Kindergarten Sews

Sewing gives our students so many possibilities to create.  This quarter, our Kindergarteners have been learning the basics of sewing using burlap, yarn, and a big plastic needle.


Our Kindergarten teachers suggested sewing as the focus for the second quarter because they thought it would be an appropriate challenge for five year-olds and would help them with their fine motor skills.  After the first few weeks I heard how hard it was for students to thread their own needles, not go around the side of the cloth, and pre-plan a work of embroidery.  K_Sewing1

When I went to observe on Friday, I was amazed to see students overcoming all of these obstacles; they were still struggling, but they were cutting the frayed end of the yarn, licking it (which they thought was hilarious), and then squeezing it to get it through.  They were also remembering to sew back into the same side the yarn last came out.  They were starting to plan their designs as well; drawing what they wanted to make on the burlap before beginning to stitch.  K_Sewing4

What have we learned so far?  Early on, students were using embroidery hoops, but we quickly learned that the hoops just got in the way.  They’ve had a much easier time since they started using the fabric on its own.  Teachers also modeled the skills that were proving challenging for students, talking them through the important pieces.

Thanks to our Kindergarten teachers for your amazing perseverance and willingness to try new things in your classes.  I especially appreciate that you share your lessons learned – they are quite helpful!  Next up, we are hoping to practice empathy by having students interview each other about what they would like, and then designing and making a piece of sewn art for their classmate.

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Families Scribble, Tape, and Electrify

Making9-30 246Families engaged in creative play together – an outcome we want to build as we integrate making into our school’s practices.  Recently our fourth grade teachers invited their students and families to engage in creating scribbling machines, circuit boards, and a little bit of tapigami.

Making9-30 259Making9-30 271Scribbling machines are fun – they instantly engage people to want to design and re-design, to tinker, to play.  Families were  invited to take a few materials (a container, a battery, a motor, a piece of hot glue, some tape, and a few markers) and try to make the machine work.  Within minutes of starting there were a few scribbling machines drawing on tables.

While the kids jumped right in, there were some parents who had to be encouraged.  They were more comfortable watching their children, and helping when necessary, but after some encouragement started to try their own ideas.  Soon everyone had a machine working and was watching the varied designs they made.

But getting them working was only the beginning.  As students and parents started to watch them draw, questions popped into their heads — “How can I get it to…?”  “What would happen if I …?” They were off to do more tinkering.  Before long we had run out of drawing space on the tables and threw together a larger drawing space on the floor.

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There was one family in particular that intrigued me.  I have observed this activity in multiple settings, but the five people at this table were consistently coming up with different ways to use the materials and different designs then I had ever seen before.  It was fun to watch they way they played with the machines to develop something new; if there’s an engineering gene, it’s definitely found in this family!Making9-30 235

After lunch we opened up the circuit blocks exploration table and broke out even more tape for tapigami.  The 4th graders had studied circuits the year before and were excited to get to play with the open ended circuit boards.  These materials have been used in our curriculum in many different grades, from 3rd-12th.  What makes them so versatile is the open ended nature of the activity.  Using the circuit boards, the 4th graders were able to apply what they had learned the previous year and take it to a whole new level of complexity.  In addition, the students are working with tapigami in their class and some were eager to show their parents this new form of expression.

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The response was overwhelmingly positive.  In particular, comments indicated that they enjoyed experimenting together, and that they had fun.  Mission accomplished.

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Building and Space Design

photo-3 copyOur middle school students have teamed up with Hamilton + Aitken Architects to collaborate on a five-week-long project that has two major goals: first and foremost, we want to introduce our young designers to the concepts and practices that make up building and space design; secondly, students are working to generate ideas and input for the renovation of the Creativity Lab here at Lighthouse Community Charter School.

Mentors from the Bay Area architectural firm have been visiting after school classes with design challenges that task students to think about and reconsider the way they understand space.  Specifically, our design teams have considered how space is used here in the Creativity Lab, and they are continuously thinking about and discussing strategies for improving the usage of that space with each subsequent challenge.

On the fourth week, prior to beginning models for their final proposals, students toured the Creativity Lab with one mentor roleplaying the part of an elderly woman, and with a 6th grader roleplaying the part of a kindergarten student.  They interviewed both as potential users of the Creativity Lab, and their answers offered our student designers insight into the ways in which age, body-size, and even literacy, may have an effect on how a user engages with a particular space or building.

Our students went on to discuss and to brainstorm solutions for one of thephoto-3 biggest challenges we face here in the Creativity Lab: As a making space for students that range from grades K-12, we need solutions that can serve big bodies as well as small. When they broke up into design groups to map out how the Creativity Lab might be redesigned, students continued to talk about ways younger students might find it difficult to work at tables and chairs designed for older people.  More than one group started to hash out plans for adjustable furniture, trying to conceptualize how that might be incorporated into the floor plans they were mapping out.  Another discussion piece was the use of pictures: how images might help younger makers, still learning to read, to recognize where materials and tools are stored around the Creativity Lab.

We’re still under construction here at the Creativity Lab, but with the help of our middle school design teams, we’re pretty certain things can only get better from here on in.  Now all we need to figure out is where the couch will go for the Chill Zone that students have unanimously agreed is a top priority!



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Kindergarten Sculpts with Sand

Continuing their work with sand, kindergarteners were given the opportunity to work with a mixture of sand, water, and corn starch – which will harden and keep its form over time. In order to make the mixture, you have to heat it to activate the properties of the cornstarch.

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They were also given a variety of materials to add to their sculptures.  Many of the materials were reused — found at the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse.

Sand Construction 023And then they were set free to create their own sculptures.

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And then you have 48 wonderful, creative, sandy sculptures!

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Sand Construction 061In order to make the mixture, mix two parts sand, one part cornstarch, and one part cold water.  Mix the ingredients together while cold and then heat until thickened.  When it is ready, the white water will have disappeared (as in the photo at the top of the post – and I cooked it for a few minutes after that).  The image below shows what the mixture looks like before it is cooked.

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To make enough for a class of 24 students, I mixed a total of 12 cups of sand, 6 cups of water, and 6 cups of corn starch together.  In order to make it easier to stir, I recommend splitting the recipe into two batches.

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Topographical Tapigami

“Getting smarter takes work, just like getting stronger physically or becoming a better ball player does.  Sometimes it even hurts!  But when you feel your brain becoming smarter, all the hard work is worth it!” (Independent School Magazine)

Our 4th graders recently started building a topographical map of California using tapigami.  They were each given a 1’x1′ floor tile with one piece of a (large) topographical map of California glued on top.   Each pair of students is building the topography of their region using tapigami and a elevation key and at the end, they will take all their squares and assemble them, like a puzzle, revealing a twelve foot long three dimensional map of the state.

When I arrived to help in Heather’s class I found the students reading the quote at the top of the post.  The growth mindset to intelligence and ability is at the core of why we Make at Lighthouse.  Through Making, our students are learning to be persistent and learning that through this persistence, they are capable of things they never thought they would be able to do.

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How does this relate to tapigami?  Well it is pretty difficult for many people (of all ages) to learn to do, it takes many trials to learn, and it takes quite a bit of patience.  Tape, by its very nature, is a sticky mess and in the hands of a tapigami novice often results in your creation turning into a misshapen blob, nothing like the rolling hills and mountains of our state.  In addition, although making a 1’x1′ tile may not seem to be trying, if each tapigami mountain were just one inch square (they are generally smaller) it would take 144 to cover the entire tile.  I don’t know what you remember about being in 4th grade, but I know that doing anything 144 times is quite extensive.

So, how did they do?  Well, we started by making tapigami tubes, although some of us hit a hitch when we started trying to twist the tape instead of roll it.  Then we rolled our tubes into cones and placed them on the tiles to show the heights of the Bay Area hills, the Sierras, and of course our highest peak Mount Whitney.  Generally with a good dose of adult coaching most students were able to make their first tapigami mountains after a few trials.  And the students were persistent – they kept trying and trying, even when it was clear they wanted to give up.  Ever since the day we started, the 4th grade teachers report that their students are eager to return to tapigami!Making9-13 187

The initial inspiration for this project was an incredible tapigami city at the 2013 Bay Area Makers Faire.  You can learn to make your own tapigami structures by purchasing a book from the artist Danny Scheible at!

Quote from:

“Independent School Magazine.” You Can Grow Your Intellegence. National Association of Independent Schools, 2008. Web. 8 Oct 2013. <>

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Tinkering with Circuits

They started with four piles – power sources, simple loads, switches, and complex loads – and by the time their hour of tinkering had passed, our students were expertly connecting multiple circuit elements together, drawing circuit diagrams, and investigating how to make more complicated circuit elements like 7 segment LEDs and potentiometers work.  And they were excited!

Persistence is a core part of what it means for students to become makers and circuit blocks is a persistence builder.  All of the students run into circuits they don’t quite know what to do with.  For some it is using a switch in a new situation without any guidance.  But most  struggled with how to use a potentiometer – you see this is the first time they have encountered an electrical device that has three connections.  And so they stumble through it generally using trial and error until they figure it out for themselves and then, hopefully, start to figure out how they can use this new device the next time they are confronted with it.Making9-13 130

But they do it themselves – and that is the magic.  They learn to persist, build, and they learn about electricity and how it works.  We all have to build our own understandings and giving students the chance to explore invests them in understanding these ideas at a deeper level than if they were just given a task to complete.

This activity was brought to us through a collaboration with the Exploratorium Tinkering Studio as part of their vision to bring activities they use on the floor of the museum to classrooms in schools.  Through this partnership we have been able to use circuit boards in 3rd, 7th, 9th, and 12th grades – and learn quite a bit about how different ages engage with and learn from an open ended hands-on activity.  They will continue to bring new activities to Lighthouse in the coming months – and we look forward to sharing them with you!

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Kindergarten Starts with Sand

Making9-13 089Our plan for Kindergarten this year is to explore different media each quarter, giving them an opportunity to experience and experiment with a variety of materials.  The new group of five-year-olds entering school have been starting with sand and water.

We started with dry sand.  It didn’t take long to discover that it doesn’t stick together very well.  After pairing it with water they started to build and create. Some students focused their attention on free-form building; others packed containers with wet sand and dumped it out into a shape.  Others started experimenting with how to cut masses of sand.  Anyone who built sand castles as a child remembers the fun and frustration of trying to create a vision with such a temperamental medium.

Kindergartener playing with sand

As a final project for this unit, the students will be making sand sculptures with sand and glue, giving their structures a little more permanency.

One thing we quickly learned about sand and water is that you don’t want wet sand sitting around for long in the classroom — it gets pretty smelly!

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