One of the advantages of my new school is its location. We are in downtown San Antonio – steps from the Riverwalk, downtown courthouses, parks, museums, and the Central Library. Our students go on many walking field trips, and we try to take advantage of our location whenever possible. Last weekend, the Central Library hosted the San Antonio Mini Maker Faire. A couple of my colleagues who also teach in our Maker Space at Advanced Learning Academy have been working with their students for a couple of months to design projects for the Faire.
Our school emphasizes exhibitions of student work, but this event had the added pressure of being open to the public. The students did not disappoint. Their projects included: a “Soc-Car” game with remote control cars on a soccer field moving ping pong balls, laser cut lanterns, upcycled toys, masks, ornithopters, wooden robots, and screen-printed shirts.
One highlight was “Fruit Guillotine,” admittedly a nerve-wracking demonstration every time as the aluminum blade whooshed down to decapitate bananas. Children were delighted, begging for multiple turns, as anxious parents stood nearby.
Watching the students interact with guests of the Maker Faire was wonderful. I heard descriptions of their design processes, details of failures and problem-solving, and obvious pride in what they had accomplished. Some of them were already prepared with ideas for what they will do differently next year.
Watching my colleagues conduct this project with the students was inspirational, and I am already determined my own students will participate next year. If you have the same opportunity (many cities host similar events), I highly recommend you consider guiding your students through this experience. It is a lot of hard work, but making for a genuine audience is always rewarding.
My students have done agamographs in the past, but I always called them “pictures that show two perspectives.” It’s nice to learn there is an official name for these that has fewer syllables. There are many ways to integrate this art form into other subjects – showing cause and effect in science or literature, or different historical perspectives, for example. To see great directions for making agamographs, check out this set from Babble Dabble Do. You can see some beautiful examples made by middle school students here. If you are ready to hop on trying this out, you might want to consider making agamograph Valentines.
Of course, if you Google “agamograph” you will find many more examples. Apparently everyone on the internet knew what they were called except me 😉
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.)