This summer, I had the pleasure of visiting and touring East/West Industries, a Long Island based company designing and manufacturing life-support, escape, and seating equipment for high performance military aircraft. The visit involved a meeting that joined members of the Suffolk County Workforce Development, local legislators, educators, and business leaders. The point was to try and bridge the gap between what our local companies are looking for in future employees, and how we can support students towards such opportunities. I came away with several ideas that stayed with me as the year began…
1. When possible, get students even more hands-on
2. Work with instructions and blueprints in completing assembly tasks
3. Design projects and construct them
This meeting moved beyond the typical conversation of coding or software engineering, and emphasized the presence and need for those who can work with their hands given complex engineering tasks. Jobs like machinists and assemblymen, as well as higher level positions such as mechanical engineers are still in high demand. The maker movement itself is a response to these needs, and while forward-thinking schools have hopped on board, many are still lagging, and in times of tight budgets, funds for purchases in this area are limited. This brings me to Halloween of this school year.
Halloween in our school has become a tradition that both the teachers and students get excited about. Our staff and student body work extremely hard all year long, and Halloween has become a day where we celebrate that hard work. For a couple of hours wen remember that our students are still kids. We remember that we are still kids at heart. It’s one of those days that students look forward to every year and gets them excited about walking in the door in the morning.
To that point, each grade level, ours especially, decorates their grade level pod according to the year’s theme. We transform the pod to the point where it is basically unrecognizable. Every inch of the walls are typically covered with some sort of decor, prop, or poster. This year, the theme was Movie Series, and ours was Men in Black. Every Halloween some students hang back after school to help us transform the pod. Some stay during lunch. But the bulk of the work had always been done by us, the staff. This year, keeping in mind our visit to East/West Industries this summer, I decided to bring a larger role to the students than they had before.
After discussing the task put before us, our class decided to take on three projects that would push us to design, plan, construct, build, and code.
Project 1: Create the back end of the Men in Black car so that it looks like it is entering a tunnel into the wall.
- The students determined the size of the “vehicle”, given the area it would be set up
- Students sketched a simplistic blueprint of what needed to be made
- Students measured every piece of wood for the frame to the nearest ⅛ of an inch (tying into our science and math content)
- Students assisted in cutting, assembly, construction, and final touches.
- Students designed and sketched what would be an “Alien Lifeform Tester”
- With teacher guidance, we discussed options for how we could technically set up and create the apparaturs
- After attaching handles to a wooden board, we ran a wire from each handle screw to our Makey-Makey (If you don’t know, a Makey-Makey allows you to utilize an object to take over control of the computer keys through the interface and connected wires)
- The students then used Scratch to code a program that would sound an alarm when someone “tested” if they were part alien by grabbing the handles.
- The final product had the handles, connected to a Makey-Makey, connected to a hidden computer/speaker system. Success!
- Students used the Tickle iPad App and Sphero Programmable robot ball
- They programmed and coded the Sphero to “Patrol” the 5th grade Pod and the "Men in Black Headquarters"
My challenge is now finding ongoing opportunities to provide design and creation tasks that not only push our students thinking, but also ties into content and curriculum. It is no easy task, but in the end, you have to believe that all the effort is worth it if one or two students can use these projects as a springboard towards bigger and better things in this field of design, making, and thinking.
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