Entries Categorized as 'Experiential'

TechShop

December 4, 2016

Laser-etched map projections on wood.

Laser-etched map projections on wood.

This September a TechShop branch opened up in St. Louis. I’ve been aware of these neat Makerspaces for a few years now, so it was a pleasant surprise when one turned up in town. Even more surprising (and just as pleasant) was that a parent at our school, who was so excited by the opportunities that a place like the TechShop would offer to a school that tries to emphasize hands-on, experiential education, donated four memberships to the school–one for a faculty member and three for students.

Since there are some age restrictions on which machines minors can use–a lot of the woodshop is off limits until they’re 16 and even then adult supervision is required, I arranged a small application for the student memberships that was only open to middle and high-schoolers. Based on the response I got back, we split the annual memberships by semester, so we have three students using it this fall and three more will have access to them in the spring.

The way the TechShop works is that they have a wide range of equipment under one roof and once you take a safety and basic usage (SBU) class on the particular machine you want to use you can reserve time on the machines. There’s a wood shop with saws, sanders, a lathe, and a CNC machine; a metal shop with the same; a set of 3d printers; a set of laser cutters/etchers; a fabric shop with some serious sowing machines, including one that is computer controlled; an electronics shop; a plastics work area with vacuum forming and injection molding machines. They also do a set of interesting classes on using the design software and some interesting projects that can take advantage of the tools available–I have my eye on the Coptic Bookbinding, and the Wooden Bowl making classes. Finally, they’re set up with classrooms where you can bring students in for small STEAM classes, which includes things like using Arduinos.

Students etching an anodized aluminum luggage tag during their SBU class on the laser cutter/etcher.

Students etching an anodized aluminum luggage tag during their SBU class on the laser cutter/etcher.

So far, we’ve all taken the Laser class, and there’s just so much that you can do with the laser that we’ve been spending a lot of time experimenting. The students have been etching signs–including a grave marker for our goat MJ who recently passed away–as well as pictures, luggage tags, and making presents. Since this is a machine that the older students can use independently I’ve lost track of everything they’ve been doing.

I’ve also taken the woodshop wood CNC class, so my own experiments have been a bit more expansive, including making dry-erase erasers, floor-holders for quivers for the archery program, simple chemistry molecular model sets (just 2d), boxes for Ms. Fu’s math cards, and I’m trying to figure out how to make a clock.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2016. TechShop, Retrieved March 25th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Gaga Ball Pit

October 31, 2016

Gaga ball pit under construction.

Gaga ball pit under construction.

A couple middle-schoolers decided to build a gaga ball pit for their interim project. Since they’d already had their plan improved and I’d picked up the wood over the weekend, they figured they could get it done in a day or two and then move on to other things for the rest of the week. However, it turned out to be a bit more involved.

They spent most of their first day–they just had afternoons to work on this project–figuring out where to build the thing. It’s pretty large, and our head-of-school was in meetings all afternoon, so there was a lot of running back and forth.

The second day involved some math. Figuring out where to put the posts required a little geometry to determine the internal angles of an octagon, and some algebra (including Pythagoras’ Theorem) to calculate the distance across the pit. The sum a2 + a2 proved to be a problem, but now that they’ve had to do it in practice they won’t easily forget that it’s not a4.

Mounting the rails on the posts turned out the be the main challenge on day three. They initially opted for trying to drill the rails in at an angle, but found out pretty quickly that that was going to be extremely difficult. Eventually, they decided to rip the posts at a 45 degree angle to get the 135 degree outer angle they needed. We ran out of battery power for the saw and our lag screws were too long for the new design, so assembly would have to wait another day.

Finally, on day four they put the pit together. It only took about an hour–they’d had the great idea on day three to put screws into the posts at the right height, so that they could rest the rails on the screws to hold them into place temporarily as they mounted the rails. By the time they added the final side the octagon was only off by a few, easily adjusted centimeters.

They did an excellent job and noted, in our debrief, just how important the planning was, even though it was their least favorite part of the project. I’d call it a successful project.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2016. Gaga Ball Pit, Retrieved March 25th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

The Importance of Collecting (and Reporting) Good Data

March 9, 2015

Image capture from Ben Wellington's TED Talk on what can be done with data from New York City.

Image capture from Ben Wellington’s TED Talk on what can be done with New York City’s data.

I’m having my students collect all sorts of data for Chicken Middle, their student-run-business. Things like the number of eggs collected per day and the actual items purchased at the concession stand (so we don’t have to wait until we run out of snacks). It takes a little explanation to convince them that it’s important and worth doing (although I suspect they usually just give in so that I stop harassing them about). So this talk by Ben Wellington is well timed. It not goes into what can be done with data analysis, but also how hard it is to get the data in a format that can be analyzed.

Doubly fortunately, Ms. Furhman just approached me about using the Chicken Middle data in her pre-Algebra class’ chapter on statistics.

We’re also starting to do quarterly reports, so during this next quarter we’ll begin to see a lot of the fruits of our data-collecting labors.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2015. The Importance of Collecting (and Reporting) Good Data, Retrieved March 25th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

OpenSCAD: Creating 3d Objects for Printing

July 3, 2014

To create a rectangular prism and then take a circle out of the center requires just a few lines of code.

To create a rectangular prism and then take a circle out of the center requires just a few lines of code.

OpenSCAD bills itself as “The Programmers Solid 3D CAD Modeller”. It does this job pretty well, which is probably why I like it so much. Like POV-RAY, which I’ve used before, you create primitive objects–spheres, boxes, cylinders, etc.–and add or subtract them from one another to create the three-dimensional shapes you want.

Unlike the more graphical 3d modeling programs, like SketchUp (which I’ve played with in the past), in OpenSCAD you have to specify in the script the exact dimensions of your primitives, and how to rotate them and translate them to get them where you want them to be in space. This makes it a great language to use in geometry class, or anywhere else you want students to learn about co-ordinate systems.

The script to create the box with a circle cut out of it (see figure above) is:

difference() {
	cube([40,40,50], center=true);
	sphere(25);
}

Vpython requires students of make similar geometric movements of their objects and renders them nicely in 3d, but given the incentive that they can print up a tangible result of their work, I’d be willing to bet that students, especially younger ones, would be quite motivated to work with OpenSCAD. Vpython does retain the advantage that it is able to do animations, while you can only print static objects. In addition, OpenSCAD is more of a scripting language than a programming language like Python (see some of my Vpython programs here).

Student models a "fez" he modelled in OpenSCAD. This was the first object, other than the test cube, that was printed on our 3d printer.

8th grader models a “fez” he modelled in OpenSCAD. This was the first object, other than the test cube, that was printed on our 3d printer.

The OpenSCAD documentation is quite good. I also found it easy to find instructions on how to create a 3d object from a black and white image, simply by extruding it in the third dimension (by iamwil on the Cubehero Blog and by I Heart Robotics).

One note: I’m using OSX 10.6.8 at the moment, and the current version of OpenSCAD does not work on it. Since I’m loathe to upgrade, I had to use the prior release of OpenSCAD-2013.06.dmg.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2014. OpenSCAD: Creating 3d Objects for Printing, Retrieved March 25th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

The Final Product

July 1, 2014

My electric guitar.

My electric guitar.

So I made the guitar. The guitarbuilding group make it hard to make a bad guitar, with the beautiful materials they provide, and their expert instruction, however, I’m inordinately proud of myself as well.

Indeed, as more and more of the elements fell into place over the course of the week, it really brought home the affective power of a) building something with your own hands, and b) the iconography of the electric guitar.

Now I have to figure out the logistics of doing this at Fulton. But as the workshop instructors pointed out, even if you don’t have students build one, just bringing the electric guitar into the classroom and saying, “Today we’re going to study sound,” really catches the attention.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2014. The Final Product, Retrieved March 25th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Sculpting the Guitar

June 11, 2014

Sanding and sculpting the guitar bodies was loud, dusty and took a while.

Sculpting the guitar body.

Sculpting the guitar body.

The shape of an electric guitar’s body does not matter that much–they’ve even been made out of 2×4 (inches) pieces of wood–, so there’s a lot of room for creativity when sculpting your guitar’s shape. There’s a little more restriction for the guitar bodies from the guitarbuilding project because they come with cutouts for the electronics that have to be avoided. However, your main limitation is time.

Even with the big rasp, sculpting is not easy, especially since some of the types of wood used for the bodies can be quite hard. The darker strip in mine was particularly difficult.

I chose to carve out two parts of the body. First, it’s a lot more comfortable if the bit where the guitar tucks into your ribs is curved and smoothed; second, shaving down the area where your strumming forearm comes across the guitar makes the strings easier to get to.

Once the sculpting was done, I used a router to round all the other edges.

Routing the edges with a table router.

Routing the edges with a table router.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2014. Sculpting the Guitar, Retrieved March 25th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Building a Guitar

June 9, 2014

Guitar bodies.

Guitar bodies.

This week I’m learning how to build an electric guitar–from scratch (or almost). Tom Singer, a professor in design and manufacturing at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, is the lead on an NSF funded project to bring guitar building into schools.

I may have a tin ear when it comes to music, but there is quite the interest in guitar playing at the Fulton School at the moment–all the way from the elementary kids to the high schoolers–so I thought it would be a good catch-the-imagination mechanism for use in math and science.

Bodies

A guitar body, ready to become MY guitar.

A guitar body, ready to become MY guitar.

First we got to choose a guitar body. The guitarbuilding team had a fair collection of guitar shapes for the group in the workshop to choose from. The shapes are cut from 1.75 inch thick woo. To get the elegant layered patterns you see above, they laminate about half a dozen different types of wood. This may make for beautiful guitars, but the different densities and hardnesses of the wood have to be considered when working with them. The darker colored woods in the guitar body above were much harder to shave and sand than the lighter colored material.

Note to self: Indeed, if I remember to get hold of some scrap pieces of the different woods, I can probably make up a nice density measuring project. Indeed, it would be nice to have students graph the relationship between density and hardness. Wood hardness is measured on the Janka scale. I suspect there is a positive relationship, but I’d like to see if we could determine the shape of the curve.

Not all of the guitar bodies are beautiful laminates, however. Some, of a single type of wood, are the best candidates for painting. Others are hollowed out, and can be played acoustically as well as plugged in.

Neck and Fretboard

Today I learned what a fretboard is. Apparently it’s a separate piece with the gradational markings that’s attached to the neck.

Bodies, fretboards and necks.

Bodies, fretboards and necks.

The necks were all of maple, if I remember correctly, but the fretboards were made of different types of wood. Each was a single piece of wood, but the wood’s hardness and affects the “brightness” of the sound produced by the guitar.

So now it’s time to sculpt and sand the body, and put all the pieces together.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2014. Building a Guitar, Retrieved March 25th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

CSI: TFS

November 2, 2013

Identifying the culprits using blood testing.

Identifying the culprits using blood testing.

At the suggestion of Mr. Elder, I put together a Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) simulation for one of our afternoon interim activities. Sixteen students were challenged to solve a murder/mystery using simulated blood tests, fingerprinting, hair analyses, and chemical tests for drugs. And the assailants and the victims were members of the group.

Knife at the crime scene.

Knife at the crime scene.

I set up the crime scene with four different lines of evidence — fingerprints, hair, blood, and drugs — and forensic methods, so I could break my students up into four groups. The students were all told that they were competing to solve the mystery; to find out what happened and who did what to whom. Without any coaxing, the groups each claimed proprietary rights one type of evidence and set about trying to solve the mystery on their own. Since none of the lines of evidence could explain everything from the crime scene they ended up having to combine what they all found.

A blood soaked murder weapon (also with fingerprints and hair sample).

A blood soaked murder weapon (also with fingerprints and hair sample).

The Crime Scene

There were two weapons lying on the floor: a bloody knife and a bloody rolling pin with a hair stuck to it. On the table above the weapons were a few lines of white powder. There seemed to have been originally four lines, but one and one half of them had been used. There were fingerprints and a strand of hair next to the powder lines.

Also on the table, close to the powder, were a deck of cards (with fingerprints), a set of poker chips, a scale, and another stray hair.

Fortunately for our detectives, the fingerprints and hair had already been pulled and tagged.

The crime scene setup.

The crime scene setup.

Acquiring the Evidence

It took quite a bit of effort to acquire and plant the evidence. Some of it, like the blood, was simulated, but I had to get the hair and fingerprints from the students themselves. Since the individuals who chose this activity were a self-selected fraction of the middle and high-schoolers, I wandered around the building at lunchtime at the breaks between classes trying to find one or two students who were by themselves or were in a group with others who had not chosen the CSI activity.

The crime scene setup really only requires evidence of two people, but to keep it a little more mysterious I used a little misdirection. I got five students to contribute fingerprints and hair, but told them all that they’d be the murderer. I also got one person who was not in the class to contribute as well so we’d have a set of completely mysterious evidence.

Fingerprints

I pulled fingerprints by having students rub their fingers on a black spot I’d created using a basic number 2 pencil. The student would get the black graphite on their fingers and then touch their fingertips to the sticky part of some clear tape. The fingerprints turned out quite clearly that way.

Since I did not have time to figure out how to transfer the fingerprints to the surfaces I wanted them on, I just stuck the pieces of clear tape where I wanted them in the crime scene, which also saved the detectives a bit of time and effort.

Once I told them how to get the fingerprints from their peers, the students did not need any other guidance about how to analyze the fingerprints. They took the imprinted sticky tape and stuck them to a sheet of white paper, where the black prints showed up quite nicely. Then they fingerprinted everyone in the classroom and compared, looking for whirls and swirls primarily, but also basing their conclusions on the size of the prints which they took to be indicative of gender.

Comparing fingerprints.

Comparing fingerprints.

Of the four sets of prints, they were able to accurately identify the two people who were holding the knife and the rolling pin. The misidentified the one set that was from a person not in the class, and could not find the match for the last set.

Interestingly, of the four students in the group, two did most of the work while the other two wondered off to join other groups.

Hair

Hair was easy enough to collect since the students were quite happy to donate one or two for the cause. One hair per student would have been sufficient, but I kept loosing them until I just decided I’d stick them onto a piece of clear sticky tape and leave the sticky tape with hair attached at the scene of the crime.

Examining hairs under the microscope.

Examining hairs under the microscope.

With only a little nudging, the group working on the hair realized that they could get out one of the compound microscopes to examine their specimens, and compare them to the students in the class.

One major indicator that helped with the hair identification was the length. Two of the hair samples were from girls with long hair, while one was from a fairly short haired boy. I did consider just leaving pieces of the hair as evidence, instead of whole strands, but it’s a good thing I did not since, for one reason or another, the hair group had a difficult time identifying the owners of their samples (lack of effort might have been one part of it). It did help a bit that the two major perpetrators of the crime were members of that group.

Drugs

My idea here was to simulate a drug (cocaine) deal gone bad because of a contaminated/cut product. I laid out three lines of corn starch to simulate the cocaine and one line powdered glucose in between the last two cocaine lines to represent the adulterated drug. I removed the last cocaine line and half of the glucose line to make it look like someone had been ingesting the lines and stopped part-way through.

The lines of powdered substance (cocaine) were severely disrupted by student's sampling, but you can still see the two full lines to the right and the half line that the spatula is touching.

The lines of powdered substance (cocaine) were severely disrupted by student’s sampling, but you can still see the two full lines to the right and the half line that the spatula is touching.

Since we’ve been testing for simple and complex carbohydrates in biology and chemistry classes I told the group testing the drugs that the test for cocaine was the same as the iodine test for starch: if you add a drop of potassium iodine to a starch solution then it turns black.

If the students had examined the drugs on the table closely enough they should have been able to see that the glucose line was different from the others; it was not as powdered (so the crystals were small but visible), and it did not clump as much as the corn starch. However, they did not, and I had to hint that they should perhaps test all the lines of powder instead of just the first sample they took.

When they discovered that one of the powder lines did not react with the potassium iodine, I told them that a common adulterant was sugar so they should perhaps test for that. One of the students remembered the Benedicts solution test, which they were able to easily conduct since I’d already had the hot water bath set up for them.

Testing for glucose.

Testing for glucose.

Looking through the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s Recommended Methods for the Identification and Analysis of Cocaine in Seized Materials, it seems that a common test for cocaine (the Scott test) turns a solution blue when the drug is present, so the next time I try this I may have to find some tests that produce a similar color change.

Blood/DNA testing

Simulating the blood testing was one of the trickier parts of the procedure for my part since I had to keep things very organized when students started being sent to me to be blood tested.

The blood was actually a few drops of food coloring diluted into 10 ml of water. I used three drops of red in each case to try to at least get it to a somewhat blood-like color, but then in mixed in one or two other colors to get five unique blood types.

The number of drops of food coloring mixed with 10 ml of water to get the 5 blood types.

  • Type 1: 3 red + 1 blue
  • Type 2: 3 red + 1 green
  • Type 3: 3 red + 1 yellow
  • Type 4: 3 red + 1 green + 1 yellow
  • Type 5: 3 red + 1 blue + 1 yellow

To match everything up with the crime scene, I assigned Suspect A to have Blood Type 2, and Suspect B to have Blood Type 4. So a sample of Blood Type 4 went on the knife, and a sample of Type 2 went on the rolling pin.

As a result, when the blood type testing group wanted to blood test everyone in the classroom, I had them send the students to me one at a time and I handed each student a small cup with a random sample of one of the Blood Types, except for the two students whose blood were on in the crime scene. With 16 students, we ended up with three or four students with each blood type.

Blood type testing using chromatography.

Blood type testing using chromatography. The little containers of food coloring can be seen to the upper left.

This blood sample -- from the rolling pin -- is beginning to separate into its constituent colors (red, yellow and blue).

This blood sample — from the rolling pin — is beginning to separate into its constituent colors (red, yellow and blue).

The students took their blood samples back to the testers who I’d shown a simple chromatography method. They’d cut out thin (< 1cm wide) strips of coffee filter, put a drop of the blood sample on the middle of the strip, and then taped it down to a sheet of clear overhead transparency film. Although any clear glass or plastic would have worked, the transparency film was nice because you could tape five coffee filter strips to one sheet and then loosely roll the sheet up and put one end into a partially filled beaker of water (see Figure above). Capillary action sucked the water up the strips and smeared out the blood samples so you could see its constituent colors. The method worked pretty well, and the students were able to compare the blood at the crime scene to their test results to identify the small group of people who shared the suspect blood types. It was a lot of work, and it would have taken much longer if the group doing it were not amazingly organized and worked extremely well together.

This method is more akin to blood type testing than DNA testing, which I’d have liked to simulate better, however I did not have the time to work on my chromatography method.

In Conclusion

It took a little coaxing to get them to the right conclusion in the end, but I and the student had a lot of fun solving the mystery.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. CSI: TFS, Retrieved March 25th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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