Friday, July 11, 2014

A few words on classroom organization

Like most teachers, I love teacher discounts.  And office supplies.  And containers. So, imagine my glee when I read about The Container Store's Organized Teacher's Summer Sweepstakes  (Unfortunately, it seems that "A total of one winner will be selected in a random drawing from all eligible entries received." but I'll write this post anyway.)
We’re honored to support teachers’ efforts through our Organized Teacher Discount Program. In fact, we’re going to give one lucky teacher a $1,000 organized classroom makeover from The Container Store!
Let's begin here.  This is a picture I recently took of my middle school science classroom. On Facebook, I included the comment "This is my classroom on July 6th, 2014. In an apocalyptic, time-capsule-y way, I have not touched it since the last day of school on June 6th. I suppose I should get in there and make some progress..."  This room is a busy place during the school year and is desperate for organization.

It's not for lack of trying.  All of the shelving in my classroom (see photo below) came from Berkeley Outlet or Urban Ore, both local and specializing in used/recycled furniture inventory. I've even used cardboard boxes and duct tape to "custom build" shelving underneath tables for more storage.  There are bins with raw materials everywhere - cardboard, computer keys, wire, LEDs, felt, batteries, styrofoam, duct tape - all the tools of art and ingenuity.  During science fair season, there are projects literally everywhere!  

My favorite repurposed item is this shelf unit (below) from my roommate - she was redecorating at home and I let her know I could put it to good use in my classroom. It has now become our makerspace (read the whole story here.)   I have put thousands of dollars (out of pocket) into materials this year, but my classroom is finally well on its way to being the creative, innovative space I've wanted and I truly believe kids need.  Students are constantly working on projects during lunch, recess, science class... they jokingly refer to my room as "nerdvana."  I spent $250 alone on those containers you see inside the makerspace.

Roommate's shelf turned makerspace
Transporting the desk piece
Having the materials in clearly labeled containers was just what I needed to allow the kids ownership over their workflow. They don't need to ask me where the soldering iron, snaps, or embroidery hoops are anymore - they just go grab what they need.  Our makerspace is a very busy, student-driven space.  With $1000 dollars to spend on organization, I would like to further develop this student centered strategy.  I would really like a solid shelving & bin system so that students can keep their many works-in-progress safe, yet easily accessible.  

I would also like to bring some order to what I affectionately refer to as our "fabrication studio."  Here's where the kids work with our 3D printers. I refurbished these tables from recycling and scavenged the various pieces of bins and shelving you see below.

I have many pictures of my science room (the kids often threaten to set up a time lapse in my room just to capture the ebb and flow of the creative chaos) but I will leave you with my favorite Container Store story.

In 2011, as I do every other year,  I hatched chicks and ducks as part of our embryology unit.  That year we ended up with a far better hatch rate than expected!  I knew I needed a bigger brooder.  Racing to the San Francisco store on my bicycle (I do not own a car) at 8:58 pm, minutes before closing, I asked for their biggest clear container. The sales person rang up my order, looked at my bike (propped inside the door) and asked quizzically, "How do you intend to get that home?"  I hadn't thought that far ahead; I was focused on the birds.  I figured I'd take the bus or something...

The saleswoman said, "Come here, I have an idea" and proceeded to strap the container to me like some sort of plastic turtle shell. She did such a great job, I put it back on in the morning to bike the nine miles to school the next day!   (She was pretty proud of herself and readily agreed to take a photo.)

(In case you want to see more pictures of ducks, check out our Flickr album - they don't get any cuter than our crew this spring!)

Recess in my room one day- kids from all grade levels tend to hang out here during free periods.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Embedding Slide Shows

So, I just finished my science bike post.  I was surprised to learn that I could no longer embed a slideshow from an album.  (Granted, I am a Flickr person and rarely deal with Picassa outside of the mandatory collections from this blog.)

Luckily, this blog post provided a solution. The author writes:

One of the great features of Picasa Web was that you could embed a Flash slideshow of your albums. Google would even give you the code to do it.  There was a button that said Embed and it would give you the code. Just cut and paste and you were done. 
With the migration to Google Plus Photos, this disappeared. 
Here's a work around. 
Use the following link to get back to the original PicasaWeb site:
Hopefully the embed button makes a re-appearance, or Google leaves the old page up forever.

He also offers an alternate solution, if you want to go check it out.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Science Bike

It has been six years since I've sold my car and relied almost entirely on my bicycle(s) for transportation.  (Occasionally, I'll still grab a Zipcar - like for this 10 foot gutter for science fair - see photo, right)  I am also very, very thankful for Amazon.

Bike commuting can get pretty interesting as a science teacher.  I rode with all of the bike loads below, except for the bike rack, science fair boards, ladder, and shelf/desk combo - it those cases, my bicycle served as my pack mule.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Year-End To-Do List

School recently ended for our middle school - and another 10 months of blog post drafts piled up.  While I do believe in the benefits of pruning, there are a few posts of the posts that I will be working on over the next few weeks.  Here are some snapshots of the work in progress:
  • Impact of BPC in 3D: A 3D Printed Graduation Project (Tales of a 3D Printer, BPC STEAM)
  • BPC Visits 3D Robotics! (BPC STEAMspace)
  • More on Maker Faire (Tales of a 3D Printer)
  • 3D Printing Infiltrates the Science Fair (Tales of a 3D Printer)
  • Augmented Reality in the Classroom (Post-Its & Ponderings; BPC STEAM)
  • Ducks in the Science Room (BPC STEAM blog)
  • Tips on Hatching and Raising Ducks in the Middle School Classroom (Post-Its & Ponderings)
  • Ducks in my Makerspace (Post-Its & Ponderings)
  • Cardboard Arcade (Post-Its & Ponderings; BPC STEAM)
... plus whatever else I can publish in a timely manner.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Science Fair with Maker Flair (and AR!)

Every year for the night of the science fair, I create a program that contains a little map of the projects plus a list of all the student abstracts. On the front of the program, I print a Wordle made from the text of the collection of abstracts.  You can see in the image below that this year's science fair had a distinct maker flair!  (For those of you who use Wordle, you might appreciate that this was my FIRST randomly-generated cloud!  Often I have to go through 25+ randomizations to find one I like for the cover.)

I've found it very valuable for the kids to write an abstract of their projects, especially for the relevance piece. (For some of them, this borders on creative writing... "My oobleck on a speaker will change the world because...")

     (1) what the objectives of the study were; [BACKGROUND]
     (2) how the study was done; [METHODS]
     (3) what results were obtained; [RESULTS]
     (4) and the significance of the results. [CONCLUSION]

I give my students a lot of freedom in choosing a topic that is personally interesting to them.  Many groups choose to do a traditional controlled experiment, but I always allow for more engineering-type projects as well.  It was exciting to note that this year (the first year we officially incorporated "Maker Mondays" into the science curriculum) that there were more maker-inspired projects than in previous years.

Here are some examples from this year's collection of abstracts 

Experiment Title: Parachute Shape Testing Eggsperiment   

Abstract:  We ran this experiment to see which parachute would work better. We made two parachutes: one out of a plastic bag, and one out of cardboard. We dropped them from 12.5 ft and timed how long it took for them to hit the ground. The plastic bag parachute average was 1.36 seconds and surprisingly lost to the cardboard parachute which had an average of 1.78 seconds before it hit the ground. We hope this will help future engineers build safer parachutes.

Experiment Title: The Radio 

Abstract:   We conducted a study to discover the antenna most practically shaped to receive millivolts and tried to build a working radio upon which to perform this test. Before working with the antennas, we had to assemble our radio. Then, we tried tuning into thirteen different stations and measured the millivolts each station received per antenna shape and recorded the results of the three best stations for each antenna. The results were unsurprising; the straight antenna had the best reception, followed by the spiral shaped antenna, and finally, the least functional antenna was the looped shape. Our radio was functional, and we determined that the straight antenna had the best and clearest range of stations. This project was significant because, although straight antennas were in use before, we confirmed that they are still the best shape to use commercially, saving future radio engineers time and energy designing new antenna shapes. 

Experiment Title: Measuring Electrolytes
Abstract: Our goal was to find out which of four drinks had the most electrolytes, by measuring volts. We did our project by creating a conductance sensor by using a multimeter, alligator clips, copper wire, and a 9V battery. We created a simple circuit so that when we put the two ends of our circuit into one drink, it would complete the circuit; we then recorded the voltage shown on the multimeter. We found out found that Powerade had the most electrolytes with 8.49V, then Odwalla Orange Juice with 8.4737V, then Powerbar Energy Drink with 8.4731V, and lastly Gatorade with 8.45V. The importance of this project  is that it will help athletes know which drink is best and which drink they should use to replace electrolytes after sweating and working out.  

Experiment Title: Pulse-Sensing Fashion
Abstract:  Our goal was to build a shirt equipped with LEDs that light up  up to the wearer’s pulse. We used the Pulse Sensor and the small Lilypad circuit board to achieve this goal. By programming the Lilypad and attaching the Pulse Sensor to it, we were able to make the LED read your pulse. Since we wanted to be able to display this in a cool and fashionable way, we decided to attach it to a shirt.  In the future, this technology could be used for heart patients in need of constant monitoring.

Experiment Title: The Multitasking Mind

Abstract:   We conducted a study to learn whether listening to music or other audio affects reading comprehension. We wrote four similar-length informational paragraphs about nonsensical things and questions to go with them. We took  subjects to a quiet place and gave them the tests in four conditions: no music, a pop song, a newscast, and a classical piece. After testing 32 subjects, we graded for accuracy on both spelling and content. We also measured the amount of time each subject took for each test. We have decided to disregard our data on the no audio condition because of the fact that we did all of the no audio tests first, and the practice effect affected the data.  The rest of our data showed that the subjects completed the worksheets fastest when listening to a pop song, and slowest when listening to a newscast. We believe this is because the pop song was musically the simplest and most predictable. We did not find any notable differences in the averages of the accuracy scores. The relatively small number of subjects and the wide range of scores may have obscured any differences that may have otherwise shown up in the data.

Another cool twist on this year's science fair was the addition of augmented reality (see recent post).  Using Aurasma, kids designed trigger images to add to their science fair boards.  When these trigger images were viewed through a device using the Aurasma app, videos appeared!

Of course, it is always best to hear from the kids themselves, but during the times they were not stationed at their board, family, friends and colleagues could hear about the project - in the voices of the kids themselves!  Very cool.

Plus, after the fair and long after the boards have been stripped and readied for next year, the trigger images live on in the hallway, available for anyone who would like to hear more about our science fair projects!

Pre-science fair prep of kids' trigger images!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

AR - Augmented Reality

At the 2014 Annual CUE conference, I was introduced to augmented reality for the first time, Holy.  Cow.  Here are the augmented reality apps I am familiar with so far.
  • ColAR - 3D coloring pages (Apple & Android) You download and print out the coloring pages from the website.  The bird, dot and another random one, along with the holiday pages, are free.  You can "unlock" sets of 6 other pages for $2.99 each. 

  • Aurasma - this app allows you to create your own AR attached to a trigger image of your choice. There is a library of 3D objects, or (theoretically) you can make your own.  Keep your eyes open for public "aura"s people have created for common symbols (NFL logo, the back of a $20 bill, etc)
Book(and other)-specific apps:

Want to make you own?  Explore Aurasma + the more hefty apps:
  • Daqri - an AR developer that has been around for a while (made the 3D Elements, Anatomy, etc)
  • Layar - also an AR dev for print images 

There are a lot of educators already doing cool things with AR and I hope to amass a collection of resources (like this slideshow - by @jstevens009& @Packwoman208 - and this list of integration ideas) soon!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Adafruit's Circuit Playground

Apparently, this has been around for a while, but it is new to me!  Adafruit's Circuit Playground "simplifies electronics reference & calculation so you can have more fun hacking, making, & building your projects!" This app is designed for both iPhone and iPad.

To go along with the app, Adafruit has started an educational YouTube series for kids.  I found it fairly useful for my own limited electronics background plus it's something short and sweet I can use with my middle school students (or maybe younger...)  The series is co-hosted by a puppet named Adabot and Adafruit founder Limor Fried.  It's clear, if a bit cheezy, and whenever Adabot says "accessing database"there are some interesting facts & animations on the way!

Here's Circuit Playground Episode 1: "A is for Ampere"

Circuit Playground Episode 2: "B is for Battery"

If you are wondering.. C is for Capacitor, but it doesn't appear to be published just yet.  And, apparently, you can get matching plushies!  If you want to read more about these cuddly components, check out this blog post.