Please check out my new site: OurIdeaLab



The substantive or meaningful part



With the use or help of; through



To create or execute in an artistic or highly skilled manner

One of the most overlooked responsibilities of a teacher is the role of designer. But how we arrange and present information is a crucial decision in the classroom. While we all work hard on curriculum design, we spend very little time on how we present our lessons. I hope Content by Design can serve as a resource to help teachers design better physical and digital lessons.


Get Started on Your Own Projects


With all the new tools available, it is tough to find approachable instructions for emerging techniques. This section will share “how-to” instructions for some cool new techniques including interactive videos and 3D design.

Video Tutorials

Interactive YouTube Videos


Learn how to make your videos interactive.

While we work so hard to make our classes interactive, why do people make flipclass videos that passive? Create your own choose-your-own-adventure videos using you-tube annotations to give your students instant feedback.

Plan ahead and include choices in your video for students to make as they watch. Then using the spotlight annotation, send them to other videos or to another spot in the current video to get instant feed back. This video will wall you through everything you need to know to make your videos interactive.

Responsive Flipping

Coming Soon

3D Modeling and Scanning

Up coming tutorials will included

  • E Making 3D models from photographs using programs like 123D Catch and Recap
  • A Taking the best photos to use in Photogrammetry Scanning.
  • w DIY structured light and laser scanning using the free David Scanner software, a web cam and a cheap line laser or projector.
  • ( How to take a 3D scan and make it into something you can 3D print.
  • o How to turn PDB protein structures into printable formats for hands-on learning
  • And many more. . .


Custom brackets #make180

It’s great to see the IdeaLab as a place for solving all types of problems.  Using 1/2in plywood, I can quickly make custom mounting brackets for our AR sandbox instead of waiting for the 3D printer.

180 days of making: #make180

I have done a couple 180 days of teaching blogs, and with my my new role as Head of a preK-12 IdeaLab, I’m excited to work with students and teachers across the divisions and department. There will be aqueduct building kits, augmented sandboxes, cardboard derby cars, laser cut story telling puppets, robotics, wearables, and more!



Birth of a Makerspace Part 3 – The Idea of a Makerspace

What is a Makerspace

The first of the three spaces will be dedicated to the act of creation, our makerspace. While workshops have been a big part of history, they have generally been driven by s single purpose.  Chef’s have their kitchens.  Carpenters; their wood shops.  Musicians; their studios.  Makerspaces seem to differ in two important ways.  First they are communal, a space for people to work together.  Second, they first look for tools with wide application before narrow applications.  Gui Cavalcanti provided a short introduction into the rise of the makerspace in an article for Make magazine:

The concept of a “hackerspace” started in Europe as a collection of programmers (i.e., the traditional use of the term “hacker”) sharing a physical space.  As this concept spread, it outgrew its roots of hacking existing objects and began to enable its members to craft in the most significant extent possible.  Reclassified Makerspaces, these spaces were designed around the crafts it focused upon not just as an after-thought.  These spaces have grown and become places for people to share the tools and skills to give ideas physical form.  In addition to supporting communities and allowing individuals to express themselves, several of the most exciting new companies have emerged from makerspaces, including Pebble, Square and Makerbot.[i]

It is common for a space to start with a single tool– a laser cutter, a 3D printer or even just a single hot glue gun. It’s a tangible budget item that creates tangible pieces that are easy to understand.  (A few traits that administrators can easily get behind)  In many ways, our space started with a grant for Makerbot 2X two years ago.  While I had researched and worked with 3D printing before, it was still a challenge to integrate it into our curriculum.  My grandfather once told me that, “If you love your hammer, everything’s gonna look like a nail.”  And I that’s what I first felt.  I looked for ways to integrate the 3D printer in all aspects of my school.  I think this is really true in all aspects of ed tech.  Derek Mueller might say it best in his Education Revolution video.  (see below).

It really sticks that we must focus not on the tools but on how we learn.  Why should we spend $2000 dollars on a 3D printer when we could make the same things with $2 of Legos?  Do you need the accuracy and single unit design to prototype ideas?  I will say 99% of the time in education we don’t.  So while, I will present a detailed and technical budget in future posts, I think a makerspace could be made productive and life changing with some knockoff Legos, paper, scissors, glue and some nine volt batteries.

It you want a makerspace, clear a table and get started making.



[i] http://makezine.com/2013/05/22/the-difference-between-hackerspaces-makerspaces-techshops-and-fablabs/

Birth of a Makerspace Part 2: Make-See-Grow

We seek to address these challenges with the introduction of THE IDEALAB: a well-equipped space, designed to support our current STEAM curricula and ongoing innovation at our school. We propose converting part of an underutilized space in 2015. This space will support three core competencies: Creation, Communication and Community.  This room will be divided into three spaces: The Makerspace, and The Seeingspace and a third, transitional Community Space for collaborative problem solving and critique. The Makerspace will be  a workshop and workspace for students to create with both traditional materials as well as explore rapid prototyping with new technologies including 3D printing, robotics and electronics.  The Seeingspace will contain a studio for students to create and document their projects with digital and analog storytelling and portfolios.  Between these two spaces, the Community Space will have communal tables for discussion, problem solving and critique. This space will allow students to work, explore, reflect, learn and experience together.  While we will look to allow existing curricular projects to expand in this new space, we will also introduce new after school programs as a vehicle for launching new STEAM initiatives.

Birth of a Makerspace Part 1 – Our Challenge

As schools seek to cultivate new competencies, we find that the traditional classroom arrangements are not conducive to collaborative and project-based learning. These spaces often lack the tools, storage and flexibility needed for effective and sustained work.  Our school has had a few electives and several projects consistent with the goals and practices of STEAM, including Introduction to Computer Programming, Playing with Light, Robotics and Design Science courses, and the Physics 500, Eggdrop and Phat Physics projects. Despite the lack of dedicated space, proper equipment or storage, teachers and students have worked at the margins of their classrooms, in the squash courts and in the midst of already busy art studios, moving their work from hallway to classroom, and back again. The efficacy of the learning experience and quality of the work often suffers from the lack of sustained attention that would be afforded by a well-organized and equipped project-based laboratory/studio/workshop space. How much more effective would the teaching and learning be if students could work on tables, in a well illuminated and ventilated space, with tools and materials to suit their goals, with space for collaboration, critique and reflection, places to store their work without damaging it, and the opportunity to return reliably to the work the next day? The introduction of the 1:1 laptop program has increased opportunities for project-based learning. Teachers are developing new competencies and strategies and evolving curricula to cultivate more critical thinking, collaboration and innovation. The IDEA LAB would support the evolution of our educational community. 

Pop-Up Light-Up Cards for All Ages

There have been some excellent examples of Pop-up Light-up cards circulating on the internet.

One of the biggest challenges is cutting out interesting pop ups like the garage in the fathers day card.  To do this requires skill, patience and an exacto knife.  Three things that are not typically brought by students to a project.  To help get around this, I have found the a vinyl cutter a excellent tool.  Using the Silhouette Cameo cutter and it’s software, students can easily design or adapt line drawings to create precisely cut cards.  Once designed, the Cameo can cut a complicated card in only a minute or two.  Adding the LED lighting is also quite simple using only copper tape, surface mount LED’s and a coin battery.  While many people use solder to connect the LEDs, it is easy enough to use a two layer copper tape approach to securely connect the LEDs in the circuit.



I like the Adafruit sequin LEDs since they sit flat on the paper, include a 100 ohm resistor to keep the current flow low and the LEDs cooler, and they have the terminals clearly marked.  Though there are much cheaper versions on Digikey.

Copper Tape

Copper tape is easy to find.  Adafruit has a great sample, but Amazon has cheaper options.

Coin Battery

Any 3V coin battery will do.  Since the cards will not remain on that long, I chose a smaller slimmer battery.


You can grab this at any office supply or craft store.

Silhouette Cameo

This will allow young students to design amazing cards and learn computer aided design skills.

Introducing the Cameo Cutter

Before you get started using the Cameo, you should take a look at these introductory videos:

Design and Cut

Importing your designs

Tracing your designs

 Cutting the Card

So with some basic Silhouette training, you are ready to design a pop-up.  For my example, I will look at a design from a website called Popupology.co.uk.  I selected the New York City Skyline cut out, and imported it into Silhouette Designer, and expanded it to fill the whole page.  This image is great because it will already score the folds.

I had the program trace and outline everything. Adjust the Scale of the lines down from 10 to 4 for cleaner cuts.

I then saved the file as “Skyline Front”.  I then deleted the newly created trace, and retraced just the outer edge and saved this as “Skyline Back”.



Then it was easy to just cut out each of these files using the cameo.

I use a spatula to help the cutouts from the adhesive cutting board.  This keeps the pages from curling.

Once you remove any stray bits, you should get a nicely cut card.

Then take time and carefully fold it into pop-up form.

Do the same steps for cutting the back of the card.

To plan out my LED placement, I put the from card over the back and use a pencil to mark where I want my LEDs.

I then draw the lines to run the copper tape.  You must make sure to mark the line on the left as + and the other as -.  This will be important when you place the LEDs.

First put down a bottom piece of tape along each line.  Then lay the LEDs with the + on the + line and the – on the -.  To secure them, add another piece of tape on top of each side of the led and press down on each to make sure it has a good connection.

Because the battery has to have contact on both sides, I add a piece of copper to the underside of the top sheet that lines up to the one underneath.

I place one on top of the other and see if it works. Make sure to press the top to the bottom to make sure they are connected.  DO NOT GLUE IT TOGETHER YET!

Test your circuit.  If it works, it should light up beautifully!

Trouble shooting:

  • Flip the battery over to see if they light up.  LEDs only work when current runs in one direction.  Rotate any LEDs that do no light up when the battery is + side down.
  • If they do not light up still, make sure the copper tape on the top lines up with the bottom and makes solid contact.  To ensure this, make a loop of copper tape with the adhesive on the outside and attach it to make contact with the copper tape on the bottom and top pieces.

Once everything is working, glue the top to the bottom making sure no glue gets on the copper tape.

Congrats! You now have an epic Pop-up card!

Should student confidence play a role in assessments?

Having finished my second year with standards based grading, I am realizing that there are two important components to assessing students. Currently, my students receive a score, 1-4, based on how how close their answers are to being correct. This is then assumed to be representative of their mastery of the material. This is not a poor assumption. But, it does not address a students confidence in their answer. A student who randomly chooses the right formula or relationship will receive the same score as one who is confident in their approach. This is dangerous! This is also part of the game.

Students are economists. Mostly they look at how they spend their time. Some are more frugal with their time committed to schooling in general, others spend liberally on the subjects their interested in, and some through intrinsic or extrinsic motivation will spend all the they can to achieve their economic goals. In economics, such behaviors are modeled with Game Theory. Let’s look at how Game Theory would apply here. Currently, my students standards based grades are solely outcome dependent. But what if they had to rate their confidence?

The best position for a student is to be both confident and correct. But the worst position is for a student to be confident and wrong. In response to this, a student who is confident can receive the widest variance of grades, 1-4. A student who isn’t confident will receive a much narrower range, 2-3.

Traditional Score 4 3 2 1
Confident Score Correct 4 Incorrect 1
Not Confident Score Correct 3 Incorrect 2

This seeks to provide incentives for students to reflect on their understanding during the assessment.

With standard student incentive systems, the focus is always on the answer. Many students find the true value in an assessment in the effects it may have on their of how they, their parents or their peers perception of their ability. While fewer may have an intrinsic drive for the subject in question. I hope this process may enable all students to start reflecting on their process during the moments of greatest value to them.


Smithsonian X 3D Conference Eve

The early events have come to a close and I could not be more excited. The amount of data that could be used in the classroom is amazing in both breadth and depth. This data can be put into context with primary and secondary sources by museums around the world. This week we are seeing how these resources are being made available . But as we accumulate these resources how do we organize them so that they are accessible for both teachers and students?

We need something to put them all in the same context. Some easy way to relate things across time and the planet. We have samples that are millions or even billions of years old and things being created every second. Perhaps we need a planet to put it all together?

Image Google Earth with a time line slider. The continents and climate can shift with the slider back to early earth. Then on the planet we can hot spot places and object of interest in time. I imagine a search panel on the side could help people narrow down resources with meta data. But as opposed to just a list of search results it give a way to look at things in historical context.

For my school we can follow the legacy of William Penn, our founder. We can learn about him in America and in England. We can see what was taking place around him. And, we can see stories that took place before and after he passed through a place. Then, we can link to other stories to find interesting connections.

This may not be a simple task, and perhaps someone is working on it right now. But it would be an amazing way to see a world of context.


A Humerus 3D Print!

I was excited to find a site out of Japan that has shared anatomical obj models of bones, organs, muscles, and more. While not perfect, you can go browse their models here: http://lifesciencedb.jp/bp3d/ But, I have not been able to download from their browser directly. You can download all the files from a different part of their site: http://dbarchive.biosciencedbc.jp/en/bodyparts3d/download.html. So I first look up a model in their browser, find the model component and look if up in the folder. I will try some first prints this week!


Video as Pedagogy

The Flip Class concept has been a education buzz word for the last several years. If you’ve been to any educational conference, someone has been talking about it. There are now tons of resources to learn easy ways to make video lectures. But I believe that something is tragically missing from these discussions . . . pedagogy.

Read More