Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Freaky Flipping Friday!

Here I am on Freaky Flipping Friday! where we flipped the class and students do a science presentation! These girls enlightened us about the chemistry of an egg white facial (with a bit of yolk!). The egg was on my face and the yolk was on me!

Some of the other presentation topics included Radiation from Hiroshima and how Leukemia was more frequent after the bomb; and a demonstration how to disassemble an iPhone and replace a cracked screen. My eighth grade students are phenomenal this year. They just soak up knowledge and rise to the challenge that they are given. They are curious and creative kids.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Winter Wonderland

Snow before Thanksgiving!

About two inches of snow fell this weekend. I'm not a huge fan of winter. I'm really not a huge fan of snow. But...I'm trying to remain positive about the impending winter {Impending? Seriously, winter is here. It's 15 degrees right now with a "real feel" of NEGATIVE 2. Stay positive. Stay positive.}.

I don't do well in winter. The cold. The darkness. The snow. I'm popping some vitamin D as we speak.

To make the most of this weather, I'm bundled up inside our cozy house with about six layers of clothes {did I really grow up here? It's times like these that I'm positive I'm not a native Wisconsinite!}. Since I can barely move because of the layers, and I'm most definitely not venturing outside, I am focusing on something fun inside.I drew a set of 37 Winter Wonderland Snowflake clip art for personal and commercial use! Check it out HERE! I had so much fun with my new touchscreen notebook. As a lefty, I've always struggled with illustrating using my mouse. The touchscreen has opened a whole new world for me! It's really exciting to design naturally. I'm amazed at how much more quickly my work goes!

Winter Wonderland Snowflakes

Off to warm up with a hot cup of tea.


Sleep Tech Visits Middle School Science

We are studying the nervous system. We had a Sleep Tech visit and explain how she reads and interprets brain waves and diagnoses sleep disorders. Students volunteered to be hooked up as if they were receiving a sleep study.

The classes realized the importance of sleep and being able to function at the highest levels of physical and mental states. And also how the lack of sleep plays an important role in creating diseases within people.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Every Classroom - A Makers Space

What can you do with plastic bag ropes? Why not make a bridge!

I taught a Makers Space workshop yesterday to introduce the Maker Space concept to interested teachers. I led with a powerpoint presentation on the importance of hands-on learning and creative thought. We viewed TED Talks by Sir Ken Robinson and Gever Tulley

I led the teachers on a tour through our own Makers Lab and gave them some practice in hands-on learning in just a few of the areas that we do in our Makers Lab. I had the following stations for the teachers to tinker in:
  • Copper tape circuits
  • Foam cutting
  • Soldering
  • Spaghetti bridges
  • LEGO EV3
  • Brushbots
  • Truss bridges
  • Reverse engineering
  • Snap circuits
  • Sphero
  • Plastic bag ropes
  • Hacking an old computer
I also sent the teachers home with a CD packed full of some of our most popular products on Teachers Pay Teachers to help them get their own Makers Space running.

Are you interested in creating a Makers Space in your classroom? Check out our free resource to help you get started! 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Aquaponics in Makers Lab - We've Got FISH!

We started lettuce and spinach just over two weeks ago. We have micro-greens ordered. When we see some growth, I'll get some photos posted!

Our other big news is that last Tuesday we picked up our tilapia fish for our aquaponics set up. We started with 44 fish this year. At the moment, we've only lost one!

Last year a week into our introduction, we had lost about 10 fish. We've made improvements this time around to prevent the losses we initially had last year.

Once of the changes is that we cycled the water longer with ammonia this year. I also think the clay pellets had old bacteria still embedded. When we brought the system up, I believe that the bacteria rejuvenated and is managing to break down the ammonia better.

We also had an great Makers Lab moment, which you can see in this photo (the fish are too tiny to capture a good photo right now, but this is the day we put them in!). We were having an evaporation issue and we need to add water every day. Our aquaponics system is on the opposite side of the classroom from our sink. We were running a hose across the floor (tripping hazard), rolling and unrolling hose each day (time consuming), and when we rolled hose there almost always was water spilled across the floor.

With a little finagling, we ran the hose up through the drop tiled ceiling and across the room. Now the hose stays in place, we save time, and have a safer and cleaner Makers Lab! 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Makers Lab: Train Table Update

For the past several weeks our construction crews in the Makers Lab have been busy building by first connecting two tables, then attaching styrofoam to the tables, and using a hot wire knife to cut and shape pieces of styrofoam for two large hills on our train tables.

The first hill (the one you see above) is Holy Hill on the top of which sits Holy Hill Church a landmark that can be seen for many surrounding miles. We've also planned and sketched the roads and railroad tracks as well as Friess Lake.

We also have students working on constructing scale trees, foliage, and a replica of the Holy Hill Church. These are all to scale. We used Google Earth photos, saw the length of a car in the parking lot, we extrapolated the length of the building from the length of that car.

In the photo above, a student is applying plaster gauze to form the contours of the hillside.

The second hill will be a local ski hill complete with a chalet and a working ski lift (we hope!). All this will be done in N-Scale.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Makers Space Tour - Illinois Children Museums

Last weekend we took a mini family vacation to Moline, Illinois. Our grandkids are crazy about John Deere and it's the perfect place to take them for big JOHN DEERE fun!

While in the Quad Cities, we visited the Family Museum a small, but fantastic place for children to learn through play. I combed for ideas for organizing our Makers Lab while we were there!

The Family Museum in Bettendorf, Iowa had an elegant way to lay out their workbenches where children could come in and build from materials that were provided. Just look at these work sites! They even have multiple heights to accommodate various heights of kids.

This museum was geared toward younger kids, which we witnessed with our younger grandchildren (those under 5) feeling right at home. The older two kids, 6 and 11, still had a good time and were able to make and create.

Our second museum stop was a detour on our way home. We stopped at the Discovery Center Museum in Rockford, Illinois which was amazing! We were visiting over Halloween weekend so we were lucky to participate in a Pumpkin Chuckin' special event where kids launched pumpkins using a large and a small scale trebuchet. Inside the museum, we couldn't get the kids out! This time we only had our two older grandkids, the rest had headed home. The older ones enjoyed themselves and I think our younger ones would have had just as much fun.

There were great opportunities for the kids to create and make. Our two kids designed their own woodworking projects and built upon their skills.

The following two photos are some of the items on display. The atmosphere was inspiring.

I saw some wonderful examples of organizing and establishing the Makers Lab that I couldn't help but comb for our Makers Lab. Check out the materials storage below. These are 3 and 5 gallon buckets set into crafted plywood shelving units. Holes are cut into the plywood and the buckets rest neatly inside. Duct tape in colorful patterns is placed across the bottom one-third of the buckets to help keep items contained. For any of you in a Makers Lab or Makers Space, you can imagine what this collection can bring to the chaos that is a Makers Space!

These are larger cardboard barrels with various pieces of wood, styrofoam, cardboard, plastic... essentially junk! But this junk can be treasure when sorted and stored so children can easily begin imagining and creating. And when the time is up, it's easy for the kids to sort their items back out.

If you're looking a creative way to spend an afternoon in the Midwest, I'd recommend both the Family Museum in the Quad Cities area and the Discovery Center in Rockford, Illinois. Your kids will thank you for it...and you'll probably have fun too!

Middle School Design Day

We had a middle-school-wide Design Day with our sixth, seventh and eighth graders. We wanted to give children the experience of using engineering design principles.

The engineering design principle is sophisticated trial and error method. First you create your idea, then sketch it out. Next you build a prototype. Finally you build your final project. All along the way you are testing, revising and modifying your project.

We we set aside about 45 minutes for this challenge. The students were working in multiple rooms so that they had enough room to work. We gave them their challenge and sent them to work!

Build the tallest tower.


  • Four half-sheets of newspaper per team
  • Four full sheets of newspaper per team
  • Duct tape
  • Pencil
  • Paper

Prototype materials: Four (4) half-sheets of newspaper and duct tape
Drawing materials: Paper, pencil
Final project: Four (4) full sheets of newspaper and 24 inches of duct tape

Students began by making a drawing of what they planned their tower should look like. They then constructed a small prototype. After which, they had about 20 minutes to construct a freestanding tower using 4 full sheets of newspaper and 24 inches of duct tape.

Here is the result. I didn't capture a photo of the tallest tower, but what I will tell you is that neither of these below are the tallest! The winner was over eight inches taller!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Election Day!

Did you vote? I haven't yet...but I'm headed there soon! I'm so grateful for the right to have input and I plan to exercise that right tonight. I'm pleased to live in a country that allows me to freely vote and to do so in safety. Sometimes I forget how treasured our freedom is. But not today. Today, I'll vote and celebrate our country and remember how hard so many have worked to allow us this opportunity.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Makers Lab: Programming and Coding

During my visit last week to the Makers Lab, it was loud! Kids were using hand tools and power tools. They were collaborating. There was no shortage of noise and activity. In the adjoining room, I notice two students sitting quietly with an iPad and a MacBook, in complete contrast to the power tools revving on the other side of the room. 

Tyler shared his project with me. He was busy writing code for the video game, Minecraft. While I talked with him, he was trying to make the menu page more visually appealing. His first round of code, “made the menu a little jumbled up.” 

By the end of the Lab, he was moving on from the menu to creating a special Christmas version. When he is ready, he plans to move on from Minecraft to working on web pages and apps.

This demonstrated to me the diversity that a Makers Lab allows. As some students thrive in group environments, others are more introverted and work well on their own. I am so impressed with the ability of these students to dive into a project with focus and drive because they are curious and want to know more. What a triumph for a teacher to educate without force and pressure. To allow a student to express himself through a project. To create an environment with no limits.

I wish for that in all schools. I wish for students to be allowed to be curious and inventive. To generate their own successes from their own trials and errors. To love learning and solving problems. To become so engrossed that they forget that they are learning.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Makers Lab: Scale Model Railway and Local Community

When students in the Makers Lab are at a break in their own projects, they have a group project that they can work on. The class is making a replica of the surrounding landscape, roads, and railways on a scale train table. The train table is in the early stages. We believe that learning should be hands on and applicable to real life

The students had mapped out the local area and were beginning to make scenery using plants cut from their school prairie. Near the end of the class, Mr. Hoefs was showing them the next step: creating the Kettle Moraine glacier formations that make their local community unique in Southern Wisconsin. These glacial formations allow for stunning, albeit roller coaster-like, driving conditions during all seasons. In the coming classes, the students will begin forming these hills and valleys and the switchback main highway that runs through the stunning landscape.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Life as a Middle School Science Teacher

Eating lunch. 
I recently made a trip to Jerry's school to snap some of the progress in the Makers Lab (just scroll through some of our most recent posts for details on doghouses, coding, magnetic soccer, aquaponics, submarines/underwater ROV, a car...and more). Finn and I arrived early so that we wouldn't miss a minute of the kids Making in the Makers Lab. Jerry was eating a quick lunch as we arrived and we headed to the middle school science classroom.

We were greeted by a handful of boys and one girl eating their lunch at the desks in the science room. 

These kids choose to eat their lunch in Mr. Hoefs' room. 

They want to be there.

Do you get what I'm saying?

Middle school students. Want. To. Hang. Out. With. A. TEACHER.


These kids were so sweet and friendly. They were extra nice to Finn. They chatted with me. They were not like the middle school kids I remember. 

I was impressed.

Then as a bell rang, kids hustled in and out and poked fun at Mr. Hoefs for who knows what. And we rushed down the hall to the Makers Lab.
Middle school students stopped by to discuss the fire safety play that they wrote and were scheduled to perform for the elementary school students.

I don't know how my dad does it. But I'm glad he does. These kids deserve good teachers. They deserve good schools. 

All kids deserve good teachers and good schools. 

That's why I'm here writing this blog with my dad (Jerry, or Mr. Hoefs as he's commonly referred to). I want all kids to have the opportunities that these students are getting. To enjoy learning. To have fun and smile in a classroom. I ache for our kids to be curious and creative. I wish for them to learn without even realizing that they are learning. I want them to understand that life is so much more than standardized tests and results. Life is about trying and failing and trying again. Life is not all seriousness and responsibility but about finding some small enjoyment in the challenge before you. 

I think these kids are learning that.

Not sure what's going on here, but pretty sure they were teasing Mr. Hoefs!
Seriously. We had so much fun during our visit to middle school science.
One of the many signs in Mr. Hoefs' middle school science classroom. Good thing the message is so good or I'd have to make them prettier with a little graphic design!

Makers Lab: 3D Hologram Creation

Quiet and unassuming. I initially thought that Alex was avoiding me. I sat down next to him and asked him about his project. He's creating a 3D hologram. The day I visited, he was waiting on a shipment of glass that is thinner to arrive. But he was happy to show me his prototype that he has designed.

He has carefully drawn his pattern on the sheet of thicker and cumbersome glass. He showed me how he plans to us a glass cutting tool and then create a pyramid from the pieces. Once his pyramid is complete, he will create an iPad stand to shine the image from the top of the pyramid. The image will be, “cut into four pieces which will create the hologram,” as Alex explained to me.

I am astounded by these students. I am in awe. Each student is driven by a different motive. A different perspective. A different interest. But they are all equally enthused. It made me want to go back to school so that I could tinker and make right along with them.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Makers Lab: Magnetic Soccer Game

This is my last post from my visit to the Makers Lab last week. I'll be back to post updates on all of the projects in the next couple of weeks!

The enthusiasm of the kids is rubbing off on me as I hurry from group to group. I am nearing the end of the 45 minute class period and I hurry to the table next to Tyler programming and writing code, where Artie and Luke are creating a magnetic soccer board.

They are using cardboard for their prototype, but they explain that plywood conducts the magnets better so that is what they will use for their final product. They were using a hot glue gun and various magnets and metals to determine the smoothest playing. It was so fun to watch these two as they worked. They were a great team. They worked together and bounced ideas off of one another.

They were so happy to show me their work. Once they get their players glued onto their magnetic "skies" and moving smoothly on the board they will begin to move towards their final product. I can't wait to show you an update (and hopefully play a round or two! Seriously, who wouldn't want to play this game with these little magnetized-LEGO people?!). 

I can't wait!

Makers Lab: Solving a Teacher's Dilemma

“Mrs. N is always running late. This car will help her get between the Makers Lab and the math room faster,” explains Martina, a seventh grade student. “While traveling in style!” adds Rebecca, Martina’s classmate. Rebecca was using a handsaw to cut an axle. Their next step was to figure out how to connect the axle to the bike tires that they had disassembled from a donated bicycle.

I was impressed by the confidence in Martina and Rebecca. They were comfortable using a handsaw and a clamp. They measured twice before cutting. They were focused and enjoying themselves as they worked. And when the time came to clean up, they jumped in and helped their classmates clean up. In fact, they all worked together to get the Makers Lab back in shape for the next class.

Clean up time! The class worked as a team to get the room back into order at the end of the class period.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Makers Lab: A Doghouse for Lexi the Weimaraner

One of the first projects I noticed as I walked into the Makers Lab was a team of three boys, Cole, Connor and Mack. What stood out to me was their focus. Quite frankly, I remember middle school kids being flight at best. These kids got right down to business and worked for 45 minutes straight without goofing around, without whining, without acting out. I was impressed.

Connor, Cole and Mack are working on building a dog house for Connor’s weimaraner, Lexi. The dog house is designed to channel rain water from the roof into a water dish.

“We brainstormed and to solve a problem, we’re giving a dog water!” exclaimed Cole as he took a break from removing screws with a power drill. 

Their actual design wasn't matching up with their hand-drawn blueprints. They had to undo some work from their previous class. It’s all part of the learning process. It's all part of the hands-on learning in the Makers Lab. 

Underwater ROV in the Makers Lab

During my visit to the Makers Lab, Allie and Alyssa took a break from scenery creation on the train table (more to come on that in another post!) to show me their underwater submarine prototype. It’s a propeller-driven model that they created from a plastic coat-hanger, weights, electrical tape, a motor, wires and some C batteries.
Waterproofed motor
“We hot glued around the motor to cover the holes and then wrapped it with electrical tape to waterproof it,” Alyssa explained. 

They are waiting on a kit to arrive in the mail. Allie and Alyssa priced out the separate pieces of their final submarine, but found that purchasing the kit that the company offered would cost less because of the sales tax on each piece purchased separately. 

When their kit is complete, they will launch their underwater ROV in the local lake with a waterproofed camera to survey the bottom. They demonstrated their prototype in the aquaponics tub for me. Might as well put that tank to use while waiting for the water to balance so that they can add tilapia fish!

A & A demonstrating their submarine prototype.

Going for a swim!

The motor runs a propeller that moves the ROV.