Latest Entries »

There has been a recent push toward a more progressive approach to education that is likely to have a positive impact at all grades and across all subject areas. This move is based on Seymour Papert’s ideas of “constructionism” in which learning is demonstrated by the creation of artifacts that are separate from the learner herself. As Papert has said, it doesn’t matter if the expression is a poem or a sand castle – the fact that it exists outside the learner where it can be shared with others is the critical part. John Dewey famously said, “I don’t care what a child knows; I care what he can do with what he knows.”

This shift from knowing to doing is reflected in the Next Generation Science Standards where the focus is not on learning about science, but learning how to think and act like a scientist. The same approach applies to other subjects – from mathematics to the arts – and the benefit of this approach is that it engages students and increases their learning.

One of the strategies that supports this shift is inquiry-driven project-based learning in which students start with a compelling question that drives the creation of projects to provide an answer to the question. For example, suppose a class is exploring the seasons. In early grades, questions might deal with why certain holidays are held during particular seasons. In later grades, a question might be whether or not seasons exist on other planets. If you want to bring the arts into the topic, there are rich areas of exploration from the music of Vivaldi (The Four Seasons) to Monet’s seasonal paintings of haystacks. In fact, a good starting point for this module would be to use a mind mapping tool like Freemind Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 3.13.51 PM(http://freemind.sourceforge.net/) for students to use as they brainstorm a list of interesting questions. In short order, a list of 50-100 questions might get posed by a classroom full of students, any one of which could be an interesting project for a student. By having students work on individual questions and then sharing their work with the rest of the class, everyone benefits from the combined efforts and the depth of learning increases as a result.

What tool is best for creating projects? To me, the answer is Hyperstudio (http://www.mackiev.com/hyperstudio/). This product has amazing capabilities as a multimedia authoring tool. Basically, the user creates a stack of “cards” on the screen, each of which can have buttons, graphics, sounds, movies, narrations, text, etc. Once a project is completed it can be shared with others who can navigate through the stack to explore the project. In the case of a linear sequence of cards, a stack even can be converted to a movie for posting on YouTube. Because Hyperstudio works with both Macs and Windows, a student can start a project on one kind of computer and finish it on another. The versatility of this software is amazing.1 card sample

In fact, if it only did what I described, it would meet most people’s needs. However, as they say on late night television: “But wait, there’s more.” In addition to everything else, Hyperstudio has the built-in capability to interact with the Arduino interface card (https://www.arduino.cc/). This card connects to your computer through the USB port and allows you to read a wide variety of sensors (light, temperature, pressure, etc.) and control external devices (lights, motors, etc.) The result is that the virtual world of the computer is now extended to the physical realm, adding even more capabilities to student projects.

The Arduino is not without its challenges, however. First, the native programming language is a tricky to learn, especially for younger users. Second, the physical connection to sensors and lights requires additional components (resistors, etc.) that complicate the creation of a finished project.

Both of these challenges are nicely addressed with Hyperstudio. First, the programming tools for the Arduino are built into Hyperstudio using easy-to-understand commands that students at most grades easily can learn. Second, the need for external resistors, etc., is eliminated through the use of a plug-in card (called a shield) that greatly simplifies the process of making connections. This card is called the Hyperduino, (http:www.hyperduino.com).hyperduino

It plugs into the Arduino card and provides all the resistors an other components needed to supplement the lights, motors and sensors so the student can focus on the project itself, not the mechanics of connecting components. As Roger Wagner (designer of both Hyperstudio and the Hyperduino) has said: “The HyperDuino does for the maker movement what HyperStudio did for hypermedia: it makes it possible for everyone, regardless of age and experience, to create interactive maker projects.

The result is that student projects can have both a virtual and a physical component in which, in addition to a rich piece of multimedia on the computer screen, a physical model can be constructed with touch switches and LED lights that turn on or off to show aspects of the physical model that are related to what is being shown on the computer screen. The result raises the constructionist bar, and makes student projects even more compelling to those who experiment with them.

For example, if a student builds a physical model of something related to a season, the act of touching a switch can light up the model and have the computer go to a card related to the season and start playing a movement from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The point here is that everything is created by the students.

Because Hyperstudio stacks can launch each other, the teacher can create a master stack with buttons that link to each student’s project. This becomes a really neat thing to display during open houses so parents can see (and explore) the work of their own children as well as the work of others in the class. The greatest benefit, though, comes from students sharing their work with each other. This sharing is likely to trigger new questions that can result in even more work on the topic – all without the direct intervention of the teacher.

The result is a huge leap away from the traditional text-book driven model of education with the bulk of the work being moved into the hands of the students themselves. In fact, with a project like this, it is possible that teachers may learn something they didn’t know before. The excitement that comes from new learning makes everyone eager to learn more.

As mentioned before, the constructionist approach described here cuts across grade levels and subject areas. One would he hard-pressed to find a curricular area for which it doesn’t apply.

As for us, we are busy doing workshops with teachers that explore both the pedagogical underpinnings of this approach, as well as the mechanics of working with Hyperstudio and Hyperduino. Because we want the workshop to have an immediate impact on classrooms, every participant receives both the Hyperduino kit (including the Arduino board) as well as a full licensed copy of Hyperstudio. To schedule a workhop at your school, e-mail us using the form below.

Anatomy of an Illness

This blog is health related, and you are forgiven for skipping it if you wish – I just want my readers to know what happened to me last year – and to spread a tale of caution.  I will tell you that it has a happy ending!

Those of you who know me are likely aware that 2015 was a lousy year, healthwise. On the positive front, I had a very successful ablation that fixed my afib problem, but other than that, things got cruddy. First, while in the hospital, I contracted pneumonia and was on IV antibiotics for a long time to get that out of my system. While dealing with this, I was told by a pulmonologist that I had COPD – a chronic lung disease that made breathing hard, and was just going to get worse over time. My energy fell through the floor and the thought of going out on the speaking circuit was the last thing on my mind. I had a horrible cough, and my lungs were working at about 45% of normal.

The docs prescribed a couple of inhalers, but these did nothing. From the hospital I went to a rehab center for a week, and then went for outpatient respiratory rehab. I was the only one in the group who had not been a smoker, which I found strange, but was told that it sometimes happens.

In the meantime, my thyroid went through the roof, and my endocrinologist attributed this to a side effect of my old heart medicine, Amiodarone. Fortunately, Prednisone and Hydrocortisone took care of this problem, after which I was being weaned off the steroids.

One problem solved, but the lungs were still lousy – and getting worse.

After about 9 months of nasty lung problems, we went to California to visit friends and Norma suggested that I see another pulmonologist to get a second opinion. This new doc listened to my lungs and did a breathing test. In short order, he told me that, while he wasn’t positive what I had, it surely wasn’t COPD! In short order he eliminated a bunch of other nasty causes and thought that it might be another well-known side effect of Amiodarone. The good news, in that case, is that the problem would be reversible. By this point, my lungs were only working at 35% – not the best news by a long shot!

After a couple of days in the California hospital for tests (I’ll spare you the details), the decision was made to load me up with Prednisone again since that was known to help with Amiodarone pulmonary toxicity.

It turns out that, while it was easy to find that the problem was NOT (COPD), proving that it was another Amiodarone side effect was much trickier. From my perspective, though, my health started turning around for the better almost immediately, no matter what the underlying cause was. The coughing went way down, my breathing got better (some days it is almost normal), my energy is recovering and I’ve rejoined the human race.

At this point, I’m being weaned off the Prednisone again (apparently it has problems of its own) and every day I get a little bit better. My friends have all noticed that I’m back! I have a busy speaking schedule for 2016 and two new workshops that we are scheduling, safe in the knowledge that I’ll be in great shape. I’ll be at FETC and TCEA, and I hope to see some of you there!

While I’m getting a new pulmonologist in the Chicago area, I’m still flying to California every month or so to see the doc that put me on the fast track to recovery! The big question remaining for me is how I could have been so badly misdiagnosed in the first place. I know that medicine is not an exact science, but I’m one of those guys who trusts what doctors say. Mistakes happen. I have a PhD and I’ve made my share of blunders, so why should I hold other highly educated people to higher standards?

At this point, I’m just moving forward. A nasty health scare gives you perspective and helps set priorities. In my, case, this means putting family and friends first. And that reminder makes all the lousiness of 2015 worth it!  So, for those of you who knew something was going on, I thank you for your support and look forward to seeing lots of you next year at some of the conferences I’m attending!

 

For several years I’ve been promoting virtual environments as a way to help build STEM skills in students.  This work culminated in the creation of the educational holodeck ― a hybrid learning space that blended the physical world of furniture with the virtual world of computers.  For example, we converted a room into a virtual mission to Mars, with a large viewscreen in the front of the room where students could see where they were going.

As enticing as this environment was, the images were flat 2-D representations.  Even so, the environment was quite compelling to most students.

About two years ago a friend of mine encouraged me to see a new environment ― zSpace ― that generated highly interactive 3-D models of everything from living organisms to physics experiments.  This system uses a special computer and glasses with markers on them so that, as you move your head, your point of view changes.  Using a special stylus, you can reach into a model and pull pieces of it apart.  The traditional frog dissection, for example, is supported in this system quite nicely, and without the mess!

One of the things I saw in the original demo was a physics modeling environment incorporating ramps and balls.  The behavior of the system mirrored that of real-world experiments, without having loose parts falling on the floor or getting lost.

The timing of zSpace couldn’t be better.  With the roll-out of the Next Generation Science Standards in many states, the emphasis is on experimentation and modeling, not on lectures and textbooks.  Of course educators need to set the stage, but once that is done, the students are expected to explore topics by modeling the behavior of real scientists.  In other words, the shift is from learning about science, to actually doing experiments.

The fact that experimentation using zSpace is virtual is not a problem because objects have true 3-D representation.  The potential of this technology to transform STEM education is very high!

If you want to see this environment for yourself, free educational seminars are being offered across the country by zSpace. Please register at http://zspace.com/eduseminar. In my opinion, this is a technology worth watching closely

I’ve had the Polar3D (www.polar3d.com) printer for a couple of months and it is a delight to use. Norma found this printer at the ISTE conference, and it generated a lot of interest.

If you use PLA filament, the adhesive to the glass base plate is simply hairspray.  It does raftless printing very well so there is often no scrap to remove, and the print quality is amazing. The designers really thought this printer through.  It works right out of the box – no calibration required.  Filament loading and unloading is a breeze.  The initial software setup takes some work (and can be improved) but once done, you are all set.  The only challenge I’ve had is when I take the printer on the road and have to switch to a different network, but the phone help is quite patient with me.

Polar3D

Unlike my other printers, it prints from the cloud, so your stl files are saved in your online account.   Also, a built-in camera lets you see your job as it is printing from anywhere in the world you are logged in.

An advantage in school settings is that several printers can be set up in a central location and print jobs can be sent from any classroom using any internet-connected device.  This is clearly a printer worth looking at!

That said, this is a dynamic field and I’ll  be keeping my eyes open.

Like many of my generation, life changed a bit when Sputnik was launched in October, 1957. While many of my classmates were interested in rocketry, my own interest was more in the field of electronics – the instruments needed to make measurements of temperature, pressure, and other data that was then sent back to Earth by radio. Because I was an amateur radio operator at the time (K9SRW) who built all my own equipment, this was a natural extension of then-current interests. I remember walking part way home from high school just so I could stop at a local Army surplus store packed with boxes of resistors, capacitors, and other components including the transistors needed to build amplifiers, oscillators, and other circuits one might need.

Since, as I said, rocketry was not my goal, I looked for any way to get a project off the earth, even if it didn’t go into orbit. As a result, in 1961, the method I chose (helium-filled weather balloons) was not only inexpensive, it could be used to carry a pretty heavy payload (two kg or so). With my focus on the electronics, I built the transmitter, and the attachments needed to measure altitude, temperature, air pressure, luminosity, and to send the legally required Identification signal. All of these circuits were modular, and a lot of time was spent making sure everything worked. My father provided a photographic plate to see if I could detect cosmic rays (assuming I would get the plate back from the experiment so it could be developed.)

The finished payload was a cube about 30 cm on a side, and I built two of them – one in Styrofoam for launch, and one in clear plastic for testing and display for a science fair at my high school. I called the experiment Project HiBall (for high balloon, of course) and on launch day I just hoped everything worked.

Fortunately, the experiment was a success. The balloon headed west, and landed a day later on a farm in Iowa where a kind farmer found it and sent it to me. The data was not earth-shattering, but the experiments mostly worked as planned and the resulting science fair project was well-received, taking me to the State finals. While my interest in STEM subjects had already been formed, there is little question that this project strengthened these interests, setting the trajectory for my continued education.

SCAN0243

The reason I shared this experience with you is because, today, even more amazing options are available. The first technology to mention is the CubeSat- small (10 cm/side, about 1 kg)) satellites for student projects that stay in low-earth orbits for about a year (www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cubesats/). While most of the projects are done by college students, there is a special opportunity to expand this access to high school students. This project (ArduSat – http://www.ardusat.com) is based on the popular Arduino board used to send and receive data from all kinds of sensors and actuators. While most Arduino projects reside here on Earth, the Ardusat system lets students design and test experiments in their classroom that can then be sent to an Arduino-based CubeSat for testing in space. From my historical perspective, this is staggering!ardusat

The Arduino board connects to a computer and has numerous inputs and outputs for both digital and analog data. The Ardusat student kit includes some special sensors for luminosity, temperature, an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, barometer, UV sensor, infrared thermopile and other data sources. The whole kit is only $150 which is a bargain considering the specialized sensors it contains. While experiments can be designed and tested here on Earth, finished Arduino programs can be sent 450 km up to the Ardusat where experiments can be done and the data sent to Earth.

This goes way beyond what I was doing in 1961 in two very important ways. First, the experiments are done on an orbiting satellite. Second, the projects can be done by students without them having to design all the sensors and other equipment themselves. This has the effect of democratizing the endeavor, bringing an amazing opportunity for STEM education to students everywhere.

In addition to the hardware kits, Ardusat also has a lot of activities and experiments that can be downloaded and explored – including tutorials on the hardware itself. This material is generally released under a Creative Commons copyright, making it perfect for free classroom use.

In addition to the tutorials and other resources, the activities are keyed to both the Next Generation Science and the Common Core Standards. This adds value in that teachers can see how Ardusat projects tie into the standards they are expected to support without having to wade through the massive standards documents themselves.

There is no question in my mind that the project I did ages ago helped guide me into the sciences. What excites me more is that projects like Ardusat will achieve this result for thousands of kids who well then go on to invent our future.

Made in Space created the 3D printer installed on the International Space Station that works in a microgravity mediumenvironment.  NASA has decided to open the design process for some parts for the Station to the public.  For example, people are encouraged to submit designs for a handrail clamp to hold various objects (https://grabcad.com/challenges/nasa-handrail-clamp-assembly-challenge).  This competition (which ends in February) has cash awards, but I think no award could be greater than having something you designed installed on the ISS!

Check it out!

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,500 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

With the holidays getting into full gear, it seemed appropriate to make some gifts that won’t be found at the local store. One project we did was to design and build a 3D Tic Tac Toe set that could be made on a 3D printer. Since I’m currently writing a book on designing 3D shapes using the OpenSCAD language (www.openscad.org) it seemed appropriate to create our shapes with this tool. (By the way, you can get a draft of the book for free by contacting me.)

The game board is a square shape with eight rods on which pieces can be placed. The goal is to get three of the same shape in a row, either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally on any of the four faces. The game pieces are round balls and crosses with holes in them to let them stack on the rods.

The program for the board is:

// 3D Tic Tac Toe Base
$fn=100;
// game base
cube ([100, 100, 5]);
for (j=[0:1]){
for (i=[0:2]){
translate ([10+i*40, 10+j*80, 0]){
cylinder (80, 5, 5);
}}}
for (j=[0:1]){
translate ([10+j*80, 50, 0]){
cylinder (80, 5, 5);

(The details of programming in this language are included in the free book draft.)

3d tic tac toe board

The pieces (noughts and crosses) are designed in a second program and printed in an array of nine pieces, one shape at a time. For example, the program for the noughts is as follows:

// 3D tic tac toe pieces
$fn=100;
//nought
module nought (){
difference (){
sphere (15);
cylinder (40, 6, 6, center=true);
}

//cross
module cross (){
difference (){
union (){
rotate ([0, 45, 0]){
cube ([10, 16, 30], center=true);
}
rotate ([0, -45, 0]){
cube ([10, 16, 30], center=true);
}}
cylinder (40, 6, 6, center=true);
}}

//nought array
for (j=[0:2]){
for (i=[0:2]){
translate ([-25+i*35, j*35, 0]){
nought ();
}}}

noughts

To make the crosses, the noughts array needs to be replaced with this one:

//cross array
for (j=[0:2]){
for (i=[0:2]){
translate ([-25+i*35, j*35, 0]){
cross ();
}}}

crosses

All the pieces are exported as STL files for the printer to use, and I chose different colors for the board, the noughts and the crosses.

While the rules are the same as for ordinary tic tac toe, the game is made more challenging by addition of the four faces, and that any vertically stacked shape has to be on top of the platform or another shape.

I made 12 of each shape – enough to fill the entire board.

Enjoy your new game for the holidays and let me know what you think!  Write me at dthornburg@aol.com

On September 19-20 Norma and I attended the World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science. This extravaganza had so much to offer that two days were barely enough to scratch the surface. The Faire itself had everything from exhibits of new tools for makers to hands’-on areas where you could learn to solder, or build thngs of your own.

Kinderlab

Kinderlab

One of the many new products being demonstrated was the Kinderlab robotics system where kids can assemble computer

programs with wooden blocks whose bar codes were then scanned by a robotic platform that would then follow the instructions in the program. This project was one of several Kickstarter projects on display.

Based on our interests, we looked very closely at the 3D printing systems, along with some of the new CNC machines that cut elaborate shapes from blocks of wood, wax, plastic, or aluminum. On the 3D printer front, the M3D printer was

M3D Printer

M3D Printer

receiving a lot of attention. This under-$400 printer doesn’t have a very large print volume, but has some super features, including a special circuit that maintains alignment of the print head automatically. Many other 3D printers were on display but one of the ones getting a lot of attention was the new system being sold by Dremel. This is one of the first 3D printers with a well-known name behind it, and this device will be sold in places like Home Depot. When 3D rinters first started showing up for the hobby market, they required a lot of adjustment to keep them working well. In the following years, features (like self-leveling build plates) started to become more common. The fact that well-known brands are entering the market shows that this technolog is becoming mainstream. This doesn’t mean that smaller companies will go away, just that they will be held to high standards.

Dremel 3D Printer

Dremel 3D Printer

Of course, in this short posting, we can’t do justice to the Maker Faire. For example, two Italian exhibitors were showing

Chocolate iPhone Case

Chocolate iPhone Case

interesting devices, including a 3D printer using chocolate (in case you get hungry and want to eat your iPhone case). Another system from FABtotum in Milan combines a 3D printer, computer controlled milling machine, and high resolution scanner into one elegant box. Products like these help set the stage for the next Maker Faire!

MIT’s Mitch Resnick has said that Maker Faires are great staff development for educators. Our experience shows he is right.

Today was the first day of the World Maker Faire held at the New York Hall of Science, and Norma and I were there the whole day and still didn’t see everything. But we will go tomorrow as well. Once we get back to Chicago I’ll post a more detailed report with photos of some of the more amazing things we saw.

The 3D printer world continues to grow. Dremel (the popular maker of hand tools) showed their $1000 printer. While it is not as feature rich as other printers on the market, they have arranged to sell the device through Home Depot stores – starting with 100 stores and expanding from there. Needless to say, other vendors of 3D printers are paying close attention to Dremel.

Kickstarter had a region of the massive exhibit where (among many other things) M3D showed their $350 3D printer that self adjusts as it is making parts. The print space is not very big, but my guess is this will become a starter printer for many folks. Right now they are filling their first 11,000 orders.

NASA has an interesting exhibit, but was unable to get one of the special 3D printers planned to be launched to the ISS Sunday morning.

As regular readers of this blog know, Norma and I are focused on additive fabrication in which parts are built layer by layer in a 3D printer. Another fabrication process known for many more years is subtractive. You start with a block of material from which material is milled away to leave the final shape. Several vendors of these computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines were showing their products, but the one that really caught our attention was the Fabtotum from Italy. This machine functions as a traditional 3D printer, a CNC milling machine, and a 3D scanner. The system sells for about $1500. Needless to say we will be looking at this in more depth as we help schools think through the design of Maker Spaces where numerous kinds of tools are needed.

Later we’ll give our wrap-up of the entire event with pictures of some of the cooler things we saw.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,761 other followers