Microbe Art

photo of young girls looking through microscope

I have long been fascinated with the intersection of math, nature, and art. From Fibonacci to fractals, I find it intriguing to recognize patterns and similarities in natural objects and animals that also appear in those created by humans, and that we can imagine wildly creative innovations from very logical, patterned, or symmetrical visions. When I came across this video of the “Art of the Microcosmos” by Emily Graslie, I had a feeling that it would lead me down a rabbit hole of Fibonaccian proportions, and I was correct. Her interview with James Weiss made me wish I had him as a Biology teacher in high school, or that I had even once gotten the chance to observe the incredible microscopic animals shown in the video. Of course, I’ve known about the tardigrade (also known affectionately as “water bear”) for a few years, so I definitely have no problem imagining it or any other of the strangely beautiful creatures in this video as artistic inspiration.

Following Emily’s film, I had to look up Klaus Kemp, who creates diatomic art, and then I made the mistake of Googling “art made with microbes” and found an entirely different branch of scientific art grown in petri dishes.

After a couple of hours of being transfixed by so many things I had never seen or even known about before watching Graslie’s video, I finally had the wherewithal to drag myself away and try to do something somewhat productive (though not even minutely creative). I started a new Wakelet of “Math, Art, and Nature,” and I even used Wakelet’s new layout option of columns to attempt to organize it a bit. (You may need to scroll horizontally to see all of the columns, and scroll vertically within a column to see all of the links.) This is, of course, separate from my “Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep,” collection, but I went ahead and added a link to it in that one, too.

Just a reminder that, even though fancy microscopes might be nice, you can always get your students started with observations of that microscopic world with an inexpensive Foldscope. You might be surprised at the incredible images you can view with this simple tool.

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

Rob’s Tinkercad Classroom

Rob Morrill is a Innovation Lab teacher who was invited by Tinkercad this summer to write regular blog posts about projects he has done with students. You can read more about Rob’s experience and expertise in his introductory post. One way to keep track of the projects he adds is to visit this page, which is a “roundup” of all of the posts he has published so far. You can also visit Rob’s website. I’ve been wanting to try a lithophane project, and now I’m even more inspired after seeing his instructions and examples.

In case you’ve missed it, Tinkercad is one of my absolute favorite entry-level design programs (and it’s free!) that I discovered when our school got its first 3d printer. It keeps improving, and you can move from simple designs to really complex ones to accommodate all abilities. Here is a post I did at the end of last year about Tinkercad Design Slams. It’s also one of my recommended online tools to help students develop their spatial reasoning. You can integrate so many parts of your curriculum (especially math) into Tinkercad projects, as well as develop creativity and that Design Thinking mindset. Even if you don’t have a 3d printer (see my post on questions to consider if you are thinking of acquiring one), students love to show off their Tinkercad designs virtually, and they can be exported into other programs. For more ideas on using Tinkercad with Design Thinking, see this post on the City X book.

By the way, Tinkercad has a teacher dashboard that you can use, where you can add classes, students, and assignments. And, did I mention it’s free?!!! Don’t worry if you haven’t used it before. They’ve got you covered with their tutorials, and your students will help each other out. (Mine invariably discovered something I didn’t know about the program every time they used it.)

Thanks to Rob for sharing his innovative ideas!

Getting Unstuck

The Creative Computing Lab at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education has released a new (July, 2021) curriculum to use with Scratch. The curriculum is free, as is access to Scratch, the online coding platform from M.I.T. “The curriculum reimagines the classroom as a design studio: a culture of learning in which students explore, create, share, and reflect.” It is targeted toward upper elementary grades as an intermediate step after students have learned Scratch basics using their Creative Computing Curriculum. In “Getting Unstuck” there are 10 modules, each of which focuses on a particular coding concept for which students will design their own projects. All of the modules include four components: Explore, Create, Share, and Reflect. Downloadable slides are provided for each module, and suggested time spans are recommended in each “Activities Overview.” The Orientation slides will help you prepare to get started and include suggestions for differentiation as well as for use in different learning environments (online synchronous, asynchronous, physically distanced).

Coding teaches students so many important skills, most of which can translate to any field. It can be weaved into any of your core subjects while giving students the opportunities for creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving. I know that I sound like a broken record about it on this blog, but you do not have to be an expert to bring coding into your classroom. In fact, you may ultimately be more helpful to your students if you are learning along with them. It takes away the temptation to help them “too much” and allows you to model how to handle challenges. Advanced learners in your class would probably be more than happy to take this curriculum and run with it, though all learners would certainly benefit.

I’ll be adding this post to my new public Wakelet, “Coding Resources for Teachers.” You can see all of my public Wakelets, offering hundreds of free resources to teachers, here.

Journey to City X: Adventures in Engineering for Kids

About 6 years ago, as people who are excited about learning new things can be wont to do, my colleague and I emphatically agreed to piloting a 3d printer on our elementary school campus without actually knowing a single thing about 3d printing. There was a huge learning curve just trying to figure out how to get the darn thing to print out one of its pre-programmed examples. Once we accomplished the extraordinary feat of coaxing our printer to spit out a plastic bolt that we could use for pretty much nothing, we realized that we needed to figure out what meaningful objects we could fabricate – and how to design them. Our research was frustrating. Other than mass producing keychains and other items with school logos, no one seemed to have any idea about what elementary students might be able to do with a 3d printer. (By the way, if you are thinking of purchasing a 3d printer for your classroom, or doing a Donors Choose request, here is an article I wrote on some considerations you should make before you commit.)

That’s when we stumbled across City X. And Design Thinking. And Tinkercad.

And that’s when we learned that we didn’t need a 3d printer.

Don’t get me wrong. They are nice to have, and students love holding their own designs in their hands. But the most valuable part of the learning is the Design Thinking process.

The free toolkit from City X helped us to walk our students through the design process. The premise of the program is that humans have started a new settlement called City X on another planet, and the citizens need help with different challenges they are encountering in this novel environment. You can read more about how my colleague and I used the program here.

The toolkit includes a lot of resources, and was a true blessing for the two of us, as we discovered a way to really engage children while helping them to learn about empathy, problem-solving, and multiple other lifelong skills.

Now there is a City X book (thanks for letting me know about it, Amy C!), written by one of the co-creators of the original project, Brett Schilke. Journey to City X: Adventures in Engineering for Kids begins with the same idea as the original project, that the mayor of City X is asking for your help with various problems. In this book, however, there is more detail on how to embark on the design adventures as members of “The Irresistible Futures Agency.” It includes 35 challenges in the areas of transportation, environment, communication, food, health, safety, and energy. Each challenge walks students through solving problems for the fictional planet as they make connections to our own, real-world. There are still choices when it comes to who their “clients” will be and what their final solutions entail, but there are additional activities and recommended explorations in each chapter that are perfect for students new to the idea of Design Thinking.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a 3d printer. Students can prototype and test with any number of easily accessible materials such as cardboard and clay. Also keep in mind that the broad categories of each challenge make them relatively easy to integrate with science or social studies curriculum.

Once students experience the City X project, they will be ready to do “real-world” designs using the same framework.

For more of my posts on Design Thinking, click here. Also, this is one of the professional development sessions I offer, and it includes a ton of free resources.

“Foolsball”: a new game you can play in City X

Revisiting Makey Makey

I’ve written a lot about Makey Makey in the past, including recommending it in my “Gifts for the Gifted” series in 2014. (See all of my past recommendations here.) I recently visited their website, and noticed that there is a now a nice layout of lesson plans to use with this versatile tool. Some other ways I’ve seen people use it are as a Book Tasting tool and an Exit Ticket Data Tracker. My students used it for interactive onomatopoeia in one instance, and as a game controller for their Scratch games in our game design unit. There are plenty of ways to get creative with Makey Makey, and it’s very user-friendly. If you are considering integrating more Design Thinking into your classroom, a Makey Makey is an inexpensive way to encourage innovation and experimentation with your students!

image from Josh Burker on Flickr

Scan the World

One of the fabulous things about 3d printing is that so many files are open source and freely available on the internet. You can download the .stl, put it through whatever your preferred slicing software is (such as Cura or the one that came with your 3d printer), and you have your own version. Now, you have access to 18,000 .stl files for ancient sculptures and artifacts through the “Scan the World” project. This was no small task. “Scan the World” partnered with Google Arts and Culture and museums around the world to get scans of their treasures – sometimes using drones to take pictures of larger sculptures on exhibit. You can read more about the project here. View the extensive archive hosted by MiniFactory here.

Roman Marble Head – one of the many artifacts you can now 3d print, thanks to Scan the World