MACUL 2019: Making Meaning Through Making


Sarah Van Loo and I will be presenting the MACUL Conference 2019 in Detroit, MI, sharing both a 3-hour pre-conference workshop, as well as a 1-hour session during the main conference.

Our workshop and session are both entitled “Making Meaning Through Making”. This session is aimed at educators who have already been using design thinking, constructivist thinking and making in their learning environments, and who want an opportunity to learn from and dialogue with educators who have experiences across the STEAM content areas. We will show high-quality examples of projects that integrate making in the STEAM disciplines, and give attendees a chance to dialogue about opportunities for instruction, integration, and student engagement through project-based learning and making.

Sarah and I are really looking forward to working with other educators during these sessions. If you’re going to be at the MACUL conference, check it out!

BBC micro:bit

Presenting at PLTW Summit Indianapolis


I’m excited to share that I will be presenting twice at the Project Lead The Way (PLTW) Summit in Indianapolis, IN, in February 2019.

PLTW Summit Indianapolis is a three-day event packed with workshops, general sessions, and after-hours activities designed to bring together the PLTW Network and passion for providing students with inspiring, engaging, and empowering learning opportunities. It runs February 17-19, 2019.

I will be presenting a session entitled “Extending the micro:bit for Computer Science for Innovators and Makers”, in which participants will learn about a number of new technologies that can extend the capabilities of the BBC micro:bit microcontroller. I’ll be demonstrating ways in which educators can use relays, RGB LEDs, 3D printing, and additional technologies to expand the possibilities of what they and their students can make.

If you’re attending Summit, please check for my presentation! I will be presenting this session twice:

Sunday, February 17, 2019 at 3-4 p.m. in JW Grand 1
Tuesday, February 19, 2019 at 2-3 p.m. in JW Grand 1

If you’re attending Summit, please check for my presentation! I will be presenting this session twice:

Sunday, February 17, 2019 at 3-4 p.m. in JW Grand 1
Tuesday, February 19, 2019 at 2-3 p.m. in JW Grand 1

attribution: original BBC micro:bit photograph in featured image by

Sign up for my MACUL workshop on March 18, 2015!


I’m delighted to announce that I will be leading a pre-conference workshop at the 2015 MACUL conference in Detroit, Michigan. My workshop, on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, is focused on documenting and sharing project-based learning.

Full STEAM Ahead: Projects to Build and Share

8:30 AM – 12:00 PM  –  Cobo Center
Bill VanLoo, Teacher, Ann Arbor STEAM at Northside, Ann Arbor Public Schools

Come make and document hands-on projects from the STEAM content areas! A special focus will be learning tools and techniques for documenting your work; options for mobile devices (Android and iOS), Web tools, and cameras will be explored in detail. Finally, you’ll discover methods for efficiently sharing your work online. Bring your favorite tool for capturing photos and videos.

A new adventure: STEAM @ Northside


It is with greatly mixed emotions that I’m posting this today.

I have accepted a new position with Ann Arbor Public Schools, as the Ed Tech lead teacher for the new STEAM program at Northside. As such, I have resigned from my position at Honey Creek.

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) is an integrative approach that I have been working toward for a number of years at Honey Creek, and the opportunity to build a new program based on this vision is tremendously exciting. I met with the new staff today, and it’s a really wonderful group of people, and we’re planning on doing some great things.

I look forward to continuing to be part of the Honey Creek community as a parent and supporter. Many thanks to all of you who have helped make the last 7 years of my life so special, and onward to the new adventure!

New videos: GEMMA, NeoPixels, and PiFace!

maker, teaching

Reflection on my teaching and the tools I use has long been a part of my teaching practice, and I have a few new videos to share.

The first is from a project I did at the end of winter break, when we got lucky with an extra snow day. This gave me an opportunity to play with the Adafruit GEMMA, a small microcontroller designed for wearables. Here’s the video:


Also, I’ve been teaching a new afterschool Scratch workshop this winter, and I got a new tool for the Raspberry Pi that is perfect for introducing physical computing and interaction. It’s called the PiFace Digital, and the video below gives a quick tour of this exciting new add-on.

Blogging Mindstorms: Introduction


I decided not to take a graduate class this winter semester, due to a couple of factors (time and money, primarily). However, I was very pleased to be given a copy of Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas  for Christmas, and I decided to use it to do some independent study and research during this winter.

In addition to the Amazon link above, you can also read Mindstorms for free via Google Books.

Although I have read parts of this book in the past, along with various articles by Papert, I am planning on reading and blogging my thoughts about Mindstorms chapter-by-chapter, as a way to reflect on the book and engage more deeply with the text. I anticipate this will both inspire and challenge me, and I can already envision it providing continued direction in both my academic work as well as my teaching practice.

I first became particularly interested in reading Mindstorms after glowing (and occasionally profane) recommendations by Bret Victor in his treatise, “Learnable Programming“. Victor writes about Mindstorms:

The canonical work on designing programming systems for learning, and perhaps the greatest book ever written on learning in general, is Seymour Papert’s “Mindstorms”.

Designing a learning system without a solid understanding of the principles in this book is like designing a mechanical system without understanding “the lever”. Or “gravity”. If you are reading this essay (and I’m pretty sure you are!) then you need to read “Mindstorms”.

Bret Victor’s “Learnable Programming” was itself a stunning, revelatory piece of work to me when I first encountered it, informing my thoughts on how to teach and design programming environments for students. I work primarily with elementary and middle school students, teaching Processing, LEGO Mindstorms NXT robotics, Scratch, and other programming environments, among other technology and engineering topics. Due to our mixed grade levels, I have a 3-year curriculum cycle for our middle school, and I will next be teaching Processing in the 2014-2015 school year. “Learnable Programming” gave me a lot to chew on for how I’ll approach this next time around.

Back to Mindstorms: today I read the Foreward to the Second Edition by John Sculley (former CEO of Apple Computer), the Foreward to the Second Edition by Carol Sperry, the Introduction to the Second Edition by Seymour Papert, the Preface (“The Gears of My Childhood”), and finally the actual Introdution: Computers for Children. What Papert sets out in these first few pages is really visionary, exciting, and sometimes uncomfortable ideas about computers, education and society.

Some quotes:

I see Logo as a means that can, in principle, be used by educators to support the development of new ways of thinking and learning. However Logo does not in itself produce good learning any more than paint produces good art.

– Introduction to the Second Edition , p. xiv

Most important of all, in many schools students were now able to use programming as an expressive medium to study other topics rather than as a skill to be learned for the sake of learning it. As they do so they become fluent, and as they become fluent they begin to use their own varied styles of programming.

– Introduction to the Second Edition , p. xvii

Papert is listing some of the “bugs” in the first edition of the book. This idea of programming being a means to an end rather than its own intrinsically useful or worthwhile activity is one that I wrestle with, as I tend to do with all skills-based learning. For example, is it worthwhile to learn algebra as a standalone skill, or only when learning algebra empowers students to do other things?

In many schools today, the phrase “computer-aided instruction” means making the computer teach the child. One might say the computer is being used to program the child. In my vision, the child programs the computer and, in doing so, both acquires a sense of mastery over a piece of the most modern and powerful technology and establishes an intimate contact with some of the deepest ideas from science, from mathematics, and from the art of intellectual model building.

– Introduction , p. 5

It’s interesting to see Papert use the phrase “mastery over” the computer, as it seems that so much of this work is about embracing the computer as a tool. I suppose this is a minor thing, but the use of language seems curious. I tend not to think of “mastery over” my preferred tools, but instead a harmonious usage, with the tool becoming an extension of me as opposed to me forcing a tool to do what I want.

Really, though, the killer dichotomy here is the “computer programming the child” versus “child programming the computer” that Papert so neatly lays out. This alone is worth the price of admission regarding the Introduction. It neatly defines all those rote games that, while useful, too often get thought of as the only domain of educational technology (practicing addition facts, anyone?), while laying out a clear sense of what the rest of the text should be about.

Finally, Papert goes on a real tear on pages 16-18, describing (in 1979!) the need for 1:1 computing platforms to enable the kind of computer-assisted learning he is getting ready to describe:

…the “right conditions” are very different from the kind of access to computers that is now becoming established as the norm in schools. The conditions necessary for the kind of relationships with a computer that I will be writing about in this book require more and freer access to the computer than educational planners currently anticipate. And they require a kind of computer language and a learning environment around that language very different from those the schools are now providing. They even require a kind of computer rather different from those that schools are currently buying.
– Introduction , p. 16-18
I look forward to blogging Chapter 1 soon! Thanks for reading.

2013 in review – teaching


It’s a little unusual wrapping up a school year in a calendar-year format, since of course the school year spans a different time period. However, there were a few things that I wanted to specifically mention that happened in this 2013 year.

Computing with the Raspberry Pi

The first was the work I did over the summer with the Raspberry Pi and Minecraft Pi Edition. The Raspberry Pi is a $35 Linux computer on a single board, and I ran a summer camp based on teaching children to use it, and to learn programming in Python. You can read my full week’s worth of reflections on my Minecraft Pi Camp website.

pi-boardPhoto 2013-05-31 02.38.24 PM

Raspberry Pi, a $35 Linux computer on a board

I started this year off by giving a Raspberry Pi to my younger son for Christmas, and it has really propelled my academic work during the past 12 months: I ran a week-long summer camp using it as a platform, I’m using Google Coder for Raspberry Pi with my middle school Web Design class, I wrote an academic paper about its influence for one of my master’s classes at Eastern Michigan University, and I was accepted to present at the 2014 MACUL conference giving a reflection on my summer camp experiences and demoing the amazing things that can be done with this inexpensive computing platform.

New Art Teacher and Office Makeover

The other really big news regarding my teaching career at Honey Creek Community School is that I gained a new co-worker and office mate: my wife, Sarah Van Loo (@sarahevanloo on Twitter)!

Sarah joined the Honey Creek staff as our new Visual Art teacher toward the end of the summer, and her first task was to make sense of the art office. As you can see below, it was quite a mess:



Essentially, the office was a storage room (and dumping ground) with a small desk plunked down in the middle of the chaos. My office was also a combined storage/workspace for all the school’s technology equipment, in the inner core of the building (read: no window!). We put our heads together and came up with a plan to transform the art office into a shared office space, and the current technology office into a combined art/tech storage space. We got to work in late August in order to start making this a reality.

After much hard work, the former art office was completely cleared out. By a stroke of good luck, the new Facility Director was able to schedule the ratty old carpeting to be removed and the floor to be re-tiled.


During that process, my former office was being slowly transformed into the combined art/technology storage space, with room for materials, tools, and mobile carts (including our laptop, iPad, and hands-on project carts).



Finally, our office is finished (see photo below)! Thanks to a generous donation of furniture from our friends Hans and Rebecca, we got matching desks, matching bookshelves, and fantastic 5 x 5 IKEA bookshelf that is the visual star of the room.


I am incredibly excited to be sharing an office with Sarah, and delighted at the new changes. I now have an office with a window, I don’t have to share space with all the carts and storage, and it even looks nice (albeit with a little everyday clutter that still needs to get sorted out).

Here’s to a fantastic 2014 in education!

2013 Spring Conference Season!


Spring conference season is almost upon me! Every year in March for the past few years, I have been able to attend two great conferences.

I’ve been attending the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA) National Conference since 2008, when it was held in Salt Lake City, UT. You can see photos from past conferences and read about some of my experiences here: Make Magazine’s blog entry about my 2008 experience, my 2009 conference photos, my 2010 conference photos, and the writeups I did for MTEEA in 2011.

Photo from the 2012 ITEEA Conference in Long Beach, CA

This year’s conference is in Columbus, OH. As I did last year, I will be volunteering at the ITEEA Publications booth, helping out ITEEA’s fabulous editor Katie De La Paz and her wonderful crew. I’m definitely looking forward to it!

The ITEEA Publications booth at the 2012 ITEEA conference

Also, I’m really looking forward to the 2013 MACUL conference later in March. This year’s conference is in Detroit, Michigan again. I spent many years working downtown, so a chance to get back down and interact with my colleagues is always welcome.

Ben Rimes, presenting during his excellent “6 ways to tell a story” session during the 2012 MACUL Conference