Introduction: How to Use Instructables at School

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Over the years, Instructables has grown and evolved to a site that is both an invaluable resource and a powerful tool for teachers of many practical subjects.

This Instructable is mainly aimed at teachers of all kinds, but students can read it as well, then pass on ideas to their teachers...

All pictures are sourced from either the site itself, or Wikipedia Commons, or created by me, unless otherwise stated.

Step 1: Sign Up!

Firstly, no matter how you are going to use the site, sign up.

If you use your school email account to drop a line to teachers[at]instructables[dot]com, and let them know that you are actually a teacher, you will be rewarded with a free Pro account.

That will give you access to PDF files (potentially very useful in class) and all-steps display of projects (also useful if showing projects on-screen in class).

Step 2: Resources

Most teachers new to the site use it first as a resource - either as inspiration for other projects, or for specific instructions to follow.

As well as searching individual projects, there are a growing number of Guides on the site, which collect together the best projects on a particular theme, or projects which go well together, such as the Guide to Kitchen Chemistry or Pre-school Projects.

As a pro member, teachers can access and print off PDF files of projects they like, or they can look at projects in the "all steps" format.  This means you can open up an Instructable on-screen in your class (on your interactive whiteboard or projected screen), and scroll through the whole project without having to wait for each step to load up.

It is also useful to copy images into a PowerPoint slideshow, add brief annotations and leave the slideshow cycling non-stop on your screen, to remind you pupils of the main instructions of their task.

Step 3: Instructions

You may, of course, want your pupils to follow your instructions in a task, especially if you cannot quite find what you want.

In that case, simply write your own Instructable.

You can then show it to your students, print out the PDFs etc, just as for step 2

Step 4: Showing Off.

If your class have followed an existing Instructable, they will still have pride in their work and want to show off their achievements to the world.

This is a perfect excuse to produce a slideshow on the site.

Take photographs of your students' work, and upload them all into a single slideshow - you and they can share the URL of the project with their friends and family, post it in their blogs or on social networks.

This use is also very suited to the work of younger children, who are less able to take step-by-step photos themselves, and so have to rely on you to take photos of their finished work.

Step 5: Recording Projects

Pupils over thirteen years old can open their own Instructables accounts.

This is an ideal way for them to record their own work - you give them a brief for a project, and they get on and do it, taking photos as they go.

They can work step-by-step, adding photos and information as they go, or write the whole project at once, depending on your requirements.

You may want them to publish their projects privately (non-pro members can "fake" the private function by simply sharing the URL of their unpublished work), so that only those who are given the URL can see them, or you may want them to publish it publicly, getting comments and ratings from the whole Instructables community (which you can include in the grading process).

Recording projects as an instructable also allows pupils to work as a team, or remotely, through the collaborate function (see the "share" tab at the top of the page when editing an Instructable).

Step 6: Videos

There are already a great number of video hosting sites, but embedding* project videos on Instructables has several advantages;
  • It is safe - the moderation of comments on Instructables is much stricter than on sites like YouTube.
  • It is less distracting - they do not get unusual links to follow away from the task in hand.
  • It is filter-friendlier - some schools still block YouTube, but videos embedded here will still play through those filters.
  • They can be collected in groups (see step 7)

*That is, the video is still hosted on Vimeo or YouTube, but the "embed" code is pasted here.

Step 7: Groups

Groups are an under-used feature on the site, but they are perfect for organising your students' work.

First, you create a group of your own (click here to do this), and then instruct your pupils to sign up and join the group.  If you set the group to be moderated, you can restrict membership of the group to your own classes, or whoever else you wish.

You may want to create a single group for all your pupils to join, or maybe one group per class - it's up to you.

When your students create an Instructable, they can then submit it to the group, and all the Instructables created for a single project can be viewed together, without other peoples' work getting mixed up with it.

Your students can also use the group as a focus for their chat, posting forum topics to the group.

Step 8: Legal Stuff

Working with children on the internet can be a headache if you are not prepared for it.  This is a list of the main things to remember:
  • Make sure your colleagues know what you are doing.  Inform your line-manager of your intentions, and explain your rationale for using the site.
  • Keep parents informed.  Rules and laws vary from country to country, even state to state, but you should at least get written permission from parents before your students
    • Sign up to the site.
    • Have their names mentioned on the site
    • Appear in photographs on the site.
  • It is standard practice to use pseudonyms on the internet, to cut down the chance of stalkers or groomers finding students in the real world.  Make sure your students do this, and do the same yourself.
  • Remind your students about the law relating to copyright and digital media.
Your students can still work on projects on the site if they do not have permission to be clearly identifiable, because they can be cropped out of images, photos can be too close in to the project for students to fit, or students' faces can be pixellated in PhotoShop or GIMP.

Step 9: Filter Tips.

There is only one real barrier to using Instructables at school, and that is the filters or site-blocks set up by your school or your school's internet providers.

You may be able to look at the site, and use it freely at home, or even at school, but many schools have different levels of filter or block for different groups of users.  Before you get too carried away with grand plans for using Instructables to document the work of hundreds of students, make sure your students can actually access the site at school!

If the site is blocked or filtered, you need to contact your network manager or computing department head, explain how cool and useful the site actually is, and ask them to except the site from the blocks or filters.

Step 10: Over to You...

That's about it.

Time for you, dear colleague, to finally get on with using this great resource.

Don't forget that teaching is not an isolated profession, and we all learn from the experiences of others, so add links to your class projects or groups in the comments, and help make this Instructable, and the site, better for everybody to use.

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