For the 2nd and 3rd trimester of 2019-2020, the Creator's Studio elective is working in tandem with Musical Tech, the team that helps to produce the Spring Musical at WNS. Musical Tech covers everything from lighting and backdrops, to musical scores. The team is also responsible for stage props and set designs.
As we begin a new trimester of Creator's Studio, we will continue with two projects over the course of the term, the first one teacher-directed, the second one student-directed. For the teacher-directed project, students are tasked with creating a costume accessory based on a character, persona, hero, real-life person, animal etc. of their choice. This fit well with Halloween around the corner and students that are motivated to build something for themselves, for a friend, or for a younger sibling.
We started our first class with an introduction to cardboard construction tools, materials, and strategies. Students watched a few tutorial videos, then experimented with the tools and materials and the building strategies covered. You can see the video tutorials here.
This year, I am using a new documentation tool called Headrush, which allows students to not only document all the work and their thinking, but to develop a structure around their projects from start to finish. We can set up specific tasks related to different stages of creation, and upload evidence via Google Docs, photos, videos, and more. Headrush also allows me to evaluate student work based on criteria that I either select or develop. In my case, I am using Costa's and Kallick's 16 Habits of Mind. For further reading on the Habits of Mind, here is an article from Edutopia.
Once the topic of project #1 was announced, students brainstormed ideas into Headrush, and looked for reference materials on the web related to their potential characters.
We ended the day with a viewing and discussion of an episode of Adam Savage's One Day Build, about the creation of Starlord's Walkman from Guardians of the Galaxy. There are so many valuable gems for makers inside these episodes, and this one in particular fit the bill as it related to costume design specifically. In addition to seeing how he uses all of his tools and hearing the strategies and tips he gives while building, there are also words of wisdom to glean from statements like "Every bit of precision you give your construction at the beginning of your build is time you save at the other side of your build."
When we come back next week, we will begin to sketch out some initial ideas, and create our list of materials and tools.
This week Creator's Studio students were tasked with creating preliminary designs for an iPad stand using TinkerCAD. The design challenge is as follows:
The 4th grade class will use a set of iPads with external keyboards in the fall and currently have no way of propping up their iPads in a comfortable position for typing. The protective support for the iPads are called iBallz, which are somewhat unique in their appearance and function, and thus a stand must be designed with this in mind.
Here are the design constraints and criteria. The stand must:
While most of the initial designs followed the criteria, there were some "out of the box" designs as well, and this served as helpful conversation starters when we reviewed designs. After review, students submitted their feedback via google forms and selected three top designs for the next round of work. The fourth grade teachers also evaluated all designs and selected three. The same three models were chosen by both groups.
We will print out these three designs when we return from spring break, test them out on real iPads, and discuss the next level of design modification. Students will present their work to the 4th grade class.
What happened to the semester? Time has flown by, and we have just four sessions remaining. However, with classes now regularly scheduled in PIRL, there is a positive flow and hum to the period as individual projects progress through multiple iterations, design changes, testing, and reflection.
While a few students have completed a first project and are in the midst of a second, most continue to work with a particular project, taking it through various design adjustments based on feedback from me and from peers, and from their own reflection on the process. It is clear that those with previous Creator's Studio experience can manage projects independently. They understand and value the process of iteration. Even the students new to this course, though, have learned to be patient, to take risks, to seek support when necessary.
Thank you to Reynaldo Macias for providing photos this week.
It is always my hope that the work I do is not limited to one class, or one group of students. There is so much to share, and the process of engaging kids in making can happen anywhere. This past weekend I and my colleagues participated in STEAM Nation, an event hosted by STAR inc, West LA College and the Los Angeles County Office of Education. This event provides a day of science, making and exploration for over 2,000 LAUSD students.
We arrived at West LA College early on Saturday morning to set up our booth with a wind tunnel, simple circuit blocks, a robotic arm, scribbling machines and bristlebots.
By 9:30am students were arriving at the booth, anxious to explore. With four of us on hand, it was a mad scramble to make sure all of our stations were manned and ready.
There is no possible way we saw all 2,000 students, but I am sure a couple of hundred passed through our booth during the four 30-minute rotations. Students built creative objects to float through the wind tunnel, they made circuits to turn on lights, motors and simple machines. They assembled and tested scribblebots and bristlebots. They picked up and placed objects using the robotic arm. All in all, a very fun day.
In working with lower grade students here at St. Matthew's I learned that scribblebots made from scratch can be challenging for small hands. Therefore, I decided to design a scribblebot body that can be 3D printed and used instead. This event gave me the opportunity to test out my creation, and I think it worked out well. Given the short amount of time we saw each group, it was helpful to have a template ready to build. Please feel free visit the above link, print one for yourself, and let me know what you think.
I hope to participate in more events such as this in the future. These are our future designers, inventors, builders. Let's give them something to be inspired by.
This week's activity in Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructivist Approach to STEM Learning is about scribbling machines, small devices made from recycled parts to generate some kind of unique drawing on paper. Key components involved in making this machine work are a simple DC motor, a battery, and some writing instruments. If you'd like to make one, here is the activity guide on scribbling machines from the Exploratorium.
I decided to make one very "traditional" scribbling machine with three pens and a petri dish as a base (traditional because it resembles the machines in the activity guide). The second scribbling machine uses a single pen, and a plastic piece from a stuffed mechanical toy I took apart in the previous week's activity. I selected this piece of plastic because I thought it might produce some interesting patterns once set in motion. On this second machine, I used the motor to spin a wheel made from the top of a play dough cup. The two machines produced very different patterns, as you can see in the videos below.
This activity can be extremely open-ended, giving students just the initial concept (battery must power a motor which vibrates object holding pens to draw on paper) but leaving the rest of the design up to them. When I do this with my class in the fall, I will provide a number of objects of varying shapes, sizes, textures and colors from which students can build their scribbling machines.
The process of designing, testing, refining, retesting is naturally embedded in a project of this kind. There are so many variables, such as body shape, off-set weight on motor, pen types, motor polarity, and more, with which students can experiment. When I envision doing this activity with students, some questions that come to mind are:
Going beyond the basic scribbling machine requirements, students might create one that is turned on by a switch, lights up an LED, waves a flag, or is remotely controlled. The possibilities are truly without limit. Have you done this with your students? I'd love to hear about it.
I've come to be known as "the tech hoarder" here on campus, as I collect any and all manner of old equipment, electronic toys, cell phones, even appliances that others are ready to leave behind. You never know when you are going to need some extra wire for soldering, a switch to turn on a circuit, a DC motor for the remote control car you are building, or an old cell phone charger to power that Raspberry Pi. It took years for me to give up some of our many cables, accessories and connectors in the server room and I regretted it the moment they left the building.
We recently received a large cache of older technology equipment from a very generous donor. While many of the items were put directly to use, there were a few pieces of equipment that didn't work. In particular, old printers, fax machines and copiers, which are incredible finds, and offer up a treasure trove of useful items. Here are some of the cool things I dug up:
Generally, there are two types of motors found in printers and copiers. Simple, inexpensive DC motors, which are powered to move in one direction or the other, are perfect for attaching to the wheels of a remote control car project. They can also be used in projects like Spinbots and any other activities that require some kind of constant rotation.
These same motors are also found in a different form, as cooling fans. I generally leave these motors inside their fan housing as they can be repurposed as propellers in vehicles, or installed in a DIY solder fume extractor, a project I did last summer.
The second type of motor is a stepper, which is digitally controlled to rotate in precise degrees and speeds. Think of these motors as the ones that feed paper into the printer, for example. They are the exact motors you find in 3D printers, controlling each axis (X, Y, Z) and the filament extruder.
NOTE: In addition to printers and copiers, I also took apart some old, but high end, remote control cars this year. These provided me with servo motors. Servos are terrific for robotics, where turning at specific angles is important. Picture a robotic arm bending, or hand grasping an object, and you get the idea.
Gears and Rods:
This past year, one of our 8th grade groups in science created a water turbine to test how electrical energy could be generated through the motion of a wheel powered by running water. In doing their experiment, they designed and laser cut gears of varying sizes to capitalize on the gear ratio to increase rotational speed. While this project turned out wonderfully well, they could have used gears from old printers, as those I gathered here. I also saved some rods that can be used in coordination with the gears.
These little gems can be easily overlooked when tearing down an older printer. Bearings come in many shapes and sizes, and are designed to allow one object to rotate smoothly around or along another object. All 3D printers use bearings, generally along the X and Y axes to keep the action smooth even while moving fairly quickly. I incorporated bearings in a filament spool holder for the Printrbot Simple, as you can see in the third photo below.
All laser printers, copiers, and faxes have some kind of laser unit composed of a laser, various mirrors and lenses. Attach a lens to an iPhone and suddenly you have a camera with macro capabilities. Below are some shots of the lenses I removed, as well as what you see through them when connected to an iPhone. For pictures two and three, I used one of the larger lenses. For the remaining pics, I used the very small bubble lens (seen in the fourth picture) from the fax machine, which has a high degree of magnification. You can see the comparison on the bottom row between a normal shot of a USB drive and penny, and their respective close ups.
Other odds and ends:
A number of other items can be had from these old devices, including LCD screens, speakers, switches, springs and extra screws. They are just waiting to become a part of the next project!
If you are willing to de-solder:
Finally, if you are willing to take the time to de-solder some components, you have a whole world in front of you; LEDs, capacitors, transistors, resistors, switches, and more. Personally, I can't find enough time in the day, but for anyone building a project on a tight budget, this is one way to obtain those components on the cheap.
What will you take apart today?
As the year comes to a close, I feel the need to look back upon the two sessions of Creator's Studio and share what worked, what didn't, and what to look forward to in the fall. Overall, it was a very successful first year. I learned a great deal about my own teaching style, along with what strategies work most effectively in a project-driven classroom. While I can celebrate many successes, the class wasn't without its challenges. Below I highlight the pluses and minuses in my experience this year, and give my outlook for the future.
Time - In referring to time, I mean the amount of actual time for students to work on projects. Given the need to cover some foundational concepts together (circuits, very basic programming, Arduino sampling, and digital design) and to gradually bring students up to speed on the process of project development, the remaining time is devoted to project work. However, we meet three times per six day rotation, for 45 minutes each, so every minute counts. And as teachers know, we can't capitalize on every minute, as some time is given to set up and clean up, not to mention the occasional fire drill.
Schedule - The second greatest challenge this year was being scheduled at the end of the school day. I understand the need to put core classes in the morning and early part of the day, to hit the mind "while it is fresh", so to speak. Unfortunately, this need places elective classes at the end, where students often miss class due to sports activities, doctor's appointments, and the like. A number of class sessions this year saw students absent for these and various other reasons, which makes project completion even more difficult.
Gender Balance - Through the two sessions of Creator's Studio this year, there were five girls out of 24 students, representing approximately 20%. Obviously, I would like to see the numbers increase. A more balanced roster allows for a much richer learning experience for everyone. I also find that mixed grade levels is important, as my second session which contained both 7th and 8th graders demonstrated. In looking at the requests coming in for the fall, this more blended mix of grade levels and gender will indeed happen.
End of Project Blog - One very important goal of this class is to have students document their project work for themselves (reflection) and a larger audience (sharing). We do this through the student blogs section of this website. While my original intention was to have each student document the entire project process from idea to prototype to revision and final product, the reality is there is not enough time. However, regressing a small bit, I still want students to wrap up their project with an End of Project blog, with very specific guidelines to show what the project was about, what challenges they faced, including photos and/or video along the way. While a few students put a considerable amount of focus in documenting their work, the majority struggled. This is something I need to place more emphasis on in the coming year. I believe it's a matter of demonstrating the value and importance of documenting one's work, and giving students more opportunities for writing and reflecting in class.
Meeting each student at her/his level - With every student taking on a unique project, it can be difficult in a 45 minute class period to support each individual. I let my students know, from the beginning, that there will be times in a class that I may not get to everyone, and that much of the responsibility for work done will reside with the student. This is a tremendously important skill to have, the ability to self-motivate, take risks, and try things out without someone else telling you what to do, or how to do it. Most children this age haven't had a great deal of experience doing this, so I see it as a huge learning opportunity. However, sometimes a student is just stuck. And while these learners are the ones I most often spend my time with, in some sessions the numbers are greater than I can handle, even with 12 students. My goal in the coming year is to provide more instructional videos online for learning the tools, so that I can spend more time on project design and development specific to each child. Additional information on this can be found in the Next Year section below.
Creative Project Selection - I am amazed at the variety of projects that were generated this year. In somewhat "if you build it, they will come" fashion, once students had a handle on the kinds of projects they could take on, and the kinds of tools they had access to, it was a matter of just getting out of their way so they could proceed to build something they were very passionate about. If anything, I had to help tone things down a bit, since one idea would spark another, and soon a child had 4 or 5 projects she/he wanted to work on. And while there were a couple of students each trimester that were able to complete multiple projects, the majority focused on one big project. See my previous blog post for details on the most recent student projects.
Task Boards - During the first trimester, in order to help students gain as much focus as possible during any given class period, I implemented task boards. These 2' x 3' shower boards (dry erase) were used at the beginning of class to allow students to externalize their thought process and identify specific steps they needed to accomplish that day. The boards were left out during class so that we all had an idea of where we should be focusing our time.
Google Doc Project Dialogue - While the task boards worked well for trimester 1, I felt the need for greater dialogue in the second trimester. I am uncertain if this had to do with the fact that 8th graders were now a part of the class, or whether the students in general approached work in a more sophisticated manner, as even the 7th graders were now older and more mature. In either case, to be more effective as a coach/mentor, I created individual google docs called Project Dialogues that I shared with each student. Using this doc, I had students reflect on their progress throughout the project and I gave feedback before each class meeting. I always ended the dialogue with "What will you work on today?" Students got accustomed to walking into class each day, opening up the dialogue, and writing back to me. This step was required before starting any hands-on work, and it was evident that going through this process helped students focus on the tasks at hand.
My Own Learning Journey - While students worked on their projects, I also took my own journey through discovery of the various tools we used. Building my own 3D printer was an incredible experience, while shadowing one student's Arduino project forced us both to dig deeper into the code than we expected. Setting up, configuring and using the laser cutter was a thrill, and now I am embarking further into 3D design as I build instructional videos around Autodesk 123D. Learning is a life-long pursuit, and I am in it for the long haul.
The New PIRL Space - One challenge I failed to mention above was classroom size. This first year was a prototype, and as such we used a space that was formerly the student store. Not an ideal classroom, about half the size, and thus the need to limit the roster to 12 students. Even with just 12, I often found myself sending students outside to work on projects, particularly those that might have involved a power tool. This summer we will turn the existing middle school computer lab into PIRL, the Project & Idea Realization Lab, moving most of the elements from Creator's Studio into a much larger space. Please stay tuned for more information here on the blog.
New Tools - The first trimester of this year began without access to the laser cutter and minimal access to the Cube 3D printer. Over the course of the past nine months so much has changed. The second trimester students had full access to these tools, along with additional design software and resources. In the coming fall, two Makerbot Replicator 5th Gen printers will be added to the suite of tools, and we are exploring the options for CNC, vinyl cutting and vacuum formers. I am also interested in other tools coming down the pipe (no pun intended) including DIWire from Pensa Labs. I first saw this tool on Kickstarter, but as of this writing, they are now taking pre-orders. We are living in very interesting times.
More Course Instructional Videos - As I mentioned previously, part of my strategy in handling the issues of limited time and difficult scheduling is to provide more resources outside of class. By giving students access to lessons on their own time, and of their own choosing, I can focus more in-class time to specific problems and questions that arise during project work. I've recently added videos for Autodesk 123D Design, and will follow these up with tool use (soldering, drilling, sawing) along with any other hard and soft tools as necessary for the coming year.
There is no doubt that this year was exhausting, but exhausting in the best possible ways. I have learned so much about new technologies, new teaching strategies and new classroom management approaches, all prompted by the needs of Creator's Studio. I look forward to next year with just as much energy and enthusiasm.
I cannot be sure exactly what factors are at play, but the complexity and variety of projects for this second session of Creator's Studio has impressed me. It is likely due to a combination of the following:
Regardless of the reason(s), it is enjoyable to see students taking on these projects and witness the independence many have shown in working through challenging problem areas and attempting multiple iterations of models and scenarios. And yet students don't hesitate to seek help from me, or from classmates, where necessary and relevant. As I have said throughout the course, the process of designing, building, and iterating is as important (possibly more important) than the end product.
Here is a brief description of the current student projects:
Below are some recent photos from a build day.
As we begin the second session of Creator's Studio, a lot has changed in our PIRL Terrace space. Our laser cutter is up and running smoothly, and I have a much better sense of its potential now, having used the device through the middle of the first trimester, and in a variety of other curriculum integrated projects over the past few months. We have added a number of materials and supplies from Trash for Teaching to allow students to select from a wide range of oddly shaped and colored items when building their projects. We have added more power tools and storage containers.
All of this has led me to question if abundance fosters creativity or are learners stifled by it as a result of being overwhelmed? On the end of the spectrum, do constraint and limitation of resources put greater creative juices to work?
In one chapter from the book Design, Make, Play (Honey, Kanter), Mary Simon and Greg Brown discuss the idea that abundance can spur creativity, both the abundance in variety of objects as well as the abundance of any given object. "That kind of variety stimulates all sorts of ideas", makers placed in this kind of environment "scoop up treasures by the bagful and say 'I don't know what I'm going to do with this...but I'll think of something!'"
I've witnessed this first hand with our own students. During a recent 6th grade history project, students studying ancient civilizations were asked to build a structure representing either China or Egypt. While traditional projects of this sort result in mostly sugar cube pyramids, it was interesting this year to see students rummaging through our Trash for Teaching materials for items of appropriate color and texture to apply to their project.
It might also be said that creativity can manifest itself best in constraint, in the scarcity of resources available. I think back to the scene from Apollo 13 where the team in Houston is tasked with making a square object work in a round opening given the limited materials in the astronauts' lunar module. In this scenario, people are forced through constraint of resources and time to solve a problem with real world implications, in this case life and death. The same can be said for engineering the next great product using the most cost effective materials and efficient manufacturing processes, thereby increasing potential revenue.
I believe both premises to be true when it comes to student creativity. When presented with an abundance of items and the abundance of any given item, students get excited about the prospects of creating something from them. Ideas surface from seeing so many colors, shapes, textures, that might not under other circumstances. Students are heard saying "Let's use these plastic containers to hold water and make the Nile River look real", and "I can make all of these beads look like the skin on the dragon".
In contrast, the imagination can also be challenged when faced with a problem of limitation. "You can build whatever kind of house you want, but it must remain within these property lines, and can only include these materials. You need to make the house light up or have some kind of motion, but are only allowed these electronic supplies." Ahh, that's a topic for the next blog...
What do you think? Creativity through abundance or constraint?