Dissecting Computer: Building a Hovercraft

February 20, 2013

Extracting the hard drive from an old computer.

Our school was recycling some old computers, so my students convinced me that it would be worthwhile o dissect a few of them to see if there was anything worth saving. It was quite remarkable to see just how interested they were in examining the insides of the machines — a few desktop computers and a monitor — but I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, it’s getting harder and harder to open up their iPods and other electronics, and even more difficult to repair and repurpose them, so I can see why students would jump at the chance of looking inside a device. Also, they tend to like to break things.

Pulling apart a monitor.

To get them to think a little more about what they were seeing, I got a couple students to draw a scale diagram of one of the motherboards, and write up a report on what they’d done.

Diagramming a motherboard.

Some of the other students spent their time trying to make all the motors, LED’s, and lasers work by hooking them up to 9-Volt batteries. Then they found the fans… and someone had the brilliant idea that they could use it to make a hovercraft. Using a gallon sized ziplock bag and some red duct tape, a prototype was constructed.

Hovercraft prototype.

The fan would inflate the bag which would then let air out the bottom through small holes. I convinced them to try to quantify the effectiveness of their fans before they put the holes in by hooking the bag up to one of our Vernier pressure sensors that plug into their calculators. Unfortunately, the sensor was not quite sensitive enough.

Attempting to measure the hovercraft’s bag pressure using a gas pressure sensor connected to a calculator.

This was not how I had planned spending those days during the interim, but the pull of following the students’ interests was just too strong.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Dissecting Computer: Building a Hovercraft, Retrieved December 12th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Ski Trip (to Hidden Valley)

February 19, 2013

Approaching a change in slope.

We took a school trip to the ski slopes in Hidden Valley. It was the interim, and it was a day dedicated to taking a break. However, it would have been a great place to talk about gradients, changes in slopes, and first and second differentials. The physics of mass, acceleration, and friction would have been interesting topics as well.

Calculus student about to take the second differential.

This year has been cooler than last year, but they’ve still struggled a bit to keep snow on the slopes. They make the snow on colder nights, and hope it lasts during the warmer spells. The thermodynamics of ice formation would fit in nicely into physics and discussion of weather, while the impact of a warming climate on the economy is a topic we’ve broached in environmental science already.

The blue cannon launches water into the air, where, if it’s cold enough, it crystallizes into artificial snow. The water is pumped up from a lake at the bottom of the ski slopes.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Ski Trip (to Hidden Valley), Retrieved December 12th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Harvesting and Processing Chickens

May 4, 2012

We successfully harvested and processed three chickens during last week’s interim. It was my first time going through the entire process, but fortunately we had a very experienced guide in Dr. Samsone who also happens to be a vet.

The interim focused on where food comes from (students also saw the documentary “King Corn”), and the cleaning of the chickens was tied into our Biology students’ study of anatomy (I’d done fish and squid before). Unfortunately, I was unable to find someone who knew how to read the entrails so we could tie the process into history and language arts as well.

Student holds a kidney. A heart is in the background.

When we were done with the processing and analysis, Mr. Elder cooked the chickens on our brand new grill (which worked quite well he says). The chickens were free-range (donated by Ms. Eisenberger), but a little on the old side, at about 7 months old; the chickens you buy at the grocery are somewhere around 2 months old.

Dr. Samsone recommended that next time we raise the chickens ourselves from chicks, which I’d love to try, but I suspect would run into some serious resistance from the students. We’d only had the chickens we harvested for five minutes before they’d all been given names. Raising chickens from chicks would bring a whole new level of anthropomorphizing.

Chicken on the grill. The culmination of the interim.


Being new to the chickens, I spent a bit of time researching how it is done.

Ken Bolte, from the Franklin County Extension of the University of Missouri, recommended the University of Minnesota’s Extension site on Home Processing of Poultry (the page on evisceration provided an excellent guide), as well as Oklahoma State’s much briefer guide (pdf).

Dr. Samsone recommended the series of videos from the Featherman Equipment Company. Videos are particularly useful for novices like myself.

Herrick Kimball’s excellent How to Butcher a Chicken is also a great reference.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2012. Harvesting and Processing Chickens, Retrieved December 12th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

How to do Research on the Internet: A Lesson

February 3, 2012

This morning I did a little presentation with the middle school on how to do research on the internet, and we actually had a very good discussion. I focused on two key things: assessing credibility and writing citations (giving credit).


[Henry] Hudson’s main goal as an explorer was to find a northern passage to the Orient. … He started his journey in May of 1607 and returned in September of the same year when his route was blocked by the Great Barrier Reef.

— All About Explorers (accessed Feb. 2012): Henry Hudson

I started by having the students to look up some explorers. If you prefix an explorer’s name with “all about explorers” (e.g. “all about explorers Christopher Columbus) the first link on google leads to the right website.

They were supposed to read the page and recorded three facts that they found interesting, but, in doing so, it pretty quickly becomes apparent that the information might not be very reliable; Columbus did not, after all, have to rely on infomercials to build support for his expedition.

The All About Explorers website was created by a group of teachers to be a tool for teaching about how to do research on the internet.

Having them see the site come up on google is, I think, better than sending them directly to the url. Google is usually their first recourse for researching anything, so it’s nice to see that google does not give information about credibility.

The discussion that ensued ranged pretty widely, but a key question that kept recurring was: how do you judge the credibility of a website. We talked a little bit about the possible biases of commercial .com and .net websites, and about the fact that .org’s may well also have their own biases, since it does not require any credentials to set one up (see montessorimuddle.org for example). On the other hand, while .gov and .edu domains (as well as most U.S. state and other country websites) are restricted to governments and colleges, that improves their credibility, but, in itself, is no guarantee of accuracy or being unbiased.

So much of assessing websites’ credibility comes from experience, which students just don’t have much of yet, so I recommended that checking with teachers and adults might be a good bet. Confirming data from multiple sources also helps, but you have to be careful, since so many websites now use Wikipedia as a source (or even reprint things directly from Wikipedia) that any errors in a Wikipedia page can spread far and wide pretty fast.

We did not get into how to use Wikipedia well (go for the sources at the bottom of the page), but we’ll get to that later.


For the second part of the lesson, I had them look up the same explorers they’d searched on the All About Explorers website. They had free range to search anywhere they wanted, but not only did they have to now collect facts but were to also find a good picture.

I’d wanted the pictures so we could talk about copyright and getting permissions to use media, but we did not get that far.

While they were satisfyingly more skeptical about where they got their information from, they were quite happy to give me the facts they’d found without attribution.

So I took the chance to talk about citing sources: to give credit where it is due; to avoid even the appearance of plagiarism; to give your reader an idea of how credible your sources are (and by extension how credible you are); and to let you readers know how up-to-date your information is.

An example of a citation for a website.


For the next week or so the middle and high school are on an interim. This is our writing interim, so they’ll be working on research projects (including how to do research) and creating publications (I’m in charge of the science journal).

Since more and more research is going online, hopefully this was a good primer to get students started.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2012. How to do Research on the Internet: A Lesson, Retrieved December 12th, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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