If you read last year’s “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, then you may remember that one of my suggestions was Circuit Playground Express. After publishing the post, I found out that there was an e-book published by Rob Merrill with some fun ideas for different ways to use this product, which is an awesome introduction to development boards. I added the update to that post, but I found out this week that the Cartoon Network has developed seven new projects to try out with the Circuit Playground Express. Whether you have a child who received one of these as a gift or you are a teacher who wants to offer more options for ways to learn how to use this product, these tutorials might appeal to you. In addition, there is a link to a Flipgrid where students can share their own versions of each project.
My new job title at Advanced Learning Academy is “S.T.E.A.M. Master Teacher.” Thank goodness I didn’t know my co-teacher when I applied for the job – or I would have talked myself out of it.
My co-teacher, Kat Sauter, is A.MAZE.ING when it comes to everything from Robotics to Carpentry. We both share the school’s Maker Space as a classroom, and I have learned so much from her since I began this job 4 months ago.
Our Maker Space has about a bazillion tools and I knew how to use approximately 1.5 of them when I started in August (if you don’t count the computers). We have 3d printers, multiple saws, a laser cutter, and electronics I never knew existed. I learn about 20 things from Kat per day, and I believe she has learned 1 from me. Since September.
It isn’t only Kat’s vast knowledge of every piece of equipment that makes her incredible, though. It is also the way she is able to weave the idea of “making” into so many parts of the curriculum, can manage several groups at a time working on completely different things, and has complete confidence that students can work a table saw just as well as any adult (with proper training and safety equipment, of course).
And her ideas! I mentioned some of them in yesterday’s post, but I’ll recap and add more.
Kat collaborated with the 8th grade Humanities teachers to create an art exhibit at a local studio called, “Some are More Equal Than Others.” Each of Kat’s 8th grade Robotics students were partnered with other students in their classes to design the interactive masterpieces displayed for parents and the public to see.
With the Biology teacher, Kat helped her middle school students design working “Operation” games that demonstrate their knowledge of different body systems. These made an appearance at one of our community gatherings in October.
One of our math teachers happens to love carpentry, so he teamed up with Kat to teach an Engineering class. So far, the class has designed and built a chicken coop for our primary campus. In addition, with Mr. Woodman (yes, I know – PERFECT name), some of the students are currently making incredible cutting boards that they will be selling at our next community event in order to earn money for our space.
Not all of the students in the Engineering class wanted to work on cutting boards, though. So, some groups are learning how to make laser-cut jewelry, and others are developing a “Fix-It” workshop, where people will be invited to bring broken items for them to repair.
I feel very lucky to be able to see how a true S.T.E.A.M. program becomes an organic part of a campus, rather than a stand-alone course. The students are learning the Design Process, collaborating with others, and creating across the curriculum.
Technically, I am a “S.T.E.A.M. Master Teacher’s Apprentice” as I observe Kat in action. I feel like I should be paying her tuition.
The good news is that we just got a new CNC, and she tells me that she doesn’t know how to use it yet – so we can learn together. I might know how to use 2.5 tools by the end of the school year…
As some of you may know, I made a giant leap outside of my comfort zone this year – leaving a job I had done for 19 years in a district where I had worked for 27. All 27 of those years were spent teaching elementary school, and now I teach students in 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, and 10th.
I haven’t said a lot about the school where I now work, so here is a brief summary:
Advanced Learning Academy is an in-district charter school in San Antonio Independent School District. The school serves PK-12, but only grades 4-12 are housed on the campus where I work, Fox Tech High School. The Fox Tech campus also hosts a Health and Law magnet school and CAST Tech High School.
ALA opened its doors 3 years ago, a combined endeavor between SAISD and Trinity University. It is a school “for students who seek academic challenge with greater depth and complexity and opportunities for acceleration.” Trinity interns work along with the faculty to provide Project Based Learning activities, Design Thinking, and a variety of enrichment activities.
ALA is diverse, with students who live a few blocks away to students who live outside of the city. No area is “zoned” for our campus, so the only students who attend are those who have applied.
The first, and best thing (in my opinion), that I noticed when I joined the staff here at ALA was the extreme dedication of each and every teacher. No one is here for “a job.” They are here because they want to do what is best for children and they want to improve their craft. The quality of teaching on this campus has completely humbled me. Know this: if your child attends ALA, his or her teacher will do everything possible to help that student reach his or her potential.
Project-Based Learning means that our Robotics students collaborate with their Humanities peers to create interactive works of art, our Engineering students work with architects to design the new playground and build a chicken coop for the lower campus, and Biology students work with another Robotics class to produce “Operation” games to represent the body systems they have researched.
Design Thinking means that our students know what it means to make a prototype, test it, fail, and revise. They have time to “go deep” into curriculum, and they often present to their peers, their parents, and outside experts. We are working on craftsmanship to develop products that will enhance our campus, and will be lasting legacies.
Enrichment Activities include field trips – lots of them. Our campus is located downtown, a block from the Central Library, and within walking distance to the Riverwalk, the Tobin Center, and Hemisfair Plaza. Our students go on at least one field trip a month, often more. In addition, the grade levels have built in time for students to take “Wonder Courses,” which they can select based on interest.
Because of our unique structure, high school students can visit the 4th/5th grade wing to give students feedback on their video game designs, 5th graders can join 6th and 7th graders in programs like Speak Up, Speak Out, and students in grade 4-12 could work together to produce the musical, Shrek.
So, what’s the downside, you ask?
Transportation may be an issue, depending on your location. There are in-district transfers on buses, but this may mean a long-ish ride for the student.
Because we are small, we cannot offer the number and variety of electives that larger high schools provide. We do have athletics, a mariachi band, and a theater program. The only foreign language we offer is Spanish.
Every child is different. I would have thrived at ALA as a teenager, but my daughter, who wants to be in 10 million clubs and take Latin, would not choose to be here (especially with her mom as a teacher).
This is an invitation to consider our school if you live in the San Antonio area. You do not have to be an SAISD student to apply. The application window for our campus is November 26, 2018 – February 8, 2019. To learn more about the application process, including opportunities to tour (which I highly encourage), click here.
A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season. I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December. These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child. For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page.
This year, I have decided to do my annual “Gifts for the Gifted” posts all in one week. This should give anyone who likes to shop ahead of time a good start! For this year’s suggestions so far, click here.
The Make Code site allows users to simulate what will happen on the physical Circuit Playground Express. Once satisfied, creators can download the program to the Circuit Playground, and remove it. The Base Kit is a good buy, as it includes a battery pack with batteries, USB cord, and a container. This makes the Circuit Playground Express a portable electronic device that doesn’t need soldering, breadboarding, or any kind of advanced electrical knowledge.
With lights, music, and multiple inputs, the Circuit Playground Express would be the next step up the ladder from the Makey Makey. Suggested “makeable” products are listed on the Adafruit product pages for the Express, as well as on the Make Code website. Because of it’s size and portability, the Circuit Playground Express also makes it a fun choice for wearable inventions.
UPDATE 12/3/18: Rob Merrill has published an e-book course for Circuit Playground Express with great ideas here.
(It should be noted that several other beginner products can be programmed on Make Code – most notably the Microbit, which is used extensively in the UK. I have not used it, so I can’t review it, but it has extensive coverage online with multiple projects and tutorials.)
One of my colleagues pointed out a couple of weeks ago that Instructables offers free classes on many “makerspace” related topics, such as laser cutting, mold making, and 3d design. I’ve used the site for a few DIY projects, but never knew I could dig deeper with these lessons. I plan to investigate several of these for my own studies, and now I know that I can also refer some of my students to the site, especially if they want to learn more about something I may not have tried yet. It’s a good resource for DIY’ers, educators, and students.
If you really want to take your feedback, reflections, critiques, etc… to a whole new level, you should consider using these IDEO Lifeline Cards. I haven’t used them with my students yet, but just asking myself the questions made me think about my own work differently. The cards are free (and quite beautiful), so download them while you can. Even if the questions are a bit too high level for your particular student age group, applying them to your own life is an intriguing exercise and may give you some insight you have never considered.
Colleen Graves (@gravescolleen) shared some pictures on Twitter a few days ago that showed prototypes she was making of a library data tracker and a classroom exit ticket tracker. Both use the Makey Makey along with some minimal Scratch programming. I begged for some more details, and she has released the instructions here. (That sentence makes it sound like she only published the directions because I asked, but I’m pretty sure the two events just happened in chronological order because Colleen planned it that way – not because I have the power to demand anyone to explain things in detail just so I can copy their ideas.)
Colleen, by the way, is now the Content Creator/Director of Community and Creative Content at Makey Makey. She has already authored a few books, one of which is 20 Makey Makey Projects for the Evil Genius. For one of my posts that curated links of creative ways to use the Makey Makey, click here. You also might enjoy this one about interactive onomatopeia.