Sunday, June 22, 2014

2 More School Make/Innovation Spaces

Back in November 2013, I visited 4 incredible innovation spaces and blogged the heck out of the experience.  This past weekend, I got to visit two more spaces - Katherine Delmar Burke School and Lighthouse Community Charter - while attending and presenting at Design, Do, Discover at Castilleja School in Palo Alto.  Here are some new notes on those two spaces.

(Edit March 2015: Three more blogged here.)

Keeping the same structure as my previous post:

Overall Organization
Student Projects
Fun Toys

Overall Organization
Both Burke and Lighthouse featured many of the same structures as Menlo, Castilleja, and Nueva: wide-open, clear rooms with minimal furniture and walls lined with clearly labeled storage and work zones. I didn't really take any whole-room shots, as the trends were so very similar.

Burke. Labels are vital.

Lighthouse.  Ikea is also vital, such as for those magnetic wall canisters on the left.

Burke's Makery included a few cool organizations features, like the "Go" and "Ask" signs on different storage doors, indicating to students whether materials were open for use or required teacher permission.

Burke also has a a great electricity solution, that one of their teachers cites as particularly better than pull-downs by giving teachers a little more control, as well as the turn-and-lock mechanism that increases safety. That giant plug on the left plugs into one of dozens of outlets in the ceiling, reconfigurable as needed.

Burke boasted very cool trapezoidal tables that clicked together into larger hexagonal group seating.  The top picture shows the "Makery Up" for the younger grades, with their cool duct-tape-decorated stools.  The bottom picture shows the "Makery Down" for the older middle grades, with their wobble-stools.

Burke also boasts the ubiquitous z-frame rolling whiteboard, although they feel like they have *too* many... Jenny rarely uses more than three.  They also have those great rolling parts racks, as well as fold-up tables a la Hillbrook iLab.

Student Projects
Check out this awesome primary covered wagon from Burke.  I love the yellow googly-eyed oxen.

This old-school desk lamp at Lighthouse is infinitely cooler as a dragon.

Lighthouse has a great range of student projects on display, ranging from student-led to more structured building projects. 3D-printed and laser-cut projects like the cardboard UFO, as well as hand-cut and hot glued projects like simple cam-crank automata.

Fun Toys

I spotted these resources at Lighthouse, and found them at the Engineering is Elementary website.  I'll be ordering several!

Phil at Burke is in progress of building two big DIY toys: a giant laser cutter that will ultimately have a 2'x4' bed, and a small CNC router.

Burke also has a handy central, portable 3D printer station for their two Printrbots.

Lighthouse has to Type A Machine 3D printers.

I still highly recommend Vinnie Vronty and Sheryl Peterson's video on the development of Quest Academy's makerspace and maker culture.  As they say in the video, you can't build the space without building the culture and pedagogy in with it.  Also consider joining the K-12 Fab Labs email list to chat with others either beginning or advanced in building and using these spaces.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"Alternative Circuits" at Design, Do, Discover 2014

You don't have to have soldering irons and Arduinos to dive into electronics with your kids!  You don't need  an extensive 1-to-1 laptop program or really any digital technology at all.  Simple alternative circuits are an excellent gateway for all ages to have quick and exciting success in circuitry with minimal chains to preconceived notions of one's aptitude in technology.

The awesome Jenny Howland and I are presenting workshops at Castilleja and Marymount Schools' Design, Do, Discover in June 2014.  Here are some tips and tricks in preparation for those workshops!

Copper Tape and LED Art

Copper tape (or other conductive tape, like aluminum) provides great opportunity for creative use of circuitry in art or even academic work products like posters.  One of my students made a marble run that incorporated copper tape to complete an LED circuit whenever the conductive metal marble rolled by certain sections of the run.  Others made cute artwork to hang on the walls.

Copper tape is easily acquired as "snail tape" from places like Amazon and hardware stores, although sometimes that tape is not as conductive on the adhesive side.  Adafruit also carries copper tape that is conductive on both sides, but more expensive.  LED and battery sources can be found at the bottom with other materials for sewn circuitry.

Tips and Tricks

1) When mounting your LEDs on the copper tape, put tape on both sides of the LED lead, as shown below.

2) You don't really need a holder to put your batteries in place... You can just use the tape itself.  Make a loop of the tape, and place the tape loop such that it is part of the circuit.  For example, if you need to double your batteries to get enough voltage to light your LEDs, you can use a loop of tape to connect the positive side of one battery to the negative side of the next.  As shown below...

Also take note: DON'T attach the batteries by wrapping the tape around!  Notice how the tape is touching the positive side of both batteries? (I was nervous just taking this picture!)

3) Get creative with your switches!  An easy switch is just to fold over a corner of the paper, but try making flaps, buttons, and other innovative switches as suits your needs!  Check out the cool matching game I made using copper tape and LEDs, with simple paper flap buttons.  The cute purple flowers are just for show... the actual switch uses a piece of copper tape on the bottom of the paper flap to connect with the battery only when you press it down.

Sewn Circuits

I've had great fun sewing LEDs into cute cuffs, patches, and even my rad green hoodie.  It's a particularly gender-agnostic activity that boys and girls across the spectrum of gender-conformity can enjoy, and that builds excellent craftsmanship skills and understanding of circuitry.  I have tons of blog posts about sewn circuitry at conferences and with my students.

Find my general guide introducing Sewn Circuits here:

Tips and Tricks

1) Sewing an LED and battery holder in place is relatively simple, but having uninsulated wire (thread) makes it extraordinarily easy to short your circuit.  Neat trimming of loose threads and small neat stitches can reduce floppy wires that short your circuit and prevent your LED from lighting up.

2) Sewing in the battery holder has been among the most challenging aspects for my students.  Here's a little help:

Loose battery holders, explaining contacts and sewing tips

Sewn-in battery holders, showing neat stitch structure.
Note that the negative-side stitching *only* touches the bottom of the battery.
The positive-side stitching *only* touches the side of the battery.

3) Ensure you're acquiring conductive snaps if you're planning to use snaps as switches! The conductive thread can be used directly for sewing the snaps in place, giving a nice solid circuit when the snaps are closed. Nickel-plated works great for me.

4) There is not much more hilarious than watching someone first navigate the topography of sewing in snaps. Both ball-sides up (rather than one ball and one socket), both snap pieces on the same side of the fabric, losing one of the sides entirely... Be sure to plan out your snap placement and test its functionality before actually sewing in place because, yes, you'll have to start over if it doesn't work.

Some places for handy snap tutorials:

From Makezine's baby pants snap mod

From Purlbee's bib tutorial

Materials List / Sources for Sewn Circuits
You can put together a whole kit for several classes for a little more than $100!  I've had several requests for info for my materials sources, since I've managed to find my way around, so here they are!

lithium ion coin batteries (digikey)
coin battery holders (digikey - these are not "sewable" and you have to use needle-nose pliers to bend the surface mount components to render them "sewable."  You can also sew directly across the bottom of the holder to reach negative and across the side to reach positive.  But MUCH cheaper)
simple, low voltage red LEDs (digikey)
simple, low voltage green LEDs (digikey)
conductive thread (sparkfun)
packs of felt (Jo-Ann Fabrics)
packs of needles (Jo-Ann Fabrics)
some colorful thread for decoration (Jo-Ann Fabrics)
sewable snaps (Jo-Ann Fabrics)
- scissors
needle-nose pliers for bending battery holder leads and LED leads (Jo-Ann or wherever)

Sewn Circuit kits provided for Design, Do, Discover participants!

Have fun!