Fab Lab Hosts “Bush of Life” Workshop for UNCC Middle Schoolers

Since the start of the school year, Mix IT Up and UNCC have continued to do projects with the CU Fab Lab. Recently, Jeff Ginger and his associates at the CU Fab Lab, along with some international Fab Lab-ers, offered to host an after-school workshop for UNCC’s middle schoolers called the “Bush of Life.” The project was focused on “imagining the ancestors of various animals and rethinking the human-centric notion of the tree of life – and then creating a model with the laser cutter at the Fab Lab.” (Jeff Ginger) Many elements of this project corresponded with what the UNCC participants have learned in school. It also gave them a chance to think outside of the box in terms of how they see and look at the world around them, to be creative, to build teamwork and collaboration skills, and to get hands-on experience with different types of technology.

For more information on the “Bush of Life” workshop, please refer to this PDF brochure: Bush of Life

Here are some of the pictures of the workshop – take a look!


The middle-schoolers use the Fab Lab computers for the activity, while UNCC staff member, Sharonda, watches over their shoulders.


Group picture of the participants! The Fab Lab-ers who lead the workshop are on the left, and Janice Mitchell, director of the Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center, stands to the far-right of the group (and, of course, the participating kids are in the middle).


The UNCC middle-schoolers learn teamwork and collaboration skills by working together as a group (with some guidance from the Fab Lab staff).


Participants group together around one of the computers during the workshop.


Listening intently as the Fab Lab team describes the next steps of the activity.


Everyone takes a look at the animals they created with the CU Fab Lab’s laser cutters before building their tree.


Visiting Fab Lab-er Jonathan Landis demonstrates how the tree will be assembled.


Another shot of Jonathan explaining the activity, while the kids listen closely.


A close up of the animals the the UNCC kids designed and created with the Fab Lab’s equipment, before they are used to assemble the tree.


Finally, the tree is being assembled!

The tree that was created during this workshop is now at the Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center, where the kids, their parents, and community members can see it!

Mix IT Up and UNCC send out a big “thank you” to Jeff Ginger, Jonathan Landais, and all of the other Fab Lab-ers for giving us the opportunity to arrange activities like this one for the kids at UNCC, who love participating in them! 


UNCC Summer Tech Activities: Movie Making Workshops and Fab Lab

Middle schoolers at UNCC’s summer camp in June and July this year were busy writing, filming, and editing their own original movies! Volunteers, UNCC Staff, and Mix IT Up! helped guide groups of campers through the process of creating their own movies. At the end of the summer, campers were given DVD copies of their movies. In addition to movie making, UNCC campers also got to visit the CU Fab Lab!

Here’s a look at these summer activities that we did with UNCC this year:

Campers worked in groups to write and plan their movies


Campers learned to use editing software to fix and edit their movies

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One group set up their own obstacle course, and filmed their own version of the TV show Wipeout! 





UNCC campers work on making stickers at the CU Fab Lab

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Tap In receives Coretta Scott King

Tap In Leadership Academy, one of Mix IT Up!’s community partners, was recently honored by the American Library Association with a Coretta Scott King Book Awards Donation Grant.  Tap In was one of three organizations across the country to receive the grant, which includes 100 award-nominated books by African American authors.  This includes the 2012 winners of the award, Kadir Nelson’s Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans, Shane Evans’ Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom, Eloise Greenfield’s The Great Migration: Journey to the North, and Patricia McKissack’s Never Forgotten.  Tap In is super excited about this addition of 100 great, culturally relevant books to its growing library!

You can read more about the Coretta Scott King book awards here.

Upcoming Event: MidWest Zine Fest

The 3rd annual MidWest Zine Fest (MWZF) will be occurring in Urbana, IL on April 13th at the UC-IMC (202 S. Broadway). This event, peripheral to Mix IT Up! projects, features local independent artists and creators who create and publish their own print media. It will feature speakers, workshops, a movie screening, and plenty of zines!

Joe Coyle, who works with the Mix IT Up! juvenile detention center library project, will be presenting at this year’s MWZF on the topic of publishing, writing, and distribution by youth in the Champaign County Juvenile Detention Center. We look forward to hearing more about the project and are hoping to hear about some of the zines that youth have begun to do. The library is planning to partner with the People of Color (POC) Zine Project to distribute zines by youth in the detention center.

More information related to MidWest Zine Fest can be found at http://midwestzinefest.ucimc.org/.

Tap In Leadership Academy awarded mini-grant

Exciting news!  Tap In Leadership Academy — a Mix IT Up! partner organization — was awarded a digital divide mini-grant.  This mini-grant will allow Tap In to make a number of exciting changes that will make its computing lab an even greater resource for the Tap In community.

First of all, we’re going to be able to make some needed changes to our lab to make it a better environment for our young scholars.  During Tap In’s 2012 summer enrichment program, the temperatures skyrocketed, and all of our fans were in use trying to cool off the scholars who participated in strenuous activities, like dancing and sports.  Unfortunately, that left our computer lab very toasty, and few of the scholars were excited about spending much time working in such a warm environment.  This mini-grant will allow Tap In to purchase a number of fans to keep the lab cool in the summer, making the space more useful to the scholars in our program.

As we make improvements to the space, we’re also looking to add some new furniture.  We have some lovely computer desks from Martin Wolske and his Introduction to Network Information Systems class.  Though these desks are great for the space, they are also quite tall, particularly for some of Tap In’s smaller scholars.  Most scholars must stand, rather than sit, while using the lab’s computers. The mini-grant from the city will also allow us to equip the lab with some taller stools, which will allow scholars to work with the computers at a more comfortable height.

A scholar stands (possibly standing on the edge of the desk) while working on a computer

A scholar stands in front of a computer desk

Scholars usually stand, rather than sit, while using computers in Tap In’s lab.

Finally, the mini-grant will also allow Tap In to try something new.  Tap In believes in working with all family members to nurture the success of the youth in its program.  The organization has led a number of workshops for parents in the past as part of its Family Enrichment Program.  With this mini-grant, Tap In will be able to hire a workshop leader to expand on this program by designing and leading a series of computer skills workshops for parents and guardians.  Unlike the other public computer classes available in the community, this series will specifically address computer issues that family members have, ranging from filling out FAFSA and ACT forms, to finding quality homework help information, to learning about online privacy issues for their children.

We’re very excited about the opportunities presented by this mini-grant, and can’t wait to see how these projects turn out!  We’re also currently looking for a leader for the workshop series, so if you know of anybody who would make a great information literacy instructor, be sure to point them towards the position’s job posting (.pdf).

Tap In Book Club at the Center for Children’s Books

This semester, the Center for Children’s Books outreach program has worked with Mix IT Up! partner Tap In Leadership Academy to hold a book club for twelve middle-school girls. Over the course of four weeks, we read Drama by Raina Telgemeier, a graphic novel about a middle school play production and the drama that comes along with it. We met as a group each week to discuss the book, and the book club posted their responses to questions on a book blog, tapinbookclub.wordpress.com. The book has inspired conversations about transformative moments from our childhoods, dealing with the problems of middle school, and how to review a book. We invite you to check out their responses! Next semester, the book club will reconvene to investigate multicultural illustrated books, and we will continue to update the book blog.

Media Literacy at Stratton Elementary

Mix IT Up! began work with Illinois Public Media (WILL) and Stratton Elementary School this semester. Throughout the year, students of the Stratton Media Venture will learn to write and produce their own newscast and school announcements. As a foundation to media, the educational outreach coordinator and I developed curriculum that deals with media on the mass consumption level but also on a personal scale. The capstone project, Photovoice, guided 2nd-5th graders through an analysis of the media on the walls of their school.

Students worked in groups to take photographs of signs and posters in the hallways of Stratton. Ideally students would have self selected a sign but because of time and equipment limitations, groups were assigned an area of the school and rotated the camera to photograph signs of interest. From the bulk of photos students chose to analyze and write a caption of a sign addressing these questions: Who is the target audience of this sign? Who do you think put the sign there? What kind of sign is it? (directional, informational, motivational, warning) Where is this sign? Which room is it next to? Is it low? Is it high? When is this sign useful? How does this sign make you feel? If you could rewrite this sign, what would it say?

Interestingly, despite our conversations and students’ negative reaction of mass media, students were not critical of the material on the walls of their school. Most students saw the signs as inspirational and motivational, as staff intends them. Teachers and WILL staff have discussed this observation and whether or not it is because students at this age want assurance or because Stratton students are just a positive bunch. It is clear that a six-lesson media literacy plan is not enough time to hash out the pros, cons and influence of such media on consumers.

It is also clear that students were not able to articulate in writing what they were able to articulate orally. Students were thoughtful when speaking about how a sign made them feel, but that did not come across in their writing. Teachers responded that additional literacy initiatives are underway to address literacy skills. The educational outreach coordinator and will consider how to add more reading activities into the next version of curriculum.

The overall result of Photovoice has brought to students’ and teachers’ attention that some signs are exceptionally high and, simply, there are a lot of them. This has seemed to be an eye-opener for teachers, though I don’t know that action will be taken to move or decrease the number signs on the wall.

We hope to display their signs and commentary in the library or on a monitor in the halls of Stratton. Until Christmas I will work with students to further elaborate on these sign captions, with the hopes of helping them understand the possibilities and opportunities for their input at their school.  As we close the unit, we’ll receive feedback from students on what they learned and how they’ll take in media as a result of these lessons, so we can improve the curriculum for future Media Venture students.

Learning to analyze media in our environment is an ongoing process and as the coin flips and students become producers, they will address questions of audience, language, and intended message for Stratton students and staff as staff and society has done for them for most of their lives.