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.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

2014 Aquaponics in the Makers Lab

The Makers Lab is running full speed! I stopped in to photograph a few of the projects and I was so excited to see all the happenings. I was blown away by the focus and dedication of the students as they spend 45 minutes buzzing around the Makers Lab. The upcoming posts will highlight each of the projects.

More compact than last year!
One of the first things I noticed when I walked in the Makers Lab was the the aquaponics lab is built! It is significantly more compact than last year's model. At the top, the plants will grow. The water in the tank is pumping and you can see how it is aerated using the PVC piping with holes drilled in it. Adding the tilapia fish will is the next step!
Aerating the water.

The grow bed where our plants will be placed.