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Category Archives: STEM

The call to teach, as seen through a different lens

Today is the last day for two of my team members at Salt River Elementary. Wes Filhart has been our PE teacher for 9 years. Suzanne Decker leaves after a 14-year run. There is so much I have learned from them over the years.

It’s not fun when your core members leave. They sure motivated me with their passion for their job, and their infectious sense of humor. Which is a great way to set up this video that Mrs. Decker, titled The Five Phases of Teaching’.

On a different note, below is last year’s Spring music event, one of the many well-produced events Suzanne has been putting together. You can catch a glimpse of Wes, a musician in his own right in the clip (at 4:14 secs.)

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2017 in Arizona, Education, STEM

 

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Solar oven Chili Cook-off returns as school winds down

For the second year, I’m holding the Solar Oven Chili Cook-off.

Nothing like bringing the school year to a close at the computer & tech lab, than something that does not involve batteries, software or screens. I think we have all had enough of that!

So let’s chow down and enjoy some class recipes!

  • Three 5th grade classes and three 6th grades will bring their own recipes and compete.
  • Next Tuesday’s temps should reach 105 degrees. The oven usually gets to 275 – 300 degrees, even without reflectors.
  • I’m bringing a Sri Lankan killer chili for those who dare!

Though this is the second annual Chili Cookoff, this is the third year of incorporating a solar oven project into my STEM curriculum, thanks to Solavore. We use the Solavore Sport ovens. In the picture, extreme right is Solavore founder and CEO, Ann Patterson.

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2017 in Arizona, Ed-Tech, Education, STEM

 

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Robotics challenge 2017 to focus on water

I’m really looking forward to the next robotics season in Fall, given the theme – H20!

For our students, Hydro Dynamics is something they’ve been passionate about this whole year, especially the Dakota Access Pipeline issue they took up, supporting the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and their water conservation efforts. They have made presentations to the community, and had many brainstorming sessions on water challenges. The theme, also harks back to an earlier environmental challenge in 2015, Trash Trek.

So when they come back in Fall, many of them who rejoin robotics will be primed to think like engineers, designers, and scientists, and problem-solve a water issue facing a community.

Here’s more about Hydro Dynamics in the 2017 season. And the teaser video.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2017 in Arizona, Robotics, STEM

 

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Spinners – Stress reduction fad or potential STEM tool?

Gadgets fascinate me, especially those that have levers, sensors or even gyros. So the Spinner, a ‘momentum toy’ also known as a ‘fidget toy‘ looks promising.

If not for the fad factor.

Every kid finds it irresistible, no different from how yoyos, or Rubik’s cubes were hard to put away. But the Spinner is also seriously hyped, being claimed to solve many problems. Stress, ADD, and whatever seems to fit. But we better make a distinction between a sensory aid and a gadget that could be used just to show off. Not to mention it becoming a distraction device, rather than solving an ‘attention’ problem.

Having said that, I could envisage how with a few add-ons and variations of the Spinner design, it might be used in a STEM lesson. I’ve seen at least one teacher use the rotations and spin time as variables for math challenges. My colleague and I just discussed how this could become part of a robotics-related lesson, being a mechanical device, after all. No apps required, please!

The field is wide open. Let’s hope we don’t get steamrolled by the fad, and it doesn’t evaporate like…. last Summer’s Pokemon Go.

 

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2017 in Hype, Robotics, STEM, Technology

 

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Build a ‘Steady-hand Game’ for under $3

Here’s the device I constructed from mostly scrap material. It’s been called the ‘steady-hand game.’ The goal in this challenge is for the player to not to complete the circuit!

If any part of the metal wand touches the wire, it completes the circuit, which is connected to a rudimentary ‘fan’. Took me about 45 minutes to assemble the contraption.

I admit, the challenge was a tad too difficult. I could have made it easier, but it tends to be more fun if it triggers the fan. Perhaps for a younger group I could have straightened the wire, or bent back the metal ‘wings’.

Material: wood, scrap wire, duct tape, old plastic container, 9-volt battery, copper wire.

  • The Wand: Metal egg beater from the Dollar Store. Bend back some of the loops to create wing-like protrusions.
  • Fan: Made from an old CD, with a piece of Duct tape to cover the center hole. Pierce the tape with the top of the motor. Connect the positive and negative terminals of the motor to the battery
  • The motor. Available at any hobby store, Radio Shack, or online
  • Battery: Ideally a 9-volt battery. D-size battery will also work fine.

Expand the idea! While this is a great way to incorporate it into a unit about electricity and circuits, you could get some students to design an elaborate set up: More complex coils of wire, different size wands, and different circuits that set off off a bell, a light bulb, a buzzer, and a fan, depending on which circuit the wand touches.

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2017 in Ed-Tech, Education, STEM, Technology

 

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‘Electric Avenue’ lights up STEAM Night at Salt River Elementary

This year’s theme gave us plenty space for creativity at our 5th annual STEAM Night celebrating science, technology, engineering, art and math at our school.

The cross-streets of Electric Avenue were filled with parents and children engaged in activities from ‘art bots’ to solar power; from unusual ‘machines’ to circuits. Then there were the bridge builders! The competition this year was to build a bridge with no more than 50 Popsicle sticks. The structure had to carry a load of up to 10 pounds.

  • Students could not use: Metal, plastic, wood, nails, screws, super glue, staples or string.
  • They could use: Paper, Elmers glue, a glue gun, and 4 clothespins

As you will see design, and not just heavier or more expensive material, is key. A big thank you all the teachers and support staff who participated. Also to three organizations I had invited:

Montessori International School – Brown Road campus. Students and their science teacher, Scott Logan had an interactive table display of batteries (the fruit kind!), motors built with copper wire and a battery. They also brought a student-made ‘Electric House’ designed just for this event. It was a cardboard cutout with working models of home appliances that could be operated via a series of switches.

HeatSync Labs – Mesa, Arizona. Eric Ose brought something that required a hands-on effort of many students to make the device work. It was a cutout of Saturn, and students were given a soldering iron with which they had to connect a string of individual LEDs, to the ring of Saturn.

By the end of the evening, we could light up the ring, taking Electric Avenue to a different level! HeatSync Labs, a Maker Space run by volunteers, is definitely worth a visit. I took my robotics team there a few years back.

Martin Art Center. Martin Wesolowski and his wife displayed a Chaldni Plate. Martin runs a hands-on STEM center in Glendale Arizona. The experiment was about using sound waves to create artistic patterns when particles on the plate (salt, typically) resonate.

My ‘Specials’ team manned a  ‘MakerSpace’ table on circuits, batteries and motors. I even built something I had wanted to do for a long time – build the so-called ‘Steady-hand Game’. This used to be a staple game of skill in our youth.  The concept being, a wand that you had to move along a twisted wire, without touching it and completing the circuit.

Below is an art project that glowed under a black light, and some of the bridge entries.

 

 
 

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My ‘Maker’ nephews’ hydraulic-powered bot built from scrap

This morning my nephews, Nikhil and Shenal, surprised me with a a video of a robotic device they built from scratch.

You’ve probably seen STEM projects that involve making bots or mechanical arms using batteries and sensors. This whatchamacallit does not require electronics. Just cardboard, pins, and syringes.

As a teacher, there are three things I love about this project:

  1. They don’t read off a script!
  2. The commentary is a conversation, building drama (including a mini count down) as the brothers wrestle with the device
  3. Simple explanation of the scientific principles – about levers, the ‘power’, and traction

I like how the claw seems to have a life of its own – good choice of camera angle!

This is what the Maker Space movement encourages, to build, test, fail, redesign, and demonstrate. Their ‘lab’ is their kitchen table!

 
 

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