Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Making, Writing, & Leaving My Wheelhouse: How This Relates to ELD Students (UPDATED)

By on January 10, 2016

I first began blogging to reflect on what I was learning during my summer with the Writing Project. After each day, I returned home, head spinning, needing to simply process. Finally, my husband said, “Why don’t you try starting one of those blog-things?” Now I find myself again needing to use my blog for my own processing purposes.

I’ve been talking to my principal about possibly beginning a new kind of Language Arts class, one that leverages Making as a means to inspire writing and informational reading. Coincidentally, I had purchased the new book in the Hack Learning series, Make Writing, which aligned beautifully with what I was planning. Make Writing thinks about the writing process as tinkering and folds in tangible experiences with items to trigger ideas.

In fact, in an article I just read today from Mindshift, there is research to support flipping Blooms to begin with Create so that students “eventually discern the knowledge we need from it.”

This class that I’m planning would use Making as a vehicle to engage students in more meaningful writing. I’ll expand on both the demographic and curriculum in a future post, but in the meantime, I want to dive more deeply into what it feels like to develop a class outside your wheelhouse.

Because it occurs to me, that I am experiencing what many ELD students go through daily.

I say that because while I may know how to use a Google tool or two, I am clearly learning to swim Pacific_ocean_5with this new concept and the hardware it requires. And for this writing teacher who is tentatively donning the scuba tank of a writing-focused Making teacher, it feels like I’ve never seen the ocean before now.  Developing this class takes my learning curve to a whole new level.

For instance, I attended a Google Hangout of vendors and designers who spoke only in acronyms. I am now reading through discussion threads that are clearly generous with expertise, but it’s like sifting through an entire stadium for one piece of popcorn.  I end up Googling every other word I’m reading or hearing, and I keep a running list of definitions and questions. It’s daunting, but it leads me down a rabbit hole of learning.

For instance, here’s one example of a sentence from the Google Hangout I attended:


“I want to show everyone my Pigglypoo made from a Bladdy-blah. It uses Zippidoo and Zipplemorph, and you’ll notice the Bazzlesnatch doesn’t connect with the Mommymow. I had problems with the Nozzleshort, so I decided to Kuddlezop the Wackamole using the Dippelidong.”


Yeah, that’s what it felt like.

So one of the things I did was immediately reach out to a friend at CalTech and ask if he knew anyone: grad student, intern, Joe-that-just-walks-by-CalTech-everyday, to see if I could line up an informal mentor.

The next thing I did was write an unembarrassed post in the discussion group introducing myself as an enthusiastic newbie. That’s one of the things I love most of all about a lot of tech groups: they embrace those who are excited about what they are doing. They may not understand why we don’t understand everything, or they many not understand why sifting through threads can be a gatekeeper to the knowledge they’ve shared, but I really respect their desire to help bring non-techy folks onboard.

I, in turn, suggest scaffolds that might help others like me. For instance, I suggested that a glossary could be provided for some of the most frequent terms. If were a little more savvy, I’d produce it myself or have a student take it on. But as it is, I could just use a Making Rosetta Stone, you know?

Anyway, here’s a little list I’ve begun in the infancy stages of planning. This isn’t a definitive list of overall making materials, but it does represent my initial discoveries about equipment.


Printers: I’m hoping for 3-4 3D printers total. Teachers recommended the following brands:

I was thinking of pitching the Lulzbot Mini to the powers that be.  It’s pricier, but it got great reviews on customer support and its Plug-and-Print capability holds promise for a novice like me. Additionally, the heated bed (the thing the plastic sticks to) should help avoid some issues later on.


Me with my current Afinia printer

 Materials: The Lulzbot takes tons of different kinds of material: ABS, PLA, Nylon, Blah-blah-blah…I have no idea what these acronyms stand for, but the more flexibility your machine has with 3rd party materials, the better. I hear ABS and PLA a lot, so I’m assuming these are the most common materials.

However, I was reading that some materials out there are better than others, so I’ll purchase from companies that come with recommendations from other teachers: 3DUniverseGizmoDorks, and Colorfabb.

Software: In the little dabbling we’ve already done with 3D Printing, my students have used Tinkercad successfully with Chromebooks. However, we might try Autodesk’s Fusion 360 in the future if we have access to MacBooks. It’s free for students and educators.

UPDATE:  Many educators are recommending the Ultimaker device.  Despite its price tag, teachers seem to feel that you might need fewer machines because the reliability is far greater than many others on the list.  I’ll let you know what I decide, but I’m going to be contacting vendors now on the following machines based on more updated recommendations:



Lulzbot Taz 5 (new to my list)

I’m also hearing a lot about the differences between an untethered and tethered connection to a computer as a new piece of criteria to consider.

I’ll let you know my decision!


I can’t help but think that what I’m going through will help me teach my ELD students. After all, by pulling myself out of my comfort zone, I’ve had to look at things through their lens. Synthesizing what I’ve already done to help in my own learning, here are some strategies that might also help them as well:

  1. Being immersed in oral discussion
  2. Participating in written threads
  3. Googling terms and building my own glossary
  4. Keeping a list of questions
  5. Reaching out for a mentor
  6. Introducing myself honestly
  7. Suggesting ways to help myself understand
  8. Teaching, Sharing, and Reflecting– After all, this post shares what I’m learning, and teaching is the best way to really embed information

I know I have more to do and more strategies to try, but I hope this post helps you journey forward with your learning as much as it has for me to reflect on mine.

As the class continues in its development, I’ll start to post ideas on curriculum as I journey from maker-writer-tech-tentative to (keep your fingers crossed) more maker-writer-tech-savvy.

Any suggestions or scaffolds I’m missing? Let me know in the comment section please! I could use any help I can get!

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