features in J K Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Affordable Hogwarts school study supplies

As we know, at the start of the year, students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry stock up on school supplies from shops in Diagon Alley. I’m willing to speculate that the required magical textbooks costs as much as Muggle textbooks! This also doesn’t include working your way through Hermione Granger’s recommended reading list.

What is a young budget-concious student wizard to do?

Well, why not save your precious wizarding galleons to spend on sweets at Honeydukes or tankards of Butterbeer in The Three Broomsticks?

Save money on textbooks by transforming any old hardcover book into a do-it-yourself version of the essential textbook for Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures third year class, The Monster Book of Monsters.

I converted an 1800’s (already damaged) Latin book into my very own monstrosity. I used some air drying clay and a $2 blanket I bought from a charity shop.

My creation wasn’t perfect. My teeth sculpting skills are a bit naff. I took this book out to Harry Potter events, mostly embarrassed by it. To my amazement, lots of people wanted to pat, stroke and cuddle it. Many loved that it was a real book. Perhaps I do have a career in magi-orthodontics ahead!

But, something was missing. In the Harry Potter stories and films, The Monster Book of Monsters is an untamed beast of a book. It constantly attacks anyone who comes near. I soon began to imagine how wonderful it would be if my book could made a sound in response to Muggle touch.

An effective guardian for your beloved Harry Potter editions, but inanimate!

A book that bites the hand that reads it.

“Hasn’ — hasn’ anyone bin able ter open their books?” said Hagrid, looking crestfallen.
The class all shook their heads.
“Yeh’ve got ter stroke ‘em,” said Hagrid, as though this was the most obvious thing in the world. “Look —”
He took Hermione’s copy and ripped off the Spellotape that bound it. The book tried to bite, but Hagrid ran a giant forefinger down its spine, and the book shivered, and then fell open and lay quiet in his hand.
“Oh, how silly we’ve all been!” Malfoy sneered. “We should have stroked them! Why didn’t we guess!”
“I — I thought they were funny,” Hagrid said uncertainly to Hermione.
“Oh, tremendously funny!” said Malfoy. “Really witty, giving us books that try and rip our hands off!

Chapter 14 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Hooking the book up to Makey Makey and Scratch so that anyone could make their own monsterous sound effects play when the book was stroked, was the next evolution for this old book.

Adding a hidden pressure switch inside, attached to Makey Makey and a laptop or computer running Scratch will play sounds when anyone gently pats your Monster Book of Monsters.

Background about the project

Read more about the background of the project here in my AACE Review article: Of Monsters and Tech: Making an interactive book with Scratch and Makey Makey.

Video of the interactive Monster Book of Monsters

This video shares the lovely monster sounds that the kids, teachers and librarians created, when I took my Monster Book of Monsters into the Code Clubs I volunteer in. (turn sound on)

Makey Makey Labz Guide

To see the project broken down into steps, see the Makey Makey Labz guide I put together here: Interactive Monster Book: Makey Makey and Scratch.

There are so many ways that this project could be extended and bettered!

Let your imagination go wild! Oh, and a final word of warning…

The Monster Book of Monsters can behave very unpredictably….

The Wild Librarian
A distressing snapshot of The Wild Librarian
being nibbled by her wild creation.

Mycological mythologies – or a rite-of-passage

“Only you know where you’ll be when it happens. Drifting through a Wednesday counting emails in the office, bent over kale at the allotment, gearing up for the school-run dash through the rain.”

Martin Shaw, Scatterlings: Getting Claimed in the Age of Amnesia

I return a lot to wilderness rite-of-passage guide and mythologist, Doctor Martin Shaw’s writings.

In this post, I’m describing the first time I felt what it was like to have the closest sense of what Shaw writes about when he describes a journey from dreaming to getting dreamt, which can happen as part of a wilderness vigil. When you know you will never have such a vigil, can your own stories conjur something close? Do yours?


It’s twilight and we grasp candles. I’m around nine years old,  and I am wearing my ceremonial brown clothing for the last time. It is adorned with cloth badges. Each badge represents a skill I have mastered. The paddock behind the beige brick suburban hall is unremarkable. Half dead weedy grass crunches underfoot. A depressed looking singular tree stands sentinel.

In the corner sits a small crafted monument of a fly agaric mushroom. It has been painted roughly, and seems quite out of place. But it is twilight, and so, for a moment we look beyond.

The women and other girls my own age sing, while some of us, who are now the right age, are each lifted by our arms, by our leaders. We each for a brief moment soar over the mushroom,  in the twilight.  My heart flutters in the sensation as my feet leave the ground, held gently by the women. In that lightning moment of voices and flying,  we are not children in a street where our neighbours grow drugs and fight each other in the street. We are lifted. Over.

Our rite of passage complete, the next time we meet, we will bear “robes” of blue. I am different.

This is the first time I remember understanding how enchantment and a bigger belief in yourself can be conjured by a simple ceremony. A rite-of-passage that feels connected to a myth, even though the myth and the symbol does not properly belong to the land here.

I was just a Brownie, graduating into being a Girl Guide, but in the twilight, flickering like candlelight, for a moment,  I was a little more.

The unobservable universe.

“The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.” Carl Sagan

There’s a concept in astronomy that I love. It’s the idea of the edge of the observable universe. I love it because our very attempt at defining the limitations of space, create room to imagine the infinite.

The fascinating unknown of the unobservable universe.

It might even be the most poetic thought thinkable about our universe. It reminds us of our imaginations.

What is there beyond what we can see and measure from our perspective?

Even with technology capable of seeing into deep space, and complex mathematics able to theorise, model, predict and replicate. It’s probable that there is far more beyond our edge,  that we can’t see.

As a learning designer, it feels like my job is to advocate always, for this unobservable universe in education.

Learning, and the dark art of measuring it, analysing it, predicting it, evaluating it and replicating it is what we do within the boundaries.

For me, to be able to reach outside of those false edges that we create around learning, like formal education,  it always has to start with big unanswerable questions.

Book Review: Coding as a Playground: Programming and Computational Thinking in the Early Childhood Classroom by Marina Umaschi Bers.

Through my explorations of Makerspaces, I keep returning to wonder about why we create separate, distinct spaces aside from others “for making”. In a similar way, we also create designated play spaces, like playgrounds “to play”.

These boundaries of space, led me to reading Coding as a Playground: Programming and Computational Thinking in the Early Childhood Classroom by Marina Umaschi Bers.

Book Review: Coding as a Playground by Marian Umaschi Bers

 

 

Mindstorm on a hillside: learning to stay in play

I have just finished reading Coding as a Playground: Programming and Computational Thinking in the Early Childhood Classroom by Marina Umaschi Bers, which has led me into re-reading Mindstorms by Seymour Papert.

You can read the full text of Papert’s Mindstorms here on MIT’s website. I have been a little surprised by not hearing much about Papert and constructionism in the thirteen years I’ve worked in higher education. For some ideas about how Papert came to be a bit under-the-radar in higher education,  see this paper about Seymour Papert’s Legacy.

To those I’ve asked recently, Mindstorms is perceived as being primarly about  technology and early education. It’s not a text to go to naturally for insight into learning in higher education, unless perhaps, you are in ed-tech. It has such an ageless relevance about how we learn.

I first read Mindstorms about ten years ago. I also must confess to being a child of the LOGO language. I have vivid memories of the first time I sat in front of computer in primary school and used LOGO. When I read Mindstorms it was all about computers. I now find myself reading Mindstroms very differently.  This is the first jolt:

“Thus this book is really about how a culture, a way of thinking, an idea comes to inhabit a young mind…My interest is in universal issues of how people think and how they learn to think.” (Papert, p10)

Playing ‘on’ playgrounds

I find myself thinking about a playground on a mountainside in Switzerland where I had an extraordinary learning experience, given to me by a passer-by. I think about this often and have wanted to write about this playground since we were there in 2015. Now feels like the right time.

It was a playground like no other. An adventure by cable car to get there. Equipment surprisingly plonked perfectly on the hillside. Epic views of snow-capped Alps in summer. A path out of it which led into a beautiful hillside wildflower walk.

playground

Sssh. At home, I know of a rare park with extra swings high enough for adults to have a swing. If the park is quiet and we have it to ourselves, I’ll gleefully hop onto a swing and swing into the blue sky. If another grown up turns up, I’ll self-consciously slow so down so that I’m sort of really just sitting on the swing. I feel, somehow, embarrassed to be seen….playing.

At this epic playground of playgrounds in Switzerland, I of course I got on the swings alongside our children.  My husband did too. Swinging through the warm summer air in the snow-capped mountains, this was truly the stuff of my imagination. The park of my childhood consisted of some swings in a shade-less hot prickly-weed paddock behind suburban houses. If you swung high enough and jumped off,  you could catch a glimpse of  foot-hills in the distance.  Something about the glimpse of those childhood hills made me feel like there was the potential of adventure to distant lands in the future. Here in this impossible land of hot sun and snow,  was my imagined landscape.

wildflowers

Suddenly, a woman, dressed in bright colours,  appeared from the wildflower path.  She just seemed to emerge from the hills as if she was a flower that had grown from them. I was merrily swinging, and characteristically slowed down self-consciously to a stop. She walked over to me and said “Hello, hello, keep swinging, keep playing, it is beautiful to see this!“. She then told me that she missed seeing adults play and being able to play herself. She explained that where she grew up (somewhere in Germany) it was acceptable for adults to play on playgrounds, but where she lived now (somewhere in France) it was not acceptable, and she had often been laughed at and mocked. She said it was beautiful to see adults playing. She then waved, said goodbye and continued on her walk, disappearing along the path down the mountain.

I think so often of this message from a stranger.  Three years on, I now see the very beginnings of my 10 year old standing aside a little,   as her younger brother plays if there are others present. At home, just the two of them, they are different.  The self-consciousness about being seen to play is creeping in.

Questions I can’t answer

Why, at some point, do we feel embarrassed to be seen to play?

Is this a global phenomena? Are some cultures really more playful than others in adulthood?

As you are reading this, in your country, what would it feel like if you were seen on a swing?

And then, I think about play-based approaches to learning that I am seeing more of through working with younger learners. When I look side-by-side at learning in primary years education and the differences between how we support children into learning, and our approach to adult education, I feel a sense of forgetfulness in higher education. Like something is lost, a pastel-wash of colours where the colours should be bright.

Must we grow out of play?

Why do we so easily give up play in formal education? Is this inevitable, or are we teaching this? Is this cultural or academic?

 Why is it acceptable that final years of high school, and higher education is acceptable as a grown-up “stressful” experience?

Why is exam and assessment pressure so normalised? Why do students who don’t have exams in their course become apologetic, and express that they  “feel guilty?” amongst their peers for not having a stressful assessment period?

What contribution does our quest for seriousness and rigor in higher education have on the brain chemistry of our teenage and adult students?

Why have we made the absence of play for adults, an acceptable culture and one that we, perhaps without realising, perpetuate?

The players in higher education

Some grown-ups are still playing.

Cambridge University is playing: Meet the world’s first professor of play.

JISC too: Learning to play, playing to learn: the rise of playful learning in higher education

Here’s some tips from The Creativity Post: Play Matters: Six Play-Full Practices For Higher Education

I’m excited to see Makerspaces in academic libraries, like at Curtin University Library Maker Space. (lucky things!)

How to play: now you try!

playground2

The challenge of play in higher education, seems to be that to have a place to play, we first feel we need to rebuild the playgrounds. Once we have the playgrounds, will our educational culture allow us to play?

If you are an educator, my challenge for you is simple. Next time you see a swing in a playground, test your boundaries of seriousness.

Get on a swing. Swing on it. How does it feel? Is it complicated to express?

Are there people observing? What element does that add to your experience?

It’s just a hunch, but I think the complex swirling galaxies of mixed reaction that at you feel in these moments, is how learning should probably feel.

My hope is that we can make a culture of play in higher education.

“What we bloodlessy call ‘place’ is to young children a wild compound of dream, spell and substance: place is somewhere they are always ‘in’, never ‘on’.”

Robert MacFarlane – Landmarks

alps

 

The invisible thread: librarians and learning designers

Dark matter.

Unseen in-between
Luminous light of stars
Shy energy
Binds the cosmos
In clusters.


As a teacher, a parent, or a student – do you know if your school has a Teacher Librarian?

If you don’t, ask. It matters. Here’s why:

Podcast: Why we need qualified teacher librarians for the digital future (Kinderling Retrieved 16 Oct 2017)

A teacher librarian, Holly Godfree of the School Library Coalition was interviewed for this podcast.  She describes the role of teacher librarians in supporting research skills (including digital skills) and encouraging reading for pleasure.

Online does not mean more accessible

What stood out for me in Holly’s answers was that she mentioned the damage caused by the myth of “everything is now online”.  This one is potent, in that it can lead to a perception that school libraries and physical resources have a limited future use.

Holly cited some of the problems with the assumptions of this myth – online resources are often not free, not trustworthy and often adult focussed. This bears a strong relation to similar assumptions in higher education that online courses make learning more accessible by the virtue of simply being online. Myths like 24/7 learning is better for you because you can schedule it when you need to.

In reality, whether online learning works for any individual is because of an invsible immeasurable background energy. That background energy involves a lot of translation of materials throughout the design, creativity and then supporting the skills needed to use those online materials for learning and teaching.  Even for the student studying online, (who we tend to label  online students) there is even a lot of invisible energy in offline learning that we tend to ignore.  You can’t see this energy, or measure it.

To me, it makes sense to think of all these unmeasurables as the dark matter of learning.

It binds everything together, but it’s easy to overlook.

The invisibles

As a learning designer, I can really relate to the explanation Holly gave  about one of the challenges of being a teacher librarian is having work that is “invisible”. She explains that she may give direct contribution to shaping an assignment activity, helping teachers to support learners with resources, and the behind-the-scenes nature of the work makes it hard to measure. This contributes to the difficulty in measuring the real impact of teacher librarians. This in turn, contributes to a pattern of moving away from these roles with schools. They vaporise.

I feel a strong common bond here as a learning designer (and qualified librarian).  As a learning designer, you may have an in-depth working relationship with academic staff and contribute greatly to the design of learning activities, sequence of tasks and tools and technologies. Even as a technologist, you may also influence pedagogy (controversial, huh?). However,  it is very difficult to attribute that or evidence your real impact.  Sometimes it is even impossible to know for yourself, your own impact as a learning designer.

I feel a common bond with librarians. We are part of the same hidden energy in supporting learning.

Groups like the School Library Coalition and Australian School Library Association are helping to highlight the important impact of teacher librarians. This made me wonder about whether in my own field, there is a part to play to increase the visibility of learning designers?

How do learning designers make our work visible? How do we notice and care for our influence? How do we prove ourselves, when it is asked of us?

How can we explore the common bond between librarians and learning designers in our work towards supporting teachers and learners in a digital future?

 

 

Learning: the unobservable universe

The concept of the observable universe is a concept in astrophysics encircling all of the matter that we can “see” in space from Earth. It’s not all there is to see, but it’s what has travelled to us in the time we’ve been looking and measuring. It’s bigger than the visible universe, because it includes being able to measure the very footprints and traces left by whatever the big bang was. It’s full of trillions of galaxies.

The observable universe is a visualisation of the limitations of our own technology. We learn a lot from those limitations. The observable universe is vast and fascinating and as rich as our own data can afford us.

However, there’s something that for me is even more fascinating to think about.

Beyond the cosmic horizon, the vast unknowable – the unobservable universe. There is information that will just never reach us.

The more I delve into astrophysics, the more I realise that so many of the concepts relate to learning.

The way our earth-bound thinking and theories tries so desperately to capture, evaluate and measure learning. To bind it to the measurable.

Learning, when thought about as an unobservable universe, has no lens from which to gaze through. It is only recognising that our view is bounded, and by attempting to ensure that from time to time we call our limitations into our actions and think and play unbounded.

How do we unlearn?

“…our understanding of the actual universe is bounded by the edge of the observable universe. We cannot know for sure what lies beyond the enclave our instruments can detect.”

Paul Halpern  The Nature of Reality

 

What is best practice in learning and teaching?

Trying to capture best practice feels like observing the night sky.

The light you see with your own eyes, is not the origin, but the aftermath.

It’s observing a past situation that can never exist or be repeated because the conditions no longer exist.

 

The mythmaker of academia

I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
W. B. Yeats  

I originally wrote some of this post some time ago, but I’ve come back to it because I read Jesse Stommel’s beautiful post –   Why I Don’t Grade.  Jesse’s heartfelt expression of the “emotional character of learning” and why feedback is more valuable than grades is one of those pieces of writing that makes me still feel at home in higher education, even though I don’t quite fit.

My humble story is an attempt to tell you about the emotional power of academic feedback and the impact of grades.  It’s about the boundaries of feedback too. This is likely the most self-indulgent writing I’ve ever done, but I had to write it. Maybe just for me, but perhaps also for anyone, who thinks just aren’t made for it.

I am speaking about the power of words that teachers say and write. These conversations with students, our children and young adults.

They form myths of the self, within.

The tension and the power of feedback and grades.

 

Being first

I was not born into an academic life and it’s fair to say that I almost missed it. When I finished high school, despite high academic grades, I didn’t know what to do. I enrolled in a vocational course at a different high school. After the first term, a teacher in a topic I was doing  did something unexpected.  She told me that whilst she was happy to have me on the course, and I was the best student that she’d had (ie from a grades perspective)  she had a question…

She asked me why I was not “going to University”?

No one had every asked me why not.

“This” she said, holding up a paper that had won me the campus writing competition, “The way you write! Why are you not pursuing writing at university?”

I tried to explain the feeling I had about not fitting in to university. I wasn’t good with group work and large groups of people. I wasn’t even able to attend the assembly to claim my writing prize. She replied with something I could not refute.

She asked, “Have you ever been?”

She had a point. I had never been to a University. My parents had never been. No one I knew well had been. Everything I knew about university in Australia,  I am embarrassed now to admit, was based on 1980s American college films. Why on earth would I run to a university, when my perceptions were of a loudly social place, where I thought social interest groups were compulsory, lectures filled with hundreds and campus life was geared for the extroverted. Where you had to dynamically verbally debate your thoughts at any moment?  Why would I run to that fearsome environment when school was an effort of myth-making enough?

But I did, because she told me I could do it.  In effect, this incredible teacher encouraged her highest grading student to ditch her course half-way through.

I went to university. I went because that single teacher told me that I could belong, just as I was. I got through university, well more than that, excelled. In the beginning there were panic attacks. The first and only of my life. Travelling on buses for hours to get onto campus, I would sometimes walk up to a tutorial room, think about the group work ahead and turn around and catch the next bus home.

But I presented. Again and again and again.

The mythic cloak

I soon began to realise, that in school, I had made a mythic cloak for myself from the threads that others in authority had sewn in. Very comfortable indeed. Swishy. Yet, the cloak began to shred.

The patchwork was sewn together like this.

Through out school teachers told me I could write beyond my years.  Their comments, words, written in my reports are things I hold dear. There are exclamation marks and beautiful words.  I would have flashes of blushing confidence and pride.

At the same time,  they would force me up in front of groups to share my writing. They would make an example of me. Without warning,  they would read my poetry to the class. They would then say to the class “See what’s inside”. It was mortifying.

Writing for me is always a raw thing, even if it was something I had submitted as an assignment.  I mostly assumed it was a dialogue that I thought would be read and assessed by one. But often, my writing was shared and paraded. I began to consciously  tone down my writing in classes where I anticipated it would be shared. I would consciously write below my capability.

I received high grades, certificates for academic excellence and awards for writing. The feedback and grades of my writing is a wonder to read. I am thankful for the generosity of those comments.

On paper, I was a successful student, but it was the what else that was written into reports, that shrank me.  I still remember.

I still have them. Years of comment. Of penalty. The same pattern.

It goes like this. Something like “writing incredible”, “writing inspired” ,  “beyond years” and some high number and letter grades. Followed by, “what a pity” “let down by” and  “Too shy and timid”,  “Must speak up more”, “Needs to participate more”, “lack of class participation have held her grades down.”

Penalised, for quiet.

Meanwhile, my writing grew so bold and so brave and so activist. My writing WAS my loud me, and yet still, I was told that I needed to “speak up more”.  Yes, I seriously struggled in front of groups. Yes, I did things to try to ‘fix’ myself. I took drama and dance. I wasn’t graded on those brave choices. Or that determination to pretend to be someone I wasn’t.  I wasn’t graded for growing.  Those bold choices did ot translate these into tickable numerical points.

Ungrading

When I think about what haunts me truly, it’s not just the words. It’s the numerical penalty. I was penalised in grades for being introverted. For who I am, for distracting no-one in my own quest for learning. For not causing a ruckus.

It has taken a long time to ungrade myself.

The feedback, the words are more powerful. Those comments about timidity, shyness. Those labels.  They are old mythologies, but powerful mythologies have persistence. I tried rewriting those words, unowning them, trampling on the cloak they were sewn into, but they were still at the core of my lack of confidence about having a voice in higher education.

Here I am now. I work in higher education.  I had to fight inside to stay, still cloaked in feedback from the past that tells me I am far far too introverted to be here. That I don’t belong in a culture where name-splashing still matters.

All of those things that Jesse wrote in his article have been truly and keenly felt by me.

I have my own bold and strong ways.  I grow, not in loudness, but in strength and determination to value my quietness.  In writing, I can be powerful, but only I can measure it. Only I can grade.

Yes, learning is emotional. Feedback is powerful. Every day, grades are wielded in a way that does not consider the real impact grades and feedback have on the person – the ethical questions around placing a numerical value and judgement.

Whenever you give feedback, take care in what you unravel. Whenever you must grade, use numbers softly.

A Coat

I MADE my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
Wore it in the world’s eyes
As though they’d wrought it.
Song, let them take it,
For there’s more enterprise
In walking naked.