MCSD Ed Tech Review

Tools & Tips Worth Your Time

Issue 9, May 2017
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Makerspace Edition

In November 2014, the voters of New York passed the Smart Schools Bond Act, which authorized the state to use $2 billion in bonds to fund various initiatives for school districts. Each district in the state was allocated a specific amount of money, and given some general guidelines of how it could be spent. Our district was given access to $2.8 million, and the investment plan that was adopted by the Board of Education can be seen here.

As part of that plan, we have had the opportunity to jump start makerspaces in our district (In the document linked above, it's the portion referred to as classroom technology and technology for collaboration and innovation.). The bulk of the equipment purchased in this project was intended to create permanent makerspaces at the middle school and high school levels, with additional equipment being purchased for all three elementary buildings.

It was not the intent in designing this plan to relegate the elementary schools to a second-class status. There were several factors that went into the decision to scale back on the high tech equipment at that level in the initial plan. First, some of the equipment at the upper levels simply isn't developmentally appropriate (or safe) for elementary students (like the laser cutter). Second, some of the work that's being done on makerspaces in schools is suggesting that having a larger low tech component in elementary makerspaces puts more focus on hands-on design and building, while starting to build the skills of collaboration and creativity that will become more sophisticated as they progress up through the years. Also, we plan to add to all of our makerspaces, including those in the elementary buildings, as time goes on. So this is most definitely not a case of "what you see is what you get."

Although the bill was passed in November 2014, it is just within the past couple of months that all of the necessary paperwork for our makerspaces worked its way through the State Education Department, and equipment has arrived.

So, with the background in place, and equipment arriving, let's take a closer look at makerspaces.

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What is a makerspace?

In some ways, that's a tough question to answer. The reason for that is you could visit 20 makerspaces in 20 different schools, and potentially see very different things in all of them, and see them operating in different ways. There is no "one size fits all" when it comes to makerspaces.

But, if we strip away the differences, there are some common threads that become apparent.

They aren't defined by their parts.

Because school makerspaces often include flashy pieces of technology like 3D printers, there is a tendency for people to think that kind of expensive hardware is a makerspace. A makerspace is not defined by the particular high or low tech equipment it includes. Rather, it is defined by what takes place there.

So, what happens in a makerspace?

As defined in this article from, it is "a collaborative work space...for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high tech to no tech tools." Or as cited in this article from Renovated Learning, "Makerspaces come in all shapes and sizes, but they all serve as a gathering point for tools, projects, mentors and expertise. A collection of tools does not define a makerspace. Rather we define it by what it enables: making."

What is actually made in a makerspace depends on a variety of factors ranging from what tools and materials are available to (and driven by) the interest of the students. So it may be using CAD software to design and print an object, or it might be using things like legos and cardboard tubes to build a structure that meets a challenge.

The truth is that from the educators point of view, the what really isn't the important part of activity in a makerspace. The important part is the skills and character traits that the process of making fosters and strengthens.

The process of making is a powerful instructor.

First, understand that as we move through the grade levels, the goal is for makerspaces to be more and more student-driven. Ultimately, we want projects happening that are identified and initiated by the students, not by the staff.

Now, there may be some guidelines to help students along. Ben Grieco, who runs the Queensbury High School's Innovation Classroom, tells his students to ask themselves who else will benefit from their project. As he puts it, he doesn't just want a room full of kids printing iPhone cases; he wants kids who are becoming aware of problems or issues larger than themselves and setting themselves the task of doing something about it.

Once the core task has been identified, the students then need to develop their plans for what to make that can address the task, and how to make it. Depending on the grade level, the task, and the kinds of equipment involved, this could be relatively simple to complex and multi-stage.

Good teachers know full well that we often learn more from our failures than from instant success. Makerspaces are really built around this idea. We want students to know that failure isn't an end result. Failure is a chance to regroup, figure out where things went wrong, revise the plan, and try again. In the context of a makerspace, failure also doesn't have to be a solo endeavor. Here we have opportunities to instill in our students the traits of resilience, tenacity and critical thinking that will serve them well, no matter what their futures hold.

Most often because of time constraints, this focus on failure as a valid step is missing from group projects in class. There, the focus is on the final product the group produces. It's turned in, given a grade, and that's that, because we need to move onto the next unit. The relaxed structure and organization of a makerspace can afford students the time to really develop the benefits of failure.

All of this is not to say that the end products of a makerspace are completely unimportant or meaningless. But here again, we have a chance to foster some desirable traits and skills, like the ability to share the products of your work with a larger audience who might also benefit from it, and how to translate skills and lessons from one project to the next.

Don't dismiss the simple fun factor.

The process described above still might sound a bit formalized, and whether students know it or not, it is still being driven by greater educational goals. That kind of makerspace activity, built around larger problems or projects, is certainly of high value.

But, it isn't the only thing that can happen in a makerspace. The other type is the one often criticized by teachers who are casual observers passing through and not seeing the bigger picture, and that is students using the equipment and tools in a makerspace in smaller, quicker, less complicated ways, and having fun doing it. Of course, what I'm describing is often referred to by those critics as "play." "It seems like a waste of time and money. All they're doing is playing," is a commonly heard sentiment from the detractors.

Without even going into the research, of which there is an increasing body supporting the value of "play" in learning, just think back to the things we learned from Marcia Tate about how the brain works. Think back to some of the professional development that you've been involved in over the years. Which kind ultimately made a bigger impact on your actual teaching, the "let me read these 400 PowerPoint slides I brought you to look at," or the kind that was hands-on and gave you a chance to get excited and maybe even laugh with your colleagues?

So if you do walk through a makerspace and see kids "playing," stop for a moment and think about the skills that they may be picking up without even knowing it. In some cases, those might be technical skills, or content, but they may also be things like interpersonal skills, which are also important. But also, think about the larger picture. We have talked quite a bit in recent years about student engagement and it's value not only in learning, but in things like keeping kids in school. If being excited in a makerspace and having fun, while unknowingly picking up skills we see as desirable, could help some students feel more connected and want to be here, could that be anything but good? So please consider those things before you, or someone else in conversation, dismisses makerspaces out of hand as frivolous.

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Where Are Our Makerspaces, What Do They Have, & How Can We Use Them?

Please bear in mind that, as I said earlier, despite this being a process nearly three years in the making, it has only started to become a reality in the past couple of months. So we are really in the early stages of getting our makerspaces up and running. Because of things like staffing changes, shipping delays, specific building needs, and extreme water damage, all five buildings are not at the same point in the process. We are hoping that by opening day of next year, things will be much better established in all buildings. In the meantime, the information below is a rough guide based on what we know now, and what we're planning.

Where are they?

FA - The bulk of the equipment and work space is on the second floor of the library. There are a couple of additional pieces of equipment located in the ground floor tech labs owing to special requirements, like ventilation.

Middle School - Once renovations are complete, the makerspace will occupy the portion of the library near the circulation desk and back room.

Davis - The makerspace is in the library.

Flanders - The makerspace is in the library.

St. Joe's - Once some modifications are complete, the makerspace will be located in what was once the girls' locker room.

What's in them?

As described above, makerspaces are not just about high tech equipment. That having been said, this is the Ed Tech Review, so what I'll be addressing here are some of the pieces of high tech equipment that have been included. So understand that individual buildings also have a range of other materials and equipment on hand that I'm not addressing here. I would encourage you to reach out to the contact people in your building for a more complete idea of exactly what your building has.

Also as previously stated, remember that our makerspaces will not be static. What is described below is the current high tech component, but it will certainly evolve as new technologies come out and student and staff interests grow.

How can we use them?

First, as I said above, do keep in mind that our makerspaces are, and will continue to be, works in progress. The specifics of how they work will, no doubt, vary from building to building based on the interests and needs of the students and staff.

In general, though, we want these spaces to exciting and inviting. We want the students to feel at home, and encouraged to explore and create. And, the same is true for our staff. Makerspaces are meant to be communal areas, and don't belong to any one person.

That having been said, we are in schools, with hundreds of students, so there have to be some guidelines. While we may not have a definite idea of exactly how they will work next year, if you're interested, stop in and talk to the folks in your building who are involved. Not only can they give you some hands-on time with the equipment, but they can also probably start to give you some ideas of how the makerspace could complement elements of your curriculum.

A Closer Look @ the ISTE Student Standards

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In the last issue we started our in-depth look at the ISTE Student Standards with Standard 1: Empowered Learner. In this issue, we'll be taking a closer look at Standard 2: Digital Citizen.

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We all know that values education has been a large part of what we, as educators, do, and has been so for a very long time. This is true from the informal classroom instruction on the proper ways to behave, to more formal programs like PBIS. What you need to understand is that from this perspective, digital citizenship isn't a huge leap from what we're already doing. The differences lie in the complexities, sometimes subtle and sometimes not at all, that digital life adds to teaching our students proper behavior.

To check out the expanded view below, go to the ISTE Student Standards 2016 page.

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Indicator 2a

Digital Identity and Reputation:

Virtual space can be a double-edged sword in terms of personality and identity. On the one hand, many of us have seen students who are extremely introverted thrive in online discussions or in direct communication with the teacher. So for these students, the digital world can help them with their self-expression, and hopefully build a level of confidence we can then encourage in the face-to-face classroom environment.

However, for some, the impersonal nature of communication via a screen can encourage a detachment that brings out traits they might never consider displaying in person; traits which they would not actually want associated with themselves (unconstructive criticism, trolling, etc.).

So as an increasing amount of academic and professional life shifts toward the digital realm, one of the things we must help our students understand is the idea of their digital persona. Their words and actions in virtual environments create a collective picture of what kind of person they are. There is, of course, a strong tie-in here with character education, in the sense that we are asking them to think deliberately about what kind of people they want to be, and the sort of behaviors online that support that identity.


One of the reasons it is so important for students to truly understand the importance and consequences of their online actions and building their digital identity is because of their permanence. As most of us know, anything posted online rarely ever truly disappears. Posts, files, photos, they all remain, sometimes found only with great effort, but often there for the world to see on sites like Facebook.

We've all heard the stories of employers requiring log info from potential employees for sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat (those stories aren't just urban myths, by the way). When I'm working with students on digital citizenship, I often ask them to think about the latest things they've put online and to ask themselves, if someone looking to hire you in 10 years saw that picture, or took that conversation out of context, would they be impressed?

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Indicator 2b

Positive, Safe, Legal and Ethical Behavior:

In terms of positive behavior, we are talking about a range from what would be considered cyber-bullying and harassment on one end, to the etiquette of how to interact with others. As mentioned above, for some it is easy to use the anonymity of online interaction to self-justify behavior that is rude or even downright cruel. In the moment, it's as if it isn't a real person on the other side. So, just as we intervene and correct that behavior when it happens face-to-face in our classrooms, we also need to do the same when it happens digital realm. Civility can be taught, and it often starts with modeling.

I will deal with safe behavior more directly with indicator 2d below. At this point, suffice it to say that just as the anonymity of online interactions lead some to exhibit behavior they might not in the real world, it also leads some to overshare. This can especially be dangerous when combined with a willingness to accept what they are being told in return at face value. We need to encourage students to be guarded with what they are willing to share with others online, as well as to have a healthy skepticism about what others tell them.

Students (and many adults) need to understand that the internet is not like international waters, a quasi-lawless world where anything goes. Behavior that is wrong or unethical in the real world is wrong and unethical online as well. It may not make headlines these days, but there are still people being taken to court, and sometimes fined huge sums, for things like downloading digital content (music, movies, etc.) illegally. It is often hard for students to understand that grabbing a torrent of a new movie is as illegal as shoplifting the DVD of it from a store.

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Indicator 2c

Using and Sharing Intellectual Property:

If you're at least in your 30's, you might remember a time when research projects did not involve much, if any, use of the internet. Anyone who remembers the pain of needing to rearrange the order of footnotes in a paper by hand (because there was no cut and paste), while ensuring they were perfectly formatted, knows that a great deal of attention was paid to avoiding plagiarism and improperly using others ideas.

The internet has been a game changer in many, many ways. As the flow of information around the globe has become nearly instantaneous, and anyone can set up a website, a blog, a YouTube channel, or any of a thousand other ways to have your voice heard, the scrupulousness with which people credit others for their ideas and work has decreased drastically.

Students need help understanding what the rules are regarding the use of others' intellectual property. Also important, as we talked earlier in the issue about makerspaces, a maker culture encourages students to be creative, so they will need to know what happens to their own intellectual property, and how to protect it if they so choose.

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Indicator 2d

Personal Data and Privacy:

People my age (I know, I'm getting dangerously close to sounding like an old guy yelling at kids to get off his lawn) are often dumbfounded by what people in the generations after us are willing to post about themselves online. When I see some of the things that young people put out there in places like Instagram, and Snapchat (and even some not so young people in places like Facebook), I am stunned. I cannot comprehend why they would want to share such private information with the world.

I've come to think there are a couple of reasons for this disconnect. First, I think that they have a different conception of privacy than I do. They are growing up in a world in which if they want to know what a friend had for lunch, they can probably find out in seconds in a Snapchat story. Second, I really don't think most of them fully comprehend the idea that the stuff they're putting out there is accessible to the world, and not just the handful of people they might have consciously been thinking about when they posted it. And finally, we can go back to the issue of permanence discussed in indicator 2a. I don't think they really understand that this stuff will stick around forever, or how that might affect them down the road.

Therefore, it is up to us to help them understand the value of digital privacy, and how to protect it.

Awareness of Data-Collection Technology:

Part of that is helping them understand how things like browser cookies can be used by companies and individuals to track your digital footprint. This is why after you've looked at a certain product on a website you keep getting ads and pop-ups for that product when you go to different sites. There are measures that can be taken to limit the information sites can collect about you, and we should teach our students about them.

Beyond just processes that work in the background, though, there are also technologies that collect personal data with the active participation of the user (online quizzes, etc.). These might look innocuous or be set up to look like something else entirely, but their function is to collect information that can be used by others. Again, students need to be taught to be skeptical and wary of these sorts of things.

Resource Roundup

In this issue, instead of focusing on specific tools, I wanted to share a few ezines and blogs that often have great ed tech related content.

Hey, Watch This!

Check out Issue 2 of the MCSD Ed Tech Review for tips on using YouTube in the classroom.

If you have a video that you think is worth checking out, send me the link and I'll include it in an upcoming issue.

Creating The Never-Ending Bloom
John Edmark uses precise mathematical calculations to create amazing, beautiful, geometric works of art. I like this video and wanted to include it for several reasons. Personally, I find his works fascinating and very aesthetically pleasing. It also supports the assertion of many a math teacher, that math is everywhere. I also thought his work is very fitting for this issue of the newsletter, as this is something that our students could do in a makerspace.

Google Pro Tip

Team Drives

I recently put out a 2 Minute Tech Tip about the addition of Team Drives to Google Drive, but it's so cool it's worth a mention here as well. This is a feature that was recently rolled out by Google, and is only available to G Suite for Education and Google Apps for Business users within the same domain. Well, sort of. You can actually invite a member to a Team Drive that isn't part of our domain and the Team Drive will show up in their Google Drive, but they can't start Team Drives of their own unless they are G Suite or Google Apps for Business users.

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What's a Team Drive?

It's a place for a group of people to share files of any kind that they wish to all have access to. Yes, I know what you're thinking, you can already share files and folders in Drive.

That's true, so you could just put a folder together and share it with a group of people and all its contents are automatically shared as well. But what happens when the person who created that folder leaves the district? That's where things can get messy from the technological side, and people can lose access to the shared files.

No one person owns a Team Drive. Any files put into the Drive or created within it belong to the Team Drive, not individual members. So if I create or add files and then leave the district and my account is deleted, nothing happens to the files. They're still there for the rest of the group to use.

The added benefit, at least in my opinion, is organizational. If you are involved in multiple committees, you're in a department, maybe even a general grade level group and a content specific group, then you may end up with many shared folders in Drive to keep track of. I find that having Team Drives for those groups helps me better keep track of important materials and the work we're doing.

How do I start one?

If you know how to create a new document in Drive, you can create a Team Drive.

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How do I add content?

You can drag and drop (or right-click on and choose "Move to...") existing files from your Drive into a Team Drive. Just remember, doing that moves the file, it doesn't leave a copy in your Drive. So if it's something you want to keep a master of, make a copy and move the copy into the Team Drive.

You can also open the Team Drive and then use the "NEW" button, just as you would in "My Drive" to start a Google doc, slideshow, spreadsheet, etc. The only difference is that files created in the Team Drive aren't owned by you, they're owned, effectively, by the Team Drive.

How do I add people to my Team Drive?

If you've ever shared a file in Drive, you know how to add members to a Team Drive.

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Can I change what people can do in a Team Drive?

Yup. Just like you can decide whether you want someone to be able to edit a document you're sharing, or just view it, or just make comments on it, you can give different people different levels of access to a Team Drive.

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When you click on "MANAGE MEMBERS," you will get a window that shows all the members of the Team Drive. To the right of each person is their current access level. Clicking it will bring up a list of all permission levels. (Note: you won't be able to see this if your access level is set to edit access.)
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Of course, as with most things in Google, there's more than one way to get to the window to manage permissions. When you're in the Team Drive, there's an additional option menu.
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Back Issues

1 - December 2015 - Hour of Code, Living in Beta, Tools for Engagement

2 - January 2016 - YouTube: Channels, Playlists, Content Create, Classroom Integration

3 - February 2016 - Formative Assessment Principles and Tools

4 - March 2016 - Brain-Based Learning Techniques and Tools

5 - May 2016 - End of the Year Tips and Reminders

6 - September 2016 - Welcome Back

7- November 2016 - Situational Awareness & Review Tools

8 - February 2017 - The ISTE Student Standards Intro & Standard 1

Get In Touch

My job is to be here as a resource for you and your students. If you want help learning how to integrate technology in your classroom, please let me know. For more information on the sorts of ways I might help you, look at this.

- Mark Dalton, Ed Tech Coordinator