Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Pannello blog

Lessons to Share: 3D Printing and Design to Learn Reading & Writing

By on June 17, 2016

So I just finished my first week with my Make Writing class.  This class, as I’ve written about in the past, is intended to help those long-term EL students who have become disengaged with school and with learning.  These kids are always stuck in the drill-and-kill courses, and we thought that one way to address their needs might be to focus on engagement and advocacy as a means to jack up the rigor generally asked of these students.  So we’ve given them access to the 3d Printers and to Project Based Learning.  In addition, these students all agreed to begin their Language Arts class early so we’ve selected a number of summer days to get us going prior to the official start of the new school year.

Many people have been asking how Making (a seemingly STEM-oriented activity) can relate to literacy IMG_6421and writing.  I’ve shared a lesson before that’s proven interesting to people, so I thought I’d also share a few of the lessons we’ve been doing this week to communicate a little about what a two-hour block looks like in the Make Writing summer classroom. The goal is to make learning how to read and write more concrete, more meaningful, and more hands-on.


The class met on Tuesday, and many of the students arrived early to grab a Chromebook and a bean bag chair.  Here’s what we accomplished and some links to the lessons themselves:

  1. We created the shell of our digital portfolios.  That is, we didn’t fill them in, but just created the pages and the students sent me the links so I could create a page of student URLs to refer to throughout the year.  We used Google Sites, and created the following pages: About Me, Works in Progress, Final Drafts, Culminating Projects, Reading Log, Writing Journal, Research Library.
  2. We learned how to calibrate the build-plate for the Ultimaker printers & learned how to change the material. 
  3. We wrote our first writing journal entry and linked it to the Writing Journal page in our portfolio.  This will serve as an informal benchmark of sorts since it’s their first writing piece for me.  See assignment below.
  4. We took a “hands-on” break and watched a how-to video in order to learn to assemble fingers for the prosthetic fingers.  The parts were printed out and in front of them when they entered the classroom.  In the end, we assembled a total of 30 fingers.  The kids ended up having to use needlenose pliers in some cases, and that introduced them to where the tools are in the classroom.
  5. We began reading the young readers edition of I Am Malala.  Since we will be focusing on advocacy, this was a good choice.  It also aligns with the One City, One Book, One Read selection that our high school will be reading as well.  My honors classes are also reading it, but I think these students will get a lot out of the content as well, and since I’ll be touching on child-advocacy models throughout the year, this is great place to start. On Tuesday, we got through the prologue.

Writing Journal #1 Assignment: The first journal entry asked them to listen to the opening song from Hamilton, reading the lyrics as they listened. Then, we read the liner notes from Lin-Manuel Miranda, found on Genius.com, and the students independently watched his performance for the president at an open poetry night at The White House. Then, the students answered the prompt: How do you connect to this song or to Hamilton himself? How is your story connected to that of this founding father?


We met again on Thursday and tried to accomplish the following.  It seemed to move slower today as I mistimed how long it would take them to sift through some of the resources.  I am listing my plan here, but the reality was that we never got to I Am Malala.  We’ll make that up next Tuesday and focus on that more next week instead.  Here’s what the initial plan was:

  1. We assigned students in small groups to different printers.  Maintaining that printer is now their responsibility.  Changing the colored filament, taking orders from other classes, troubleshooting, and researching solutions to failed prints is now assigned to specific groups per printer.
  2. We learned the names of our printers and researched their references.  Names help students “own” the devices, and each group had to research where their printer’s name had come from.  Each printer was named by a student from this year, and this new class now has to learn about its source.  Here are the names: Gutenberg, Prints Hamlet, Printsess Impresora, Ada Lovelace, Mr. Chuck Hulls (pronounced “Chuckles.”
  3. We produced Journal Entry #2 and entered it the Writing Journal page on our digital portfolios. See assignment below. Meanwhile, as they were listening and writing, I opened the links to their portfolios and their 1st Writing Journal entries and made sure all links were operational and shared correctly.  I made comments on their 1st Writing Journals as they produced their 2nd.
  4. I introduced them to Thingiverse in a structured scavenger hunt assignment that also incorporated the history standards.  First they had to define “Open Source.”  Then, they had to find a quote from the history standards in grades 6, 7, & 8 and find an image from Thingiverse that could symbolize each of those history standards.  For instance, a student could enter the following:

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 10.47.55 AM6th Grade

“Around 1500 BCE, Egypt entered the era known as the New Kingdom. Kings such as Thutmose III expanded the Egyptian empire far up the Nile River into what is now Sudan, and into the Levant, that is, the coastal region at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Teachers highlight Queen Hatshepsut (ca. 1479-1458 BCE) and King Ramses II, also known as Ramses the Great (1279-1212 BCE).”


5. We entered the MLA citation for Thingiverse and the CA History standards document into our “Research Library” page of our digital portfolio.

6. We had planned to read the first chapter of I Am Malala and fill out a summary reading log that would then get linked to the “Reading Log” page of their digital portfolios.


Writing Journal #2: We watched the OK Go! Rube Goldberg Machine.What was the main objective of the machine?  I then asked students to count the steps it took to achieve that goal. (That took forever!) The prompt was: How can you pop a balloon in 10-15 steps?  Hint: start with the last one and work your way backwards.

Next week we’ll be focusing on I Am Malala and summarizing our reading.  I’ll post some more lessons and reflections as I go!

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The Argh Wall! Celebrating Failure in the Classroom: A Lesson For Writing & Making

By on May 15, 2016

So, I’ve been writing lately about my new class that I’m developing for next year called Make Writing.  I’ve been writing curriculum for this class that leverages 3D printing in order to teach Literacy and Writing.  The class itself is

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Past, Present, Future: Assessments and Technology

By on April 2, 2016

“Grading, in kids’ brains, parents’ brains, administrators’ brains, and even teachers’ brains, is a final snapshot after which there is no beyond.  But if we can start thinking about assessments as a means to drive feedback, NOW you’re on to something.”


Alternative Strategies for Assessing Learning: Larry Ferlazzo Classroom Q & A Podcast

By on March 30, 2016

“Whether they’re doing a portfolio or a performance task, they still want to see How do I stack up?” I had a lot of fun being interviewed for Larry Ferlazzo’s podcast about alternatives to grading and traditional assessments.  The follow-up

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Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement

By on March 10, 2016

Hey, middle school and high school teachers and parents!  Can you do me a favor? I am polling thousands of kids nationwide on what engages them the most in how they learn.  This is based on a survey of 500

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Pencils to 3D-Printers: A New Kind of Language Arts Class

By on February 7, 2016

  “The printers have been ordered.  Fingers crossed.  Here we go…..” This was the email I received two weeks ago from my principal who is working with me to develop a whole new kind of Language Arts class.  The plan

The sexy Ultimaker 2

Eeny, Meeny, Mino, Moe: Which 3D Printer Should We Own?

By on January 27, 2016

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the start of my journey to create a Language Arts and ELD class that leveraged 3D printing as a means to initiate a more purposeful curriculum for reading and writing.  I will be

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5 Nonfiction Articles + Novels Series: Middle School Edition (Jan.)

By on January 20, 2016

Mutually Beneficial Animal Relationships (Photos) Written by: Huffington Post Staff Published On: The Huffington Post “The ostrich isn’t very good at smelling, while the zebra can smell pretty well. The zebra though, doesn’t have good eyesight, but the ostrich does.


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

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5 Non-Fiction Articles to Pair with High School Literature (December)

By on December 23, 2015

    1. Dumb Kids’ Class Written by: Mark Bowden Published on: The Atlantic “My bet is that when a comprehensive inventory is made of my generation, it will be found that not one person from a smart kids’ class

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5 Nonfiction + Novels Series: The Middle School Edition for Dec. 2015

By on December 22, 2015

My newest post is the first in a series  in which I’m collaborating with Talks with Teachers podcaster and blogger, Brian Sztabnik. Brian not only moderates the #aplitchat on Twitter but also writes the 5 Nonfiction + Novels series for

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Celebrating the Refugees Already in Our Classrooms: Memories and Advice From a Student

By on December 1, 2015

In June 2001, a family of four escaped from the slaughter of Nepal and made their way across the world to safety. They arrived, not in boats dragged up on shore, but in the arms of families who helped them

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The Invisible Strategies of Teaching: #whatpeopledontsee

By on November 23, 2015

hen you walk onto a middle school campus and even into the rooms themselves, it can look like chaos. After all, middle schoolers are wired to be active and wired to be loud. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t learning

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Who Was I In Middle School? A Reflection + Free Downloadable

By on November 10, 2015

t times, seeing the diversity in my own students, I’ve wondered who I was when I was in middle school and what really drove my tween’s brain.  So I created a Tip 10 list of memories to help me reflect

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Boy Talk at Recess: Pokemon, Light Sabers, and Things That Go Boom!

By on October 11, 2015

y most recent post for The Huffington Post just went live.  It chronicles my embarrassment when my 9-year-old son chose his classroom’s parent-led art session to voice his recent interest in bloody talk.  It also chronicles my son’s frustration at

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DIY Project Based Learning for ELA and History

By on August 16, 2015

’m excited to announce that my new book, DIY Project Based Learning for ELA and History has arrived and is now available for purchase. The point of the book was to break down the process of PBL into day-by-day chunks


How to Host a Twitter Chat with your School Community

By on August 9, 2015

very year schools sit and brainstorm ways to communicate and engage its families. How will we reach out to parents? How will we gather information about their needs or give them a little insight in what we do as educators? A

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Lessons Students Can Learn From Mick Fanning vs. The Great White Shark

By on July 27, 2015

hat’s with shark videos? First it was the uniqueness of Left Shark in the Katy Perry halftime show. From him we learned to dance to your own groove, even in front of millions of people And now we have the

Courtesy of Marvel Studios and IMDB

Using Ant-Man In The Classroom

By on July 24, 2015

just watched Ant-Man with my 9 year-old, and we both walked away with a cinematic smile on our faces. For him, it was a movie of laughs and of just the right level of suspense. It didn’t have the darkness


The Full Interview with Dr. Spiros Michalakis

By on October 30, 2014

s part of my recent superhero PBL unit, I brought in Dr. Spiros Michalakis to talk to my students about research for their science-fiction based narratives.  Spiros is a Quantum Physicist who consulted on the new Marvel movie, Ant-man.  Sure,