Month: October 2015

4th Grade Flashlights & Other Fun

Today’s menu was paper flashlights and some more Hour of Code with Anna and Elsa. Wondering what a paper flashlight is? It’s just want it sounds like, a flashlight complete with on/off switch constructed from heavyweight paper, an LED, a coin cell battery, and some foam tape.

MM@Mitchell 28oct2015 4th grade Hour of Code. 4th graders pledged not to ask for adult help and to pitch in to help each other!

We only had seven 4th graders today since the 5th graders had left early. Initially, we thought we might have a little bit of struggle getting the kids to stay on task, but when we returned to the Hour of Code task, we were pleasantly surprised to see how much the kids remembered and how much more confident they were even in completing the more challenging activities which most of them had not reached in the first session.

MM@MITCHELL Hour of Code

We challenged everyone to see if they could make it to the end of the session without getting help from anyone but their fellow 4th graders, and they were eager to take us up on the challenge (and they succeeded). One boy and one girl in particular really emerged as leaders in instructing their peers. At first, it was a little bit challenging for the boy to teach his peers rather than just taking control and completing the level. However, as time progressed (and with a little nudging) he really embraced the role of peer mentor, and the other students in turn became more willing to ask for help when they needed it. MM@Mitchell 28oct2015 4th grade Hour of Code. 4th graders pledged not to ask for adult help and to pitch in to help each other!

From our perspective as mentors, it was endlessly satisfying to watch the children helping each other with such confidence and care. Being able to step back from your role as instructor and allow the students to take on peer-to-peer instruction might seem risky, but it worked really well in the small setting we had today. And it was a real treat to watch!

MM@MITCHELL Hour of Code

DIY flashlights and Legos

We didn’t have Makers last week due to Fall Break at University of Michigan but were excited to get going again. With Halloween less than a week away, we had darkness and light on our minds. This week, we created homemade flashlights from LED’s, coin-sized batteries, and a simple paper stencil.

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This activity is a great refresher about creating simple circuits. When the end pins of the LED come in contact with the battery, the LED lights up but ONLY if the LED is in the correct orientation with respect to the battery! A few students didn’t know why their LED’s weren’t lighting up, and it was a great opportunity to review this concept.


By pressing on the housing (paper stencil) and creating contact between the battery and LED, we had our flashlights. By the end of the activity, we had flashlights in all different colors; it was like a light show! The students were excited to bring these Trick-or-Treating with them later this week.

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Some students moved on and began building with Legos. We encouraged them to somehow  incorporate their flashlights into their Lego creations. One student built a maximum security Lego house with a light that goes off when the door is opened, building on the flashlight that he made earlier. That’s pretty cool!

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Mitchell Fall Debut! Hour of Code with Anna and Elsa

Yesterday was our first day of Michigan Makers at Mitchell Elementary. We couldn’t wait to meet our new participants and welcome back some familiar faces. Our menu for the day was’s Hour of Code with Anna and Elsa, which uses Google’s drag-and-drop programming language, Blockly. We also brought the junk box, LEGO, and K’nex in case anyone finished early, but no one had enough time for those!

Two girls help each other with a difficult puzzle.Some of the kids had experience with Blockly, but we decided to have everyone start with this activity so that everyone could get grounded in the same basic skills. We also wanted kids to get some experience with Blockly now, since we will be bringing in the iPads and Dash & Dot robots soon, and want the kids to feel comfortable using the Blockly programming app which lets you pre-program noises, movement, lights, and more! Since some kids had experience with Blockly or Scratch, we were a little bit surprised that only two students completed all 20 puzzles.

We noticed that initially, some of the students skipped the video tutorials which give some really important information. They quickly realized that they needed to watch the videos to be able to complete the puzzles, so as time went on we had to answer less questions. It was awesome to see the students move from saying, “This is too hard!” about the first level, to confidently using loops. Part of this came from watching the instructions in the videos, and part from peer or mentor guidance, trial-and-error, and other problem-solving strategies. A student demonstrates to another how to solve a puzzle. Before the day was over, the kids reflected on these strategies. One of the most challenging aspects of this activity turned out to be figuring out what degree of angle to use when making your snowflake, and how many loops you needed. Finally, we talked some more about some of the exciting activities we will be doing next week and throughout the rest of the semester. Not everyone was able to finish today – so we are going to be bringing back this activity so we can make sure everyone is prepared for Dash & Dot in the coming weeks!  

Three boys concentrate on their next puzzle.

Welcome to Michigan Makers’ new home online!

On this site, we’re merging all of our past posts and continuing to blog about our work with Michigan Makers sites at Mitchell Elementary and Scarlett Middle School. We’re a team of faculty and students from the University of Michigan School of Michigan.

Below this post, you’ll find a collection of former postings from past years, now assembled in this single online home.

Our work is provided to Ann Arbor students at no charge. This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services RE-05-15-0021-15 and by the UMSI Founders Fund.



Build it and “Trick” it out

This week, we tinkered with Legos and TechBox Tricks. Legos have been a favorite here at Michigan Makers, and our students immediately took to them, building everything from fortresses to landscapes. We were excited to bring along the TechBox tricks this week because they could easily be incorporated into just about anything you make, especially with Legos.


From the TechBox website:

“TechBox is a series of electronics modular kits for DIY enthusiasts, electronic beginners and educators. With the plug and make feature, the entry level TechBox Tricks sets you to a good start on a journey of creation without any requirement of programming knowledge.”


With the help of a 9V battery energy source, students constructed simple circuits by combining an input (such a light sensor or a switch) with an output (buzzer, spinning motor, or LED). We found students placing motors into their Lego structures, making conveyor belts and door alarms. One student even said that she would use the TechBox kit to create an alarm that would go off if it detected someone getting too close to her piggy bank. We get so excited when they think about how they could apply these concepts and ideas in their everyday lives!

Fun with Dash and Dot!

This week, we had some newcomers join us at Makers. To get them in the mindset of creating, building, and troubleshooting, we had the newcomers start with Hour of Code. has a series of activities geared towards introducing students to coding. Our students worked on an activity creating snowflake shapes with Ana and Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen”. When someone got stuck, students that were ahead in the activity helped them along. It’s a great way to test your of the code and what you just learned!

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We also had Dot and Dash robots with us. We loaded our iPads with a number of different apps that would enable the students to control the robots. To command a robot to do something, some apps require the student to create a sequence of commands, which closely mirrored coding and the coding activities they did in Hour of Code.

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Our students got creative with these robots this week. With the Path app, students were able to design paths on the iPad for Dash to navigate in real life. They didn’t shy away from adding light and sound effects to the path, either!  

Images © 2015 Regents of the University of Michigan. Text available under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license unless otherwise stated. This project was made possible in part by the Institute of​ ​Museum and Library Services RE-05-15-0021-15.