Tag Archives: making

Girls Can!

3doodling“This was great. We should do more of these!”

Over a dozen MS and HS girls came to the ICS Makerspace/Robotics Lab on Saturday for a special girls-only technology session. They designed things, collaborated in teams, taught themselves new skills, faced problems and figured out how to overcome them, made things and had a great time! By the end of the day, every girl went home with something that they had designed and made using high-tech tools. If they had arrived with any doubts that they were capable of high-tech success, by the end of the day they knew that Girls Can!

Why a girls-only event? It’s easy to say that such functions should be open to everybody, but the world of technology is generally dominated by males and ICS is no different. Plenty of boys eagerly join the robotics team, sign up for programming classes, and spend time making and building with technology. Girls are under-represented and we recognize that they might need a little more encouragement to explore and learn with technology …and a girls-only session is a safe spot for them to learn and experiment.

measuringWe had a good mix of girls join us on Saturday, ranging from grade 6 to grade 12. (We even had a couple of elementary school visitors!) We started out with a general orientation to the tools available to the girls, and an explanation of some of the types of projects that they could take on. Some of the girls tried their hands at lots of tools – building robots, printing and cutting designs. Others had specific ideas for a project they wanted to do and stuck with it.

A special guest, Gillian Brewin, joined us and talked about her work with women and technology as well as the work her daughter, Danielle (who graduated from ICS in 2005), is doing: running a start-up workshop to encourage women to explore and use technology in their work.

ada-lovelace-day_indie-event_whiteThis event was also an independent event organized under the umbrella of Ada Lovelace Day, a celebration of Lady Ada Lovelace, who in the 1800’s was the first computer programmer. We explained her story to the girls and invited them to read a brief biography of her, as well as a charming (mostly accurate) cartoon about her by Sydney Padua. (Read her book, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, which is in the library.)

It was a great day of learning and exploring!

Here are some photos from the day:

roboticsbuilding robots changingfilamentchanging filament on the 3D printer
3d_designinglearning to build 3D designs computerfiguring out the software preferences
3doodling2doodling with 3D pens cuttingworking with the vinyl cutter
luncha welcome break! teamworkteamwork!
talkan inspiring talk by Gillian lasercuttingwatching the lasercutter cut with a laser (duh!)

 

Cross-posted from my school blog.

 

Full STEAM ahead with Grade 10 students

img_3747“A chance to work on an activity required one to use their hands to build physical objects as opposed to writing or typing.”

There certainly was a buzz of excitement and energy around the SEC on Monday and Tuesday as the entire Grade 10 class worked in small groups on a variety of projects embodying STEAM concepts.

What’s STEAM? There’s been a push in many schools to focus on STEM subjects: that’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Those are all important areas of study, particularly for our technology-infused world. But it just doesn’t show off human creativity and ingenuity, so if you add in Art you get STEAM.

Sometimes these areas are addressed by schools as separate subjects, with specific courses. Other times they’re worked into special projects or activities. At ICS, we’ve built in some days off-timetable where the regular class rotation doesn’t happen but students can work on other important projects that don’t quite fit into the class structure. Grade 10 students were given the chance to work on different projects integrating different areas of the STEAM subjects, focusing on group work and hands-on learning, while also following the Engineering Design Process.

img_3660“It was a nice break from the regular schedule, and I enjoyed being able to work on the same thing for more than an hour or so in groups but mostly independently from the teachers. I like how we weren’t doing a project for a grade but just to learn and have fun.”

The students formed themselves into groups of four and then chose a project to work on for the two days. There were six choices, covering topics from Biology to Mathematics to Sculpture to Geography. Each project was designed to be an open-ended challenge, requiring the students to investigate and plan, design and build a prototype and test it out. Some groups quickly came up with a solution while others had to go through a number of different versions until they got one that they thought fit their criteria.

“When we had to think as a group and come up with a solution to purify the water, it made us think and it was fun coming up with different ideas and trying to make them work.”

Integrated STEAM Projects:

img_3576Purification of water was one of the projects. Starting with the problem of polluted water which affects communities around the world, the challenge was issued to the students to develop a method for filtering that water to produce clean water which could be drunk. The students had to research water pollution and filtration and purification methods. They experimented with different filters, including sand and charcoal, and tested out the results. They worked on methods of distillation and condensation, learning about how to remove dissolved impurities. They worked with limited resources, being creative with how to accomplish their tasks with simple materials rather than complex manufactured supplies. In the end, the students spoke about their experiences with different prototypes and how they had to adjust their methods after getting unsatisfactory results. This is exactly how engineers work!

img_3730Another project with a water focus was the construction of a Tippy-Tap hand washing station. The students started with the problem of how poor hygiene can spread disease and how easy access to hand-washing stations can improve hygiene. Students investigated the problem and different designs of the tippy-tap station. They came up with different designs that would work locally (with the plan to install one example on the school campus), and found easily-available materials to work with. Each group built a station and tested out their work themselves and by teachers and other students who needed to wash their hands! Problems arose (muddy ground, difficulty in refilling, etc.) and solutions were worked out. In addition to materials and techniques, students found the group planning, building and testing process an interesting and valuable experience.

img_3755A few projects had Art as a key component, including a study of the cuttlefish’s adaptive abilities and a representation of those abilities in 3D artwork. Students learned about cephalopod adaptation through videos (such as this one about the octopus) and looked at the artwork of artist Ryuta Nakajima who uses the cuttlefish as a motif in his work. Students experimented with materials and designs to try to represent a cuttlefish or octopus in terms of its adaptation to its environment. Students discussed different concepts and ideas on how to easily display the fluid nature of cephalopod adaptation in a static artwork, and worked together to create something that was both representative and creative. Students came up with some pretty ingenious work considering their limited time and restricted access to materials!

img_3790Another project which included a clear Art focus was centered around the work of Alexander Calder, using Mathematics to create a balanced mobile artwork. Students discussed forces and balance, looked at Calder’s mobile and stationary work, tried different materials, and worked on ways to balance objects and represent the mathematical and physical concepts at work in the art. One group even developed a battery-powered magnet to test and demonstrate the effect of a consistent force on their mobile.

img_3741croppedStudents who were interested in Mathematics and Geography, chose a project in which they used the technique of an ancient Greek astronomer from Egypt, Eratosthenes, to measure the circumference of the Earth. Students had to research his technique and adapt it to our locale. They also had to get a measurement from another location other than Addis Ababa. Fortunately, we had a willing collaborator from Ghana, Andy Richardson, who got some of his 8th grade students at Lincoln Community School in Accra to take measurements. Using their measurements along with those we got in Addis, our students were able to make reasonably accurate (considering the tools we had available) measurement of the size of the Earth. In the process, our students learned not only concepts and skills related to math, astronomy, and geography, they also learned about accuracy in measurement and how small rounding errors can lead to big differences in real-life calculations.

img_3608Finally, for those students who wanted a more straightforward engineering task, they had a project to build a “robot” basketball player. With our limited time, they had to forego using our programmable mechanical robotics sets – but they were all invited to join in our robotics After-School Activity! Instead, they had limited mechanical equipment with which to build a machine to deliver a ball into a basket. They explored forces, levers, materials and tested out different designs, working towards a machine that was accurate and precise.


 

All in all, it was a busy and exciting few days. Students enjoyed the change of pace from regular classes and found the projects worthwhile application of academic skills and knowledge to real-life problems.

“I really loved the project and I wish we had a full week of STEAM.”

Cross-posted from my school blog.

Open House in the Makerspace/Robotics Lab

IMG_3435Wow!!

It was universal: children and adults alike were impressed with the Open House we held on Saturday for our new Makerspace/Robotics Lab. The whole morning there was a buzz of laughter and enthusiastic calls of “look at this!” People were moving around the room, checking out what other people were doing and showing off their own work. Kids were building robots and other contraptions, parents were helping them out and taking photos, teachers were demonstrating how to make things with various pieces of equipment …and everybody was having a great time. Several parents and children expressed their hope that this would happen every weekend! Here are some of the things that were going on:

It was a terrific day! We’ll definitely be holding more Open House maker sessions!

This is cross-posted from my school blog.

Here Come the Robots

IMG_3301The ICS Robotics team is off and running for SY1617! We’ve received a shipment of new kits and extra parts, and our high school and middle school after-school activities are off and running.

The official ASA season doesn’t start until next week, but we had a “soft opening” of the new Makerspace/Robotics Lab in S021 on Thursday and Friday. HS and MS students were joined by a few ES students in opening up and trying out new equipment. There was a lot of laughter and excitement as they worked together to build robots.

Thanks to the successful launch of the ICS Annual Giving campaign last year, we have equipment for all grade levels. There’ll be plenty of opportunity for ICS students to learn to build and program robots no matter their age. For now this means in after-school activities, but we’re working on plans for scheduling the space during the school day and making the equipment available to different classes around the school.

There’ll be plenty more to report during the school year. Meanwhile, here are a few photos from our opening sessions:

IMG_3289 IMG_3332
IMG_3286

 

Cross-posted from my school blog.

First Attempt In Learning

We got a bunch of new equipment to set up the new Makerspace/Robotics Lab, including a vinyl cutter. This is a fairly simple piece of equipment: you design something, then send it to the cutter which cuts your design in paper or vinyl. With this, you can make stencils, wall decals, laptop stickers, etc.

So I tried out some designs to put up on the walls. I had some ideas in my head, so I designed them in Inkscape and worked them into cut lines to run through the cutter. (You can’t just print a solid image: you need the lines that the cutter will follow.)

And I came up with this:

IMG_3281

It was a great idea: the action word “Think” to go with the ICS Learner Profile trait of being a Thinker, a brain to lend a visual to the word. But… The brain cut out nicely, but it was extremely difficult to apply to the wall. It stuck to itself, then parts adhered to the wall in the wrong spots. It’s wrinkly and the gap between the lobes is too big.

And I realized: it’s not a FAIL, it’s a First Attempt In Learning. I learned a lot about what makes a good design for a vinyl cut, and I realized I should leave it up there to show the students. They can learn from my F.A.I.L. and try their own designs. And if theirs don’t come out beautifully, it’ll be their First Attempt In Learning.

This is cross-posted from my school blog.

Robotics: making, programming, competing

You can see it in their faces: the broad grins, the light shining in their eyes. You can hear it in their voices:

“This is so cool!”

These are the signs of students who have successfully done something that they’ve never done before. They’ve made something themselves, and got it working by themselves. This is the joy of the “maker” movement, the appeal of robotics, the push to teach programming in all schools.

I see it regularly in computing and robotics classrooms at ICS, and here it is in our High School robotics after-school activity. This small group of students are learning to build and program robots. It’s a small start for them: they got the robot to move in a straight line and then spin around in a circle. But those small steps start the students on a long and exciting journey.

robotThis is the process of building and making things for themselves. Many of us are content to read other people’s content on the web, watch other people’s videos, play other people’s games, etc. Some – the movers and shakers of today – are driven to actually create these things. They make new websites, create new games, build new tools. Robotics is part of that: the process of assembling a robot is an act of making and tinkering, which helps not only to lead to work in engineering and other fields but also to success in problem-solving. Then, once the robot is built, the students have to write a program to get the robot to do what they want. It’s a precise task, and one that requires the students to think through a task in logical steps, write out the code and then check it for errors.

I’ve written about programming before, and its value in modern society. Perhaps Douglas Rushkoff sums it up best by saying that people who can program are the true literates of the modern age: the writers who create new things compared to the majority of us who are simply users. These students are on the journey to being the leaders of the world: the ones who can build the tools and systems that the rest of us use.

It’s exciting to see the students start down that road …and see the glee in their faces when they get the machine to do what they want. There’s an extra bonus incentive for them: competition. ICS is part of ISSEA (International Schools of Southern and Eastern Africa), which primarily sponsors sports tournaments. (Our upcoming track & field event is an ISSEA tournament.) However, the group has branched out into Arts events and – starting last year – a STEM competition in which students are challenged to solve mathematical and scientific problems, including building and programming robots. Last year, our students traveled to Harare to compete, where the robotics team won the KISS award despite problems knocking them out of the competition. This coming April our students will head to Lusaka, and they hope to do better!

We’ve started on our journey. It’s exciting to think about where it might lead…

Cross-posted from my school blog.

Hands or Brains?

This House believes that Africa needs more vocational training than academic education.

It was a lively debate and an exciting end to the eLearning Africa 2015 conference in Addis Ababa. A panel of African and international dignitaries – most of them holding PhD’s – debated back and forth over whether or not the greatest need for the African continent was for formal academic education or for practical vocational training. The audience – teachers, government representatives, professors – followed the argument actively, with laughter, applause and a very lively Twitter stream.

As I listened and participated, I reflected on my own education and that of my daughter. What was most valuable for me? What will do her the most good? Sure, there are specific needs here in Africa, but in general what is the best aim of education? Perhaps this debate should be about what the world needs, not just Africa.

It’s not an either/or situation: nobody was seriously advocating that we should only have one or the other. The question at hand was which one would contribute the greatest value to African societies.

I’m an academic. I’ve got a couple of degrees (no PhD for me yet) & I’ve spent my whole career teaching and leading schools. Books are my friends and favorite purchases. Thinking comes more naturally to me than acting or doing.

And yet, my beliefs about this issue have changed over the years. I’ve come to realize that there is great value in practical, non-academic work and study. I definitely believe that what will benefit Africa & Africans (and people around the world) the most is vocational training and not pure academics. (While still believing we need both and that academics is more valuable and important for some people!)

boy-667804_640This ties in to the current educational trend of making and tinkering. Papert’s constructionist take on education resonates today with many teachers and many schools. Students learn through inquiry and practical tasks – designing, building, adjusting, adapting. There’s a whole new edge with modern tech: 3D printers, programmable fabrics, conductive threads and tapes, robotics, hackable Arduino boards, etc. But it’s still a valuable experience for kids to work with Legos, wooden blocks, etc. Children learn by doing. And practical, hands-on doing is often more valuable than reading or watching.

I’ve also learned that there is far more value in practical work than society often gives it credit for. My own experiences in fixing broken appliances, building things for my home, and repairing ailing computers have shown me that there is great value and joy in such practical tasks. When I finish a project, I have such satisfaction – it is greatly rewarding personally, and if I have done the task for someone else I feel like I have contributed to someone else’s life. Building computer programs have given me similar rewarding experiences, with more mental than physical work.

There is also great mental work in such tasks. Matthew Crawford earned a PhD but runs a motorcycle repair shop. In his book, Shop Class as Soulcraft, he states that “there is more real thinking going on in the bike shop than there was in the think tank.” He argues that there is great value in manual craft work, and that such work (excluding factory assembly-line work) requires much analysis, thinking and serious decision making. I concur and know that when I’ve worked with tools on a project I have to seriously concentrate and think about what I’m doing.

When I think about my daughter’s educational future, I fear the long academic slog. I shudder at the thought of the heavy load of work the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program inflicts on teenagers …and don’t get me started at the ridiculously onerous and painful process of final exams! She might be suited for such a process (I was), but I have my doubts. And to what end? If she goes through that, succeeds, and proceeds to university, etc. what will be her lot in life and reward? Working in an office? Becoming a teacher? (It is a great job!) Lecturing at university?

construction-659898_640The alternative might be that she learns a trade. Perhaps she becomes a plumber or construction worker. Learned friends may sneer and boast of their children’s careers as doctors or lawyers or bankers or…

But I don’t think that those other careers are necessarily better. As computers get smarter and algorithms get more finely tweaked, there’s a good chance that lawyers, bankers, and other “brain workers” will be replaced by computer programs. And many of these high-profile careers (doctors, notoriously) require long hours and involve a great deal of stress.

People need choices. Some people are driven to be doctors. Some people are suited to academic research and study. Some people are not. Our educational systems need to value all types of students. Our societies need to recognize that a plumber is just as important and valuable as a doctor.

I was glad to hear that the conference attendees voted overwhelmingly in support of the proposal. Africa – and the world – needs to value vocational training more. Carpenters, plumbers (and entrepreneurs and computer programmers) make huge contributions to society.

I hope my daughter has choices. I’m happy for her to pursue whatever career gives her pleasure and satisfaction. As for me, I’m going to stop writing and go get my tools. I have a lamp that has a broken switch that is crying out for repair.

STEAM week for Grade 10 students

JpegAs we’ve refined our Week Without Walls trips, we’ve adjusted the school schedule to minimize the disruption to classes. In the High School, we’ve scheduled two grade levels at the same time, leaving two other grade levels in school to focus on different parts of their learning. For IB Diploma students in grades 11 and 12, that week is a chance to focus on the IB courses and related work. For 9th and 10th grade students, the week is a special off-timetable week that focuses on project-based learning and learning experiences beyond the normal boundaries of subject areas and class periods.

This week, Grade 10 students are experiencing a special STEAM week. STEAM is an acronym referring to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. This is an are of increased emphasis in education, as schools recognize the increasing need to educate students in these areas to help them be more creative and critical thinkers as well as being more adept in our technological world.

For this week, we built a special schedule that would give students a chance to get a little introduction to each area, and then to choose an area in which to work for longer periods of time. Each group of students is working in one area to develop a project that they will share and show off at the end of the week. The PE teachers organized some physical breaks for the students, and Elias Fessehaye is leading the students in a fun and engaging Korfball tournament.

JpegThere are five main areas where the students are working on projects. In the Arts, Laura Blue-Waters is guiding a group of students to create a 3D mural to be displayed outdoors on campus. Leulseged Assefa is working with a group of students on programming robots to complete different challenges, working in the areas of Technology and Engineering. In Mathematics, Rob Maddock is working with a group of students to measure school buildings and use the 3D modelling software SketchUpMake to build a scale model of the campus. I’m working with students in Technology to build applications, programming games that can run on any computer. And in Science and Engineering, Dave Acland is challenging students to design and build a device that will launch and transport an object a set height and distance.

These challenges let the students explore different tasks than what they normally have to grapple with in classes, work together, plan and build solutions to problems, test those solutions and revise their work as needed. It’s a dynamic, fun and challenging experience for all.

JpegIn addition to these set areas, we’ve also built in some “Genius Hour” time (also called 20% time) to allow students to explore and learn in areas that they have an individual interest. This is a technique that many schools are implementing – it comes from various sources, including Google’s initiative to allow employees to use 20% of their time to work on any project they are interested in. There’s a long and growing tradition of “heutagogy” – allowing students to develop their own learning experiences by pursuing things they are passionate about.

Our grade 10 students had to plan and get approved their ideas for their own Passion Projects, and there’s an interesting and varied bunch of projects. Students are making videos, building models, creating artwork, making posters, taking photos, doing research, and more. These are in areas related to physical fitness and sports, medicine, history, zoology, Art and other subjects. It’ll be exciting to see what they come up with by the end of the week!

It’s proving to be an active and fascinating week (I’m writing this midway through) and I’m looking forward to reporting on the outcomes after the students share their STEAM and Passion projects on Friday.

Jpeg

Launching the ICS App Store!

appstore

There’s a new system at school: The ICS App Store!

It has been launched this week with a couple of applications that were built by High School students to help students (and teachers) keep track of the rotating block schedule. With the application, a student can enter his or her schedule (once) and then every day the program will show what the rotation is for the day, including times of classes.

The applications have been built to run on all three computer operating systems in use at school – Windows, OSX (Mac) and Linux (Ubuntu). They’ve been tested and function well on all computers.

The students created these apps in their High School course, Developing Computer Applications. This class, which ran last year and will run again next semester, teaches students how to build applications using a free and open-source development tool called LiveCode. LiveCode has been used by many schools to teach programming and application development, and it has been used by many organizations (including KLM) and individuals to build applications for computers and mobile devices.

Future plans for the ICSapps site include more apps developed by students, a new interface, and developing apps for mobile devices. Watch the space!

(at the moment, the ICS App Store is only accessible from within our campus’ intranet, Eaglenet.)

Is it fixed? Or isn’t it?

JpegIt’s always when you’re in a rush that these things happen. I was trying to print something quickly as we were heading out Saturday morning, when the paper jammed inside the printer. I lifted the lid and removed the jammed paper and then closed it. Or tried to. The lid wouldn’t close. It wasn’t seating properly.

Oh, $#%@! A quick wiggle to try to realign the lid and a shot of WD-40 (miracle juice) to help it move freely did nothing. More time was definitely needed.

After returning from the errands, a thorough investigation revealed that the hinge holding the lid of the printer (including the glass panel for the scanner) was broken. Specifically, the small plastic loops holding in the hingepin had broken off. There’s a good deal of pressure on that hingepin so that the lid stays up when you lift it, and that pressure had weakened and eventually broken the plastic.

I wasn’t optimistic, but I used superglue to try to repair the pieces. It might hold. Those ads for the glue show some fellow with his hardhat glued to a girder and him holding on to the hat…

I let the glue sit until the next day and started putting it back together again. First hinge went in OK. It was when I was putting the second one in that the first one blew: a nice noise and bits of plastic and a metal pin went flying across the room. I guess that guy with the hardhat used more glue than I had space for on these tiny bits of plastic.

So, I found myself yet again confronted with two fundamental problems that I encounter frequently when trying to repair things:

Design weaknesses

I’ve gone through this routine numerous times, with numerous devices: some small piece (it’s usually plastic) is designed in a way that when it eventually wears out or gives way, it’s irreparable. That tiny curve of plastic was all that was holding in the hingepin and there’s a strong spring pushing against it. Any repairs would have to withstand significant force. If I had a 3D printer, I could maybe make another hinge piece (I’d need a 3D scanner, too, to design the piece right…), but otherwise it’s dead.

Designed obsolescence

There’s practically no chance I could find and buy a replacement part. This printer was made years ago. No doubt the newer versions have slightly different specs and this particular part is made differently. If I contacted the manufacturer, they’d just try to get me to buy a new printer. (It would quite possibly be cheaper than buying the replacement part!) Perhaps I could find a used printer like this for sale somewhere and cannibalize it for the hinges, but that would kind of defeat the point of repairing it.

Then it hit me: I didn’t need to fix it.

I put all the pieces from the hinge carefully into a plastic bag (who knows? maybe I will find a replacement…), re-wired the scanner to the printer’s circuit board, and then set the lid carefully down on the printer body. Plugged it in and turned it on and voila! It works just fine. I’ll need to carefully lift the lid when I replace the ink cartridges because there’s no hinge, but otherwise everything is functional.

So, that brings up a conundrum:

If a device is working with the broken part removed and not repaired, is the device fixed …or is it not?

I’ll ponder that while I go and print something out.