The Story of C.R.E.A.T.E.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Dance Coding

Coding brings to mind, for many people, engineers poring over screens of incomprehensible commands and algorithms. What they might not realize is that code can also be algo"rhythms." Dance can be encoded and "run" by human computers. One of our second-grade teachers (and former ballet dancer) did just that with her class for the recent Hour of Code. (Video 0:52)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

3-D Prodigy: A good problem

3-D printers are slow and expensive to operate. But you already know that. So our printing policy is limited to in-class projects. Plus, Mouse Squad members can design and print one object each during the school year. This created what turned out to be a good problem.

Unlike most students at tinker time, Aarav (not his real name) didn't work with popsicle sticks, cardboard and glue. He brought a laptop computer from his fourth-grade classroom and puttered around with the Tinkercad 3-D design application. He typically sat across the room from me and his body blocked the screen most of the time. I could see enough to see what site he was on, but not enough to see details. I figure he was stacking cylinders on boxes and topping them with spheres, or something like that.

One day, he walked over and showed me the open laptop. The beautifully designed and detailed object was amazing. I assumed that one of his parents was using it as an example to teach him what could be done in 3-D design. Something he could aspire to.

"Cool, who built that?" I said. "I did," he replied.

Frankly, I thought he was lying. I asked if his father had helped him. Nope. "Not even a little?" Nope.

I asked him details about how certain parts fit together. He knew.

"Can I print it?" he asked.

Now what do I do? Other students had come to me with similar requests and I refused them, telling them that we only printed class projects. Yet here was a kid with a passion and talent. I was darned if I would let a policy (even my policy) keep me from encouraging the heck out of him.

When he brought me another design, a completely unflyable, but artistically gorgeous aircraft, I transferred the file to my laptop and asked him what color of printer filament he preferred.

"Aarav's" plane
Later, I found that Aarav had applied to be a member of the Mouse Squad, but, for whatever reason, was turned down. I asked him if he was still interested and told him he would still have to get his parents' permission.

Aarav will now be an integral member of the Mouse Squad's project to create a presentation to teach our teachers about Tinkercad.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Don't "save" students from mental design traps

There's an old story that Sir Isaac Newton invented the doggie door. Newton had a big dog and a little dog. So, he built a door for each. What he didn't take into account was that the small dog used the larger door, rendering the small door superfluous. The small door was a design failure.

I fell victim to that process when I designed a replacement for our paper-cone rice funnel. Rather than start with the problem (pouring rice into a specific bottle) I started by merely reproducing the makeshift paper-cone drinking cup I had been using. Let's ignore the fact that I left out the opening at the bottom of my first attempt, that was a result of my inexperience with the appearance of holes in Tinkercad.

Let's just ignore this.
Rather than approach it by asking myself what the original problem was, I continued my flawed thinking by continuing to build upon my first attempt. Every design should start with that question. Don't start with how others have solved the problem, start with a fresh examination of the problem itself.

When the rice clogged the first real (with a hole!) funnel I printed, I started making a series of test holes that began two millimeters larger than the first one. I didn't realize that I was trying to find the minimum-sized hole through which the rice would pass. I completely ignored that what I was trying to build was a funnel for a specific bottle. When I finally realized that (a real d'oh! moment,) I simply measured the inside diameter of the bottle's mouth and built the funnel spout to fit into it.

My earlier failures weren't a failure of physical design, they were a failure of my mental approach. It's mandatory to start by asking the question, "What am I trying to solve?"

When we see students run into that same mental trap, it's important to choose the right moment to ask them that question. Resist the temptation to stand in front of the room and preemptively "teach" them away from the experience. The "problem" we're are trying to solve is not to have students create perfect projects. It's to put them into the position of learning how to independently think their way through challenges.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Now taking orders...

One of the special ed teachers in the district heard that we had a 3-D printer and wondered if we could make some replacement pieces for a game that her students play. Since we're not a manufacturing facility, I gave it some thought and figured that it would be a learning process. I also "charged" her two rolls of duct tape.

When the sample pieces arrived, I realized that I would have to learn how to use our calipers to measure the various dimensions.

Then I had to transform those measurements into a 3-D design in Tinkercad, where even the simplest shape can be composed of scores of negative space components.

Then there's the speed issue. Our Makerbot Mini 3-D printer took nearly an hour to print the two 38.5mm pieces in the screenshot above. Not exactly mass-production speed.

It's important to remember that consumer 3-D printers are really about prototyping or one-off pieces.

Only I saw the imperfections in the final pieces. Teacher Clare pronounced them "perfect." I learned a lot, not only about the mechanics of reproducing something in 3-D, but also about the mental approach to design. More about that in my follow-up to the rice funnel fight to the death.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

I hate Styrofoam

It's easy to cut, it's light and you can form it into limitless shapes. But, man, does Styrofoam ever make a mess.

Pro tip: Spray a light mist of water on affected surfaces. That will kill the static charge and it loses its awful messiness power.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Plan, Design, Measure, Cut...

The idea was to reinforce the design cycle and include measuring, planning, collaboration and other skills. The job was to completely encase a randomly supplied object in a way that conformed its size and shape. Some of the objects were a carpenters level, a bullhorn and a stack of CDs.

Students had to measure their object in three dimensions, create accurate drawings and then transfer those drawings into their final material (in this case, cardboard.) They also had to work collaboratively and select individuals for specific roles from within their 4-5 person team.

Full lesson plan at the end.

Measuring and creating scale plans.

Drawing full-scale cut and fold lines.
This team created their box in a one-piece design.

Collaboration is baked into the lesson plan. Each Student has their own role and responsibility in the project.

Cutting the pieces for a a box to contain a carpenters level.

The final touches on box a for a bullhorn.