Access to New Technologies

Over the past semester I have learned and experimented with programs and technology that I previously thought was inaccessible to me because it was either too difficult to learn, too expensive, or both. What I discovered was that these computational tools were far closer to my reach than I ever realized.

I worked with two programs, one for coding and one for 3D printing and design. The first one I learned was Scratch, a programming site that allows users to create stories, art, games, and animations. This website breaks down the complex language of code into more simplified blocks; it makes learning code easier for beginners. Of course, that isn't to say the learning process didn’t present tough challenges.

Scratch code for my game inquiry. Link to play: https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/498547261

Once I started to feel comfortable with the interface I created increasingly complex code. I learned that even the slightest details matter when working on a coding project, and sometimes I would have to “debug” the code. I would go through it, watch it run, and try and figure out what was causing the issue. Things like timing, scene changes, and sprite movement all had to be in sync with your story progression. My process through these inquiries essentially remained consistent: trial/error, experimentation, and group learning. I made a connection between this process and a quote from Resnick (2008):

“Instead, to help kids develop as creative thinkers, we need to create environments where kids feel comfortable making mistakes and where they can learn from their mistakes.” (p. 158).

Discussing what blocks we were using with classmates helped a lot with troubleshooting and learning. We also viewed each other’s projects and commented on them, creating a sense of community learning. Your connection to the people around you has a big impact on your creativity (Cepeda, 2021). It is common for users on scratch to view other projects, look at the code, and even remix projects. The website itself encourages community learning though these features.

Example of group learning — peers commenting on my project and reviewing code inside

A big takeaway I got from Scratch was how the format and interface made learning to code more accessible. Anyone is able to use it regardless of skill level, and its free of cost. In addition to that, the community aspect of this website helps users view and experiment with complex codes. This level of accessibility was far beyond my expectations, as I imagined it would be much more difficult (and possibly pricey) to learn how to code.

In the Scratch after school club I taught elementary students how to code. I didn’t know how well I would be able to teach the students because this was my first teaching experience. I have always wanted to teach but I had many anxieties about my ability to. I feel like this experience has instilled in me so much more confidence in myself and my choice to become a teacher; it is definitely the right path for me.

There were four sessions, all held remotely over Zoom video calls. Because of this, it was difficult to anticipate what the students may have learned and what needed to be reiterated. We learned in the continuing sessions that the student’s we were teaching Scratch to, a program we had only recently learned to navigate ourselves, learned what we were trying to teach them with a similar process involving trial and error in addition to group learning. The students would ask each other questions and share experiences, just as I had with my classmates. Experimenting with code, seeing what works and what doesn’t, playing with movements, sounds and backgrounds were all part of both my own and the students’ learning experiences with this technology. We weren't there to tell them exactly how to do things, but to help and guide them. My co-instructor for this after school club stated one example of her learning that resonated with me in regards to experimentation and being a guide for students (Willis, 2021):

“With this in mind I have realized that its okay to not over explain every detail when it comes to teaching children, but also give them enough detail to let their imagination run wild.”

Dreamhouse 3D model and print

The second program I want to discuss is Tinkercad. This is a design program used for 3D modeling and printing, it is also free for all users. I worked on two projects using this program. Tinkercad allows the user to use basic shapes to design 3D models, like the one in the image above. This program is simplified and works best for beginners who are new at 3D modeling and printing, unlike other cad programs which can be intimidating and incredibly complex. This program is suitable for any skill level to begin learning 3D modeling, making an otherwise complicated process much more simple.

Figure 3D models
Final result for second 3D print, all separate pieces with connectors, freestanding

This technology offers more than just simple shapes. In my second design I used connectors. This was a much more complicated process that involved sizing the pieces perfectly so they could fit together and be proportional, which was a lot more challenging to learn. I also had to use supports on the print of the head, which I did not have to use in the previous print. These supports created a rough surface when removed, which I then sanded off so everything would fit together and appear smooth.

However, where this technology differs on accessibility compared with coding is the cost. 3D printers can still be pricey and in rural, small towns like the one I went to high school in, this technology may not be accessible. However, there is hope that these machines will become less expensive to obtain, and with the help of funding for these kinds of programs, they will hopefully become more accessible. In this article, several schools received funding for machines like 3D printers and other manufacturing technologies (Friese, 2021, para. 3).

In conclusion, art teachers can use free programs like Tinkercad and Scratch to design their classrooms around new technologies and allow them to be more accessible to the students they are teaching. Programs like these are designed to allow people to access to new technologies no matter their skill level, previous experience, or financial background.

References:

Cepeda, L. 2021. personal correspondence.

Friese, E. (2021, May, 5). 28 Wisconsin school districts awarded money for manufacturing education. WKOW. https://wkow.com/2021/05/05/28-wisconsin-school-districts-awarded-fab-labs-grants/

Resnick, M. (2017). Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play. The MIT Press.

Willis, E. 2021. personal correspondence.

Future teacher

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