So kids aren’t playing with rubber bands and string anymore?

True story: Recently I took a small group of students to visit a lab, and while breaking for lunch on some garden benches, they began climbing the trees nearby. They were getting a bit noisy when a lady walking by stopped and looked up into the branches. I thought I would get asked to get them to ‘behave’. But the lady smiled and said loudly to others passing by, “Look! look! children are playing on trees again!”

It took me a few seconds to figure out what she was really saying – that having seen so many kids today plugged into screens, it’s thrilling to see them having fun scampering up trees. (Side note: this was outside a Mars Space lab in Tempe, Arizona, and we were on a field trip to see a whole lot of technology!)

Drawing from : 7th period: Feed a Fish Wikispaces page Click on image to visit this class project page

I keep this in mind when I introduce students to new technologies. Last week, I began a lesson on animation, and as subject matter, I returned to the ‘Rube Goldberg Machine.’ We don’t always need screens for this. (Unless we need to check out the many Rube Goldberg contests like this.). How could we turn students into makers, and innovators, problem-solvers and scientific thinkers?

A Rube Goldberg Machine (or ‘contraption‘) teaches us a lot about levers, gravity, kinetic energy, and chain reactions among other things – such as precision, iterative design, and learning from failure. All it takes is some lengths of wood, string, paper cups, shoe boxes, old clothes hangers, marbles and/or ping-pong balls, rubber bands and cardboard tubes.

I like to get them to ‘design’ their machine first, and see what they come up with – then set them on a building mission! We could use a drawing app, but paper and pencil work just fine!

Image on right – One of the manyprojects from a 7th grade class – found here

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Cheap camera, free eclipse: Quick Ed-Tech lesson

This week’s Blood Moon and the coincidence of a lunar eclipse was made for science teachers.

DSCN1174Or for an Ed-Tech teacher incorporating a lesson in photography –how to frame a slow-moving event; how to compensate for lighting; using camera shake to your advantage.

The camera was a Nikon Coolpix, less expensive than the lens of my trusty older SLR.

Which brings me to the point about technology. How often does we allow technology get in the way of what we are experiencing in the moment? I’ve been trapped in presentation software just to make a point that would have done just fine with a hand-held device – a sheet of paper.

In Ed-Tech, which is what I teach, I like the focus to be more on the ‘Ed’ and less on the ‘Tech.’

The above image was blurred as you will notice. The ‘shift’ was accidental, but makes the point (simulating an orbital path) about light and shadows. I just used this in a 2nd grade class on editing and manipulating shapes. Nothing like a current event to get ideas – design-related, science-based- flowing.

Summer Camp Scholarships for Girls!

Exciting news! We are about to announce details of a summer camp scholarship for girls.

This has been in the works for the past month. As you may have seen, I moderated a ‘Women in Engineering’ Town Hall meeting, here in the computer lab on April 21st.

Applications will be taken from students at Salt River Elementary. The scholarship will pay for a summer camp at Arizona State University. These ‘camps’ are for those interested in learning skills such as design, app development, robotics, animation, and renewable energy.

This STEM Scholarship program is being underwritten by The Quarter Project, a Colorado-based non-profit promoting engineering for young girls.

Application forms will be out later this week, and posted to our school website.

Young ‘Makers’ – Starting With Kindergarten!

Yesterday I began experimenting with a ‘Maker’ class in the computer Lab.

Simple Machines - Final Product 3I have been inspired by the Maker Movement, and its role in promoting STEM, and begun connecting with people at ASU and HeatSync Labs in Mesa, AZ about this. In fact, next week I take my robotics team on a field trip to HeatSync Labs.

But yesterday I threw a challenge to a first grade class, having given them a short introduction to two simple machines – the lever and the wheel.

First, they had to use paper and pencil. Next I divided them into groups, and they had to work their designs into the group project.

Here are some of the ‘machines’ they came up with.

Simple Machines - Final Product 5 - ValenciaThe table on which they are set, is the ‘earthquake machine‘ we built for STEM Night. It’s deliberately sitting out here in the class as a point of reference, being a ‘simple machine.’

Next week, they get to the computers to write up something on their designs.

This Month’s STEM Talk on Swarm Robotics!

Excited to announce the second in our monthly  STEM Talks series.

The speaker:  Dr. Spring Berman, from ASU’s department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. She is a recipient of the 2014 DARPA Young Faculty Award. This DARPA program is to engage the next generation of researchers who focus on national security issues.

The Topic:  Swarm Robots.  Dr. Berman’s ongoing research focuses on controlling swarms and ‘distributed sensing’ of not-so-smart robots.

This will be followed by a demonstration of a swarm. Ruben Gameros, a postgrad student will show how 2-4 bots could be manipulated to do complex tasks. “These tasks or ‘games’ are inspired by ants, which collectively work to deliver food through a tunnel to feed the queen,” he told me.

Date: Mon 9th March, 2015       Time: 4:00 pm           Venue:  Room A122  – Computer & Technology Lab

Light refreshments will be served.

(Check out last month’s STEM Talk)

 

Launching ‘STEM Talks’ with Hamid Shojaee

Happy to launch a new series of outside speakers in a series I am calling STEM TALKS. The goal is to get students at Salt River Elementary School to engage with technology experts, scientists and outside educators. They could learn to feel comfortable asking the tough questions, being curious about other careers especially in the sciences.

To kick off this series, I am inviting Hamid Shojaee, CEO and founder of Axosoft, to talk with our students, during my Robotics class.

In  2012, at age 38, Mr. Shojaee was named one of the ‘Most Admired CEOs’ in Arizona by the  Phoenix Business Journal. He has been an active member of Arizona’s entrepreneur community, and is an angel investor in several software startups.

I was inspired to discover that Axosoft has rooms named after some of the world’s best known problem-solvers – scientists and inventors such as Newton, Kepler, Hawking, Tesla, and Socrates. I asked Mr. Shojaee to speak to the robotics team about programming and being problem-solvers.

The event is via Skype.

Date: Tue Feb 10th, 2015                Time: 4:00 PM                       Place: Computer & Technology Lab