Making a Record Player with LEGO WeDo & Scratch

The book, Invent to Learn, is not only changing the way I look at teaching and learning but is also helping me to rediscover the “maker” in me.  As a child, I loved LEGO and still have some of my original red and white bricks that I played with as a child, more than 30 years ago.

There are many exciting resources mentioned in Invent to Learn, including Make Magazine.  After reading about Make, I immediately arranged a subscription, ordered some back issues and started exploring the projects on their fabulous website.
I came across the “LEGO Phonograph” posted by Josh Burker.  Josh’s excellent step-by-step instructions made it the perfect first LEGO WeDo project for me to tackle!

One of the most enjoyable parts of this project was finding some old vinyl records to use.  I still have some treasured “singles” and “albums” but was a little scared to use these for fear of damage.  One of my local Salvos Stores had a huge range of inexpensive vinyl records that were prefect for the project!

You can view the results of the project below or click here to view the movie on the BGS eLearning YouTube Channel.

Let’s Make Time for the Big Ideas!

This week, as part of the Creative Computing Online Workshop, I decided to complete some of the recommended reading.  In particular, Seymour Papert‘s 2000 paper, What’s the big idea? Toward a pedagogy of idea power, formed part of a very special week for me in discovering the “heart” of my beliefs about creativity and technology.


I’ve started reading, Invent to Learn: Making, tinkering and engineering in the classroom by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager.  In chapter 1, there’s a beautiful photograph with the caption, “Seymour Papert delights in a kid’s computer programming”.  This first chapter of Invent to Learn prompted me to take a journey back to the first time I used a computer.  I decided to deviate slightly from the Creative Computing activities for the week and work on a digital storytelling project using Scratch to illustrate my first interaction with computers.  It was this experience as a teenager that would not only influence my career but my beliefs about teaching and learning.  (More about that in a future post!)

As I read Seymour Papert’s paper, I had mixed feelings.  From the enthusiasm of “light bulb moments” to the sadness of the many ways we have failed as educators.  Although this paper was published in 2000, Papert could have been writing about any number of schools today:

(We need) a new direction for innovation in education: re-empowering the disempowered ideas.

Educators faced with day-to-day operation of schools are forced by circumstances to rely on problem solving for local fixes.  They do not have time for “big ideas”.

The most neglected big idea is the very idea of bigness of ideas.

Many (students) react badly to school because its emphasis on memorising facts and acquiring skills that cannot be put to use is like a prison for a mind that wants to fly.

A kid who cares about ideas finds precious few of them in elementary school where he is expected to learn fact and skills that he experiences as excruciatingly boring.

Papert also gives a specific example showing how educators opt for the “dumbed down” version rather than offering their students the opportunity to embrace “the big ideas”.  He illustrates how the concept of probability can be taught at various year levels, using programming as the tool for teaching and learning.  This reminded me of Dan Meyer‘s well-known TED Talk, Math Needs a Makeover, where he talks about students becoming “impatient problem solvers”.  Many students are the product of their education – they have been “dumbed down”, become “impatient problem solvers” and had very little opportunity to develop the “big ideas”.


So, why is it that many of the issues raised in Seymour Papert’s 2000 paper are, sadly, still current?  What are we doing about it?  For me, my “light bulb moment” occurred during a presentation at the Australian Computers in Education Conference in 2010.  Steve Collis, Director of Innovation, from Northern Beaches Christian School, said, “I don’t think of myself as part of a school. I’m part of a global movement.”  I framed this quote and it is now displayed in our eLearning Room.  It reminds me everyday that, whilst I am working hard to assist teachers to use technology at my school, I am part of something greater.  What I do can not only have a positive influence on those at my school but also my colleagues around the globe.  I share a common goal with educators around the world.  It’s a goal that’s worth all the ups and downs, frustrations and even disappointments.  Why?  Because when you “delight” in a student’s achievements, just like Seymour Papert did, you know it’s worth it!



Click here for more information about Invent to Learn by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager.

Project 3: Debug-It!



Today, as I listened to the second Office Hours session, I continued to explore work by other Scratchers as part of the Creative Computing Online Workshop and attempted my first “Debug-It” project…


I have reflected on the work I have done for this “Debug-It” project according to the “triplet” for reviewing work:

  • I like debugging!  I was actually quite surprised at how much I enjoyed this Debug-It activity!  I found that, after viewing the instructions and the original blocks, I had a picture in my mind of what I needed to do.  However, the rearrangement of the blocks didn’t work at all.  I was totally wrong!  I really enjoyed tinkering with different block configurations until I came up with my final result.  I had a real sense of satisfaction knowing that I had solved the issues.  I was particularly happy with the way the “Meow” speech bubbles worked with the “.5” timings.
  • I wish I could complete more Debug-It activities in the future.
  • What if I gave some Debug-It activities to our students?  Completing these types of activities can help you to learn a great deal about your students.  How do they cope with trouble shooting activities?  What is their reaction when they hit a “dead end”?  Do they like to work with others to find a solution or do they prefer to work alone?

Please click here to view my remixed “Debug-It” project.


Project 2: About Me


I was fortunate enough to enjoy a long weekend due to the Queen’s Birthday Public Holiday today.  The weekend has given me a little extra time to devote to creating an “About Me” project.

From this project, I was able to explore some Scratch features that I had not used before including:

  • Uploading recorded sounds
  • Using the Sound Editor tools to edit uploaded recordings
  • Exploring a variety of websites to find appropriate images/icons to use as sprites


I’ve reflected on the work I’ve done for this “About Me” project according to the “triplet” for reviewing work:

  • I like the way a user can click a sprite to make something happen. 
  • I wish I had more time to devote to this project as I would have loved to have added some narration and even a little more text with further explanations about the items I chose.
  • What if I added more features to the sprites?  For example, make the girl dance when the music plays, make the TARDIS spin when its sound plays.  What if we made this project part of our activities for the new school year?  Scratch is not only an excellent way for students to create an “About Me” presentation but the Scratch Community would also be a wonderful way for students to share and comment on each other’s work.

You can click here to view my “About Me” project.


Project 1: Step By Step


I would describe my Scratch skill level as basic.  Over the years, I have played with Scratch and created some basic projects along the way.  I wanted to take every opportunity possible throughout the Creative Computing course to create as many projects as possible.

The “Step By Step” project not only gave me the opportunity to start from the very beginning, but also work my way through the “Tips” area.  I found that using Scratch along with the pop-out “Tips” feature, an easy way to get started.

I decided to try different types of sprites, ones from the Scratch library, an image uploaded and a sprite created with the drawing tools.  One of my favourite sites is IconFinder.  Many of the icons on this site make perfect sprites.  All of the icons are a good size and have a transparent background.

Click here to view the “Step By Step” project.