As this school year began, I had two goals to focus on. One was to be better at practicing sustainability in my work with students. The second was to empower girls to take more risks with their projects. More to come on this second goal later.
With the sustainability focus, I had to take a close look at the materials my students were using and how they were being used. Experimentation is always my goal for them but I saw that certain materials were being used but not in a way that was allowing for deeper critical thinking or making new connections to classroom content. Sadly these were the more decorative materials like pom poms and plastic gems. I decided to not order these items this year which came with fun surprises. Now yarn and pipe cleaners are being used in a more interesting manner. Also they’re using vinyl scraps to add extra design details.
The strongest aspect of my sustainability mission has been reaching out to the community to donate interesting packaging materials, toilet and paper towel innards, egg cartons, plastic containers and boxes. I’ve truly seen my students imaginations come to life with the addition of these materials in the space. It’s helping them truly engineer in new and interesting ways.
Another dilemma I faced was using straws. They are so wonderful as an engineering tool and I knew it was something I couldn’t take away from the space. Luckily Amazon sells biodegradable straws that are strong enough to put to the test in the space. The students could barely see the different between the two different kinds.
This year for Halloween I made a goal that I would work on a electronics project to complete my look. I have this stellar skeleton dress that I was looking to reuse and I decided a crown that lights up would be a great pairing.
Initially I thought I could use a Micro:bit to program the crown but they’re just a bit too big to stay hidden in my hair. Of course Adafruit had the solution. Their project used a Gemma Arduino board which is just a bit bigger than the size of a quarter. My favorite part of this project was soldering together the Flora Neopixels. I’m still a novice when it comes to coding Arduino and it was fun experimenting with the code Adafruit provided to get the right colors and flash sequence. I wanted to use white lights but it made the crown a bit too much like a strobe light.
In addition to Halloween, I see myself using this crown in the classroom as a way to show students that accessories we make ourselves can truly empower us. I’m already thinking of ways I can make this into a project for my students but focusing on makes elements like soldering around a 3D printed component. I’ also eager to use the Flora Neopixels in new and different ways to create accessories. A light up necklace could also be beautiful,
For the first time, the 6th graders entering my classes already have a foundation with using 3D design which is allowing my to start them off with projects involving higher levels of thinking. One of their projects this year is to design interactive robots using Hummingbird Kits. Unlike the project I did last year with 4th grade, the 6th graders will be required to use several types of sensors in their designs to allow for an interactive experience. I’m also giving them option of 3D designing aspects for their creations.
When designing my example for my students, I really wanted to make it able to move using a sound sensor. The tricky part was adjusting the code for the sound sensor so it wasn’t overly sensitive. I really wanted it to only respond to my voice or to the sound of clapping hands. The distance sensor was placed in lieu of eyes so that the mouth would open or shut if someone was close by.
This school year I’ve opened up my 7th and 8th grade classes with learning the basics of Illustrator to increase the skill level of my students. Last year we primarily used Tinkercad with the laser cutter because I didn’t have the time to focus on how to teach to students. Over the summer I made sure I strengthened by connection to Illustrator so it could be tool students could rely on.
I’m continually inspired by Erin E. Riley’s new book, The Art of Digital Fabrication, and decided students first Illustrator experiment will be designing their initials using as few shapes as possible to be cut out of vinyl on the Silhouette Cameo. I showed my students first how to manipulate shapes using shapes and the Direct Selection Tool. I also modeled how to add anchor points so they could truly sculpt shapes easily. The Pen Tool was also introduced to see how they can create different shapes depending on they movie their cursor. In the lesson, I used my own initials, as seen below to provide them a foundation.
Last year my students used the Silhouette Cameo a good amount, but they mainly used the trace tool to recreate royalty-free images they found on the internet. This year they are only allowed to use it on original designs since they all know Illustrator. It will be interesting to see if this new distinction will increase their creativity. Also now that the project is complete, the 7th and 8th graders all have their new initial stickers decorating the front of their MacBooks Airs, making for great PR! I decided to my design on my coffee mug because if it gets lost, I will be quite upset.
Since Tinkercad Codeblocks have shown up in the past year, I’ve been awaiting for the right inspiration to use it in the classroom. Of course while I was blissed out in a yoga class, I saw a ceiling hanging that would make a fun project. My idea was for my 5th grade students to use Codeblocks to create simple shapes that could be strung together to make a fun mobile of sorts. My space has a power grid setup for my drop down power and I could see these bringing my makerspace to life. And it meant using brightly colored acrylic in the Glowforge!
I will be having each 5th grader come up with at least four shapes where they will be required to add areas for the fishing line to connect to the shapes, as well as cutouts to add dimension to the designs. Once they build the shapes, the first step is prototyping with cardboard to make sure the shapes were appropriately built.
I also love this project because the cutting time on the Glowforge doesn’t take very long. I look forward to seeing which colors the students chose!
One of the first Elementary Division projects I worked on was inspired by the moving video, Caine’s Arcade. I also wanted to utilize the Makedo Kits which is a wonderful way to learn to construct cardboard together using age appropriate screws, saws and screwdrivers. I did this project with 2nd graders and it engrossed them so much more than I ever expected.
We first watched Caine’s Arcade to get the 2nd graders inspired and I was blown away by how they already had ideas on what they wanted to make the moment the video was over. I wanted to show them how to use the tools before they started making but sometimes you need to go with the flow! The biggest challenge with this project was figuring out how to store the creations because they were bigger than I anticipated. Other than the Makedo Tools and cardboard, we did use masking and duct tapes for the more complicated connections that needed to be made. If students needed balls for their games, I had them ball up foil together. Going forward I do want to come up with a sustainable focus to this project.
Last school year the 6th grade History teacher and I collaborated on a project where students were tasked to choose a classic religious building and then recreate it in Tinkercad. I definitely wasn’t sure what the end products would look like but in the end they blew me away.
As students began the project, I could tell they were all overwhelmed so I had them start on one side of the building and go from there rather then looking as the buildings as a whole. The Round Roof shape as both a positive and negative space was truly an asset as they worked on this project. The Extrusion tool was also a great way to get a specific shape executed. As always, smaller detailed designs didn’t turn out as well since I work with Makerbots. But as you can see, they nailed the project and I look forward to more collaborative projects going forward!
My starter project when teaching Photoshop tends to be this Mondrian Project because it teaches students the basic tools while allowing them to be creative. I have them focus on the Brush tool, Paint bucket and Color Picker to keep it simple. The first tool I show them is the SHIFT/Click combo that allows Photoshop to create a straight line. It goes, click on area you want the line to begin and then hit SHIFT and CLICK together where you would like the line to end. This always wows them! I also keep the project so they can only use primary colors with a focus on right angles.
My first passion in life was experimenting with the moving image. I even majored in film at the University of Michigan to learn as much as possible about the medium. I got my start in the classroom teaching animation and I truly became enraptured with all the different ways to use materials and techniques to make the impossible, possible.
Below are some of my favorite pieces of student work from when I used to teach at the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School where I worked with 4-6 graders as part of the Arts Selective Program.
I always ask students to think of conflict as they construct their narratives o help guide them in the process. Experimenting with materials is also key, which is what I love so much about the Starry Night piece. The entire process was filled with trial error and her hard work really paid off.
Having tripods is key to completing strong stop-motion projects! I also find the iPad app iStopmotion is a great resource due to the onion skilling option. This really helps younger students visualize the stop-motion process. I have my students move their animations from iStopmotion into iMovie to add sounds effects and titles so they can have more control.
This summer I was lucky to get the chance to take a workshop at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, CO. This arts retreat in the Rocky Mountains was a wonderful way to focus on making new connections with creating mechanisms. It was also thrilling to be back in a studio environment filled with great tools. My love of a band saw has yet to diminish!
Each participant in the workshop was given a Stepper Motor to use as a source of movement. This is such a wonderfully slow moving motor which I think will be a great tool for class projects. I definitely felt outside my comfort zone at the start of this class and I quickly remembered to just experiment. I initially tried to make an inverse parallelogram mechanism but my brain couldn’t handle it so I decided to just play instead. Below is the video from that experiment.
Once I gained confidence with that mechanism I decided to move onto playing with gears. A main source throughout my time in this workshop is mechanisms.co as well as http://geargenerator.com. I used Gear Generator to create my gears to then laser cut them. I luckily placed them correctly into the wood and they were able to seamlessly move!
As the end of the workshop loomed I decided I needed to try again at mastering the Inverse Parallelogram Mechanism. I pretty much nailed it but one of the legs is a little too short and doesn’t move as seamlessly as I would’ve liked. But I did it!