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
mother helping her daughter use a laptop

Make Code Arcade Beginner Skillmap

The Arcade Beginner Skillmap is a new resource from Microsoft’s Make Code which is perfect for students who want to learn how to design their own video games. It is free, and includes step-by-step tutorials for using block coding to make greeting cards, clicker, and collector games – all within your browser. I don’t have a minimum age suggestion, but would recommend that users have basic reading skills to help them through the tutorials. Once completing the beginner skillmap, burgeoning young game designers may want to work on one of the other skillmaps on the arcade, make their own project from scratch, or take advantage of one of the other tutorials. Then, keep their momentum going by showing them the hundreds of Hour of Code tutorials available on code.org.

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

The Wizard of Oz Prototype

As I was doing some prep work for my Facebook Q&A on Design Thinking next Monday, I came across the term, “Wizard of Oz Prototype.” I realized that we had done prototypes like this in the classroom, but didn’t know there was a term for them. As you know, the Wizard in that famous book and movie uses the art of illusion to appear much larger, louder, and smarter than he really is. When making a Wizard of Oz prototype to test out, you may want to find out if the end experience is going to be worth all of the work needed to create it. For example, you may want to design a robot that dispenses fortunes to people. Before spending time on programming a robot, you might dress up as a robot and present fortunes when someone presses a button to find out if this is a product people will like. So, it’s kind of a twist on “Fake it ’til you make it.” You can read more about it in this handout from Stanford’s d. school.

Image by Beri Garrett from Pixabay
camping tent on grass lawn

Camp WeWow

I recently authored an article for NEO about using podcasts in the classroom, but that certainly isn’t the only place educational podcasts can be enjoyed. One podcast for kids and adults to listen to together, Wow in the World, is embarking on a special summer edition beginning next week. On June 14th, the podcast will begin streaming daily through the end of July. Each week will have a theme and the episodes will encourage interactivity with STEM projects and “bonkerball antics galore!” Click here to find out more about Camp WeWow, and mark your calendars for this summer (or winter – depending on which part of the world you live in!) activity the entire family can enjoy.

family of four walking at the street
Photo by Emma Bauso on Pexels.com
monopoly car piece

Get in the Game

The If/Then Collection is all about featuring women in STEM. If you teach or you’re a parent, I highly recommend doing a deep dive into all of the materials offered on this site, including profiles of female scientists in various fields like sports and entertainment, videos, posters, and toolkits. I saw the “Get in the Game” resources, and wanted to share them since I mentioned the Game Design Contest from Google Play yesterday. According to the site, “Get in the Game is an “unplugged” activity–exploring concept usually associated with programming and computer science without the use of a computer.  The Tech Interactive Museum in San Jose presents six activity videos featuring AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassador Dr. Siobahn Day Grady where students design their own board games and learn how Dr. Grady applies computational thinking skills as a computer scientist researching autonomous vehicles.” Although this activity focuses on designing a board game, it would be a great jumping-off point for anyone interested in the Google Play contest, or who are just looking for engaging activities during the next couple of months.

Interested in the idea of using Design Thinking in your classroom, but not quite sure how to do it? I will be live on Facebook on June 14th to talk about Design Thinking (which comes in handy for game design and lots of other subjects!). You can find info on how to join us here.

blue and yellow board game
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com