## Ill-Defined ProblemsMarch 27, 2012

Posted by dockaun in Uncategorized.

When I was in grad school, somewhere along the line, I read research about ill-defined math problems – that is problems that aren’t tied up in a neat little bow for students to solve.  They are characterized by their lack of a clear path to a solution (Sternberg, 1996).  For the past two weeks, we’ve been making propeller racers with students in two of my schools.  These propeller racers are being made from scratch (rulers, motors, propellers from planes, propellers made from wooden ice cream spoons, wooden wheels, cast out legos, eyelet hooks, you name it), there is no blueprint – just the basic idea – make a car that can move across the floor with a propeller.  It’s so interesting to see how kids react to this kind of challenge.  Some dive in with gusto and just stick to it until the task is done.  Others steal parts from other students.  Some give up and throw parts at other students.  At the end of the day, it’s quite a mental exercise and even the most frustrated students say they’ve had fun.  How much do children learn from ill-defined problems and making?  Check out some of the commentary on the forum on our new Maker Kids site – where students get to show off their inventions.   It’s a work in progress right now, but stay tuned for more awesome stuff in months to come.  P.S.  Don’t you love this sketch a student made before she and her team member made their car?  It’s dimensional.  If you fold it, it’s almost proportionally correct.  Whoa!  I couldn’t have done that!  By the way, hers was the first car done and to move across the floor.

## Happy Leap Year DayFebruary 29, 2012

Posted by dockaun in Uncategorized.

So my question for today is…are leap year days real days or not?  And if they’re not, what risk can you take (aka stepping out of your comfort zone to do something that you’ve always wanted to do, but were afraid to try) on a day that doesn’t matter?  Let’s make it a creative day!

## Robot GeniusFebruary 11, 2012

Posted by dockaun in Uncategorized.

This school year, I will have been in 14 schools and worked with over three dozen teachers and over 1,000 children.  Since I can’t clone myself, I split the schools in half, visiting 7 from September through December and the next 7 January through sometime in late spring for the most part.  When I showed up in one of my schools in January, I was approached by a student who had heard about me from other students, but hadn’t been with me last year.  He was very eager to meet me as he had a plan for building a robot in his hand and wanted to discuss his design with me.  I have to admit that I am just getting into robot building myself so I was a bit worried that what he wanted to do might be beyond my skill level, but I listened to what he had in mind (which was basically starting with an RC car and modifiying it) that I thought …. “hmmm, I think I can help him do this.”  I went to a toy store the next day and purchased a remote control car (\$7) and a bucket of Erector (\$25) motorized parts.   Then I gave them to the student and told him to go to town and build his design and bring it back to me when he was ready to show me what he had done.  The next week, back he came with a disembodied car and a nearly build upper robot body.  To finish the “prototype” we needed to connect the upper robot body to the frame of the RC car.  I suggested that the student flip his robot so the rotating wheels became rotating arms.  He liked the idea.  Then we discussed ways to attach the body to the car.  Each part had a hole that was about the same size, so  I suggested we try connecting the parts with a wooden dowel and securing them tight with some plastina modeling clay.  IT WORKED and he loved it!  So what is the moral of my story?  In another month, I will have support from more seasoned robotics folks to take my student to a whole new level.  In the meantime, I’ve shown him that you can start where you are and you never know where it will take you!

## Squishy VariationsFebruary 7, 2012

Posted by dockaun in Uncategorized.

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. Step out of the students’ way and they will surprise you every time. Today students in my school were making squishy batteries. When you make a battery with the dough, if you build it carefully, you can light an LED at the end of two cords of dough that you attach to the battery. The completed configuration is a circuit that lights an LED. Well, two little 4th grade girls in the class had used so much dough for the individual battery cells that they ran out of dough for a cord. I told them so and said, “Well, you’ll need to rebuild your battery so you have more dough for the cord.” Then I walked away. They ignored me (thank goodness) and extended their cord with copper. Not only did it light an LED, but it was the first time that any of my students’ batteries generated enough voltage to power a buzzer. You can learn more about squishy batteries and other cool projects at http://maker-kid.com.

## Squishy GeniusJanuary 22, 2012

Posted by dockaun in Uncategorized.

My students produced some new innovations with their squishy, electricity-conducting dough this past week.  Below is a photo of a squishy circuit with on-off switch.  It’s so simple.  Yet, no one had thought of it until a brilliant third-grader showed me how he did it.  I am often conflicted by how much direct instruction I should give students to support them to be successful with a task. If I tell students too much, will they just becomes clones of me, rather than innovators?  If I tell them too little, will they become frustrated and abandon the activity?  If you’re an educator, you might now be thinking about the “zone of proximal development,”  the distance between the actual and the potential development level of the child (Vygotsky, 1978).  The trick is to find the sweet spot, which is (of course) is not the same for every child and so becomes a balancing act in the classroom.  The photo above illustrates what is possible when children are given freedom to expore and create with materials that are at once familiar and new.  Most children know how to make a shape with clay.  Others can, fairly quickly, learn how to connect a battery pack to it to make a circuit that lights an LED. Some will quickly move beyond simple circuits and tinker with other ideas.   In a way, there is built in scaffolding in the material.  No one told this student to create a switch, and in fact he didn’t call it a switch.  It was just an outcome of play.

Another student, this week, through the suggestion of her teacher made an electro-magnet by wrapping squishy dough around a nail instead of wire.  It worked and was an elegant solution that didn’t produce as much heat (and potential for burned fingers) as a wire connected to a battery.

## Happy HolidaysDecember 21, 2011

Posted by dockaun in Uncategorized.

My students made holiday cards and toys with conductive paint, tiny lithium batteries, LEDs and switches.  The paint is from Bare Conductive.  We learned about it at Maker Faire and followed a tutorial on the site to make the card.  The card was a bit difficult to make because the LEDs are tiny and needed to be lined up between the two lines of the top of the tree in just the right way.  Also, the positioning of the switch (the green strip of paper to the right of the tree) was critical to the success of the tree lighting.  I purchased model planes and cars from Michael’s hobby shop for \$1.00.  The students built and painted them.  We modified the switch concept from the card to light the toys.  Here, we cut a strip of construction paper to fit along the width and length of the plane.  We glued one end of the strip (the one closet to the vertical wing) down on the wood with a hot glue gun.  On the other end, we glued the top of the battery to the strip of paper so it would just touch and line up with the two streaks of conductive paint.  Finally, we positioned and secured the LED with the Bare paint.

## November 30, 2011

Posted by dockaun in Uncategorized.

Welcome to the community for the advancement of science, technology, engineering and math in k-12 schools through INVENTION.   This site may provide you with ideas that you can implement in your own science classrooms or after-school programs.   The photo (left), I pulled from video of students building a squishy circuit on Halloween (hence the skeleton suit).  I often have students videotape and describe what they are inventing.  I enjoy watching the videos, afterward, and learn about their learning, which in turn gives me new ideas for activities.  Soon, our students will be posting videos to encourage others to try out these inventions and share what they’ve learned about them.

## Magnet ManNovember 30, 2011

Posted by dockaun in Uncategorized.

On Monday, while waiting for my order of neodymium magnets to arrive in the mail, I set up five stations in an Exploratorium fashion to review key 4th grade science concepts with the students. We had a friction and energy station, an evaporation and condensation station, an erosion station, a circuit and a magnet station. The students spent 5 minutes at each station and wrote down their observations about the phenomena.  Next week, we will continue on with magnets and energy and are creating this mechanical man.  I learned about this cool site http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/toys/motorizedman.html via the Linked in Science Teachers group of which I am a member.   Check it out.  It has all kinds of cool sciencey things you can make with students.

## ElectromagnetsNovember 23, 2011

Posted by dockaun in Uncategorized.

We made electomagnets with switches in class on Monday.  Home Depot didn’t have a simple “knife switch” so I purchased regular wall light switches for 60 cents and the 4th grade students sucessfully integrated them in a circuit of a nail, wire coil and battery.  Read more about some of the interesting things we learned about building electromagnets in engineering.

## October 2, 2011

Posted by dockaun in Introduction to STEMGarden.