New book – The Art of Digital Fabrication: STEAM Projects for the Makerspace and Art Studio

ADF cover

I’m very proud of the latest publication from Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, The Art of Digital Fabrication: STEAM Projects for the Makerspace and Art Studio by Erin E. Riley. This is an absolutely gorgeous book of projects using 3D printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutters, CNC machines, and other tools found most often in school makerspaces. These are exceptionally inventive, beautiful, and thoughtful projects, brought to life with photos of student work and clear explanations of the steps and stages of how these projects unfold in the classroom, makerspace, or studio.

The book will be available in paperback and hardcover on May 6, 2019, but you can pre-order it now at Amazon and other online retailers. If you pre-order, you can have it in your hands on May 6!

Erin has created a unique book that offers a vision of STEAM that embraces Art as a primary motivation, with design as the guiding vision. Every project offers multiple understandings across all STEAM disciplines. This viewpoint creates avenues for teachers to understand how digital fabrication tools can be an opportunity for students to express themselves and find meaning in the world. It creates pathways for modern mathematics to emerge as concrete manifestations of precision and beauty. And it allows engineering to be fully expressed as the desire of humankind to make ideas become real.

It was a wonderful learning opportunity for me to edit this book. Erin is an amazing teacher, constantly adding and inventing new projects with her students, and then making them better. Her documentation is superb, and her explanations of the choices she makes as a teacher and designer are thoughtful and deeply enriching. And she is an artist, she hand designed every page of this book with loving care and attention to detail.

Erin organized the book by artistic process, rather than by tool. Processes like drawing, patterning, casting, prototyping, making 3D objects, and more are each explored with a variety of tools. This creates a treasure chest of inspiration and a relatable way for art teachers to see digital fabrication as an expansion of artistic vision. It opens a whole new way of thinking when you realize that drawing with a machine is similar to drawing with the hand, with the added benefit of being able to precisely draw with a laser, with a pen attached to a vinyl cutter, with code, light, or even with 3D filament. She also wrote an introduction explaining important concepts in graphic design and software, what students learn from digital fabrication, and making the case for STEAM in modern education.

For the past few months I’ve been carrying a dog-eared, marked-up copy of the work-in-progress proof of this book to various conferences and workshops, showing it to educators. The reaction has been extraordinary—people actually tried to convince me to sell them the unfinished proofs! But now the wait is over, it’s done and we can share it with the world. Check it out, you will not be disapointed.

Available for pre-order at and Barnes & Noble online.

Beautiful full-color photos, directions, and ideas for innovative projects using digital fabrication technology.

Features Inside the Book

  • Over 25 Digital Fabrication Projects with color photographs of steps and student work. All projects offer extension ideas, resources, and connections to STEAM curriculum.
  • The Project Cross-Reference lists projects by digital fabrication tools, supplies, and software. Color coding highlights certain process details in each project chapter.
  • An Art Material and Process Inventory intended to spark creativity and encourage the mixing of materials and processes within digital fabrication.
  • An Overview of the Digital Fabrication Machines commonly found in school labs or makerspaces.
  • Photocopy-friendly Design Guides and Checklists for the main design software programs demonstrated in this book can be given to students as they self-guide through each design program.
  • Maker Powers Classroom Poster
  • Curriculum Connections of digital fabrication experiences with skills and curriculum subjects.
  • Introductory articles supporting STEAM learning, where the Arts is integral to deep understanding of content and student empowerment.

Available for pre-order at and Barnes & Noble online.

For volume sales, PO purchases, or international sales, contact CMK Press. This book is now available from local distributors in the U.S, Australia, and the U.K.

Spotlight at Envision 2030: The annual CoSN conference

Sylvia Martinez will be a spotlight speaker at ENVISION 2030: LEADERSHIP FOR LEARNING – the COSN Annual Conference.

April 2, 2019
Portland, Oregon

STEAM to the Future: What’s Next in STEAM, Design, and Making
9:15 AM – 9:45 AM: Breakout
Room: Atrium Ballroom (Hilton Portland Downtown)
Format: Spotlight Session

Brief Session Description: Let’s time travel a few decades forward to see what science, technology, engineering, and math will be like, and the prominent role that the arts, design ,and creativity will play in the future. Right now, scientists and engineers are creating a future where biology and engineering mix with computation and computer science. The future holds things like driverless cars, buildings that heal themselves, “radical mycology,” which are plastics that adopt organic properties from mushrooms, clothes that adjust to the weather, robots, Artificial Intelligence, and holodeck-like experiences that will bend the definition of reality. However, this fourth industrial revolution is not some far away abstraction, all of these futuristic visions will depend on the ingenuity and creativity of people who are K-12 students today. We owe it to them to teach them how to make, design, and create using the most modern technology in their STEAM classes today.

What are the implications for K-12 education when subjects are being reinvented every year? Are we content with providing students with science classes that don’t cover any science invented this century? What questions do education leaders need to answer to make sure that the future of STEAM is part of schools starting today.

Makey Makey Engineers Week Webinar

February 12, 2019 (in honor of Engineers Week), I’ll be the guest on a fun, informal webinar with the Makey Makey team! The Makey Makey is one of my favorite tools for physical computing. It’s versatile, easy to use, and you’ll never run out of ideas!

There is a reason that the Makey Makey is on the cover of Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, both the first edition and the new second edition. There is just nothing else like it for facilitating creativity at the intersection of the digital and physical world.

Engineers Week is near and dear to my heart. I have an electrical engineering degree and worked for a decade in aerospace. While I don’t work as an engineer these days, I still see the world through that lens, where challenges are just invitations to invent the future! The E in STEAM is often overlooked, or worse, misunderstood as something that only “some kids” can do. We will be talking about how STEAM can happen for ALL students in real classrooms, makerspaces, and libraries!

Join us via this Zoom link as we chat about the new edition, STEAM, and tips for starting a makerspace in your school on February 12th at 4:00 pm CST. For more details and to register, use this link.

But wait, there’s more!

Invent to Learn book

There’s a chance to win free books live during the webinar! To win your own copy of Invent to LearnThe Invent to Learn Guide to Fun, or The Invent to Learn Guide to MORE Fun, you must be live during the webinar! (Winning books must be shipped to US and Canada addresses.)

ISTE 2019 Sessions

ISTE 2019 will be June 23-26, 2019 in Philadelphia. Hope to see you there!

Accepted proposals

The case for creativity and design in STEAM

  • Scheduled:
    • Sunday, June 23, 1:30–2:30 pm EDT (Eastern Daylight Time)
    • Building/Room: Available in May

STEAM to the Future: What’s Next in STEAM, Design, and Making 

  • Scheduled:
    • Monday, June 24, 1:30–2:30 pm EDT (Eastern Daylight Time)
    • Building/Room: Available in May

We Have a Makerspace, Now What? Four Directions Forward for Leaders 

  • Scheduled:
    • Wednesday, June 26, 8:30–9:30 am EDT (Eastern Daylight Time)
    • Building/Room: Available in May

Panel Conversations

More Stupid Ideas in EdTech (and why you should totally do them) 

  • Scheduled:
    • Monday, June 24, 10:30–11:30 am EDT (Eastern Daylight Time)
    • Building/Room: Available in May

Waitlisted proposals

.Girls & STEAM: Equity, Inclusion, and Excellence

Declined proposals

What’s a microcontroller and why should I care?

Words matter – gender bias in makerspaces

Making Culture Report thumbnail
Download full report from this site.

In a new study from Drexel University, researchers found that makerspace facilitators betray gender bias when talking about their students.

Instructors primarily referred to male students as “geeks”, “builders” and “designers” (never “boys”), but most frequently referred to female students as “girls” or even, “helpers”.

Making Culture: A National Study of Education Makerspaces

Never. They NEVER referred to the male students as boys. Why? It’s an easy slip to make, reflecting the norm that “boys” are the expected gender, the way things are supposed to be, and girls have to be pointed out.

The problem is, even when it’s unintentional (and the researchers in this study felt it was) it still has impact. If girls feel they are being singled out, even subtly, it can trigger feelings of not belonging, stereotype threat, and other well-documented consequences.

So next time you start to call out, “OK guys…” take a beat and see if there’s something else to say.

If you are thinking, Wow, get off my back, thought police… think about this. You wouldn’t say “Hey gals…” to a mixed gender group, would you? And you definitely wouldn’t say it to a group of all boys. The boys would think that’s an insult, right? Why is being called a girl the ultimate insult for boys, but girls are just supposed to live with being called guys all day every day.

OK folks…. OK class…. OK y’all… it’s not impossible. And it matters.

More from – Making Culture: A National Study of Education Makerspaces

“The sheer number of identity references based entirely upon gender (“girls”) is deeply unsettling. Also note that the use of “boys” in referring to makerspace students did not occur at all in these interviews. This gender imbalance shaped attitudes and activities within the makerspaces:

  • Boys were twice as likely to hold leadership positions in group makerspace activities;
  • Boys were more likely to steer major project topics (robotics challenge, Lego, solar car design);

We also observed a gender disparity in expressed design agency (ability to design or guide project activities) in formal vs. informal learning makerspaces. Boys expressed greater agency in formal spaces whereas girls expressed greater agency in informal spaces.

This evidence suggests a persistent, but possibly unintentional, culture of bias reinforced by makerspace leadership. Research into boys and girls engaging in STEM learning reveals that girls and boys have equal potential to become proficient in STEM subjects (evidenced in our study through nearly equal makerspace participation in grades K-8).

While most leaders believe that makerspaces have the potential to function as a safe space where girls and young women can engage in an open collaborative learning environment while dismantling gender stereotypes, our research also indicates that more must be done to achieve an inclusive culture of gender equity.”

So there is another interesting tidbit. The boys “expressed greater agency” in formal spaces, whereas the girls reversed that role in informal spaces. Why? Perhaps because when it counts, boys are more aggressive in taking control? Or is it that instructors are tipping this balance?

All good research tends to create as many questions as it answers!


Making Culture is the first in-depth examination of K-12 education makerspaces nationwide and was created as part of the ExCITe Center’s Learning Innovation initiative. This report reveals the significance of cultural aspects of making (student interests, real world relevance, and community collaboration) that enable learning. The research highlights how makerspaces foster a range of positive student learning outcomes, but also reflect some of the gaps in inclusion common in the STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math) fields. The report was co-authored by Drexel School of Education researchers Dr. Kareem Edouard, Katelyn Alderfer, Professor Brian Smith and ExCITe Center Director Youngmoo Kim.

Meet me at FETC 2019!

I hope to see old friends and new at FETC 2019 in Orlando, January 27-30, 2019. I’ll be talking STEM/STEAM, Creativity, Making and Makerspaces, PBL for Making, What’s New/What’s Next for STEAM, and more. Use my discount signup page to save an extra 10%!

January 29, 2019 – Tuesday

Book signing – NEW edition Invent to Learn – Main Exhibit Hall

2:30 – 3:00 PM Tuesday Jan 29 – I will be signing copies of the new edition of Invent to Learn.

January 30, 2019 – Wednesday

The Case for Creativity in STEAM

Creativity on display at FabLearn NL 2018

Creativity is not just being artistic or having new ideas. As many schools are working to incorporate STEM and STEAM into the classroom, design and creativity are the key to real and relevant experiences in the classroom.

Adding more and different technology to the classroom toolkit invites students of different abilities and interests to experience STEAM subjects. This creates classroom conditions that invite technology understanding and creativity for all students, even those who think they “don’t like technology”.

In many cases, digital tools, electronics, and programming are seen as something only a few students (the “nerds”) want to try. Yet these are powerful learning opportunities that all students should engage in.

Key ideas

Design is a way to make thinking visible, connecting abstract pedagogy to the real experiences of children. The A in STEAM is not about decorating science projects or coloring math worksheets, but a way to add design and design’s cousin, aesthetics, into classroom projects.

Next Generation Science Standards provide new directions for engineering practices. Again, design is the key to this. Design is the process of engineering. It provides a framework to solve problems, using the science, math, and technology that students learn. These standards are not “business as usual” for schools. Looking at them as simply a rearrangement of existing curriculum ignores the revolutionary addition of engineering design to the expectations for science curriculum.

Formative assessment strategies that strengthen the project process in real time as students work through design and engineering projects.

Inclusivity that ensures that new technology and engineering experiences invite and support students who might not have the background or inclination to see themselves as engineers.

Equity in STEM areas for girls and other under-represented groups is not a matter of finding the young people who can do the work asked by the current curriculum, but to find new curricular areas and connections to the interesting and relevant STEM and STEAM opportunities found in the real world.

Everyone has a role to play

Leaders keep the vision alive in the face of multiple distractions. They allow new ideas to flourish and provide support for educators to work out the details, while still moving the ball forward.

Coaches help both the early adopters and the cautious “this too shall pass” reluctants to create a shared, achievable vision.

Teachers find ways to weave the old and new together in a coherent way for students. This means being a learner, leader, and a designer. There is no question that this in itself takes creativity. Teachers are asked to do more with less, and to make more time where there is none, all the time staying current with research and personalizing learning for every student. What could be more creative than that?

In the quest for STEAM, there will be tensions and questions. Can science be creative? Doesn’t math always have one right answer? Aren’t basic facts and rote memorization the ways that science has always been taught? Where will we find the time to do more in depth projects that give students creative opportunities? If students are doing more creative and personalized work, how will we assess it and meet learning objectives? Am I creative enough to make this work?

And yet, we know that students thrive when given the opportunity to do relevant, meaningful, and creative work. Together, we must push against paralyzing fear that there are too many variables and not enough time to figure it all out.

We have a ways to go

Creativity is often misunderstood as simply a personal attribute – you are a creative person or you aren’t.  Yet the word is crucial as schools struggle to implement STEAM programs that are defined only as subjects – not as mindsets. The “A” in STEAM is incredibly important – it is the verb of the sentence, and at its heart is the creative process. It is understood that artists have a creative process, but less well understood that scientists, engineers, and mathematicians do as well.

When schools work to understand what STEAM really means, there are certainly parts that seem easier than others. All schools have math and science classes. Technology is taken care of as we increasingly adopt computers into classroom practices. Engineering is a small but growing option in many schools.

However, we have work still to do. Science and math classes need to adopt modern ways that real scientists and mathematicians work. You can’t just put a sign up that says “STEAM Academy.” Students want and respond to science classes that are real and relevant, where they can engage in making things that make the world a better place, and in doing so, learn about the underlying laws of the world around them.

Technology is not only about computers, but about the basic human desire to change the world. Engineering is not just a college major, but a way for even young children to design and build things that help them make sense of the world.

When all of this is taken into consideration, you cannot help but notice that creativity, meaning literally to make things, is a key component. Design is the process of engineering and technology is the tool. Creativity is the mindset.

Recasting STEAM this way also invites more students who are not the “usual suspects” into the fantastic world of STEAM.

ISTE sessions – Chicago in June

I’ll be speaking at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) June 24-27, 2018.

STEAM to the Future: 50 Years in 50 Minutes
Tuesday, June 26, 10:15–11:15 am
Location: Available in May

Let’s time travel 50 years forward to see what science, technology, engineering and math will be like, and the prominent role that the arts, design and creativity will play. This session will provide entertaining and thought-provoking insight into the challenges of adapting today’s classroom and curriculum for the future.

STEAM: The TEA Stands for CrEATivity
Tuesday, June 26, 11:45 am–12:45 pm
Location: Available in May

Creativity is not just being artistic or having new ideas. As many schools are working to incorporate STEM and STEAM into the classroom, design and creativity are the keys to real and relevant experiences in the classroom.

Video – Maker Movement in Education: Keynote from INTED

This video is a keynote from the INTED conference in Valencia Spain on the topic of “A Global Revolution Goes to School: The Maker Movement”

This 30 minute keynote covers why the maker movement is something schools should pay attention to, and how to get started using the maker mindset and tools to revolutionize all subjects. The power of design as a way for students to learn is just beginning to be recognized in schools around the world. As innovative schools develop makerspaces and more hands-on curriculum, students benefit from real and relevant exploration of STEM and other subjects.

STEM: GOOD. Lying to kids: BAD

“When it gets generalized to all of STEM, it’s misleading,” said Mr. Teitelbaum, a senior research associate in the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “We’re misleading a lot of young people.”  — from “Where the STEM Jobs Are (and Where They Aren’t)” NY Times 11/1/17STEM jobs vs demand

Here’s the problem with intensively focusing on STEM and STEAM as primarily about students getting good jobs in the future. The jobs simply aren’t there.

I’ve never advocated for STEM experiences and classes because of jobs. We should teach children how amazing the world is AND that they can have a hand in exploring, discovering, and understanding the world. I’ve asked audiences worldwide to try this mental reversal – if there AREN’T amazing STEM jobs out there, should we not teach science?

And now it turns out that this is true. So let’s review:

STEM: GOOD. Lying to kids: BAD