Custom T-Shirt Stamp Step-by-Step on the Carvey

This year we added the Carvey to our maker ‘toolbox.’  Our makerspace is directly connected to our library with only a brick archway to separate us. For this reason, I was hoping the Carvey would be as quiet as advertised.Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 1.15.42 PM (They advertise it as being as quiet as a desktop printer, but depending on the material and the amount of ‘cutting’ the noise level can vary.  I have had to pause it a few times when there was a class being read to or a quiet activity was underway.)Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 1.16.01 PM

There is always a learning curve with a new tool and this is true of the Carvey as well.  However, that curve was pretty slight and within a few hours, we were creating all sorts of creations.  The designs, at least for beginners, are done with the web-based native software app called Easel.  It was very easy for this newbie to navigate and create my first few projects.  For this particular project, I wanted to create a ‘staff’ t-shirt for our student directors and producers for our school television studio: WGST (the World’s Greatest Student Television).  After designing the ‘stamp’ I had to flip it so that I would be carving out the ‘reverse’ for stamping purposes.

You can download the step-by-step PDF HERE.

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Here is how the stamp ‘blank’ turned out.

I glued the 1/8″ board to a larger piece of wood just to make the stamping easier.  To help me align the design, I added a couple of wooden spools to the back of the wood blank too.


Next, I just needed somebody to help me make some shirts!  Thankfully my wonderful daughter was home from college and was willing to help me create the shirts for the students and adults who help with the broadcasts.

The process was pretty straight forward.  We placed a cardboard square inside each shirt to keep the paint from seeping through and also to give a little ‘resistance’ when the stamp was pressed down.  We used regular latex high-gloss interior paint.  It was applied using a foam brush and then carefully pressed on the shirts.  The ‘weathered’ look was perfect!  Each one is slightly different.


 I think they like them!


I look forward to finding ways to integrate the Carvey into our future projects.

Game of Drones Presentation @ #ICE17


This past week I had the pleasure of presenting a day-long workshop at the Illinois Computing Educator Conference.  As I told my participants, I am not an expert in drones, but I have had a life-long fascination with flight.  I’m sure this is in part due to growing up on Air Force bases around the world as a child.

My first airplane

I have purchased a wide variety of drones in the last decade.  My first drone or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle was the Parrot AR Drone 2.0.


Believe it or not, I still have this drone and flew it during my workshop last week.  While it was cutting edge when I bought it, the much smaller drones made by Parrot in the last couple of years are far more responsive and stable.

The core concept I wanted our participants to walk away with was that drones are much more than remote controlled toys.  In fact, they are powerful tools that can teach coding, problem-solving and develop grit and resilience.

Drones I’ve used with students. My favorites are the Parrot drones.

I began by familiarizing folks with the Tynker Coding App.  Tynker is currently the only block coding app that works with the Parrot Minidrones.

Most were familiar with block-type coding, so after some exploring with Tynker’s Crash Course, they were ready to connect and begin coding their drones.


I developed three challenges for the participants.  My goal was to give them a chance to work through the design thinking process that my students use.  Through these challenges, I was also hoping to highlight different STEAM subject areas.  The first lesson, The Cargo Challenge, asked them to transport the maximum amount of cargo a predetermined distance and at a minimum height.


The Parrot Minidrones have Lego connectors on top and this allowed us to easily attach Lego bricks to the top of the drones.  It was exciting to watch the different groups try various amounts of bricks.  The most interesting part of this exploration was that not only does the amount of cargo matter, but how it is affixed to the drone.  A wide base helped keep the drone steady in flight.

Our second challenge was an example of how coding and robotics could be used to create art.  I taught everyone a mini-lesson on low light photography and light trails or light painting and showed them several videos that demonstrated some of the ways professional drone choreographers have used this technique.


We attached tiny LED blinking lights to the drones and then programmed a variety of simple programs.  We captured the long exposures with a slow shutter speed app for the iPad, which was mounted on a tripod.  One key point was that the Parrot Minidrones need to be able to see the ground in order to orient themselves.  Because the lights were low, we used a flashlight to illuminate the ground below its flight.   Setting up several small LED’s to illuminate the ground would make this process even more successful.  Here you can see the whole process in action:

Our third challenge incorporated much of what was learned earlier.  The challenge was to transport and deliver a minifigure from one point to another.


I should have added ‘safely’ to the instructions because several of the groups found novel ways to ‘deliver’ their cargo.

We closed out the day exploring all the different drone platforms and exploring various curricular areas and how drones can be incorporated.  Here is probably my favorite part of the day when we had all the different drone platforms flying around the room.  I love the ‘buzz’ of both the drones and the participants learning and sharing.

I created a padlet with resources and lesson ideas.  You can access it here and feel free to add your own ideas as well.

Made with Padlet

This was my first time leading a full-day professional development.  It took an incredible amount of time and preparation, but I think it went incredibly well.  If you are interested, the entire presentation is available HERE.

Tynker Feature!

Tynker Teacher Feature: Connected Toys and Connecting Dots with Todd Burleson

This is a cross-post from the Tynker Blog: 

In our new blog series, we feature Tynker Teachers who are moving coding forward in their school district.

This week, we’d like you to meet Illinois educator Todd Burleson. Todd is excited about Tynker and coding and recently shared his love for drone programming at the Illinois Computing Educators Conference, one of Illinois’ largest ed tech conferences.

So, Todd, who are you, and what do you teach?

I’ve been an educator for 24 years, teaching kindergarten to college age students. I’m currently the Library Media Specialist at Hubbard Woods Elementary School in Winnetka, IL where I work with Kindergarten through fourth-grade students. I’m a passionate teacher-maker-librarian always striving to find just the right balance of books and bytes and igniting the imagination to explore both. My biggest honor was being chosen as the 2016 School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year.

Your excitement about drones and programming is infectious. What is it about programming drones that get you so excited?

I have had a lifelong fascination with flight. I dreamed of being a pilot in the military, but color blindness foiled that plan. It probably started by growing up at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. The Wright Brothers famously designed and improved their flying machine there. I spent days at the Air Force Museum of flight dreaming of flying myself one day. Remote control helicopters, planes and now quadcopters have gotten me pretty close. Now that you can fly with a live camera feed streaming to your iPad or phone, I feel like I’m on board. I do hope to one day earn my pilot’s license. For now, however, I am excited to learn to program quadcopters. I think there is such a difference when kids ‘program’ a drone as opposed to simply flying. What typically happens when anyone, me included, starts out ‘flying’ a drone, they crash. By using a block coding app like Tynker, it slows down the process and teaches users to think through each step of a flight. This is a great metaphor for life and will result in a lot longer lifespan for drones too!

The “connected toy” movement seems to be growing. Where do you envision this movement going?

I think that ‘connected toys’ have tremendous potential for good. Toys that can read and respond to user’s facial expressions and words can go a long way toward teaching and be develop empathy. I think that a toy like Cognitoy takes away some of the obstacles for young children to research and technology by allowing users to simply talk to it. cognitoys-790x385.pngThe cute and friendly dinosaur has a ‘Grover-like’ voice that makes me happy to hear it talk. It can tell and create stories with children. It can answer questions and it develops a unique personality. It’s not designed for adults, but I would love one. It’s like an Alexa for kids.

A growth mindset is a big deal these days. Do you see growth mindset behavior from your students? What does that look or sound like?

The key word around growth mindset is resilience. I see that when it comes to learning to code. Even our youngest learners understand the concept of block coding. When students struggle and eventually succeed, they realize that problem-solving, while challenging, isn’t insurmountable. Failure is just evidence of trying. This is something we say over and over in our school. We want kids to know that iteration is simply part of the process. In our school, it is kids successfully learning to code a robot through a maze or deliver a Lego mini fig to from a home base to a landing pad.


What other kinds of toys would you like students to be able to program?

I start my youngest coders with tools like KIBO and Beebot/Bluebot. These two tools teach sequencing and have a physical component to the actual coding. By connecting the wooden blocks for KIBO and pressing the forward, left, right and backward buttons on Beebot/Bluebot, students realize that they can totally control the movements of the robot.

This builds familiarity and confidence and leads to more complex block coding with devices such as Dot and Dash, Sphero, and my favorite, Parrot Minidrones. 

How do we get STEM and coding into the core classes? What’s your strategy for making coding an everyday skill?

The first step is to breed familiarity with the tools. When kids can get over the hurdle of the basics, they can begin to think beyond simple coding projects. There is always a bit of resistance from educators because we often feel that we have to have mastery of the tools we use in education. For me, I’ve embraced the idea that kids will probably ‘get’ the programming faster than I do. In fact, I turn that around and have them teach, support and encourage one another. If teachers can be brave enough to let kids lead, I think it will help get coding into the typical classroom. I also think that as technology educators, we have to create opportunities to collaborate with teachers. Being willing to spearhead a project with a class that is eager can be a tremendous opportunity. When teachers ask if I can help them integrate technology into their class, I always answer, “Yes, and…” That’s where the magic happens, in the “and…” It is where we all grow, stretch, and extend our learning.


Paying it Forward: Share the Love


Last year I was named the 2016 School Library Journal’s School Librarian of the Year.  It was one of the proudest moments of my teaching career.  One of the incredible components of the award was $2,500 to spend at the Scholastic Book Store.  I am fortunate to work in a district that believes in and supports my mission as a school librarian.  My library is well-funded and properly staffed.  Because of this, I wanted to do something different with the Scholastic funds.  I’ve decided that I will donate them to five schools in need; each school will be awarded $500.


Do you know a school who’s library could use these funds?


The most democratic way I could come up for distributing these funds is to create a Rafflecopter page.  Here’s how it works:  if you tweet about the contest and/or leave a comment on the blog, you will receive an ‘entry’ in the raffle.  On March 1st the Rafflecopter ‘engine’ will randomly choose five lucky recipients.  The more entries you have, the better your chances.  So, go ahead and submit an entry on behalf of your school or a deserving school you know about.  Click the link below to enter the raffle! Share with as many folks as you can and I can’t wait to see how this turns out!  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Valentine’s Tutorial Part Two: Sewn Heart Cards

img_7127I’ve never been accused of taking the easy route.  That was especially true today!  I decided to try sewing with first graders today.  The project began with the idea of creating lacing boards.  I initially explored making them on our Carvey machine, but in the end, it took too long to be practical to make them for all of the first-grade students.  So, I started exploring other options.  To be clear, I have never done sewing with first graders, but I thought that they could do this project if they worked on concentration and focus.  So, I started by reminding them of these two words.  I’m actually impressed with how well they turned out given their lack of experience with the tools.


I began by showing them a completed project; I just so happened to have made a few in preparation for today as gifts for my amazing library associate and my wife.

Step one is to trace the outline of the heart on a folded piece of cardstock.


Step two is to use your needle to punch holes.  I showed the kids how to hold the section of the paper they are ‘punching’ with the needle over the edge of the table.  This helped them have control over the needle a bit more.  The second time I introduced this, I decided to have the kids space their holes apart by the width of their finger.


Step three is to use the threaded needle (we pre-threaded a ton of tapestry needles to speed this initial stage up a bit) from underneath through the cardstock.  This lets the large knot at the end ‘stick’ on the back of the card.

Step four is to begin ‘sewing’ up and down through the various holes.  I did not tell them to do a set pattern but instead, let them choose.  It was interesting to see who struggled with keeping the thread untangled or remembering to go up and down not ‘around’ the card.  These are great lessons to learn on cardstock because you can easily ‘fix’ it by going back through the hole.


Caden created a very interesting pattern with three different colors of thread.


We folded the second piece of cardstock and glued it on the inside to ‘hide’ the stitching on the inside of the card.


We couldn’t give the students really long pieces of embroidery floss because it was apt to get tangled, so we just tied off the floss underneath and then re-threaded the needle with their choice of color.  This ended up creating some beautiful contrasting layers.

All in all, this was a big success.  They now have an introductory project under their belts and when we learn all about buttons in our inquiry project, they’ll be ready to learn to sew their own 3d designed and printed buttons!


NOTE: In later classes, one of the kids chose to stitch around the outside rather than across.  It turned out that in some ways that were easier for the kids to do.  So, we had our last class of the day start with that and then early finishers could add the cross stitching. Turns out that very few had time to add the extras and that was just fine.  A good example of ‘going with the flow’ for both kids and our parent volunteers.We also figured out that we could tape the end of the thread on the inside if it were too short to tie off.  This was a very handy thing because many kids ended up only having a tiny bit of thread left.

Valentine’s Day Projects Part One: Simple Felt Heart Sewing Project

I decided to try sewing with my third-grade students this year.  I was emboldened by taking the phenomenal free class on Instructables by Jessyratfink.


If you want to know how to do just about anything, there is a tutorial for it on Instructables.  I was blown away how thorough and detailed this class was.  In addition to that, it was beautifully photographed with clear and concise instructions.  Well done Instructables and Jessy Ratfink!


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Image courtesy of


We began by doing a very simple project: hand stitching together felt hearts.  Our school has an Ellison Die Cutter so I was able to pre-cut the hearts on the machine.  You could easily have students draw their own as we are limited in size by the dimensions of the machine.  I cut several colors and made many extras just in case.  I decided to use a thicker thread and larger ‘tapestry’ needles.  I chose the tapestry needles for the size of their ‘eye.’  In hindsight, the tapestry needles were a bit dull and it was challenging for those with weaker fine motor skills to be able to pierce the fabric.


I taught the students to cut thread the length of their forearm and back.  We doubled the thread and tied a simple knot.  Next, we pinned the two pieces together to help keep them lined up while sewing.  I showed the students how to open the ‘felt sandwich’ and push the needle up and through one of the layers.  In this way, they were able to hide their knot.  The running stitch might not have been the ideal ‘first’ stitch to teach them.  Many of them began doing a ‘whip stitch,’ which students said felt more natural.


Link to image source:


Some students wanted to stuff their heart to make a pincushion or a heart pendant.  For those students, we stopped with enough room to stick our finger into the heart and used cotton batting to ‘stuff.’


I ended up using my own model as a great pin cushion for the kids!


The kids learned grit, resilience, and patience while learning a very valuable life skill.  img_6858

In the end, the kids were very proud of their work and eager to share their gifts!



How and Why You Need to Build Your Very Own Fairy Door or Fairy House

When my daughter was about eight years old, we heard about some mysterious fairy doors that existed in Ann  Arbor, Michigan.  Each summer when our kids were younger we visited Sault Saint Marie, Michigan where my in-laws have a cottage.  We decided to stop in Ann Arbor on the way up north on one of our trips and investigate these fairy doors.  We had done our research online and found the fantastic UFO Site.  UFO stands for Urban Fairy Operations.  This site is the all-inclusive site that helps visitors to Ann Arbor find the fairy doors in town and has a ton of other assorted information about building your own door and much more.


You can download a map that shows where each of the fairy doors are located.  It was tremendous fun for all of us to search the streets for these unique and fascinating little doors.


Some of these doors open, some of them also have windows and several even had electricity inside them.  To say it triggered our curiosity is an understatement.  We went home and immediately purchased and painted our very own Fairy Door.  We mounted it at the top of the stairs.  You can imagine the fun we had with the door as we invited fairies to move in.  My wife and I had enjoyed leaving trinkets on the step for our kids to discover.  They went as far to write notes on tiny pieces of paper, left gifts and special decorations for the holidays.

My daughter is now in college and the door has come down from our hallway.  I recently saw some images on Pintrest that fired my imagination.

I started thinking about how cool it would be to have a fairy door, maybe even a fairy house in our school library!  I knew I could ‘hook’ the girls, who are already fascinated with fairies, both Disney and otherwise.  What would be harder would be to find a way to link the boys to the sense of wonder.  More on that later.

It just so happened that our community’s giant rummage sale was taking place and a parent had emailed me and asked if we needed any items for the makerspace.  I asked her to be on the look out for some ‘big books’ and I sent her the above picture to explain why.  She found some and dropped them off and I immediately got started making my very own fairy house.  I looked online for a tutorial on how to make one out of old books and I couldn’t find one.  So, I hope that this step by step tutorial will help those of you who are as eager to create one as I was.

Step One: Find some great old books that are tall and thick.


Step Two:  Cut the covers off with a razor knife.

Step Three: Use glue (I chose wood glue because I had it on hand) to cover all four edges of the book’s pages.  I discovered a bit later that if you have a cup of warm water, it helps keep the brushes bristles a bit more pliable.  I also added a bit of the hot water to the glue and that helped make applying it a bit easier too.  I would also recommend that you put the books on wax paper or cardboard when doing this step as well.  I didn’t have any wax paper and thus had some cardboard that stuck to the edges a bit.

Step Four: Stack and place heavy objects on the books to help compress and set the glue.  Let it sit for 24 hours.  If you are impatient like me, this will be the hardest step!

Step Five:  Mark the book pages so that you can begin ‘hollowing’ out the book.  You don’t have to do this step.  Many have just added the doors to the books in other ways.  I wanted to have a physical ‘room’ inside the books for the fairies to live, so I decided I wanted to hollow them out.  This ended up being a much harder project then I originally thought it would be as you will see below.



Step Six: The book ‘blanks’ are now more like a chunk of wood than a book.  I added another layer of wood glue several hours after the first and that made the book ‘blank’ even more solid.  Make sure that you mark the book blank so that you are ‘cutting away’ the area that includes the spine.  This is so that the book will still look ‘whole’ when the fairy house is complete.  I was able to initially begin cutting the blanks with a saw.  In hindsight, what I should have done was cut several ‘slit’s in the book and then notched them with the chisel.  See the next step.


Step Seven:  After you have cut the two sides, you will use a chisel to begin chopping away the interior of the book.  This is a very messy step.  A heavy hammer and a very sharp chisel are essential.  This could also be done with a razor knife, but the chisel worked much more efficiently.  It is possible that a band saw or a scroll saw would have worked.  I tried using my scroll saw and it cut crooked and did not work well with the texture of the book pages.  I do plan on trying my band saw for the next project.


Step Eight:  When you have completely hollowed out the book, do this for as many books as you wish to have in your house.  I found that putting a piece of plywood under the book gave me a firmer surface to be able to hammer.  Plus, then I didn’t have to worry about damaging the tabletop.

Step Nine:  Stop and clean up!

Step Ten:  Purchase and prepare your doors and windows.  I found these at our local Hobby Lobby and painted them with regular acrylic paint.


Step Eleven:  Cut covers to fit the window and door sizes.


Step Twelve:  Dry fit the window and door.

Step Thirteen:  Glue the window and door into place.


Step Fourteen:  Electric?  I’m going to start with one of those candle lights that you can use in place as a tea candle light.  I might add a 12 volt power supply at some point, but for now I think just the notion that there is light inside the house will trigger the imaginations of my students.


Step Fifteen:  Invite Wonder!

I knew I could ‘hook’ my girls. They are devouring every ‘fairy’ type book I could put on the shelves, but how to hook the boys?  That was more challenging.  Then I remembered back to when I must have been ten or eleven years old.  I would visit my step-sister, who was much older than me.  I remembered that she had this one book on Gnomes that fascinated me.  It was a whole world of tiny people.  I poured over that book for weeks, filling my head with wonder.  There was just enough ‘naughty’ talk about trolls and farting and other silly things to get my 5-10 year old boys hooked for good.  If I could get them to believe that it was possible that we have a gnome living in our library, I think I might be able to get them to set aside their doubt and ‘wonder’ with me!  I’m building a bibliography of excellent ‘fairy’ and ‘gnome’ books.  If you have a recommendation for one, please let me know in the comments section below.

Geodesic Domes

Here in Winnetka, we have an amazing endowment called the Winnetka Public Schools Foundation.  It encourages teachers to push beyond the ‘regular’ and ‘dream bigger!’  Teachers write proposals for projects that they would like to explore with their students.

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This is how our television studio was kickstarted fifteen years ago.  Last year I applied for a grant to explore Buckminster Fuller with my students.  I’ve always been fascinated with his work around geodesic domes, but I knew very little about him otherwise.  As part of my proposal, I laid out my plans to have students explore his work and life.


What I found was that there are very few if any, resources written at an elementary level about his life and work.  I ended up finding a half a dozen documentaries and books about him and his work, but none worked to share with my students.  So, I pieced together bits and parts of what I found online and introduced the man and his work to them.

My fourth graders had the ‘deepest’ dive into his work.  After our introduction, I had the students attempt to build a dome out of newspaper tubes rolled up tightly.  I found several different tutorials on ‘how to’ to this.  Having never done this myself, I was pretty anxious about attempting it during IDEA Lab, especially with parent helpers.  In a word, it was a failure.  We coded our long and short tubes with tape, but the ‘hub’ where the struts came together was less than ideal.  After nearly an hour of attempts with three different classes, we abandoned the project because the tubes were just not strong enough.  While I am a big believer in learning from mistakes and especially failure, I knew I needed to give the kids a chance to experience success.

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I immediately began researching PVC domes.  I saw lots and lots of different kits available.  The one that was both reasonably priced and looked simple enough for nine and ten-year-olds to build was created by Zip Tie Domes.  I was very eager to have the kids experience success. I ordered it online and in just a few days the kit arrived.  After opening the two boxes, I found easily identifiable parts and very clear instructions.  I was ready for the kids!screen-shot-2016-12-30-at-9-14-43-am

The kids were excited!  We broke down the failure from the week before and discussed what we learned from it.

“Newspaper tubes are not rigid enough to build a solid dome.”

“We needed some sort of better system for taping the struts together.  We each did it differently which did not hold it together well.”

“Some kind of ‘connector’ would be very good to help us hold it all together better.”

When they saw the PVC pipes and hubs, they couldn’t wait to get started.


Per the instructions, we began by laying out a perimeter and connecting to the hubs.  It took the kids a while to figure out how the zip ties worked, but soon they were pros.  Mistakes were easy to fix with a cable cutter.  Soon the first layer was ready to be lifted.  The next two classes went on to completely finish the construction.  They needed ladders to reach the upper levels and having several adults to help ‘persuade’ the pipes into the hubs was very helpful.  I have three fourth grade classes and it took every bit of the three hours we had to successfully complete the project.

They have LOVED having it in our library.  In fact, the whole school has enjoyed reading in it.

Top Ten STEAM Related Gift Ideas for 2016

Top Ten STEAM Related Gift Ideas for 2016

By popular demand, I’m compiling my list of top ten gift ideas to share with Hubbard Woods families.  Most of these items are tools your students have been introduced to in the IDEA Lab or will be fantastic extensions of the learning that has taken place at school.  Without further adew:


  1. Rigamajig Jr.  Rigamajig is literally my absolute favorite tool for inspiring imagination and creative play.  I recommend it to every single educator, especially those who are building a makerspace.  These kits are quite expensive, however. Rigamajig Jr. is the perfect solution for home use.  This kit, with nearly 200 pieces of high-quality wood and dense plastic, is compact enough to be taken to grandma’s house for vacation, and expansive enough that several kids can play together in your basement.  The finger tightened nut and bolts are just like the ones we have in the IDEA Lab, but this kit has a few unique pieces that we don’t have.  It is sure to make all ages happy!screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-16-41-am
  2. Osmo: Pizza Kitchen; Coding; Monster  OSMO’s tagline is ‘Play beyond the screen.’  OSMO was on the list last year as too, but this year they’ve developed several more amazing applications and add-ons that make this tool even more exciting.  

The three new additions are Pizza Shop, Coding, and Monster.

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-16-47-amIn the Pizza Shop, kids learn to cook up math and use their money skills.  The app lets kids run their own pizza shop: they cook pizzas to order and calculate change using toppings and money tiles. They can invest their ‘earnings’ and upgrade their shop as they bake their way toward becoming the ‘big cheese!’

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-16-54-amThe Coding set allows students to the program, by ‘snapping’ together code blocks.  It’s expansive enough to allow kids to work with one or two partners to solve various coding challenges.

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-17-01-amOSMO Monster is the last addition.  In this app, you get to meet MO.  He is a fun, fuzzy character that loves magic, dancing and creating. Kids can interact with MO using the OSMO creative set. Additional activities are constantly being developed, which makes OSMO a learning tool that keeps growing with your children.  It is suitable for all ages and some of the apps, like Masterpiece and Newton will ignite creativity in your oldest student and even parents!


3. Sphero Sprk+ With Sphero Sprk+ students can expand on the basic coding learned with apps like OSMO Coding while developing advanced problem-solving skills.  They can: program a painting, navigate a maze, mimic the solar system, swim across the water or have a dance party.  The only limit to what can be done with Sprk+ is your imagination.  These robots stand up to abuse.  They are waterproof, shatter ‘resistant’ and a boatload of fun for ALL ages.screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-17-16-am

4. Sphero BB8: is a Sphero with an attitude.  If you love STAR WARS, and who doesn’t, then this ‘…is the droid you are looking for!’  BB8 does everything a Sphero can do and more.  There are a ton of cool features like the ‘Force Band’ which allows you to control your droid by moving your arm and the ‘force.’  This droid has a personality.  It is fun to program but you can also put it in ‘patrol mode’ and let it explore all on its own.  There are tons more geeky features, but I’ll let you discover them on your own.  With the newest Star Wars movie coming out there will be new features added for sure!  screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-17-23-am

5.  Parrot Cargo Drone:  The Parrot Cargo Drone is part of the Parrot drone family.  This nimble little quadcopter is easily programmed and flown using the basic app.  If you want to pump up your skills a bit, you can program it in a variety of other apps like Tickle or Tynker where you can develop highly advanced programs.  


6.  You can even program multiple drones at the same time with these advanced coding apps.screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-17-51-amMakedo: Building Kit  If you’ve been to either of the Cardboard Challenges, you’ve seen Makedo in action.  screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-18-06-am

This year I’m super excited about the Space Pod they have released.  I just ordered one for the IDEA Lab.  This model of a space capsule has tons of dials buttons and colorful details that will fire any kid’s imagination.  Buy your favorite kid one of the basic kits, throw in the holiday cardboard boxes and you can count on endless creativity.  screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-18-16-am

One special item that they have also just released is their new cardboard cutter.  While the ‘saw’ they have is okay for ‘hacking’ away at large pieces of cardboard, their new tool allows for intricate cutting without having to hand over a razor knife to young kids.screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-18-22-am7.  Bloxels: Bloxels was on my list last year too.  This year they’ve made it even easier for KIDS to create their own video games.  It literally is as easy to build, by arranging the colored blocks, scan, in the app, and play.  For those who love finessing every detail of a character or background, this kit is perfect.  

Kids can also share and remix games with creators from all over the world using the free app and the ‘infinity wall!’screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-18-26-am

8.  Dot and Dash:  These two characters were on the list last year too.  While they haven’t come out with any ‘new’ applications, the ones that are out there are still worthy of note.screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-18-31-am

You can add the launcher and xylophone and you’ve got your own catapulting musical band!  These two are perfect for a family with multiple kids.  The youngest can program through drawing and simple block programming.  The older students can use advanced block coding and even the applications Tynker and Tickle to synchronize and control of multiple robots (like Sphero, BB8 or a Cargo Drone) at the same time!screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-18-36-am

9.  Hot Wheels:  This one is a bit retro, but a must have on any kid’s wish list.  I’ve been amazed at the creativity both boys and girls exhibit with Hot Wheels here in the IDEA Lab.  Give them a big box of track, loops and cars and your kids will be creating and remixing their fantastic creations throughout the cold, snowy winter!screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-18-41-am10.  Legos:  You can never have enough Legos.  I hear over and over again how much parents love our Lego wall and organizers.  screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-18-47-am

Do you want to help your kid be more creative with the Legos you already have?  The best thing to do is help organize them.  Research shows that breaking apart ‘sets’ and organizing by color and type helps develop creativity in kids.  Here are the sorters we use in the IDEA Lab.  I wish I had these when my kids were growing up.  Also, if you want to build your very own Lego wall at home, you can buy these Lego-like tiles and stick them to any surface or THESE.  screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-7-18-51-am

Imagine an old dining room table covered in these, or a whole wall in your playroom!  

I hope this list proves beneficial to those who are looking for some great gift ideas for their loved ones.  Happy Holidays!

Illinois School Library Media Association Annual Conference


It was wonderful to be able to ‘remotely’ participate in the 2016 Illinois School Library Media Association Annual Conference even though I was visiting my daughter at our first ever parent’s weekend at The University of Minnesota!  I was part of an amazing panel of educators who are on the cutting edge of makerspaces in libraries.


Kristen Mattson @DrKMattson, Erin Wyatt @ejdwyatt, and Pattie Fleser @pafleser and I gave an overview of our space and then took questions from the jam packed room in Tinley Park.

Most of the questions were about getting spaces started in a variety of settings and bringing teachers on board.  You can see some of the notes from the session HERE.


Sure wish I could have been there to see and hear these phenomenal educators and author.  I’m there for sure next year!

Thanks again for letting me be a part!