On Wednesday, April 4, 2018, Redmond School District held its first-ever Make-a-thon at Obsidian Middle School. The make-a-thon included students, teachers, and community members from both Obsidian and Elton Gregory middle schools, teachers from both local high schools, students from the computer science program at OSU Cascades, and a several teachers and students from Pacific Crest middle school and the Mitchell School District.

The Redmond make-a-thon came about because two Redmond School District Employees from the Instructional Technology Department had attended the make-a-thon at Skyview Middle School in Bend in November 2017, the first organized by the High Desert ESD. They decided that they needed to provide this opportunity to their their teachers and enlisted support from the principals of Obsidian and Elton Gregory. The High Desert ESD team provided coaching, while the Redmond School District raised the funds and put the event together.

Innovate Oregon and Sparkfun teamed up to put on these make-a-thons in communities including Dayton, Newberg, Willamina, Dallas, and Bend. Sparkfun provides the hardware and software platform, as well as the instruction.  The community and schools provide the cut-and-paste materials. Sparkfun instructor Derek Runberg, starts each event with a crash course in programming and electronic circuit design.

Teams learn to use their Sparkfun Microbit kits, which includes a computer and maker-board that lets designers connect and actuate mechanisms like LED lights, directional servos, and motors, controlled by the software they write on their computers.  Then the fun starts. Each team picks an automated “product” to prototype, which might be an automated chicken coop or greenhouse, or some out-of-the-world automated “pet.”  Using cut-and-paste-101 materials such as cardboard, tape, and glue, along with the Sparkfun components, they hack their prototypes together, hoping to have a demonstration model.  All this takes place between 9:00am and 3:00pm when the teams report out.

Angie Mason-Smith who coordinated the Bend make-a-thon explained: “we planned for 80 and had over 90 participants, so we were a bit short on Microbit kits and t-shirts. But what really tells the story is we had a participant age range of 11 to 84 – a diverse variety of maker wannabes. And unlike the Skyview Middle School event, we decided to hold the make-a-thon in the middle of the school so that non-participating students and teachers could walk by between classes and observe. So, it sometimes got chaotic, which caused the teams to entrench and really focus on learning the hardware and software so that they could hack their projects together.”

Another difference from previous make-a-thons was the lack of space in the facility to have each team present their project to all of the rest of the participants at once. Instead, the teams broke into pairs and 2 members stayed at their table to explain their project to other participants, while the other 2 members visited the other project teams, switching roles halfway through.  This proved beneficial because it gave the participants time to discuss their ideas with each other as they visited each project.

According to Angie: “it was a completely enriching experience all around and there’s a lot of discussion about how to bring this Agile learning process into the classroom. This is a great example to see how quickly schools, teachers, and students can be inspired to try something new and completely different. In fact, those participants from other schools have already reached out to get help doing a make-a-thon at their school.”  Read the Redmond Spokesman article here.