March 27, 2014

Hacking the Pen

Several years ago I had the privilege to work with Dr. Carl. Technically, Dr. Carl was our site technician meaning that he was there to help keep our computers up and running. In reality he is an educator who is as passionate about education technology as I am. He was interested in Maker Education before it was called Maker Education. In a previous life, he made robots. If I remember correctly, he sold his robotics company and the technology that he helped create became Roomba.

Needless to say, I really enjoyed collaborating with him. We worked together on creating a robotics unit for 4th grade, we shared new and interesting technology with each other, and we planned different ways to engage and empower students with technology.

An example of some of the stuff that we did was the wii remote interactive whiteboard hack. The hack is well documented online, but it was new and interesting so we went for it. It didn’t take long for Dr. Carl to have it up and running. He even created a marker to go with it. It worked great except the sun coming through my windows in the morning messed with the infrared light pen. Also, interactive whiteboards are not the best fit for my teaching style so the project didn’t take off for me. The markers and remote were shelved. Since then, Dr. Carl has moved on to focus on his family and his weaving, but his influence is still felt.

Dr. Carl's prototype of an infrared whiteboard marker.

Dr. Carl’s prototype of an infrared whiteboard marker.

A week or two ago all of our classrooms got outfitted with a new Ipevo system. The Ipevo system essentially does the same thing that the wii remote hack did. Complete with a fancy whiteboard marker that reminded me of that pen that Dr. Carl made a few years back.

I think our school’s student council does some neat things. The teacher in charge allows them to create the structure and the different committees. The students are empowered to run each component of the council. I volunteer to work with the technology committee. They are in charge of creating videos that showcase their activities, creating a PowerPoint presentation that runs in our lobby, and updating parts of the school’s website. While meeting with the tech committee, I found the old prototype of the pen and showed it to them. I then asked if they would be interested in creating customized interactive whiteboard markers for the staff. Their eyes lit up and they were on board.

The first thing they did was tear apart the prototype so they could see how it was built. Then they had to create a proposal that explained what the project was and what the costs were going to be. This proposal would be presented first to the teacher advising the student council, then to their larger committee, finally to the general council. They had to get approval from each stage to continue. Part of this project is getting funding from the student council, so it was important to make sure they were accurate and clear in what they wanted and why.

The students got to work on it right away. I pointed them to a couple of tutorials at instructables.com. They discussed the different models they saw, they looked at files from thingiverse.com and came up with a plan on how to make them. Then they started researching what the cost of the components would be. The students decided they wanted a different color pen for each grade level. So they researched different filament for the printer and included that in their budget. I saw them calculating the cost of shipping and taxes. In the end they showed me a budget that came to over $500.00. That wasn’t going to fly, so I told them to cap the budget at $300.00 and to try and find a way to come under that.

They went back to the internet and found switches for much less than they accounted for. Then they looked at other items and found other ways to bring the cost down. In the end, their budge was just over $300.00. The advising teacher loved the idea, and so did the rest of the student council. Their project has been approved and funded. They are currently in the process of ordering the components, and soon they will begin creating and modifying the 3D files so we can print and make our next prototype. It’s going to be a fantastic process. I am looking forward to watching it take shape.

Here is their proposal/presentation.

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