A few years ago my wife had bought me a telescope as a present. I was ( and still am) very interested in astronomy and this was a great gift for me.
As I learned more about astronomy, one of the things that struck me the most was the amount of pro-am research that was going on. Some amateur astronomers spend thousands of dollars on equipment and have beautiful setups. In fact, many discoveries are being made by amateurs or by collaborations between astronomers who work at labs and others who just love the sky as a hobby.
As I’m digging more into the programming world and the world of makers, it doesn’t take long until you come across this same idea. Makers, programmers and geeks come from across the world. They are all ages and do almost anything you can imagine for a living. Some are hard core code geeks who spend countless hours in this world, while others are hobbyists looking to make and learn something. In education, many people complain about the blogging and edtech world being an echochamber of ideas. In the world of making and building, teachers and students are only a small minority of people involved.
In fact, breaking into this world to gain information and experience requires a full step out of the often closed up world of edtech. In making and programming, it’s all about the community of learners who are willing to work together. In fact, most vendors have been wise enough to help build a community of people around their products who help others to build and tinker.
In the past six months or so, I’ve moved into a few of these communities so that I can learn more myself and so that I can support the kids in my classroom.
Reddit: Reddit has a reputation of being the web’s ultimate time suck. As well, if you are a person who is easily offended, some of the stuff posted on Reddit may offend you. But the truth is, if you make an account and subscribe to specific sub reddits, you will find a wealth of information on this site. I use Reddit mostly for information about 3D printers in general, about reprap and about Printrbots. There are a number of good programming for beginners sub reddits as well as good Linux and Raspberry Pi information. Reddit is weak on electronics and Arduino information so you may best look elsewhere for that.
Adafruit: Adafruit is an electronics vendor who sell almost everything you would need for any type of project. I was directed to Adafruit’s massive tutorial and learning centre by a very smart high school student I met on twitter who, incidentally, also has his own store for selling Printrbot accessories. Adafruit is an active and busy place.
Raspberry Pi: The Raspberry pi site has an active community of people gathered around it who are up to all sorts of projects. There is good basic programming information here as well as a ton of ideas on using your little machine to do all sorts of things. There is a specific thread here for teachers looking to integrate programming into their classrooms.
Element 14: Element 14 is another vendor I have ordered things from. A great site to buy things from, they sports a less busy community. They definitely deserve credit for trying. They have some great tutorials and even a web series on making, but their forums aren’t as busy as other sites. Lots of people posting things, fewer answers coming back. Element 14 is a great site, but they need some new life breathed into their community for it to truly be a hub for makers and learners.
Printrbot: I bought a Printrbot 3D printer this summer and like any other 3D printer, you can tinker with it for endless hours. It’s a good thing that Printrbot has a solid community around it. I’ve posted a few things in their forums and answers always come back solid and well researched. I’ve tried to give back a little in this space by posting a few answers, but I’m often still too much of a noob to be much help. Valuable site. Great community.
Arduino: I’m just beginning to get into working with Arduino. The possibilities are endless, but the programming and building can be deep. Once again, Arduino has an excellent, vibrant community of builders, tinkerers and makers gathered around it. The video tutorials and forum boards are stuffed with people willing to share.
If you want to get your students involved in the world of building and making, you need to help them get connected with the worldwide community of people who are doing this kind of work.