CEP 811 Final Post: the MakerEd Well

One thing I do often of as a theology teacher at a Catholic school is think about analogies and symbols. In my faith tradition, God communicates himself us is through symbol, and we understand God by analogy to created things. We make meaning by employing analogy and symbol. So, when I thought about how to express the new thinking I’ve experienced in CEP 811 by learning about making, I wanted to try to integrate it with my other experience of making.

The image that I chose to express the how MakerEd has influence my thinking is a well. I think this image communicates a lot of what I’ve learned about MakerEd. To begin with, wells are an example of the real-world problem solving and innovation at the heart of making. A community needs water; they dig a well. The construction of wells varies; people innovate according to the materials available, which also parallels to the experience of making. Further, wells are important because access to clean water is essential to the life of a community; among other reasons, living things need access to water in order to live and grow. Learning about MakerEd has infused new life in to my education praxis; it has helped me to grow as an educator by giving me a new set of tools for engaging students in meaningful learning. Finally, in the biblical world, wells served as a gathering place for the community or tribe. Making has introduced me to new communities of people, both educator-makers and maker-educators, who gather around their common interest to learn and share their knowledge.

Although I’m still relatively new to the MakerEd “well”, what I’ve learned has already begun to influence my practice as an educator. I thought about the SketchUp/student-centered design assignment when arranging my classroom earlier this week; even though I had to compromise on the arrangement because I share a room with other teachers, I am now aware that the classroom arrangement communicates values, which is easier to dialogue about with a colleague rather than negotiating preferences. I have also noticed a change in my mindset about working with students and technology, whether in the theater or the classroom. I see technology as giving student and teacher an opportunity to work together to solve a problem, rather than something I need to master before I can teach it to others. In this way, I think that making also has the potential to transform not only student learning but also the teacher-student relationship, making it more collaborative. Finally, learning about MakerEd has helped me to plan for more authentic learning experiences that engage my students in real-world problem solving using tools that help bridge the gap between school and the “real world.” Today, my senior Business Ethics students set up their blogs so they can blog about their weekly reading assignments, comment on each other’s thoughts, and follow other people who are writing about business ethics. My juniors began their summer reading project today; I have at least one student who expressed interest in the Pi/Python/Minecraft project I wrote about in an earlier blog post.

The school year has officially begun, so I’m relieved that this is my last blog post for a while. However, I’m also excited to put into practice what I learned this summer. Another characteristic of wells is that they are frequently dug deep so they can continue to provide water for a long time. I have a hunch that this extension of the analogy will also be true of how this summer’s introduction to Edtech and MakerEd informs my teaching and classroom all year.


Assessing MakerEd projects

One of the questions I had when writing my MakerEd lesson plan a few weeks ago was, “How am I going to assess a student’s work, especially if the project doesn’t work the way it is supposed to?” My recent reading has helped me develop a better understanding of what’s important in assessment as well as helped me to see more clearly how to assess students’ maker projects.

In Understanding by Design (2005), Wiggins and McTighe’s explanation of how performance tasks should be assessed provides helpful guidance for assessing maker projects. MakerEd projects fall under the category of performance tasks and typically share the following characteristics: are realistically contextualized; require judgement and innovation to determine an approach to the problem;  require the “doing” of a real-world task that is challenging and complex; require an integrated set of knowledge and skills; and allow  for practice, feedback, and iteration (p. 154). Wiggins and McTighe propose assessing performance tasks with the following six facets of understanding: explanation, interpretation, application, perspective, empathy and self-knowledge (pp. 161, 164-166). Of these six criteria, explanation is considered the “first among equals” and fundamental for understanding the other five criteria. According to the authors, assessment of performance tasks “…should require reflection, explicit self-assessment, and self-adjustment, with reasoning or rationale made as evident as possible” (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005, p. 167). When assessing maker projects, I would ask students to include an explanation of the rationale motivating their choices in approaching the problem and creative solution-making, as well as a self-assessment of their problem-solving choices and what they might do differently in the next iteration of the product.

One essential feature of making is creativity. Since this is an essential feature, it stands to reason that maker projects should be evaluated according to it. But how? In a 2012 blog post, Wiggins offers a rubric that spells out specific criteria for evaluating creativity in a product. Included among the criteria are elements, such as imaginative reframing of the problem;  novel use of ideas, materials and methods; risks taken in form, style and/or content. When assessing student maker projects, I would make sure to include in my rubric some version of Wiggins’ ideas about how to evaluate creativity.

Finally, MakerEd provides rich opportunities for personalized learning. Consequently, one possibility is that the student knows more than the teacher about the affordances and limitations of project and product. Likely, the work the student has done by trying to solve the problem uniquely positions her to evaluate her learning and growth. When assessing maker projects, I would be sure to ask students to evaluate their growth over their course of the project and to narrate her learning process. A successful product may not be the most important or desirable outcome of a maker project, since much can be learned from failure as well as success.

In conclusion, although MakerEd poses certain challenges to traditional ways of evaluating students’ work, authors Wiggins and McTighe provide helpful insights that can be used to meaningfully assess MakerEd projects.



Wiggins, G. (2012, February 3). On assessing for creativity: yes you can, and yes you should. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/on-assessing-for-creativity-yes-you-can-and-yes-you-should/

Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design. (Expanded 2nd ed.) Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


Why Make at Strake Jesuit?

After a summer of learning about education technology, this penultimate post and infographic documents my answer to the question, “Why Make at Strake Jesuit?” MakerEd offers students opportunity for cross-disciplinary, deep learning that is engaging and personalized. At my school, my impression is that there is limited awareness of MakerEd, so I decided consider this an opportunity to make an infographic that could be used to introduce MakerEd at our next EdCamp.

The guiding vision of our school, which it shares with other Jesuit high schools, is articulated in a document referred to as “The Grad at Grad.” I decided it was important to show not only how MakerEd supports student learning, but also the values that shape our school culture. Also, I felt it was important to communicate that in the Houston area we have several excellent resources for learning about making. This reflects how much I learned from the Raspberry Pi MeetUp at TXRX Labs, a community of practice, which I discovered in the process of trying to make a working prototype of a Pi-controlled lamp.

Here is my infographic; below are my references.



Burke, C. M. (2017, August 12). Makerspaces [Map]. In Scribble Maps. Retrieved from Burke, Catherine M. “Makerspaces.” Scribble Maps, 52 Stairs Studio, Inc., 12 Aug. 2017, www.scribblemaps.com/create/#id=p84Y5D1y3x&lat=29.86992819519781&lng=-95.67736705546872&z=9&t=hybrid.

Cohen, J., Jones, W.M., Smith, S., Calandra, B. (2017). Makification: Towards a Framework for Leveraging the Maker Movement in Formal Education. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 26(3), 217-229.

Grad at Grad. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.strakejesuit.org/s/103/hybrid/interior-hybrid.aspx?pgid=2136

Halverson, E.R. & Sheridan, K. (2014). The maker movement in education. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 495-465.

Kolodner, J., Camp, P., Crismond, D., Fasse, B., Gray, J., Holbrook, J., Puntambekar, S., Ryan, M. (2003). Problem-Based Learning Meets Case-Based Reasoning in the Middle-School Science Classroom: Putting Learning by Design™ into Practice. The Journal of the Learning Sciences. 12(4), 495-547.


Student-centered classroom design

In a 2011 interview with Fast Company, founder and chairman of the design firm IDEO David Kelley said, “The main tenet of design thinking is empathy for the people you’re trying to design for.” In the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the maker movement, constructivism and personalized learning. Kelley’s statement about the central role of empathy for human-centered design shares with these other ideas a commitment to putting the person, in this case the student, first.

This week, as I read about what features of classroom design positively impact student learning, I thought about the classroom where I’ve done most of my teaching since arriving at Strake Jesuit. The pictures below are of this room. In a given semester, I share this room with one or two other teachers.

Classroom 1  Classroom 2

Classroom 4 Classroom 3


I was happy that in many ways our built environment does a good job of supporting student learning, as measured against the findings of the 2013 study by Barret, Zhang, Moffat and Kobbacy. Strake Jesuit’s campus is very large and verdant, with various indoor and outdoor spaces for alternative learning opportunities. You can take a virtual tour of campus and retreat center here. Also, the size of my classroom, as well as our sturdy but lightweight desks, allow for easy reconfiguration of the space. Further, Strake Jesuit’s art collection and museum status means that the classroom’s walls are decorated with original art, which makes the learning environment appropriately complex but overall visually quiet.

Some of the choices I made about the arrangement of the above classroom, however, are not supportive of student learning. The above photos reveal a fairly traditional, teacher-centered seating arrangement and one, undifferentiated learning zone. The SketchUp model I created  (photos below) reconfigures the seating to allow for student choice, e.g., desk, IDEO chair, floor pillows, as well as collaboration and peer feedback. Steven Netcoh’s 2017 case study emphasizes the importance of choice in personalized learning; the 2013 study by Barret, et. al. confirms choice as a design parameter that positively influence student achievement. I chose the pods of eight because the content of my junior morality class and senior electives, social justice and business ethics, lends itself to group discussion, debate and problem-solving. The two chairs next to the teacher’s desk permit individual or small group conferences with me; the pod arrangement also gives me the space to easily navigate the room to address individual students. Richard Culatta’s 2013 TED talk, Reimagining Learning discusses how technology provides more opportunities for choice and for creating what is meaningful to them. A maker station for the Raspberry Pi occupies a rear corner; the engineering/robotics lab and library also have fantastic maker resources and equipment. Finally, the addition of power strips addresses the question some student inevitably asks at the beginning of class: “Ms. Burke, where can I charge my iPad?”


Classroom design 1 view 1


Classroom design 1 view 2

The model I designed is optimistic but not impossible. If everything in my plan had to be purchased new from a retailer like Amazon or IKEA, the total cost would be around $2781. However, our amazing Operations staff is often able to find extra chairs and tables upon request. The IDEO chairs are by far the most expensive items in the model and account for the majority of the total budget. However, my department chair also serves as the Ed Tech Coordinator, and for the last few years he has been thinking about investing in similar seating. One potential obstacle is that this room was renovated two years ago, and our Operations Director might not think further investment in this room is warranted, given the unrenovated status of other classrooms in the same building.

Creating a model of my classroom in SketchUp helped me to think about how to put my students first in all aspects of my teaching, not only in my lesson planning and assessment, but also in how I design my classroom environment. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, wrote, “Love ought to show itself in deeds more than in words.” A more student-centered design for my classroom is one small way I can put St. Ignatius’ words into practice.



Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Moffat, J., & Kobbacy, K. (2013). A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on on pupils’ learning. Building and Environment, 59, 678-689. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2012.09.016

Netcoh, S. (2017). Balancing freedom and limitations: A case study of choice provision in a personalized learning class. Teaching and Teacher Education, 66, 383-392. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy1.cl.msu.edu.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/10.1016/j.tate.2017.05.010

Pattison, K. (2011, April 11). David Kelley on designing curious employees. Fast Company. Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/1746447/david-kelley-designing-curious-employees

[TEDx Talks]. (2013, Jan 10). Reimagining Learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0uAuonMXrg.

Maker Lesson Plan

In How People Learn (2001) Bransford, Brown and Cocking observe that experts have greater flexibility than novices when presented with a new situation. My experiences in the past couple weeks verify this observation. My original idea for a prototype never became a working model, so after a couple of brainstorming sessions with members of my PLN, I turned my attention to my Raspberry Pi’s version of Minecraft. It’s possible to create worlds in Minecraft-Pi Edition the same way that one would in the Minecraft-Pocket Edition, which is the version that many of my students play on their iPads. However, one can also use the program Python to create worlds in the Minecraft-Pi Edition.

To be honest, my efforts to learn Minecraft as well as Python in a few days also did not advance my skill beyond the novice level. However, I am nonetheless excited about the potential of this lesson. The idea for this lesson began with a request from the teacher who organizes Freshman Orientation at our school, Strake Jesuit. She was looking for videos about the Jesuits to introduce incoming freshmen to the Roman Catholic religious order who sponsors our school. Unfortunately, she hadn’t found videos that were both interesting and and age-appropriate for our audience. So, she asked whether I would consider having my junior students produce videos. I thought this was a good idea and agreed, which was made easier by the fact that the theology department had just agreed to assign  The Jesuits: A History from Ignatius to the Present to rising juniors for summer reading. Last year, students made videos of the lives of various Jesuit saints. This iteration of the lesson plan takes into account student feedback asking for more direct instruction on the content of the videos as well as giving students the opportunity to exercise their maker skills.



Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school. National Academies Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309070368.

Foundations of Learning

In his 2013 TED talk, “Reimagining Learning,” Richard Culatta argues for technology’s potential to transform education, if schools and educators can  break away from the tendency to merely repeat, in digital form, our current models and practices. Much of his talk is devoted to identifying technology’s potential for personalizing learning, an idea I was unfamiliar with due to my lack of formal education in the field of Education. So, I developed my understanding of personalized learning by reading two articles, one titled “Balancing Freedom and Limitations: A case study of choice provision in a personalized learning class,” by Steven Netcoh (2017) and the other titled “Validation of a model of personalised learning,” by Bruce Waldrip, Jeong Jin Yu, and Vaughan Prain (2017).

Netcoh’s (2017) article publishes the results of a case study he conducted at a middle school which recently introduced a 55 minute personalized learning class into the curriculum. The significant finding of the study is that framing choice as a means to collaboratively developed learning goals, rather than as an end in itself, is more likely to yield a better balance of student voice and autonomy with teacher input regarding exposure to new ideas and academic rigor (p. 391). Of the students surveyed, although they valued the degree of autonomy they were given, some struggled to direct their own learning in absence of clear expectations and project requirements (p. 389). Other student perceived autonomy as an end in itself and resisted teachers’ efforts to provide guidance (388). Similarly, teachers struggled; when they relinquished control over learning targets to students, teachers struggled to structure the learning environment so as to provide support for struggling students as well as to challenge others with new ideas and higher expectations of rigor (pp. 389-90).

As important as choice is to personalized learning, Waldrip, Yu and Prain (2017) emphasize that an effective personalized learning model is multi-factored. Their article reports on the personalized learning model emerging from a previously-designed and validated instrument, here used to evaluate the Bendigo Education Plan (BEP), implemented in Bendigo, Victoria, Australia. Their Personalised Learning Questionnaire (PLQ) was given to two demographically similar sample groups, a group of 7-10th grade BEP students and a control group (p. 174). The personalized learning variables measured by the PLQ were: self-directed learning readiness; learning environment; emotional, cognitive and behavioral engagement; personalized teaching and learning initiatives; curriculum entitlement and choice; and perceptions of assessment tasks. These variables were predicted to influence one or more outcome variables, i.e., academic efficacy, academic achievement and student well-being (p. 173). The results of the study indicate that self-directed learning readiness, cognitive engagement, and perception of assessment tasks are all positively correlated with academic efficacy. Also, learning environment is negatively correlated with academic efficacy but positively with student well-being (p. 176). The authors were surprised that students perceived emotional engagement to be relevant to their social lives but not to their well-being or learning (p. 179).

Although neither of the articles I read about personalized learning specifically referred to the role of technology in personalized learning, the work of all of the authors, including Culatta, had other significant areas of overlap. First, the authors shared the same concern that our current standardized, institutional model of education fails to maximize student learning. Culatta predicts the number of people in 2025 eligible for a college education will outstrip our capacity to provide it in the traditional manner; even if it could, our schools and typical pedagogical approaches are not poised to maximize technology’s potential for learning. Netcoh and Waldrip et. al. both identify personalized learning as a response to the highly standardized school culture of the U.S. today (Netcoh, 2017, p. 383). (Waldrip et. al., 2017, p. 170). Third, all of the authors emphasize student agency and autonomy as key elements of personalized learning. Culatta discusses how technology provides more opportunities for choice and for creating what is meaningful to them. Waldrip et. al., report that self-directed learning readiness is positively correlated to academic efficacy. Netcoh discusses student choice and its need to be balanced with collaboratively determined learning targets as well as its relation to motivation, competence and relevance to students’ values and interests.  

My research this week left me with a few thoughts and questions, most of which were prompted by the context in which I was working. As I tried to make progress on my prototype, I regretted not having mastered basic electrical circuits in high school; I wondered whether I would have mastered those concepts if I had been in a maker-oriented class. I also recognized that this maker project has also been an experiment in personalized learning. Although it has been exciting and empowering, it has also been very difficult, and I’ve needed a lot of help from my PLN. It made me wonder how successful this type of exercise would be in my current school’s typical classroom: 55 minute periods, with 26 boys whose lives are heavily scheduled with extra curricular activities. Finally, I spent some of my research time with a friend studying for her national boards in medicine. Culatta analogize medical treatment and learning to argue why learning should be personalized. Although I agree with the basic point of his analogy, I’m glad my doctors learned certain content as part of their study and certification, so that my treatment as a patient doesn’t depend on how much interest my physician had in my illness. So, my conclusions about personalized learning and maker education: these are powerful tools for learning to be added to, but not substituted for, core curriculum. Further, when planning personalized learning projects, including maker projects, a teacher needs to think carefully and wholistically about students’ context.



Netcoh, S. (2017). Balancing freedom and limitations: A case study of choice provision in a personalized learning class. Teaching and Teacher Education, 66, 383-392. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy1.cl.msu.edu.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/10.1016/j.tate.2017.05.010

[TEDx Talks]. (2013, Jan 10). Reimagining Learning: Richard Culatta at TEDxBeaconStreet [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0uAuonMXrg.

Waldrip, B., Yu, J. J., & Prain, V. (2016). Validation of a model of personalised learning. Learning Environments Research, 19(2), 169-180. doi:10.1007/s10984-016-9204-y


Something familiar to all teachers is the idea of repurposing things for use in the classroom. This week, I visited Goodwill to find a lamp for possible use as a “practical” in our fall play and that I could use to teach some lighting skills in our upcoming workshop for incoming freshman.



The original idea for this prototype was based on a project called the Cloud Lamp that could be controlled from a web interface using a Raspberry Pi. I got the idea for this project after visiting a MeetUp of the Raspberry Pi Users Group in Houston; one of the members was demonstrating applications of the Pi for boat security and home automation.

The first task in creating this prototype was to figure out how to set up the Raspberry Pi. This process was fairly uncomplicated, with the exception of figuring out how to connect the Pi to the internet. The Raspberry Pi B+ I have doesn’t have a wi-fi adapter but uses an ethernet port instead. At first, I tried to move the modem and router from their spot in the living room to my bedroom so the ethernet cable would reach more easily.  I discovered, however, that my ISP didn’t activate the outlet in my room, so I rearranged my furniture to enable the cable to reach between the router and Pi.

Pi up

Pi Internet

The next task in creating this prototype was to learn about and to create a circuit and control it via the command line in the Linux operating system. I have a book called Getting Started with Raspberry Pi which was instrumental in accomplishing this. I learned about the file system and its directories, as well as some commands, e.g., how to shut down the Pi correctly. Chapter 7, “Basic Input and Output,” instructed me about how to light up and LED and turn it on and off using the command line.

I thought that once I figured out how to light up the LED, it would be a relatively simple matter to substitute the lamp for the LED. However, it occurred to me that the example I had been planning on following was using several LEDs instead of a standard light bulb. I know very little about electricity, but I do know that a) LEDs draw less energy than standard bulbs, and b) it’s very dangerous to overload a circuit.

At this point, I started looking for answers to questions on web forums. I found out that breadboards are designed to handle a relatively small amount of voltage/current, and that trying to substitute the lamp for the LED was a bad idea.

Back to the drawing board. I looked on the internet for a different example to follow. I found an example of a home automation project very similar to what I had seen demonstrated at the Raspberry Pi MeetUp. The idea is to connect the remote control to the Pi’s GPIO pins and then to control the circuit using the some software written in Python and HTML. The part where I got stuck is that the connections between the breadboard and the remote control’s circuit board need to be soldered–which is not a skill I learned in my philosophy and theology classes!

soldering tools 2

I thought about giving up on this project and doing something simpler, like a game in Scratch, which I felt pretty confident about, since I’ve played with Scratch before. However, in the spirit of my last blog post, “Fail Big,” I decided to keep playing with this idea to see if it could work for me. My next step is to reach out to my PLN and see if someone is available to teach me how to solder!