X,Y Coordinates

Some of the tools I’ve accumulated over the years lend themselves particularly well for teaching. I’ve gotten better at swooping in a classroom with some plotters and talking about math or machine drawing topics. I can make it very interactive.

One tool in particular is https://draw.mandalagaba.com.

It started not so much for teaching, but rather for collaborative art. Very much inspired by r/Place, I created a tool with real estate scarcity, but with my usual focus on drawing. The kicker would be that the art is rendered live on a plotter somewhere in the world, maybe in front of you in a public place, maybe a video stream and you know your pen strokes are executed by a machine thousands of miles away. You claim a square, coordinate with others to make bigger pieces, and a collaborative art piece is born. That was the idea at least. I’ve tried several permutations of this experiment, in public, on a stream, with various rules and online communities, and it simply never generated the enthusiasm I thought it would. I have 95% given up on the idea of a collaborative art piece of the sort. The big plotter still has me wondering hence the remaining 5%, but it is tedious and expensive to deploy for an experiment that has shown no promise at every iteration.

What this website became great for however is teaching as it allows for time sharing a drawing machine across several students. We can explore one concept or other, and then apply it and have the great motivator that we’ll get to control the machine by doing so. 3 years ago I taught a module on X,Y coordinates with the local 5th graders, I didn’t have this site then and it went fine. But the following year I figured I might as well use this dumb collaborative art website I made for something so I integrated it into the coursework. Now that second year The machine’s made an enormous difference in how students engage. Recently I ran this course for the 3rd year with the website and the magic happened again. Both times, kids were very much willing to go through teeth grinding (light X,Y coordinate based coding), and help each other out to see their work realized in the world by a cool machine. The first student that submits a drawing on the site inevitably has everyone jumping off their seat to see the machine move up close. Then they’re even more motivated to do it themselves. I help them with the mistakes they make at first, and once they get it I have a good half an hour of walking around and seeing the cool stuff they draw. During this time I might send one drawing machine on a more intricate plot that can finish quick. Having that plotter wield a pen expertly inevitably draws 2 or 3 kids who just sit and stare at the machine non-stop. I know what they’re going through. The whole experience has them asking so many questions, and I love interacting with the different ways in which they see the world. I also love the opportunity to get to know every kid in town a little better when they go through 5th grade.

I’m quite glad that these tools found a place in education. Sometimes I think of pushing further, there’s definitely something to this formula, and I know teachers often purchase various curricula or interventions that meet a standard or other. But I can’t push all the projects, and so far I’ve refused to let money taint anything plotter related.

Funnily enough, I even had an opportunity to guest lecture in the same way with college art students. Of course we don’t talk about 5th grade X,Y coordinates, and I’m not there to talk about art either. Rather we learn and employ tools and techniques for line art and single instrument machines. It’s only funny because I’m ashamed to admit I’ve been very dismissive of art (except music) my whole life. I never understood it and wasn’t a fan of the carefree personalities gravitating to it. I’ve seen the light now, and I do feel apologetic for the times someone showed me a something they had made and it went completely above my head. But I can’t say I was particularly impressed by the students. I’m definitely curious to try again and see if I can bridge more understanding. In the meantime, I have no issues resonating with 5th graders so I’ve got that going for me :). Except for keeping them focused, that is insanely hard.