Sunday, March 10, 2019

Finding Balance - A Team Building Challenge

Getting to Know New Students:

On the first day of a new class, I do this simple but powerful activity with my kids not only as an ice-breaker, but as a way for me to informally assess the students. This 30 minute activity reveals the risk-takers, the leaders, the followers, the collaborators, and the loners.  In addition, it gives students a tangible representation of how life can sometimes be hard to balance.


Balancing Rod
1 pipe cleaner
1 craft stick
2 washers


Each object has a “special” point, it is called center of gravity, where the object’s weight is evenly distributed around it. You can balance things in a way that do not seem to make sense, if you place the center of gravity properly.

All objects behave as though their mass (the stuff they're made from) is concentrated at a point called their center of gravity. A simple object like a ball has its center of gravity in a very obvious place: right at its center. But in a more complex object, like your body, the center of gravity is not located at the center of your body. In fact, men’s center of balance is located closer to their chest while women’s center of gravity is closer to their hips.  

Driving Question:

How can I balance a craft stick on the balancing rod using 2 washers and a pipe cleaner?


  • Students may work alone or with a partner
  • All objects must be used
  • All objects must be balanced on top of the rod
  • Pipe cleaners may not be wrapped around the rod

The Progression:

At students will all start by balancing the craft stick and the washers evenly, but then I remind them that all materials must be used. Eventually one of them will figure out a different way, and others will try as well.  Along the way, I encourage the students to balance the craft stick on its side or on one of the ends.  At first it will seem impossible, but eventually they figure it out!


The Wrap Up:

Ask:  How are we like the objects we balanced on the rods today?
Ask:  Do you sometimes feel like you have a lot to balance?
Ask:  What are some things in your life that causes imbalance?
Ask:  Do you sometimes feel like you're just barely hanging on?
Ask:  How can we use this activity to help us find balance in our lives?

The discussion usually takes on a life of its own when the students understand the connection between this activity and their lives. Students will give examples of friend drama, family responsibilities, homework, grades, sports, and other extra-curricular activities. This will open up the discussion on how we sometimes have to prioritize and re-balance from time to time. Sometimes we fall, but we pick ourselves back up and start over!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

3D Modeling and Printing - a step-by-step lesson plan

Teaching 3D Modeling and Printing

Four years ago we purchased two Polyprinter 3D printers for our Makerspace.  I knew nothing about 3D printing and had a lot to learn.  That first year I experimented with files obtained from Thingiverse and some of my own simple designs that I created on Tinkercad.  My students were also eager to learn how to use the printers and design their own creations, so I developed this lesson plan to introduce students to not only 3D design, but also the fundamentals of how 3D printers work and how 3D printing is impacting all areas of society.

6 Reasons for Integrating 3D Printing Into Your Classroom

According to Seton Hall University there are 6 reasons for integrating 3D Printing into your classroom:

  1. Tangible models/physical examples/learning aids
  2. Technology of our time/relevant/impacts many fields
  3. Easy way to make courses more interdisciplinary 
  4. Ignite or spark creativity or imagination
  5. Increases spatial intelligence/takes the abstract to the tangible
  6. It's exciting to tinker and explore


As with all of my units, I use the learning framework outlined below. This plan, which is based on the engage2learn framework, gives structure and a flow so the students know where they are at all times during the unit.   

  • Pre-Assessment

  • Team/Launch

  • Hook/Challenge Brief
  • Form Groups/Team Role
  • Establish Norms/Develop Conflict Resolution

  • Plan

  • Analyze Project Requirements
  • Analyze Rubrics and set goals based on pre-assessment

    • Research/work

    • Plan and research
    • Identify knows/need to knows

    • Create/Crit

    • Final project is created
    • Adjustments and refinements made based on peer feedback

    • Share

    • Share project with authentic audience
    • Students self-assess their work via Maker's Statement.


    The pre-assessment in this unit includes a lot of vocabulary, file types, and procedural questions.  It is important for the students to evaluate their pre-assessment and develop a list of "knows" and "need to knows" so that they are able to set goals and plan how they will go about their learning.


    Much of my work is done by the time we start the unit.  I have front-loaded all of the slides, curated resources, and set up a timeline so the students have everything they need to work autonomously through the unit.  Instead of doing whole group lessons on how to use Tinkercad, I have provided tutorials and other resources. I do spend time addressing the whole group on the day I give a "tour" of the 3d printers and discuss the different types of filament.  By the time I do these lessons, the students have had time to review the resources so they can come prepared with questions.



    If a student already knows how to use Tinkercad, then they can move through projects more quickly, while others may need more time to learn.  I facilitate the learning by holding "workshops" and answering questions.  The first part of project is the "Cube of Relevance" where students create a cube with icons and logos that represent things that are relevant to them. During this phase, students become familiar with Tinkercad, image file types, vector graphics, and other technical aspects of 3D design. Students spend time planning their second project by using the Faucet/Funnel Thinking docs. This is the part of the project where design thinking and empathy play a part in the planning process. They are designing something that has a use or purpose.  By asking "who, what, where, and why" the students come up with an idea that will help others.  Throughout the unit students are encouraged to work autonomously by receiving peer feedback, utilizing the provided resources, and seeking out their own additional resources. 


    The final phase of the unit involves a self-reflection/evaluation using the rubrics and the Maker's Statement. This final stage is important so be sure to allow enough time for them to reflect and share their process. According to John Spencer "Innovation skyrockets when people show their work".  He also adds that when students show their work, they are helping to build a community. In the process, sharing their mistakes and "building trust through vulnerability".

    The Slides

    Below you will find the slides that I use to deliver resources and information to my students.  I also post in Google Classroom the assessments and materials that I want turned in to me. Students make a copy of the slides so they have everything they need at their fingertips for autonomous learning!

    Feel free to make a copy for yourself and modify as needed.  


    Sunday, February 24, 2019

    Cardboard Creation Challenge - a step-by-step lesson plan

    Since my last post over two years ago, I have been working to develop curriculum for my class. For the past 4 semesters, I have refined what I do in my classroom, and over the next few months I plan to share how I teach my units in the Makerspace.

    My class is unique in that it is called "computer science", but I teach it in a Makerspace and cover a wide range of topics that not only involve computer science, but also engineering, design, and making. I start the semester off with several team-building challenges.  These challenges allow me to observe the students working with different partners and groups. From there we dive in to our first unit: Cardboard Creation Challenge. We then transition into 3D Modeling and Printing, Circuits, Scratch/MakeyMakey, and finally Python/Raspberry Pi.  Each lesson that I will share has a framework which our school has developed for all classes.  It is based on the Engage2Learn framework:


    • Pre-Assessment

    • Team/Launch

      • Hook/Challenge Brief
      • Form Groups/Team Role
      • Establish Norms/Develop Conflict Resolution

    • Plan

      • Analyze Project Requirements
      • Analyze Rubrics and set goals based on pre-assessment

      • Research/work

        • Plan and research
        • Identify knows/need to knows

      • Create/Crit

        • Final project is created
        • Adjustments and refinements made based on peer feedback

      • Share

        • Share project with authentic audience
        • Students self-assess their work via Maker's Statement.
      I share the Slides (below) with students via Google Classroom. On this project, I give the students the option of working with a partner or alone, but everyone must receive feedback from their classmates during the "create" process.

      Teacher Prep:  

      • Create a timeline

      • Create pre-assessment, progress check, final assessment
      • Gather materials:

        • Cardboard (ask kids to bring it from home)
        • tape (duct, package, masking, washi)
        • Hot glue guns/hot glue sticks
        • Box cutters, canary knives, Klever Kutters , Zip Snip or whatever you are comfortable with your kids using
        • Gloves to protect hands from cuts and burns (this is a non-negotiable in my class)
        • craft supplies (Popsicle sticks, dowels, corks, plastic containers and lids, etc...)
        • Make a paper copy of the "Cardboard Techniques" slide and cut. Place in a container for the students to randomly draw.  If you have more than 12 students, make enough for each student - it's ok to have duplicates.


      Before the cube pre-assessment, I spend time familiarizing the students with where all of the materials are located in the classroom, how to use the tools safely, and clearly define clean-up expectations. I don't give them a lot of instructions on how to work with the cardboard, because this part of the project gives them the opportunity to assess their skill-level. I spend more time on techniques during the next phase when they work on the Technique Resource Board.


      It is important for the students to have time for planning and thinking, but it is also important to have a sense of urgency so that they can be done by the final due date.  Some will hurry and finish in a day or two, while others will work more slowly. Be prepared to challenge the early finishers by sending them to receive feedback from other students, make improvements, or add to their project.  For the students who may not have enough time to finish, encourage them to seek feedback and suggestions on how to refine and edit thoughtfully so that they have a finished product by the due date.  


      During the Share phase, students write a Maker's Statement reflecting on their process, creativity, and collaboration.  They use the rubric to self-assess their project. This final phase also involves sharing in front of an audience. In addition to the class, invite other teachers, parents, and community members. After the presentations, the projects are displayed with name plates for the whole school to see.

      This project is the basis for all of our other units. Learning how to use cardboard gives the students risk-free medium to explore, create, fail, and succeed. As we move on to circuits and physical computing students will understand that with cardboard, the possibilities are endless!

      Cardboard Creation Challenge Slides - You are welcome to copy these slides and modify as necessary, but please give credit to the creators.

      Student Cardboard Projects -You are welcome to use these photos, but please give credit to the creator.

      Michael Buist - Knox Gifted Academy, Chandler, AZ
      Twitter: @buistbunch
      How to Work with Cardboard: Ikatbag

      Faucet and Funnel Thinking
      David Cosand - Resound Blog

      Aaron Maurer

      Sunday, August 28, 2016

      Makerspace Resources

      I created this Smore for my school so that our students and teachers can become familiar with some of the items in our makerspace.  While this is mostly a list of "stuff", I have also included photos and videos of student-created work to help inspire and ignite new ideas.

      Monday, April 11, 2016

      The Making of a Makerspace - Part 3 The Purchase Orders are Approved!

      Part 3 in a continuing series which chronicles the evolution of a makerspace

      The Purchase Orders Are Approved!

      By mid-October STEAM Middle School had finally settled into a routine, and the makerspace was becoming a regular stop for many of our students. The World Clock Challenge was keeping the students busy, and the inviting atmosphere gave the students a place to work and collaborate on class assignments.

      Because we are a new school, we had a start-up budget that allowed me to purchase more than I would be able to in a normal year. After many hours of research and consideration, I submitted purchase orders for items that I thought would provide a good foundation on which we could build over the next few years. The purchase orders were approved and then it was just a matter of waiting. 

      In the meantime, we made the best with what we had. Students enjoyed "unmaking" old electronics, pulling copper wire out of ethernet cords, painting phone cases, making pressure plates, and exploring circuits using led lights and coin cell batteries. 

      Every day is Christmas

      Eventually, packages started arriving. For a while, every day was like Christmas. It was very exciting to open boxes full of shiny new possibilities.

      LaQ Building Blocks  (large set of 5000) - LaQ blocks consist of flat squares and triangles, various connectors, wheels and axels. LaQ allows builds to have curved edges and right angles. Initially, the students used the guide to build cars, helicopters, and dragons. Eventually, LaQ blocks would become an essential item in our makerspace (stay tuned for that post). 

      Google Cardboard - The challenge was putting them together! I bought 10 of the low-cost viewers on Amazon because I wanted the students to put them together. The instructions were not adequate, so YouTube and ingenuity were required. I would highly recommend spending a little more to get better quality viewers.

      Sphero (2) - I was very excited to receive these little robotic balls. Unfortunately, we wouldn't receive our tablets for another month, so I allowed students to use their phones to control them using the Sphero app on Android and iOS. This posed a few problems when multiple students tried connecting with the same Sphero, but we worked it out by sharing. 

      Makey Makey (4) - the invention tool that is used with the students' Chromebooks. 

       Little Bits (Basic, Arduino, and space) - magnetic components that help teach the basics of circuitry.

      Snap Circuits (Basic, Light, and Sound) - another fun tool for learning circuitry. 


      Two iPad minis and two Nexus 7 table - ordered from CDWG through district.

      And finally, a cabinet to keep it all safe.

      Now what do we do?
      So now that we had the "stuff", the key would be to how to best utilize these items in our come-and-go atmosphere. Students generally spend about 15-20 minutes in the makerspace - which is a good time for tinkering, but not really enough time for doing full-scale projects. This is an ongoing dilemma that I have been working and have partially solved by holding afterschool sessions. More on that in a future post.

      This video captures the essence of what our makerspace is about: Collaboration, creation, exploration, creativity, and innovation! 

      Next up: Our amazing Hour of Code week

      Previous posts in this series: 

      Friday, March 25, 2016

      The Making of a Makerspace - Part 2 The World Clock Challenge

      The second in a series which chronicles the evolution of The STEAM Makerspace.


      As mentioned in the first post of this series, the Makerspace at STEAM Middle School started with nothing more than cardboard (a lot of cardboard) and donations of craft items. As we were nearing the end of September, I wanted to come up with an event that would highlight the makerspace and its purpose at STEAM.

      For the past several years in October, The Imagination Foundation has hosted a Global Cardboard Challenge for schools and communities to come together and create - using cardboard! I decided to host our own cardboard challenge - The STEAM World Clock Challenge. I got the inspiration from Michael Buist's Instagram. Early in the school year, his students were creating all kinds of cardboard creations and this clock stood out to me - a real working clock made out of cardboard!
      Visit Michael Buist's Instagram for more inspiration!

      I set up a webpage detailing the rules and guidelines, students made posters, and we got to work!


      One of the things the students struggled with was the design process. They want to jump in and start hacking at the cardboard without laying it out on graph paper first. I required an initial sketch-up of their plan but then allowed them to change and modify as they went along. Many were surprised at how difficult cardboard is to work with:

      •  It's hard to cut with our limited collection of tools so they had to keep it simple. 
      • Cardboard can be strong or weak, depending on where and how you cut it. 
      • When it's painted it curls and shrinks. 

      The clocks were constructed entirely of cardboard, but the clock works were purchased at a local hobby store for less than $10.00. Many students bought their own. 

      This project spurred a lot of interest in the makerspace and brought a lot of new faces throughout the day. Students were curious about all of the construction going on. 

      The final display looked great! All of the clocks were set to the time zone of their city/country that their clock represented.

      Finally, we had parents, teachers, and staff vote to determine 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners. Our PTO donated gift cards to the local hobby store.


      The object of the challenge was to create a clock that represents a city or country. We had several countries represented, but a few of the students chose to stay closer to home with Texas-themed clocks. The overall participation was low for several reasons:
      • Some didn't have enough time to work on it at school
      • Some were afraid to take risks and try
      Future events like this might be more successful if parents are involved. They could help after school or we might do a  special family Saturday work day. Also, the makerspace was a new concept to our students and they really didn't understand that there was a place in our school where they could make and create. These are things to think about and make it better for next year. 


      Stay tuned...

      The Making a Makerspace - Part 3:  The purchase orders are approved! 

      Sunday, March 20, 2016

      The Making of a Makerspace - Part 1 Getting Started

      The first in a series which chronicles the evolution of The STEAM Makerspace.


      The 2015-16 school year has been a year of change and growth for me. Moving from my 2nd grade classroom to a brand new STEAM Middle School has proved to be both exciting and challenging. As the Integration Technologist, my job includes duties such as: Chromebook repairs, instructional technology, and media specialist. Early on, my principal shared his vision of our makerspace which would eventually include all of the popular makerspace gizmos and gadgets, as well as, several 3D printers. But...I am getting ahead of myself. We started the school year in an unused wing of a high school. My "area" was a desk under a stairwell and my budget was $0. I knew that we would be moving to our permanent location after our winter break and that I would eventually be given a budget, but in the meantime, I was determined to get the makerspace up and running so it would be part of our evolving school culture.
      A desk in a many possibilities...

      Getting started

      Did I mention that I started with $0 budget?  Good thing I am "The Frugal Teacher" and after years of being a 2nd grade teacher/home crafter, I was able to raid my garage for art supplies and paper. My dad made me a few shelves and $10 at Dollar Tree helped with the storage issue. The school was receiving daily shipments of supplies, books, etc... so we had an overabundance of cardboard. We also relied on donations. Our school is divided into houses (think Harry Potter), so I set up a house challenge and points were given as donations came in. We received tools, plastic lace, craft supplies, and old electronics. 

      Build it and they will come?

      Not really. The students did not know the function of a makerspace. They came from traditional schools and had not experienced this type of space. They looked with curiosity as they walked through on their way to class or lunch, but they weren't sure what to make of it. Eventually, students found their way to the area during class time to work and collaborate. Some would shyly ask to use the craft supplies for a poster or a project. Some found their way during intervention time (i.e. study hall). I also had a small group of teacher's aids during 5th period who would tinker and try out the newest additions. By mid-September, I was getting a regular crowd. My desk and a folding table became our workspace for crafts like origami, wonder looms, and plastic lace lanyards. Students also started tinkering with the cardboard and old electronics. Teachers would send kids  for cardboard and other supplies so they could create models or products for class projects. 

      By October, the STEAM Makerspace had become a hub for gathering and creating, but with limited resources, I had to figure out a way to sustain the interest. The World Clock Challenge fit the bill for drumming up more interest in the makerspace and for using up the excessive amounts of cardboard we had accumulated. 

      Stay tuned for part 2

       Stay tuned for the next post detailing our World Clock Challenge.

      At first it was a comfortable spot for studying...

      and then it became a place for making!