The Kid Should See This tweeted the link to this great video, “Which Door Will the Ball Hit?” so I think it’s only fair to send you to their link to read more about it. I adore this idea from Joseph Herscher of using Rube Goldberg-type machines to make video puzzles, and I think it would be an excellent “hook” to show students before asking them to design their own. To get some practice before they design their first prototypes, they could play the Bubble Ball app, Goldburger to Go, or this game on Engineering.com.
One of the challenges I faced this year in the Makerspace was that our classroom got double-booked for the second nine weeks during 7th period. This meant my Principles of Applied Engineering Class met in a Spanish classroom – and the students who were eager to use large tools like the saws were disappointed at the temporary change in venue. (We ended up doing a 3D Design project that nine weeks.) I knew when we returned to the Makerspace at the beginning of January that the students would not want to be put off any longer, and racked my brains the entire Winter Break for a project with a purpose that would finally allow them to explore the tools.
Our Makerspace is relatively new, set up in the school’s old Cosmetology classrooms, and it’s definitely a work in progress. With upcoming renovations we will be getting another space, but we’ve been trying to make this one functional and inspirational in the meantime. Other than tool storage, our walls are somewhat blank. With that in mind, and everyone’s New Year’s Resolution tweets about their “One Word” for their year flooding my Twitter feed, the idea came to me that the students could practice using most of our tools while creating signs to hang up on the walls.
The students brainstormed words that they felt represented the Makerspace, and each group of 2-3 students chose a word. They made construction paper prototypes of their signs, planning out the measurements of the letters and the plaques. In the meantime, they did some flipped learning with online videos and safety tests for each of the tools they would be using.
All of the students used the table saw and miter saw to make their plaques. I have to say that this is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my job. Like me, many of these students are fearful before they use these powerful tools. After watching a few people do it without chopping off any fingers, they hesitantly try. Their smiles afterward remind me of my daughter’s reaction the first time I convinced her to ride roller coaster. “Let’s do it again!” The female students, especially, seem the most empowered after they finish. There is a noticeable difference in their self-confidence as they continue with their projects – some of them asking to cut other people’s projects so they can repeat their experience.
Once the plaques were made, the students were required to learn how to use at least 3 out of 4 other tools for the more precise designs of their letters. Each tool requires different software for design, so that was a bit challenging. The students could use: 3d printer, laser cutter, Silhouette cutter, or CNC mill. I encouraged them to use different fonts and types of “stock” for each letter. They could use acrylic, plywood, vinyl, cardstock, copper, aluminum, and filament. (Students could “earn” access to more expensive materials by meeting certain benchmarks on time.)
One of the cons of this project was that many students needed my help or supervision for different things at the same time. If I do the project again, I will plan more “mini workshops” about the software and schedule times to use certain tools. Another con was that our brand new CNC mill has a huge learning curve, and we lost a lot of time and material to mistakes. I think I’m finally learning its idiosyncrasies, so that shouldn’t be a huge problem in future projects.
Despite those issues, I felt really good about this project when we finished. I decided not to assess the actual signs, or to give any kind of team grade. Instead, students were assessed individually on their safety tests and on their final reflections of the design process. These reflections, which required pictures of different stages of the project, will be included in the online portfolios our school is required, and were very informative about how much the students understood about problem-solving and learning from mistakes during a project.
Here is what one student wrote, after describing some of the challenges encountered during the project, “That was all fine because that is how life is. You never truly know what is going to happen next and it allowed me to think on my feet a little better and reevaluate my plans; it was a reality check between what was possible and what I could accomplish if absolutely nothing went wrong, which isn’t life. Life is messy and that is beautiful.”
In the past, I have taught students about biomimicry/biomimetics, in which designers use inspiration from nature to create new products. (The Youth Design Challenge is a great place to find resources for this.) Biodesign takes things one step further by actually incorporating nature, often still living, into innovative artifacts that can be purely for decoration or serve specific purposes.
I first became aware of biodesign when I ran across a website for The Nest Makespace. The unusual images on the home page intrigued me. (I admit that I thought the “bioyarn” designs were actually made out of worms, but it turns out that it’s probably more like this material.)
For a “Peek at the Possibilities of Biodesign,” click on this link, or watch the embedded video below.
Whether you call it STEM, STEAM, or STREAM, engineering is part of each of those acronyms. In an incredible leap that still surprises me, I found myself teaching Principle of Engineering to students in 8th-10th grades this year. (I taught elementary school for 27 years before this, for those of you new to the blog.)
After nearly falling asleep reading the course curriculum, I started to hunt for ideas. There is no textbook; this is all project-based learning. And just because the subject was new to me didn’t mean that I had to read from boring PowerPoints all year.
During my quest for ideas I discovered a UK site for STEM Learning. Even more helpful for my specific interests, is the “Year of Engineering” portion of the site, which offers an incredible number of free resources for all grade levels.
Of course, I immediately dove into the secondary resources. From the initial page, you can narrow down your engineering interest to a particular subject by clicking on a “Choose Your Inspiration” button – which perfectly describes the effect the enormous number of ideas had on me. My favorite rabbit hole to leap into is the “Engineering in Design and Technology” one, which offers subcategories like “Sports Engineering” and “Humanitarian Engineering.”
You will need to register for a free account if you are interested in downloading any of the lesson plans or activities on the site. Just give yourself plenty of time to explore each time you visit…
I think I’ve finally come to terms with my Kickstarter addiction. Basically, I choose an item to “back”, and wait until that product arrives on my doorstep before I find something else to invest in. Most of the items I fund take around a year to get manufactured, so this seems to be a compromise that my bank account can handle.
Last summer, I wrote about my latest Kickstarter purchase, the Turing Tumble. I expected to receive it in January, but a few obstacles were encountered during production that delayed it to the summer. Sadly, this meant that only the few students that attended my robot camp got a chance to test it out, but I think I got a pretty good idea of its impact from them and my 15 year old daughter.
Paul and Alyssa Boswell, who invented this unique game, kept their Kickstarter backers very well-informed during the production process. Packaging is a huge part of getting products like this into the hands of consumers, and there were a lot of bumps along the way. However, I think they got it right in the end. Turing Tumble arrived in a substantial box that has a customized insert for all of the pieces. It will definitely make it easy to store.
Speaking of pieces, there are a lot, including tiny red and blue marbles that are “tumbled” in the games. The quantity of small pieces is a definite reason you should not ignore the age rating of 8 to Adult. I would caution anyone with young children or pets (like mine) who are living vacuum cleaners to set up this game in an area where accidental flying marbles won’t be immediately ingested .
The Turing Tumble is basically a mechanical computer. The different pieces represent what happens in a computer when a program runs. The set comes with a puzzle book that is written in the form of a graphic novel. Players are given 60 different objectives (challenges) throughout the story to complete using the pieces. (You can see an excellent description of the game, along with pics and video, on their Kickstarter page.)
A few of my students, ages 8-10, got to try out the game. Despite the beautiful images by Jiaoyang Li that accompany the story in the puzzle book, the students skipped straight to the challenges. Once they understood the basic structure of the book (each challenge has an objective, a picture of the starting setup, and the available parts you should add), they began to cruise through the scaffolded puzzles. A small crowd gathered around whenever they “started a program” by pressing the lever to release the first marble, and everyone watched in fascination as red and blue marbles fell in patterns determined by the placement of pieces.
My daughter was equally interested in the game. We sat at the dining room table working our way through the puzzles, and I ended up being the gatherer of pieces as she mentally visualized where to place them in order to accomplish each new objective. I was the one who finally stopped that night – mainly because I was feeling a bit grumpy about her solving the puzzles much more quickly than I ever could.
The good news is that anyone can now buy the Turing Tumble – and you don’t have to wait a year to receive it. It is available directly through their website, from Amazon, or Gameology (for New Zealanders and Australians).
Turing Tumble also has an education portion on their website, which includes a practice guide. You can submit your email address if you want to hear from the company when they release their Educator Guide.
February 18-24th is National Engineers Week here in the States. Since my 2nd graders have been studying bridges, we did an activity from the Building Big website, which is still one of my favorite resources when we talk basics about man-made structures. Yesterday’s activity was one I had never tried with a class before, the Suspension Bridge activity. Despite prepping everything ahead of time, I went through my normal roller coaster of emotions during the lesson.
Fortunately, all groups eventually got their bridges built, and they were fascinated with the weight the suspension bridges could carry compared to the beam bridges. I would definitely do this activity again for the wow factor!
For more resources to teach your students about engineering, you can head on over to Discovere.org. I’ve also embedded an awesome video from the National Science Foundation called, “What is Engineering?”