Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Learning in Public Reflection #4- Success at Last!

I've been taking a lot of videos and time lapse sequences about how I've taken on one of the largest personal learning projects I've taken on in a long time. Building a Makerbot 3D Printer. Here's a Makerbot 101 video to check out. Below is a time lapse of part of the build.

All of this has been from a post by Dean Shareski who has challenged his pre-service teachers to spend 25-50 hours on their own learning project.  He's learning to play guitar!

During the build I've been reflecting on how my learning translated into how I'm going to facilitate the learning of my students when they start to design 3D objects in a design studies class. Physically I've spend around 20 hours with the 3D printer to date, but I've spent countless hours researching and crowd sourcing problems and challenges along the way.

To catch up on what I've been up to check out my previous posts here, here, and HERE! 

I estimate I'm about 40 hours committed in total to the project so far.

Today was a monumental day. It was the first time I got to see the Makerbot in deliberate action. Just before lunch my work experience student Nathan helped me to test the extrusion at temperatures hot enough to melt the ABS plastic. The result was less that stellar, but it was a necessary step.

Amazing how this failed cube represents so many successes in this project!

Some of my learning:

1. Many 'Failures' 
I thought that I'd be printing 2 days ago, but many things have come up. The filament tension wasn't correct, and I struggled to get all of the end stops on the X and Y axis to work properly. Nathan took apart the entire extruder module 3 times to get it just right. We played with the RPM with no luck. My test prints are really awful, but I see these 'failures' as little successes or iterations on the way to a final goal.

2. Skills vs. Abstract Ideas/Problem Solving.
Dean mentions these two parts of learning in his post, "The Dan Plan". So many times I've gone back and forth between these two. My thought is: are they really separate? I've gained many skills in construction along the way. Could anyone build the physical Makerbot? I truly believe that just about anyone could. Where they might have challenges would be in the gaps in the wiki instructions online, and reality of so many parts and mini-projects that they would face.

The real difference between skills and problem solving can be explained in context of my current project. While I can learn to build and print physical objects, learning about design process, and learning how to take ideas for the physical from conception to the printing stage involves many steps in problem solving. This comparison was made by Dan McLaughlin in Dean's interview with him as the difference between learning to hit a golf ball at the range, or dealing with the stresses of a tournament, including the highs and lows of emotions in between each stroke.

Another way to look at it is from my own sports experience. When I was 19 I started playing rugby. I had a couple weeks of practice getting physically ready for the game, but I didn't have the foggiest about how the game was actually played until I played a real match. So in terms of my own teaching and wanting students to use their skills and be problem solvers, how do I 'teach' problem solving and abstract thinking?

To me, it's the difference between a contrived artificial task versus the real deal. Just like Dan McLaughlin golfing, our classrooms are like the driving range where we develop skills to repeat tasks in learning. So how do I get my teaching and learning out on the course during a tournament?

3. Crowd Sourcing Works: Capitalize on the Expertise of Others
This has proven invaluable. After my unsuccessful attempts to get the firmware for the motherboard and extruder controller working, I went to the Google Makerbot User Group to ask for help. The result was awesome! Several responses within half a day and even an offer of a phone call and personal help from another Makerbot owner! Last night my connections on Facebook paid off when I got a message from a Facebook friend who knew someone in my home town of Cold Lake who has a Makerbot! Within 30 minutes phone numbers were exchanged and I chatted for an hour with him and gained valuable insights into 3D printing.

4. Share Your Learning
When is the last time you had a discussion with someone about what you're enjoying/excited about learning? I really hope that by students watching my project, they will buy in even more. I want them to see their nerdy teacher in action and see that its OK to be passionate about something!

Here's a video that shows my 'Christmas Morning' response to today's 3D printing. I actually made this work!!!!

What are your thoughts about skills vs. problems solving? Can/should the two be separated or intertwined? Do we need to stay on the practice mat at the driving range for a while or do we enter our students in a tournament? More to come about  this soon!

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