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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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.