Monday, March 31, 2014

Boutique Learning

I finished the prototypes of my  lap desks (3.0).   When I showed them to my wife she got really excited.   "They're so cute," she gushed.  "They look like shopping bags!"

Hmmm.  Boutique learning?  Personal, customized, and you can take it with you.  I like it.

Notice the small storage area for a pencil and planner.  I made it with duct tape and an insert of hardboard.   No sewing!

The drawstring closes the top to form a nice easel, but also doubles as a handle. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Lapdesk 3.0

As you may remember,  I've been looking for a suitable lapdesk.   Because I removed a lot of my student desks, the students still need a surface on which to write.  The risers work well, but if students are just going to sit and write in the same place every time, I might as well give the
them their desks back.  Also, in the spirit of "Take Your Learning Wherever You Go" I wanted my students to have a mobile workspace. 
Examples from the world.
Sure laptops and tablets are nice (and expensive), but I also wanted paper and pencil capabilities, so I started looking around.  I found these two examples and bought them for myself to try out.  There was some potential in these lapdesks: nice easy surface, comfortable.  But both of them worked best in a seated position which is not my only intent.
The first set of lapdesks
Remember my first go at lapdesks from Daiso?  They were actually transparent plastic document holders.
They were terrific for many reasons: light, portable, a suitable size for writing, a little bit of storage, they could stand up on their end when we put them away, easy to keep clean, and the students LOVED them.  Then why did I stop using them?  First, they were not really strong.  The clasps broke off making storage difficult.  Several doc holders smashed through the course of the year.  Second, they only really lasted a year.  Sure, at $2 this probably was no big deal, but if I had to buy a class set every year, do I really want to dish out 50 beans?  I could probably put them on the supply list, but chose not to.  Third, they were not really environmentally friendly. 25 large hunks of plastic each year adds up.  And weighs on my conscience. 
The second set of lapdesks
Taking what I learned from the first set, I started to think up my own design.  I was inspired by a wine box I'd seen.  Using my grade 8 woodworking skills (I got a C+ back in grade 8), I built these beautiful boxes.  They had storage with a sliding lid.  There was a flat writing surface. I put a clip on the top so papers could be attached.  When the boxes stood on their end, they could be used like a mini-easel.  I drilled two holes in the top so I could attach some twine as a handle so as to increase the portability.  And because the materials were 97% wood, there was no environmental cringe factor.  The cost was less than $2 per unit to make.
So if these second lapdesks were so great, you are probably wondering why I never continued using them.  The clip at the top was helpful for making sure papers did not slide around, but because I had to extend the lid so the clip would fit, the surface was too long for the short arms of my little kids. Theses lapdesks were also on the heavy and clunky side, so it reduced the portability. 
But I  think it all came down to my (lack of) skills.  I only made 4 prototypes and then let kids test them out in class.  They loved them. I saw some of the flaws in the design and made mental notes of how I would change them.  But I never did.  It was too much work for my limited skill set. It would take too long, and then I would want to keep changing and adjusting. Though I had all of the parts from my prototypes, it would probably still take me weeks to make more of these things, and I didn't have it in me.
For a year or so, I used clipboards and whiteboards as writing surfaces to tide us over.  They worked, but I could see I really needed a bit of storage, so pencils, erasers and planners were easier to manage.  Plus the clipboards are not terribly personal, so students took no pride in them and treated them accordingly, whereas in the cases of our lapdesks, the students took great care of them.   
Third time the charm?
The risers and alternative seating possibilities are starting to really take hold, and I can see that I need some kind of portable writing surface. I thought about buying the plastic doc holders to get us through the year, but was always looking for an alternative.  My sister and I were talking about some possibilities a year ago, and I took one of the ideas and started playing with it.  Here is my first prototype.

Last fall, I had cut some shower board to make some mini-whiteboards (they work great by the way).  I had some pieces left over and made this lapdesk.  I cobbled it together using a heavy twine, looseleaf rings, and a binder clip.  There are many great things about this design.  First, it has a clean surface that can be used for writing on paper and as a formative assessment whiteboard.  Second, the clip and the ability to stand makes it great as a mini-easel or small divider. 
The clip can be moved to the side and the whole surface can be turned for a wide surface.  It can accommodate a legal-sized piece of paper.  (I scribbled on the edge of the paper to increase the contrast between the paper and the white surface).


 Also, when used horizontally, the height of the surface is shorter to accommodate the little arms of my primary students.

Some people, including my wife, have asked me why I don't just use a clipboard?  There was the personalized aspect I mentioned before.  But these other designs offer some other important factors over clipboards: the ability to stand on the edge and storage.  Linda, our excellent Occupational Therapist, encourages me to find ways to have students write vertically to increase their muscle development.  The tenting also allows the easel format for writing, drawing, storage, and display. 
I'll probably use hardboard as one side and the whiteboard/shower board on the other. It will be more cost effective, plus if I put the rough surface of the hardboard on the outside, it will be non-skid and not slide off kids' laps. 
Speaking of cost?  Less than $1.50 per unit, less if I don't buy looseleaf rings and use binder clips from the school.  If I use twine in place of the rings, I also get this nice tote handle to increase portability.  (Hey, my hand looks incredibly muscular in this shot!  Must be the angle, as these lapdesks are very light).
Labour?  Cutting the surfaces and drilling holes is very easy.  On the wooden lapdesks (2.0), that was the easiest part too, considering the amount of parts, cutting numerous grooves, assembly, etc. 
I'm going to prototype a few of these, have some students use them, and then look for changes. 
I'll talk more about storage in another post.  I have a wacky idea that does not necessitate sewing which is the idea I worked at with my sister, (and my sewing skills are even worse than my woodworking skills).   If you have cheap, light storage ideas, please let me know while I go prototype.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Website: Spaces for Learning

How did I not see this before?