Maker Space Tour – Visiting an Elementary School Maker Space

Maker Space Cart Summit School

Yesterday, I visited some old friends who began a maker space in their school building. Jodi and Wendy visited me to get ideas about creating a space in their school three years ago. I was very impressed by the progress they have made while taking maker spaces to a whole new level. The excitement and enthusiasm they have generated in their school is really remarkable.

Not only have they created a maker space room off of the library, but they have also invested in four movable carts that can be wheeled into any classroom so that teachers can bring maker spaces to their rooms (see the photo above). The four carts were designed and built by a volunteer and are themed around building, electronics, creating and crafts. The carts are in use every day as the classroom teachers have integrated making into their grade level curriculum. Each cart has a built in storage cabinet with a foldable tabletop that essentially doubles the working space of the cart. Teachers are using the carts in reading, language arts, math, and social studies to help bring their subject matter alive.

Wendy told me about one teacher who read about caterpillars and had her students design and build caterpillars of their own. She also mentioned how non-English speakers are able to excel with creativity even though they may be struggling with the language. Learning disabled kids are also thriving because they can make connections to real life that they could not make before.

We spoke about how to generate interest in other buildings in the district. It seems that there is a fear that if they move away from the dictated curriculum that test scores will drop. I believe just the opposite will happen. As children become more engaged in learning, it becomes more fun and students learn with less effort. We need to take back our classrooms from the politicians and testing companies!

These are the Good Old Days

Exciting times. Kids today get to hang out in Maker Spaces and Maker Labs, smartphone in one hand and an Ipad in the other. Educators recognize that students need creative and curiosity-enhancing activities to develop problem solving skills and grit. Failure is acceptable. “We learn from failure.” “If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t doing anything.” If you make a typo, you hit the backspace or let autocorrect take care of it. Life is good!

If you are yearning for the good old days, just turn off the air conditioning. Griff Niblack.

If you are yearning for the good old days, just turn off the air conditioning. Griff Niblack.

It’s Mrs. Brainiac and today’s subject is about how kids today have it made.

A few decades ago, schools had something called “home economics.” Girls took that class. It was all about cooking and sewing. Boys had “shop.” They used tools to make little wooden toys with wheels that you could pull with a string. And birdhouses. Sure, that’s all good. But what if the girls wanted to use a drill or saw? Or the boys wanted to whip up a fabulous cheese tortellini with sage and browned butter sauce? Wasn’t going to happen on that teacher’s watch! So many limits imposed on kids. Today, if a second grader wants to use an electric saw and cut up some wood and build a mini roller coaster to launch on the school grounds, just ask Brainiac Jerry. A girl wants to build a trebuchet and launch pumpkins and bowling balls on the playground, no problem.

Educators today identify that the creative process is a good thing to encourage. Kids that engage in engineering design process creating a Maker Space project can grow up to be engineers. Or chefs or app writers or whatever they want. The sky is the limit when it comes to the opportunities available to students in today’s world.

I’m not saying today’s world is perfect, it’s far from it. But we seem to have a raised social consciousness that makes me feel a bit hopeful. In spite of all the scary stuff we see on the news and hear on social media or even experience ourselves, there are still a lot of positive improvements that have come about over the last few decades.

Old boring food pyramid

Old boring food pyramid

USDA MyPlate is colorful and fun!

USDA MyPlate is colorful and fun!

 

Some examples from my lifetime…when I was a little girl, female teachers had to wear dresses and stockings to school. Girl students had to wear dresses. What’s the big deal, right? Ask me that in January while you are walking to school in 10 degree weather.

School girl circa 1965

School girl circa 1965

If kids were cognitively challenged, they could end up in a special class or a special school or in an institution of some kind. Now, we try to find ways to help them learn and develop skills to become a productive and happy member of society.

Until the 1970’s, there wasn’t much of a foster care system or a social services agency. Emergency Medical Services barely existed. Most areas might have an ambulance but there were no training requirements and barely any real first aid performed. It was just a vehicle to drive you to the hospital, sometimes equipped with just a driver and no other personnel.

Okay, I know you are arguing in your head with me that the good old days when Mrs. Brainiac was young were better, safer and more innocent then today. If that is the case, then how do you explain “The Art Project Every Child Made for Their Parents.”

Gather round while Mrs. Brainiac tells the tale of a classroom full of fresh faced little cherubs excitedly molding doughy blobs of clay into a gift for their parents. Each day, they would carefully wrap it in wet paper towels to keep it moist, working on it day after day until the exciting day that we fired up the kiln. The kiln would heat up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (KilnTempChart) while emitting fumes including carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, hydrogen fluoride and toxic metal vapors. So, stay with me, kids….we have a kiln going at 2,000 degrees in an art room with dangerous fumes permeating the entire school ventilation system, all to bake a lovely gift for mom and dad. Yes, kids risked their lives to make an ASHTRAY for their parents. A lovely little poop-colored clay carcinogenic ash receptacle that now has cooled off enough to coat with a lead-based glaze.

Fortunately for the teachers, they could retreat to the “smoking lounge” to take a break from the heat the kiln generated.

Not an ashtray. Made in Wisconsin 2016.

Not an ashtray. Made in Wisconsin 2016.

“And stay right here ’cause these are the good old days. These are the good old days.” Anticipation, sung by Carly Simon.

Aquaponics 101

Adding-Tilapia-to-HS-Hydroponics

I’m assisting Oconomowoc High School with the aquaponics system in their greenhouse. So far we have set up two systems with 50 tilapia in one tank and 50 perch in a second tank. We are facing some challenges with our systems from the heat that is building when the outside temperature reaches 70 degrees or above. Tilapia need a water temperature of about 80 degrees, while perch need a water temperature of about 70 degrees. Our greenhouse reaches over 90 degrees and can see temperatures of 110. Before the weather gets too warm we need to find a way to keep the water cool enough for the fish to survive. Enter Travis. Travis is a second shift custodian at the high school and has significant experience in building aquaponics systems. I sat down with him over lunch the other day and was very impressed by his knowledge and experience. Travis has a high school diploma but has so much knowledge that I thought he had a college degree. Travis has had much hands on experience fabricating and problem solving over 150 aquaponic systems. I asked Travis if he had a degree. His response was that he just had a high school diploma but he picked up a lot of money and expertise doing side aquaponics jobs. He also has sought out many experts and used collaboration to build his knowledge.

Our discussion just reinforced my belief that we need more individuals with the ability to fabricate, and to use their hands to build projects that solve problems. I’m very impressed by his ability to think out of the box. After about an hour of talking, we had a solution to our overheating problem. It struck me that what Travis is doing is just the thing I want my students to do. Think out of the box, collaborate, seek expert advice, problem solve. The world could use more people like Travis!

Being Too Busy is Really Being Greedy

Spring Fun

Spring Fun

Mrs.  Brainiac back with the answer to last week’s math problem. Last week, we discussed how Jolene Brainiac has been nagging Mrs. Brainiac to post her Friday blog updates. “Come on, Mom. It’s not that hard to share some creative thoughts about Maker Space and science projects, maybe something about turning failure into success or how to engage kids’ natural curiosity about science by providing meaningful activities that spark enthusiasm about learning.”

Blah, blah, blah, Brainiac Jolene.

Summer Fun

Summer Fun

The common denominator is “H” which stands for Husband Brainiac Jerry. So, even though I freed up a great deal of time by eliminating a bunch of other activities, I still have the Head Brainiac around. So, we have been traveling, working on Brain Brigade projects, bike riding and pretty much just having a good old time.

I hope this explains why I was too busy to post my blog. I was having Too Much Fun.

The blog wasn’t the only area of my responsibilities that was neglected due to having Too Much Fun. I forgot to empty the kitchen compost container and it sort of took on a life of its own.

Compost Fun

Compost Fun

So how do we get away from all this talk of being too busy and overwhelmed by all our activities and responsibilities? How do we slow down and smell the roses?

Part of the problem is we need to “learn to say no.” We all know that already but yet we continue to say “yes.” Let’s delve into that. Why is it so hard to say “no” when someone asks for help with a project, or to volunteer for an activity or even just to meet up with the girls and have coffee? We say “yes” and then spend the next week complaining or stressing that we should have said no. We even say, “I need to learn to say “no.””

Revelation coming: We don’t say “no” because we really do want to do whatever it was! True! We want to do those things, whether volunteering for a worthy cause or visiting with friends. What we don’t want to do is spend our valuable time doing these things. Confused?

Let me say that again. We actually do want to volunteer at the local charity fundraiser. But we want to sit around and watch TV or read a book more than we want to work at the fundraiser. And, you can’t have it all.

The reason you can’t say “no” is because it’s stuff that matters. So, we need to “learn to say no to the things we want to do.” Not all of them, but enough that we can de-stress and relax a bit.

It’s sort of like wanting too many things (being greedy). I think we can probably agree that it’s okay to want things, a nice car, decent home, a meal out once in a while. But can we all agree that we shouldn’t get everything we want? If we get everything we want, we would have nothing to look forward to. We already have it all. It’s GREEDY.

It’s the same thing with wanting to do all the activities that are available to you (again, being greedy). So go ahead and do some volunteering, read some books, hang out with friends or family. But realize that sometimes you have to say “no” to the things you want to do in the interest of getting to ENJOY the other things you are doing. Don’t be GREEDY.

And right now, I’m enjoying writing this blog. And I said “no” to something else I wanted to do (which was making myself a snack). And next time I tell you I’m too busy, feel free to tell me to quit being greedy.

Florida Fun

Florida Fun

 

An Experiment in Growing Hydroponic Tomatoes

GrowingHydroponicTomatoes

Gardening has been a hobby of mine for a very long time. In fact before moving into the condo that I currently live in, we lived on 5 acres and I had a gigantic garden and greenhouse. Gardening can be a great maker experiment. From planting in the ground to raised gardens to pots. Choosing the seeds or plants. Watering systems. Tilling methods. It requires using the engineering design principle. Trial and error. Taking a risk. And then if your garden fruits, you have to determine what to do with the harvest. Crack open your cookbook and pull out those jars, you can learn to can your produce. Or freeze it. Or use it up. Or sell it. Or give it away. Or trade it. Moving into the condo required me to downsize my quarter acre garden and get creative. At the same time that I moved, I had been dabbling in hydroponics in our Maker Space at school. I got excited about doing hydroponic gardening at home and that’s what I did this past winter.

With the weather warming, it is almost time to shut down the hydroponic operation in my basement and focus on planting outdoors. One experiment I’m trying is to compare the growth of tomatoes grown hydroponically with those planted in soil. I began the tomato seeds on March first and have since transplanted them once. Three tomatoes were transplanted in deli cups and a fourth was transplanted in a five gallon bucket with perlite as the growing medium.

I have tried to treat the four plants the same with keeping them outside and giving them water. The difference is that the plant in the five gallon bucket receives a nutrient solution 4-5 times daily poured from a reservoir. As the unused nutrient solution flows down through the perlite it returns to the reservoir through a drain so it can be re-poured at a later time.

I expected that the hydroponic plant would do much better than the plants in soil, but this has not happened. As of this morning, the plants in soil are about two times as large as the plant in the bucket. In about a week, I will transplant the soil plants to the outside. My guess is that they will experience some transplant “shock” and their growth will be slowed.

I am also wondering if the nutrient solution should be tweaked for the hydroponic tomato. I used the same formula that I used for growing lettuce in my basement under lights during the winter. I believe that because tomatoes need green growth as well as fruiting growth that it may be necessary to add more phosphorus. The nutrient balance I am using is 19.5 – 18 – 38 so all of the nutrients are there. I am also wondering if the concentration is correct.

I just got an E.C. meter to test the conductivity so I will need to learn how to use that. I’ll keep you posted but for now, more study is needed. See what I mean about making and gardening as a perfect maker experience!

Child Labor Laws-Repeal Them NOW!

Finn Folds

Finn Folds

My sincere apology. Mrs. Brainiac, the long-suffering better half of Brainiac Jerry, is here today to offer a huge apology. I promised Jolene Brainiac I would faithfully write a blog every Friday about creative tinkering, maker spaces, science, engineering, STEM or other engaging hands-on learning activities. Whoops. The last two weeks I neglected this important duty and Jolene Brainiac is on my case to get it done, so here goes.

See Finn Fold

See Finn Fold

I don’t want to make excuses for why I didn’t post my blogs, I just want to EXPLAIN. I’m not sure what the difference between the two is, seems like explaining why I didn’t do it is the same as making excuses but in the interest in getting this blog on the road, let’s continue on.

Finn Folds

Finn Folds

I’m busy. Really busy. I know everyone says that, but I really am busy. Yes, my four kids are grown up and on their own so that should save me some time. And I sold my house and bought a condo so my yard work is done for me. And I don’t volunteer for the fire department since I moved to my condo. I work more regular hours than I used to, not so much overtime.

Finn Does ALL of Grandma Brainiac's work. Finn wonders why Grandma is so busy.

Finn Does ALL of Grandma Brainiac’s work. Finn wonders why Grandma is so busy. She should use a stopwatch to keep on schedule like Finn does.

So, why am I so busy? Don’t know. Seems like the fewer activities and events I’m involved in, the more busy and frazzled I am. I’m guessing there is a math lesson here somewhere, like “if volunteering (V) plus working (W) plus kids (K) plus overtime (OT) plus cleaning (C)  plus husband (H) equals busy (B), then having less V, W, K, OT and C but the same amount of H should equal less then B.” And yet it equals 2B.

So, what is the common denominator here? And why am using a math metaphor in a science blog?

Let’s look at those equations again.

Equation one: V+W+K+OT+C+H=B

Equation two: H=2B

Comment on this blog post if you think you can explain how these two equations correlate to Why I’m Too Busy to Post My Blog Every Friday Like I Promised.

The explanation will be published in my blog next week. If I’m not too, well, you know.

Air Pressure Experiments (IV): The Big Can Crush

I have a series of air pressure experiments (Air Pressure I – The Small Can Crusher, Air Pressure II – Prank, Air Pressure III – AnticsBernoulli’s Principle), that I’ve done over the years that always amaze my students. I have fun doing these, too. I think when I enjoy a classroom demonstration, my students tend to enjoy it more and participate more, too. Our air pressure science experiments are hands on and applicable to real life. Plus, they’re impressive (or hilarious – check out Air Pressure Prank and Air Pressure Antics). These science activities gets students thinking about air pressure which is an ambiguous concept for students to grasp. We take air pressure for granted. We don’t think about it very often. We notice it in our bags of chips when we’re flying on an air plane. We notice it in the wind and weather. But overall, it’s not as obvious as it is with this Big Can Crush experiment.

What this video doesn’t show are the steps we took before doing this demonstration. We used a clean can, marked square inches, discussed various math concepts like square units and cubic units, and of course air pressure! We heated up some water in this can, removed it from the heat and screwed on the cap. What do you think will happen? Most of my students think it will explode!

Watch what happens:

Air pressure is a force acting on us and in us every moment. If it wasn’t for air pressure in our bodies we’d flatten and crumple like this can! Check our bundled download to try all of these experiments in your own classroom.