Tag Archives: STEM

The One Word Project

One of the challenges I faced this year in the Makerspace was that our classroom got double-booked for the second nine weeks during 7th period.  This meant my Principles of Applied Engineering Class met in a Spanish classroom – and the students who were eager to use large tools like the saws were disappointed at the temporary change in venue.  (We ended up doing a 3D Design project that nine weeks.) I knew when we returned to the Makerspace at the beginning of January that the students would not want to be put off any longer, and racked my brains the entire Winter Break for a project with a purpose that would finally allow them to explore the tools.

Our Makerspace is relatively new, set up in the school’s old Cosmetology classrooms, and it’s definitely a work in progress.  With upcoming renovations we will be getting another space, but we’ve been trying to make this one functional and inspirational in the meantime.  Other than tool storage, our walls are somewhat blank.  With that in mind, and everyone’s New Year’s Resolution tweets about their “One Word” for their year flooding my Twitter feed, the idea came to me that the students could practice using most of our tools while creating signs to hang up on the walls.

The students brainstormed words that they felt represented the Makerspace, and each group of 2-3 students chose a word.  They made construction paper prototypes of their signs, planning out the measurements of the letters and the plaques.  In the meantime, they did some flipped learning with online videos and safety tests for each of the tools they would be using.

All of the students used the table saw and miter saw to make their plaques.  I have to say that this is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my job.  Like me, many of these students are fearful before they use these powerful tools.  After watching a few people do it without chopping off any fingers, they hesitantly try.  Their smiles afterward remind me of my daughter’s reaction the first time I convinced her to ride roller coaster.  “Let’s do it again!”  The female students, especially, seem the most empowered after they finish.  There is a noticeable difference in their self-confidence as they continue with their projects – some of them asking to cut other people’s projects so they can repeat their experience.

Once the plaques were made, the students were required to learn how to use at least 3 out of 4 other tools for the more precise designs of their letters.  Each tool requires  different software for design, so that was a bit challenging.  The students could use: 3d printer, laser cutter, Silhouette cutter, or CNC mill.  I encouraged them to use different fonts and types of “stock” for each letter.  They could use acrylic, plywood, vinyl, cardstock, copper, aluminum, and filament. (Students could “earn” access to more expensive materials by meeting certain benchmarks on time.)

One of the cons of this project was that many students needed my help or supervision for different things at the same time.  If I do the project again, I will plan more “mini workshops” about the software and schedule times to use certain tools.  Another con was that our brand new CNC mill has a huge learning curve, and we lost a lot of time and material to mistakes. I think I’m finally learning its idiosyncrasies, so that shouldn’t be a huge problem in future projects.

Despite those issues, I felt really good about this project when we finished.  I decided not to assess the actual signs, or to give any kind of team grade.  Instead, students were assessed individually on their safety tests and on their final reflections of the design process.  These reflections, which required pictures of different stages of the project, will be included in the online portfolios our school is required, and were very informative about how much the students understood about problem-solving and learning from mistakes during a project.

Here is what one student wrote, after describing some of the challenges encountered during the project, “That was all fine because that is how life is. You never truly know what is going to happen next and it allowed me to think on my feet a little better and reevaluate my plans; it was a reality check between what was possible and what I could accomplish if absolutely nothing went wrong, which isn’t life. Life is messy and that is beautiful.”

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San Antonio Mini Maker Faire

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.

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Operation Valentine

Operation Valentine is an adorable project on Instructables that can be used for grades 3 and up to teach the basics of electrical circuits just in time for Valentine’s Day.  You may recall the post that I did that included some of the Operation projects my co-worker, Kat Sauter, did with the 8th grade science teacher.  The Instructables project from mathiemom is definitely more manageable with younger students.  Maybe your students can make these for their Virtual Valentines projects, or in addition to some of these other STEM projects for the young at heart 🙂

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The Art of Engineering

There aren’t any fancy graphics on this video, but I love the message that Katie Correll gives in this short presentation.  I keep trying to convince my students that engineering is so much more than math and science, that’s it’s not just about following formulas and rules but about learning how to use them to innovate and sometimes even break those rules.  One of my students pointed out that Katie’s message about thinking outside of the box to problem solve can really apply to anyone – not just engineers.

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Trying to Pick Up S.T.E.A.M.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

Math Craft

As seasoned readers may know, I have always been intrigued by the beauty of math.  (See here, here, or here for some examples.)  Now that my job title is S.T.E.A.M. Master Teacher, I have been looking even more for ideas on how to integrate math and art.

Math Craft is a great place to start.  From mathematical knitting to Sierpinski Christmas trees, there is no shortage of inspiration on this site (though it is a bit heavy on polyhedrons).  Not every post gives you instructions, as some of them feature work by professional artists – but you could always pose the question to your students, “How do you think they made this?”  They may end up making something completely different, but equally as beautiful, along the way.

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CC image from Pixabay

Year of Engineering

Whether you call it STEM, STEAM, or STREAM, engineering is part of each of those acronyms.  In an incredible leap that still surprises me, I found myself teaching Principle of Engineering to students in 8th-10th grades this year.  (I taught elementary school for 27 years before this, for those of you new to the blog.)

After nearly falling asleep reading the course curriculum, I started to hunt for ideas.  There is no textbook; this is all project-based learning.  And just because the subject was new to me didn’t mean that I had to read from boring PowerPoints all year.

During my quest for ideas I discovered a UK site for STEM Learning.  Even more helpful for my specific interests, is the “Year of Engineering” portion of the site, which offers an incredible number of free resources for all grade levels.

Of course, I immediately dove into the secondary resources.  From the initial page, you can narrow down your engineering interest to a particular subject by clicking on a “Choose Your Inspiration” button – which perfectly describes the effect the enormous number of ideas had on me.  My favorite rabbit hole to leap into is the “Engineering in Design and Technology” one, which offers subcategories like “Sports Engineering” and “Humanitarian Engineering.”

You will need to register for a free account if you are interested in downloading any of the lesson plans or activities on the site.  Just give yourself plenty of time to explore each time you visit…

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CC image from Pixabay