How to Troubleshoot LEDs Like a Pro

LEDs STEAM STEM Maker Space Classroom Science

A huge part of our teaching philosophy is to help students develop persistence and become proficient at problem solving. But developing those skills isn’t always easy. We live it out around here so that it’s easier to teach in the classroom. We tinker in our spare time. We encourage the kids {actually, everyone} in our family to ask questions and work out solutions. We often ask for help and work together to solve a problem. We recently finished a new light up project; a greeting card that celebrates spring. We designed a cover with three flowers and put our tiny LED lights so that when the card is closed, the LEDs light up and illuminate the flowers. This particular circuit had two switches that were activated by a finger push. Since we were operating two switches from the same battery, we needed to hard wire the battery into the circuit and place different circuits for the lights. It was tricky to say the least, and since I had not tried this before, it took some time to think it through.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

I’m still not convinced that I have the best circuit path for this project. My plan had a small finger push button for each light. When I pushed down on a spot, a piece of copper tape that was stuck on the inside cover of the card made contact with the broken circuit of one light and completed the circuit thereby causing the light to come on. Needless to say, much tweaking was needed.

First, I had to make sure that the copper tape that completed the circuit was positioned exactly above the break in the circuit, so when I pushed down it contacted both ends of the broken circuit. Next, there seemed to be a problem with the LED lights that were in the circuit. I just could not get them to stay on. I finally determined that the copper tape was too close together and the lights were actually shorting themselves out.

Next, the circuit began to act up again and would not consistently light the bulbs. In checking and rechecking the circuit I found where the copper tape touched the battery, it was making contact with both the positive and negative portion or the battery and shorting the circuit.

STEM STEAM Science Classroom Maker Space

At times, it can be very frustrating troubleshooting whether it is circuits or programming. What I have learned from this is that there are many ways a circuit can fail. Hopefully, in the future it will help me problem solve more quickly.

You can try this card – we have two tutorials – a beginner version with no switches and an advanced version with the two switches!

Creating an Authentic Learning Environment in Your Classroom

What does it mean to have a Maker Space in your school? There is not a standard definition of what a maker space, maker lab, or tinkering corner should be. It can be as simple as a corner of your classroom where students can tinker, disassemble a broken computer, make a truss bridge with craft sticks, or just experiment with some safe chemicals. Making, tinkering, hacking are all terms tossed around liberally. But what does it mean in your classroom? The challenge is to allow your students to explore something that peaks their interest. Something that causes them to be engaged and ask questions. Allow your students to try something new and unknown. When you allow a child’s curiosity to drive his or her education, he or she will blow through barriers and boundaries that they’ve set on themselves and sometimes even that you’ve unknowing held.

The whole premise is to get ideas flowing, to fail and find solutions through trial and error, to answer the question what if? Or, it can be a dedicated room where there are many high tech machines that can create almost anything you need or want. The two primary factors are cost and space. You can make it what you want based on funding and space and your own comfort zone. The important thing is to get students tinkering, creating, being curious and making connections to real life….authentic learning. Just do it!

Take the first step. Get out of your rut, step into a world where you learn along with your students. Your students will love the experience and will benefit in ways that you couldn’t imagine.
Once I challenged my students to design a cardboard and duct tape boat that could hold two of them. The finished boat could have only one layer of water-proofing on the exterior. This simple challenge excited them so much that they were doing research on designs, building prototypes and discussing the best way to build their yachts. Of course, some just dove in and started building without any idea of how to do it, but isn’t that what it is all about?
Learning by doing, failing, trying again, and finally reaching success.
Too often, as teachers we want students to follow our guidelines because we are the “experts”, and for purposes of efficiency we can save time. But by making things easier for our students we are missing an important piece in the learning puzzle. Two key ideas, choice and trial and error, are critical to creativity and learning.
Check out our FREE Makers Space resource to learn more about how you can incorporate making in your classroom! Looking for some inspiration? Join our Facebook collaboration board for educators!

My Season of Hydroponics

If you’d like to try hydroponics in your maker space or classroom it is a great way to get kids to fabricate, problem solve, make mistakes and experience authentic learning. Many designs for simple hydroponic systems exist online with inexpensive materials. The activity is a perfect STEM activity and integrates math, science and a bit of chemistry into a unit or lesson. You also don’t need a lot of room and can even do it on a windowsill!

Sue and I have also moved from a small condo to a ranch home, so these past three months have been hectic to say the least! We are now in the middle of a full scale remodel. As I type this, carpenters and electricians are working. Jolene and her husband, Phil, also moved. The entire Brain Brigade Team has been shaken up. We’re finally settling back into our Brain Brigade routine and it feels good to be back!

My winter season has been devoted to growing my greens hydroponically. I have also just completed a hydroponic strawberry tower. I can’t wait for spring to get here so I can get  the strawberries growing! I will grow the strawberries outside using my system.

My lettuce is doing great but my spinach is not so great. As you can see by the photo, the spinach is in the foreground and is quite twiggy. I think the pH may be off for the spinach. I’ll do some small adjustments to see if it responds. I began the lettuce and spinach about three weeks before transporting them into my hydroponics system. The floating bed has nutrient solution flowing past the roots. My system is about 24 inches wide and about five feet long. It is made of 2x4s with a bottom of plywood. In this box a pond liner coats the bottom and sides and a hole is bored through the bottom on the plywood at one end. The nutrient solution is pumped up to the box and flows past the roots and down the drain back to the reservoir. I’ve been enjoying lettuce all winter, picked fresh right from my basement. It doesn’t get better than that!

This can be done in a classroom, too! We have highlighted some steps in a series on hydroponics earlier in the blog. Start here to begin learning more!

Introducing LEDs and Bright Fun to Your Students!


LEDs, or their long name, “Light Emitting Diodes” offer a great deal of cheap, impressive fun in a classroom or Maker Space. We’ve used LEDs with students as young as third grade with great success. Students can explore and create incredible projects once they understand the basics of LEDs. Using SMD LEDs offers many learning opportunities for exploring circuits, trial and error and persistence. Plus, they’re inexpensive…a bonus when you get big results without blowing your classroom budget.

When first exploring LEDs, I was intimidated. My first order from Sparkfun arrived and I couldn’t get the LEDs to work. As it turns out, I didn’t have the LEDs removed from the packaging correctly {true story!}. The first time I placed the LED onto the copper tape it lit up like magic. I was hooked. I wanted to light up everything in sight. It was like a new toy. What else could I make glow?

Completed 3D Washington Monument. It glows red like the real one {Safety first. I think so planes don’t hit it!}.

We’ve been using these powerful little lights mostly to enhance paper projects. We enjoy using them because of their low power consumption and long life span. They have great luminosity and can brighten a dark room. LEDs are great for teaching polarity because the energy can only flow one way through the light. They’re powerful and impressive. And kids love them.

Even Leprechaun’s are rumored to love LEDs!

After my own trials {ahem, having fun}, I was ready to bring them to the Maker Space. I started the students off with some holiday cards that had a template to follow. We created one where Rudolph’s nose glows and the other a Christmas Tree. Then we got crazy. We created a light-up, pop-up 3D glowing Valentine’s Day card. We built a 3D Washington Monument that lights up like the real deal! We made a simple St. Patrick’s Day card for younger students. And we keep exploring…most recently we created a Spring Card that has two switches. So.Much.Fun.

 

Experimenting with LEDs. How many can you light up at once and for how long?

The kids enjoy it as much as I do! I have had middle school students have great success. Once they grasp the basic understanding of parallel circuits, how to make switches and comprehend what a short circuit is, they incorporate them into their own projects.

We’re now experimenting to determine how long 14 LED lights will stay lit off of a coin cell battery. They were still glowing after an hour. With this new information, we hope to incorporate these LEDs into light up constellations that can be made into an interactive bulletin board where a student can press a button and see the constellation light up! We’ll keep you posted!

You Want to Start a Maker Space. Now What?

You’ve read some blogs, maybe even read a book or two, you follow some insta feeds, and everywhere you go the term “Maker Space” seems to pop up. Hands-on learning is your style. You might even be a little out-of-the-box. Maybe you’re a lot out of the box! You desire to help your students learn how to problem solve and think creatively and be curious. You’re ready to jump in and start a Maker Space in your classroom or school. But where do you begin? Do you need a 3D printer? How big of a space do you need? The beauty of a Maker Space is that there are no rights or wrongs. The challenge of starting a Maker Space is that there are no rights or wrongs! Get my drift? It’s your first Maker Space challenge andyou haven’t even started it up! Get ready, because you are about to grow!

Creating a Maker Space can be something as simple as a small table or desk in a corner of your room. A Maker Space can be as elaborate as a dedicated room or bigger! If you have the space. Determine who will be using this space. Is it your classroom only? You might be collaborating with your other grade level teachers so a dedicated location like a commons area or maybe multiple small stations in multiple classrooms might be the solution. Don’t be afraid to think creatively and be flexible.

Once you have a location figured out you can start it up! It’s okay to start small.  You don’t need a 3D printer make your Maker Space come alive.  Collect clean recyclables and get some bins to sort them in. In fact, if you see a sale on bins, buy more. {You can thank me later!} Make tools available to your students {glue, scissors, a hole punch, scotch tape, masking tape, duct tape, maybe some small hand tools, hot glue gun}. Other materials such as string, craft sticks, pom poms, pasta,  straws…. Let your students start exploring when they have some down time or indoor recess.

Teach your students how to use tools responsibly. Wear safety glasses if needed. We have a five year old who uses the hot glue gun to glue and an eight year old who also uses a hot glue gun to glue and weld! Know your students and let them take on some responsibility and calculated risk. Chances are, many other students will quickly display their ability to be mature when the reward is good!

Once your students are familiar with the Space, offer them challenges. How tall can you build a tower? Build a bridge and see how much weight it can hold. Build a car and see how far it can roll down a ramp.

Need more help? Check out our guide to Designing a Maker Space. We include a huge list of ideas for stocking your Space, funding your Maker Space, four pages of links to incredible resources to help you to spur creativity!

Source: I find some amazing work at Freepik.com. The rockets on my image are from there!

Confessions of a Maker Space Volunteer: Day 1

I started volunteering in the Maker Space at my son’s elementary school a few weeks into the school year. The students had already begun their projects. Their challenge? To design a toy. They had researched and designed their projects on paper and had begun the building phase using engineering design principles. My first morning, the Maker Space teacher/hero, Mrs. H, introduced me and then set me free to the kids. I thought I knew what I was getting into. I was in the risk taking zone. And in that moment, I was afraid of failing.

I knew some of what a Maker Space is because I had been in my dad’s Maker Space at his school a handful of times before he retired. I knew and understood and completely agree with the philosophy of a Maker Space. I had never actually been the one to troubleshoot with students. My own son, yes. My niece and nephew, yes. But to troubleshoot a classroom full of kids? Field their questions? Prioritize requests for help from what felt like ten groups at once!? Everyone needed something from me (or Mrs. H) and I dove in.

Let’s back up a bit. Mrs. H made me out to be waaaaay more of an expert than what I really am. I mean, look at me! I’m a mom in my 30s. Sometimes I wear glasses to make me smarter. Did Mrs. H really think that I should be in this room helping innocent children!?

do-these-glasses-make-me-smarter

Do glasses make me smarter?

I looked at those fourth graders and fear swelled inside my soul. I dove in. I started looking at projects. I began troubleshooting. My first intimidating task: a student needed a hole drilled in wood. I’ve never done that on my own before. Always with the help of my dad or my husband. But I knew how to put a drill bit in. And I knew how to use the drill. So I tackled it. And I did okay. And the student was thrilled!

Before I knew it, 50 minutes was gone. Mrs. H rang a bell, and the kids reluctantly gave up their work and started furiously cleaning up every surface in the room. {Side note: Impressive, Mrs. H. Impressive.} The floors swept, the tables cleared, students lined up and filed out.

Five minutes later, a class of third graders filed in, pulling projects from their silver rack. And we began again. This time, I had a touch of confidence. I had just drilled a hole. I know, pretty amazing. I was feeling good. Until a kid came to me with a 10 foot piece of wood, two inches thick, and 10 inches wide and asked me to cut it.

I had no idea how to use the clamps right, so I asked Mrs. H. She showed me how. I started sawing. The line was crooked. I stopped sawing. I showed the student how to measure to create a straight line (now, that, I taught like a boss!). And I started sawing again. Soon the only sound in the room was the little hand saw chewing through the wood. All eyes were on me. If you’ve never spent time in a Maker Space, it’s NEVER QUIET. But it was silent. Back and forth. I sawed. And sawed. And sawed. Kids started making noise again. Finally, the board hit the tile floor. And the kids started clapping.

I can’t make this up. They clapped. I laughed.

I’m still laughing while thinking about it.

I was hooked. I spend four hours each week in the Maker Space. I wish I could spend the entire day there. My confidence is growing.  And so are my skills. But what’s even better, I’m watching the confidence increase in the students. I’m watching them wrestle with a problem and work through solutions. It’s an exciting place. Terrifying at times, but it doesn’t take long to get past that.

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!