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Making at a Glance: Cardboard Robots

Last week, our summer makers built robots. Several students used what they had learned from building cars to give their robots moving parts (by incorporating axles). Once their robots were built, they capped their projects by adding LEDs and motors to their designs. Check out the pictures, and, as always, leave a comment! More

Building Cars

Last week, students of our summer making program built their own toy cars.

Students began by deconstructing toy cars to see how they work. As they disassembled their toys, they had to decide upon the three most important parts of a car, which they would then utilize in their own designs. Most students agreed that the wheels and body were necessary, and with a little guidance, they also learned about the importance of axles, which became part number three. More

We Built a Robot Petting Zoo

Tanya Kryukova—our twelfth grade physics teacher—helped our seniors squeeze a final making project into the last two weeks of school—and they really came through with it! They built a robot petting zoo, and invited the lower-level classes to come say hello to their animals. It was a great end to a great school year. More

Building Miniature Makerspaces

We understand the worries and headaches that often go along with trying to design and create a makerspace. Just knowing where to begin can be overwhelming. In fact, we hear enough concern over how to create a makerspace that we host an entire workshop on the subject. So, what’s the secret to a “correct” makerspace? (I’ll answer that below), and how do you get started? Here’s how our students did it. More

Toy Making: Part 2

(This post is Part 2 in a series. Part 1.)

From making their balancing crayfish, students learned that adding weight to an object makes it more stable, particularly when the weight is distributed more towards the bottom than the top. Having learned this, they moved on to making tops.

Building a Top

Students began by trying out store-bought tops, then moved on to the design phase of making their own tops. Students learned that “designing is planning with purpose.” In planning, students tried to answer: “What parts am I going to use, and why?” More

Toy Making: Part 1

For several weeks, our first graders have been exploring concepts like “balance” and “spinning” by building toys. Their making combined experimentation, observation, engineering design, and design thinking. And it went something like this:

Building a Balancing Crayfish

Calling it a “crayfish” is sorta killing me, being from Louisiana (down there, it’s a “crawfish”), but I guess out here it’s a crayfish, so I’ll try to manage.

I remember these toys from when I was little—a plastic eagle (or some other animal) that you could balance by its beak on the tip of a pencil, while the rest of it floated effortlessly in the air. Our students built their own balancing crayfish from card stock and clothespins.

Students cut out crayfish from manilla folders. Then their teacher challenged them to balance their crayfish on their fingers. First on the flat surface:

Balancing Crayfish

Then on the edges:

Balancing Crayfish

Because balancing on the edge is harder, students were given two clothespins each, to experiment adding to their toys. In between working,  students came together for discussions, and observation time, during which they agreed that: 1) objects with more weight near the bottom have better balance, and 2) spreading the clothespins out works better than if they are right next to each other.

Balancing Crayfish Balancing Crayfish

 

After getting their toys to balance, they recorded their observations in their journals, and tried a design thinking challenge: What could you add or change about your crayfish to make it a different kind of toy? Students had to write and draw their ideas, which included adding wheels to their crayfish to make cars, and coloring their crayfish, to use them as stencils.

Crayfish Journal Crayfish Journal

Later this week, I’ll post Part 2: Top Making.

 

Tips, Tricks, & Ideas: Our Wall of Materials

Wall of StuffOur wall of materials gets photographed pretty frequently by visitors who want to know what we keep on-hand for our making, so I thought I’d share it with all of you. We store most of our materials in clear, plastic bins. These are color-coded by general making activity, and age range. Materials like white glue get stored near the bottom (where even kindergarteners can reach them), while more advanced materials like LEDs and motors get stored up top.

Here’s the breakdown:

Note: I’m not finding an easy way to put these in some sort of table/column form, which is unfortunate. I apologize, but it looks like you will have to scroll through the whole list. Sorry! (If you know how to make columns or tables in WordPress, feel free to e-mail me with the solution.)

Top Left (Yellow)

  • DC Motors
  • LEDs
  • Batteries
  • Battery Holders
  • Wire
  • Conductive Thread
  • Resistors
  • Hot Glue Guns
  • “Electronics Graveyard”

Top Right (Green)

  • Stamps & Stencils
  • Buttons
  • Colored Pencils
  • Mosaic Tiles
  • Mirrors
  • Googly Eyes
  • Fabric Paint & Markers
  • Paint
  • Beads
  • Paint Brushes

Upper Middle Left (Teal)

  • Masking Tape
  • White Glue
  • Rubber Bands
  • Glue Sticks
  • Three-Ring Hole Punchers
  • Clips/Clothes Pins
  • Wire
  • Twist Ties
  • Ribbon/Rope
  • Staplers

Upper Middle Right (Pink)

  • Ribbon
  • Feathers
  • Tissue Paper
  • Felt
  • Balloons
  • Embroidery Floss
  • Modeling Clay
  • Fabric

Middle Left (Red)

  • Assorted Tape
  • Aprons
  • Scissors (Middle & High School)
  • Pipe Cleaners

Middle Right (Purple)

  • Foam Sheets
  • String & Yarn
  • Jewelry Tools
  • Pom Poms

Lower Middle Left (Sky blue)

  • Rulers
  • Pens & Pencils
  • Scissors (Elementary School)
  • Crayons
  • Markers
  • Compasses
  • Hole Punchers
  • Colored Pencils
  • Post-Its

Lower Middle Right (Dark Blue)

  • Stuffing
  • Fabric Samples
  • Plastic Molds & Cookie Cutters
  • Burlap Scraps
  • Cotton Balls
  • Fabric Samples
  • Nets

Bottom Left (Orange)

  • Plastic Shapes
  • Wood Shapes
  • Puzzle Pieces
  • Straws & Stirrers
  • Ping Pong Balls
  • Assorted Round Things
  • Boxes & Containers
  • “Random Stuff”

Bottom Right (White)

  • Toothpicks
  • Popsicle Sticks
  • Decks of Cards
  • Play-Doh
  • Skewers
  • Tinker Toys
  • Shims
  • “Random Wood”

 

Kinder Programmers

Our kindergarteners are some of our biggest makers at Lighthouse. They make year-round, usually with sewing and woodworking (using handsaws, clamps, drills, and hammers). Now, they are in their second week of testing out a programming unit, and so far it looks like it’s going pretty well.

You may recall my Turtle Art posts from several months back. This new kinder programming unit is more or less the same thing, but with physical results. The tool (toy?) they’re using is called a Pro-Bot, and our students are experimenting programming their Pro-Bots to move in specific patterns. You can actually stick a marker into the Pro-Bot, making it draw as it moves—and maybe our kinder classes will build up to that—but here’s what I’ve seen them trying so far:

1. Working in groups of two, students designed “roads,” keeping their turns at right-angles.

2. Unless you tell the car otherwise, a “forward” movement equals 25 centimeters. (Actually, according to Pro-Bot’s website, it’s a turtle disguised as a car.) Our kinder teachers are using this as an opportunity to give students practice measuring. Students design their roads by drawing a 25 cm long line, then putting a mark. That indicates a single forward command. From there, students will lengthen their road in the same direction by another 25 cm, or draw a perpendicular unit, also
25 cm.

3. They started small with their programming, only entering one (maybe two) commands at a time. So, for instance, if their entire road design required a program of “forward, forward, left, forward, right, forward, forward,” students would enter “forward,” let their Pro-bot move, clear the program, enter “forward” again (keeping the Pro-bot where it was), let their Pro-Bot move, clear their program, enter “right,” let their Pro-Bot turn right…

4. Their latest step has been recording their commands by drawing arrows to indicate what direction their Pro-Bots moved or turned. They are still building their programs piece by piece, but recording what they are inputing, so as to be able to build a single program that will let their Pro-Bots go the entire length of their roads.

Here’s some video to give you a better idea of what they’re doing. (Because I’m realizing as I type this just how confusing some of this probably sounds.) So I hope the video helps. Comment, and let us know what you think.

 

Video features Robbie Torney’s kindergarten class at Lighthouse Community Charter School.

 

How making expands students’ visions of themselves

The goal of maker education is not college and career preparation.

The goals are deeper learning and authentic engagement, with an emphasis on turning learning over to the learner.

However, making is the best college and career preparation that I have encountered, in part because it isn’t the core goal. Through making, students build their agency and find new passions.

Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, Calif., where I work, serves students from low-income communities. Five years ago, if you asked seniors about their visions of themselves as adults, they would have envisioned themselves as doctors, teachers or in a vocational job — the careers they encountered in their everyday lives.

It’s hard to imagine yourself doing something when you haven’t seen or experienced it. But now students are engaged in becoming designers, artists, auto-mechanics, engineers, software developers, scientists and teachers through their involvement in making — in core classes, electives, and after school.

As they engage in these areas at school, they start to see themselves in these fields. A year after we started a robotics class in the high school, we had our first graduates interested in majoring in computer science and engineering. Through robotics, we introduced students to tech fields, and, in so doing, they started to see themselves as programmers and engineers.

A year later, we added more diversity (woodworking, sewing, physical-computing and design) to this class and opened the doors even wider. This led students to see themselves as designers, artisans and architects. Now our Creativity Lab is working with students from K–12 to build these visions of self-starting with our youngest students. Our focus has never been to fill the “STEM pipeline,” but rather, to expose students to passions they didn’t know they had, and, in so doing, open up future options for them.

So, exposure to what is possible is one way in which maker education prepares students for college and career. But college and career prep is about more than knowledge of different fields.

By turning learning over to the learner, we develop student agency — their own interest and ability to learn about the work around them, and to solve the problems they encounter. What better preparation is there for a career than the ability to identify what needs to be learned and then learn it?

Katia working on cane

Katia working on cane

Two years ago, one of my students, Katia, saw a visually-impaired person almost walk in front of a car. The experience inspired her to develop a cane that would warn people of approaching objects. Over the next five months, she learned to program an Arduino, use sensors to detect distance, and create an output the user can hear. She taught herself CAD and the use of a 3D printer to design a case to hold her project. She learned all these skills in order to solve a problem she had identified herself, a mindset which will clearly serve her in college and any future career.

As one of my students, Arya, told me, in the making class “they don’t judge your ideas; they won’t laugh at them. They will ask you questions about how you will research it, your plans. You give yourself an assignment.” This sounds like what I would like in a colleague — how about you?

Aaron Vanderwerff is a K-12 makerspace and science director at Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, Calif. Aaron also is a SmartBrief Education Educators’ Choice Content Award winner. Listen to an interview with Aaron on Education Talk Radio.

This blog post originally published on SmartBlog on Education