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.
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.
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!
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!
I’ve been teaching 3D design and modeling for the past 5 years. I’ve changed my curriculum up throughout the years but this project has always been a mainstay. It allows for the perfect amount of creativity and problem solving from students. The variety of ideas I’ve experienced over the years is incredible! Students can express themselves through abstract design, use their imagination to conjure up new animals or even design a battlefield where the cannons hold the pencils. I did this project with 5th grade for the first time this year and their creativity has blown me away.
For this project, students have to design something that can contain at least 1 pencil. It can’t be larger than 5inches by 5 inches. I also restrict students from using copy-written material and using their names. They will complain about this but in the end their projects shine as a result. I always tell students who want to put the name of their favorite sports team on something to show me that sport visually instead. Classic show versus tell mindset.
The final 1st grade project of the year was building marble runs on the walls of the makerspace. This project is perfect for teaching problem solving because they are continuously needing to iterate and make changes. Each group gravitated towards different materials and foil was the real winner for many of them. Materials like paper towel and toilet paper innards, used ice cream pints were also fun additions. Packing tape worked the best but of course the colored duct tape was the use most. But some of the paint did come off the walls as a result so next time I will be changing it to being all packing take.