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.
The introductory project for Creator's Studio this semester is the design of a personal fidget spinner using Tinkercad, our 3D printers, and skateboard bearings. Prior to the start of the course, I created a variety of spinners to test out shape, weight, and overall design options. Students explored these models as they tested what design elements appealed to them, what worked well, what didn't work, and then started preliminary sketches for their own design. When we return to school next week, they will take their designs into Tinkercad.
An enjoyable aspect of this project is the integration of 3D printed material with other real world parts, and the precise measurements required to make everything work together. It's one thing to design a stand-alone 3D printed object, when size and dimensions are somewhat arbitrary. When the model becomes part of a larger project that requires interaction with existing components, the stakes are raised for accuracy and purposeful design. I will share student designs in a future post.
In the meantime, students are also researching ideas for their personal project (Project #2) which will take the remainder of the semester to complete. As is the case every term, I am excited for what students will find interesting, and where their passions will take them.
Below is a short clip of one of my designs, and a link to our tutorials.
As part of my goal to spread out the tool training and design/making experience to other grade levels, I am currently taking students in 5th grade through a design thinking and 3D printing unit called CityX. I had known about this project for some time, and was looking for an appropriate place for its application. It turns out, 5th grade is an incredible fit.
In the story of City X, a colony has moved from Earth to a new planet as a way to expand our reach in the universe. The colonists have begun work there, but have limited resources and very specific needs. We, here on Earth, have been tasked with designing solutions for them. The CityX curriculum is well laid out and includes step by step lessons, reproducible materials, and supplemental digital resources.
Students move through the steps in the Design Thinking Process; Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test, and Share. Each student receives a specific character with a special need (see photos below), but the class discusses these needs not just as individual problems, but potential societal problems for the residents of CityX. Students define the problems, brainstorm ideas, and eventually build an initial model of using play dough.
After sharing our ideas and prototypes, we then move on to 3D design. We use TinkerCAD as our design tool, and this series of tutorial videos. Students learn the basics of combining and subtracting geometric shapes, and we discuss topics such as use of support material, efficient design & material usage, and consideration of print time.
The products are just starting to print out. Students will present their product to the whole class and share how it meets the needs of the CityX resident. They will also share their experience in 3D design and the design challenges they faced during this unit.
Time. "We need more time..."
Time can be the greatest challenge to schools when seeking to provide an atmosphere of inquiry, curiosity, iteration, design and prototyping. In previous posts here on Creator's Studio, I've expressed my anxiety in hoping students can complete their projects. In various cases, students have come in at lunch or recess, after the term has ended, in order to finish a project they valued. It had nothing to do with the grade, since I evaluate the process and the documentation over the product. Rather, students wanted to finish because they believed in the work they were doing.
How can we successfully take students through an engineering design cycle, or the Design Thinking Process, and allow them to thoroughly experience the process of ideation, prototyping, testing, iteration, in 45 minute time blocks every other day? It is an extreme challenge, and unfortunately one for which I don't have an answer.
However, in my three years of Creator's Studio, I have picked up strategies and a few techniques along the way to developing a system that streamlines the process of learning the tools necessary for success in the course.
For me, the most valuable use of time during class is to serve as mentor, coach, guide. I can help students along the learning journey, but that journey is theirs to take. Class time, in my opinion, should be filled with those precious moments when we can discuss, confer, share, bounce ideas, test assumptions, make mistakes, and go back to the drawing board. It would seem that the learning of procedural tasks has little space in an environment such as this, and yet we cannot hope to adjust our 3D print if we don't know how to use the 3D software. We cannot refine that wood component if we don't know how to use the saw or sander.
If we can offload some of the more procedural tasks using technology, we can capture more class time for what we do best.
In this regard, I have devoted an entire section of this site to video instruction. These are open to the public and available on my Youtube channel. In addition, I ask my students to log in through Grovo, which provides the same videos accompanied by assessment questions and a tracking system. In this manner, I can monitor their progress and learning. These lessons are often assigned as homework, so that students can learn and "get certified" before coming to school the following day. Lessons range from how to design in 2D and 3D, to how to solder or use the drill press.
To further increase the immediacy with which students (and teachers, parents, visitors) can access these video-based lessons, I have posted QR codes throughout PIRL and PIRL Terrace, strategically located near the tools for which they are designed. Using free tools like QR Code Generator, one can easily create the QR code to point to any website resource.
As a visitor to our space, one can use apps like QR Code Reader and Scanner, Quick Scan, or Red Laser on a mobile device to quickly jump to the video instruction pages.
As I mentioned, I don't have a complete answer as to how we might create the ideal conditions for learning within the time constraints of traditional schooling. But given those constraints, creative methods can be found for managing how we organize and prioritize the quality time we spend with our students.
Project #2 is under way. In this unit, students are creating their own mechanical motion piece, or Automata. After a brief introduction to the concept of Automata, students are tasked with creating their own cardboard automata using iPhone boxes, foam, wood skewers and their imagination. Through the introduction, students learned about key components, like shafts, cams, gears, bearings, and cranks. They viewed a number of sample automata on youtube. They explored wooden examples in class.
The project criteria is as follows. Project must:
After initial sketches during the design phase, students gathered their materials and began building out preliminary models. I discovered in this project that it was much harder to pre-measure in the sketches. Students didn't really know how big or small their parts needed to be until they started testing things out with real materials. Given that we primarily use cardboard and foam, this method of prototyping was still cost effective, as designs changed as a result of testing.
Students used new tools in this unit, including eyelets and eyelet crimpers. These helped to allow for a smooth channel through which their shafts travel, and to provide greater support within the cardboard walls. With one more day of iteration and building, I look forward to final products and student blog posts next week.
The first project this semester is called Light Up, Spin! This project is designed to give students experience in designing and building a very simple circuit. Students start by getting some hands-on practice using pre-built circuit blocks. We discuss the concepts of power and load, battery blocks serve as “power”, while an LED block or a motor block serves as a “load”. We then introduce other blocks, like switches, which are considered “control” blocks because they can determine if power is turned on or off, or switched in one direction or another. We spend one class period experimenting by connecting various blocks together to predict and see what happens.
Students then begin to think about their own circuit block, using the following criteria:
During the Design phase students share their ideas about what they would like to build, and start their preliminary “rough” sketches. Students share their idea in small group, then have a bit more time to polish these initial sketches. During the next class, students spend time looking for materials in PIRL and PIRL Terrace, and begin to finalize their sketch with measurements and a true materials list.
By this time, students are ready to move into the Build phase, starting with cardboard, foam, spare pieces of acrylic and anything they can find that would serve well as part of their project. They are asked to build out the parts excluding the wiring first, just to see what the object looks like. During this session, I also cover how to use specific tools like cardboard cutting scissors, safety blades, triangles and glue guns.
The next session is spent learning how to wire a circuit and use the soldering iron. There’s no better way to learn than while you are right in the middle of your project and you need this skill to complete your work. I find students incredibly helpful with each other in this stage. Some take to soldering much easier than others so it’s an opportunity for them to work together, and for some students to serve as mentors for others.
At this point, for those who include LEDs into their circuit blocks, I post a helper graphic on the wall for how to wire the circuit, including an appropriately rated resistor. We use ledcalc to see what wiring diagram and resistor size fits their model.
The final day is spent finishing up any last minute design changes (Iterate phase), taking pictures and video for their blog post, and sharing out final work. If time allows, students can follow up the initial materials with wood or acrylic. The projects are not taken home, as they will serve as showcase pieces until the end of the semester when parents come in for exhibit time.
We are now in year three of Creator's Studio. Over the course of the last two years our students have acquired skills (coding, digital design and fabrication, physical computing) in classes beyond Creator's, out of necessity. A unit in 5th grade science or 6th grade history might benefit from one or more of these tools, so we've supported our students in getting things done.
All of this is a wonderful result of providing a rich learning environment for our students, but as an instructor it challenges me to revisit and sometimes re-invent my own curriculum. This is the case for the fall, as I have adjusted my goals for Creator's Studio. While in prior years I focused mainly on tool use during the first half of the semester in order to prepare students for their personal project, this year all units of study are wrapped inside projects and threaded with the "Design, Build, Iterate" process.
I have now broken down the semester into these four projects:
1) Light Up and Spin! (Electronics): Digging a little deeper into how a circuit works, and understanding power versus load, students will create their own circuit block using LEDs, incandescent bulbs, or a motor. It will include a switch and a power source.
2) Shake Your Groove! (Mechanical Motion): Here students will investigate automata and their various mechanical movements, using cams, gears, levers, and other components. Starting with a prototype in cardboard and foam, students will ultimately walk away with their own automaton demonstrating motion through manual power.
3) I am Robot (Coding/Robotics): Using our Hummingbird Robotics kids, students will work in pairs to build and program a type of robot that senses the environment and reacts in some manner through lights and/or motors.
4) Personal Project: The largest portion of the semester is dedicated to a student's individual personal project. While similar in nature to prior years, this year there is an emphasis on originality. Students can be inspired by others' work, but step-by-step "kits" are no longer allowed. Rather, students must design, build, and iterate in order to complete the project. Students will share final work with parents on the last day of class.
I look forward to the new goals for this semester and will, of course, reflect on this experience in the coming months.
Follow up on 3D Design Challenge Project
Here are pics of the finalists in our 3D design challenge. We will discuss current designs as a whole group and offer suggestions for further revision and refinement.
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.