According to the White House, the United States is celebrating a “National Week of Making” from 6/12-6/18 this year. A National Maker Faire was held in Washington, D.C., on the 12th and 13th, and people all of the country are sharing ideas with the #nationofmakers hashtag. You can go to this link to get ideas on ways to engage in making.
As many of you know, I am a huge proponent of the “maker movement” – especially within our schools. It’s good to see it getting this kind of attention for the 2nd year in a row.
For a list of makers who participated in the National Maker Faire, check out this page. You will see new ideas and new people that you might want to reach out to for “maker” advice.
As usual, the project was harder than I anticipated. For some reason, I thought that there would be lots of simple instructions on the web; I knew I hadn’t just dreamed up the idea. But when it came down to it, most of the instructions looked a bit too complicated for our group of 24 second through fourth graders. You can judge for yourself:
We don’t have a soldering iron, and I didn’t like the look of binder clips on a greeting card, so I pulled together what I’d learned from the above resources, and came up with a variation that would work for us. First we made Mother’s Day cards. Next I came up with a prototype for Father’s Day cards that they can make at home using the supplies we have provided in a baggie.
The main items you need to make this work are:
Copper Tape (available on Amazon.com) – about 6-8 inches for each card
LED Stickers (available at Maker Shed or Chibitronics) NOTE: You can also use LED’s with resistors instead of the stickers. – 1 for each card
Coin Cell 3V batteries (available on Amazon.com) – 1 for each card
Chibitronics has a good Starter Kit that is available at several online stores. It includes a “Sketchbook” which you can also download for free here. We introduced the students to what we were going to be doing by having them do the simple circuit on page 20.
The hardest thing for the young ones is keeping the copper tape in one piece around the corners. Instead of cutting it for your corners, you need to fold it over itself to ensure conductivity continues.
Noticing their difficulty, and worried about time constraints for the Mother’s Day cards, I went ahead and applied the copper tape to the die-cut hearts ahead of time. The students added the rest. You can see some of the results below.
Each student had 2 die-cut hearts – the bottom one with the circuit and a top one that they wrote on and I punched a hole in. To affix the battery to the bottom, they used glue dots (be careful that the dot is not too high or it will keep the battery from connecting with the tape). To affix the top heart to the bottom we used foam mounting squares similar to these.
I didn’t want to leave fathers out, but we only have one more Maker Club meeting. So, I made a new prototype and we will be giving the students these instructions along with the pieces for assembly. The basic circuit construction is the same as the Mother’s Day card. I plan to encourage the students to make their own design, but I know that many of the younger ones, in particular, will prefer having some guidelines.
Across from the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in Johnson City, Texas, a mill that was built in 1880 closed its doors after one hundred years. It was briefly revived as entertainment complex, but then fell into disuse again for another 20 years.
Once again, however, the mill has been reincarnated. With the vision and determination of a unique team of scientist/educators, the mill has gained a new life as a venue for students to learn about and participate in science. While maintaining the integrity of the old building, including outfitting the original silos as exhibit spaces, the mill has now become a different kind of food provider. Instead of the flour and grain it once produced for the local community, the mill is now a source of food for curious and eager young minds.
The Hill Country Science Mill opened its doors in February of 2015. My 3rd-5th GT classes were fortunate to visit the complex in April. After spending a school day at the Mill, they were all eager for even more time to explore its many interactive exhibits and amazing BioLab.
A couple of weeks after our trip, the 5th graders got the chance to Skype with one of the founders of the Hill Country Science Mill, Dr. Bonnie Baskin. She graciously answered their questions, and gave them insight into the design and carefully-selected exhibits.
One student asked Dr. Baskin about the motivation behind the digital avatars each visitor can personalize when he or she arrives. (Using a “Passport” with a QR code, patrons can scan the code and create their own avatar at the entrance on one of the many iPad mini’s. Once the avatar is created, there are many opportunities throughout the Mill to scan your passport, and you can learn from your avatar the science behind particular exhibits. You can also “favorite” exhibits and follow up on your visit using the QR code once you get home.)
When asked why the staff chose to include the avatars in the experience, Dr. Baskin replied that they really wanted to appeal to an older group of students. Many interactive museums are aimed at the toddler/pre-school set, but the Mill targets middle and high-school students. This is not to say younger ones won’t appreciate the experience, but that there is a great interest on the part of the staff to keep the attention of older students.
My students were fascinated with one of the silo exhibits – the Fractalarium (designed by two San Antonio artists), and asked Dr. Baskin about this inclusion of an artistic work. She confirmed what my 4th and 5th graders had already observed, that math, art, and science often converge in amazing ways. This piece of scientific art, based on the design of the broccoli, is a perfect example.
Many of the students told Dr. Baskin that the BioLab was their favorite room. Dr. Baskin agreed that this exhibit has a special place in heart due to a background in biology, and told the students they specifically designed this room with its zebrafish, mud battery, and microscopes, to resemble a real research lab.
Another field trip favorite was the Augmented Reality Sandbox. The sandbox has a projector above it that shows the contour lines of the “mountains” and “valleys” in the box. It also simulates rain when you hold your hands over the sand. Dr. Baskin shared that this is one of the harder exhibits to keep in working order because so many students enjoy it that the calibration gets off on the projector. However, she said that, like all of the exhibits, the staff finds that the maintenance is well worth it to provide so many interactive experiences for visitors.
The only complaint that I heard from my students about this trip was that there wasn’t enough time to do everything. That’s a good problem!
Many of my students said that the field trip to the Hill Country Science Mill inspired them to seriously consider a career in one of the STEM fields, and most of them definitely intend to return to the Mill for a visit.
You can see a gallery of some of the other pictures my students took below. Of course, if you are planning a visit to the Hill Country Science Mill, you should definitely get more information from their website.
Congrats to Tom Kilgore, winner of the Family 4-Pack to the Hill Country Science Mill! He and his family headed for an awesome experience!
I found out about a 3-part series of animated videos called, “The Experimenters,” from Joe Hanson of “It’s Okay to Be Smart.” I haven’t watched them all, but I really like the one for Jane Goodall. It’s short – about six and a half minutes – but it encapsulates all that is delightful about this primatology pioneer. For example, her dreams of working in Africa began when she read Tarzan. She does not discount the possibility that a Yeti may exist. And she managed to go straight from having no degree to getting a Ph.D. from Cambridge. What’s not to love?
Inspire a future scientist by showing him or her this video about a woman who has always followed her instinct, despite those who disapproved.
The next adventure for our after-school Maker Club will be circuits. I’ve already mentioned Little Bits, a great product for creating all kinds of circuits using interchangeable magnetic parts. Those will be at one of our stations. Another station will include “Squishy Circuits.”
Squishy Circuits are made using conductive dough. You can find the recipe for the dough, as well as for insulating dough here. A Squishy Circuits kit, which includes the recipes and “hardware” is available for $25 here. You can probably find the items somewhere else, but I felt like this was a pretty good price that saved me the time of hunting for individual parts.
If you scroll to the bottom of the Squishy Circuits purchasing page, you can see two videos that show this product in action. As you will learn, this is a great way to introduce electrical circuits to young students.
I did a practice run this weekend with my daughter and some family friends. One of the things that is really fun to watch is the natural curiosity that arises once you show them an LED lighting up. Suddenly, “What if” questions begin to flow, and “I wonder what would happen” becomes the beginning of every other sentence.
I did learn a few things from this Squishy Circuits rehearsal:
If you don’t have food coloring in the house, egg dye can work in a pinch – but it’s going to make your dough smell like vinegar.
There is a reason the recipe calls for distilled or deionized water for the insulating dough. We didn’t have either, so we used spring water. Our sugar dough – though less conductive – still had some power. This turned into a great lesson, though. (“Why” became the next favorite sentence starter.)
The buzzer sounds are extremely irritating to adult ears, but highly giggle-provoking to youth.
I found a few other resources for those of you interested in using Squishy Circuits.
As you can see, there are lots of ways to use Squishy Circuits. If you have any other suggestions, please fill free to add a comment to this post. And, if you want to see some other Maker Space Essentials, check out my “Make” Pinterest Board.
A couple of weeks ago I stumbled on a #makered Twitter chat and somehow the conversation turned to using the Sphero robots to paint. I was hoping to do this with my 4th graders because we are studying mathematical art and I thought it would be a good way to tie it in with the programming they have learned – but I had no idea how to go about it.
My colleagues on Twitter immediately offered fabulous suggestions: use tempera paint, try it with the “nubby” to give it texture, and buy a cheap plastic swimming pool to contain the mess. One teacher offered to try it the next day with her students and, as promised, sent me pictures of the results. Claire (@pritchclaire) also gave me the suggestion to stay away from red paint as it kind of stains the Sphero.
After receiving all of this great advice, I introduced the topic to my 4th graders. Then we set about coming up with a plan. First, they learned how to program the Sphero to make polygons using the Macrolab app. (We used the free 2D Geometry lesson from Sphero offered on this page.) There is an app that allows you to drive the Sphero free-hand, but it’s difficult to make exact shapes that way. Macrolab gave us the tools to be more precise.
The students needed a good 90 minutes to practice making different polygons. The next step was to sketch a design. I absolutely loved listening to the conversations about the math involved as they tried to figure out the angle degrees for each command. Despite their experience with the complexities of Sphero programming, the students started out with grand, complicated sketches. After doing dry runs, however, they realized they needed to scale things down a bit. Sketching and practicing took about another 90 minutes.
After many practices, each group came to our improvised drawing board. Although I loved the plastic pool idea, I realized that the bottom wouldn’t be flat enough to keep the Sphero in control. I brought a piece of drywall to school that had been sitting in our garage. We used some extra cardboard to add some sides to it.
With disposable gloves on, the students manually rolled the Sphero around in a puddle of paint, then set it up on the “canvas” and started their program. I should mention here that I was describing my day to my husband and he said, “You should have just put the paint in a plastic baggie and rolled the Sphero in that.” Hopefully I will remember that idea next year…
As you can see, the results of using a programmed Sphero were a bit different than the above photo. Personally, either method looks fabulous to me. The students agreed. As soon as they were done, one of them immediately said, “We should find out if we can hang these in the front foyer!”
Can you identify when they used the nubby for their lines?
You can see some video of our “technique” below.
After the experience we got into some good discussions about what art is and why the Sphero might not have always acted according to their expectations. Although this probably isn’t a lesson that could happen in the regular classroom due to time and equipment constraints, I think it worked well for my little group of 6 students!
I am frequently asked for advice on what materials to purchase for school maker spaces. I am definitely not an expert on this topic, but I have gotten a couple of grants for B.O.S.S. HQ (Building of Super Stuff Headquarters) that have allowed me to try out different products. I thought I would devote this week to sharing about a few items that I have judged to be well worth the money.
(If you intend to apply for a grant for a school maker space, be sure to research your district’s policies on spending grant money. If you need to use approved vendors, then you should verify that you will be able to purchase the items you propose and that the vendor will accept your district’s preferred method of payment.)
Legos may seem like a no-brainer when it comes to maker space essentials, but it actually took me awhile to realize that we needed to add them to our inventory. There were a couple of reasons I resisted their inclusion:
Many of my students have Legos at home, so there seemed to be no point in offering them at school as well,
I’m an idiot.
My students have been working with Lego robots for a few years, so I didn’t see the need for any additional tiny pieces ending up on the floor waiting to ambush me. And, to be honest, I kind of got stuck on the kit part of Legos, which didn’t seem like the best outlet for creativity.
We added a few last year because some of my students wanted to do a Lego stop-motion film for Genius Hour. The small box of Legos a parent donated seemed like plenty to me.
But then we kept getting robots that included Lego adapters and students kept asking, “Where are the Legos?” and our pitiful supply did not impress them, and I finally gave in and sent out an all-call to parents and staff for more Lego donations.
Legos, like cardboard boxes, are ubiquitous, it seems. Before I knew it, we had several bins of Legos, donated by parents and teachers who were grateful to re-home them, and my students were happily digging through the pieces to find the perfect accessories for their robots. (I’ll be talking more about the robots in tomorrow’s post.)
Some of the robots, like Sphero, don’t even come with Lego adapters. Yet my students managed to find a way to create a Sphero chariot with the donated Legos. The slideshow below shows Legos with Cubelets and Edison also.
If you don’t have robots or the materials to do stop-motion, here are some other ideas for using Legos in a maker space: