At-Home Learning: Mister Rogers!

If you’re looking for educational programs for your kiddos (or something to soothe your soul), I highly recommend Fred Rogers iconic show.

I recently stumbled across a website that provides a weeks worth of Mister Rogers episodes for free! The episodes span the years of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with each set going through a complete storyline.

I’ve found that watching an episode before bed is like balm for my soul. It is greatly helping to reduce anxiety and stress, remind me of kindness in the world, and just makes me feel all sorts of calmness and joy.

It has also reminded me of how Mister Rogers’ encourages curiosity, exploration, and problem-solving across a wide variety of subjects that meet educational needs and standards. The most obvious connection is with the recent inclusion of Social and Emotional Learning (“SEL”) skill development, but the suggestions and ideas from the show also help children learn how to make music, build things, and learn through experimentation. These are foundations of Next Generation Science Standards, and give kids life-long skills like independent learning, making and using models, learning through experimentation and observation, and many, many more.

You can also use Rogers’ episodes as jumping-off points for challenges or questions to pose to your child. For example, with an episode about whistles, you could use the following prompts for self-directed learning (with some “I wonder why…?” splashed in there):

  • What do different objects sound like? What do you notice about the different sounds? What are some objects that sound similar? What are some objects that sound different?
  • What are some different ways to make instruments? How many different kinds of instruments can you make?
    • Hint: give your child some assorted things from around the house: containers (clean things from trash/recycling are great), rubber bands, cardboard, wooden spoons, metal spoons, string, felt or fabric, toothpicks, etc. etc.
  • What are some different ways to make rhythms? What does mad sound like? What does happy sound like? What does confused sound like? Write a song about what you’re feeling and perform for me later!

A few everyday materials and the right prompt can keep your child occupied and learning for hours on end. Please leave a comment if you need any other help or suggestions!

Here is the website, enjoy! 

How to bring tech and making into any classroom! (1/4)

Turns out Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus had it right all along! In the era of the Next Generation Science Standards, there is a great deal of evidence that experiential and project-based learning are effective approaches to education. As described in the Cambridge Handbook of Learning Sciences, project-based classrooms provide opportunities for students to “investigate questions, propose hypotheses and explanations, discuss their ideas, challenge the ideas of others, and try out new ideas.” All of this leads to higher test scores than in traditional classrooms.
While we educators may lack the magic necessary to shrink our bodies or travel through the solar system, technology can be an excellent, “magic-like” tool for teaching project-based learning across a wide variety of subjects. When implemented with care and intention, electronics and tech can enhance and expand the realm of possibilities, providing students with direct, hands-on experience of phenomena. A handful of carefully chosen equipment and materials provide an open-ended platform for endless variations of creativity, application, and exploration.
One of the major obstacles in getting started is figuring out what, and how much, to choose. The plethora of options can be daunting and it is not always obvious how to incorporate into a classroom. Here are four principles to help guide you as you make lesson and product choices:
1. Use what you have;
2. Let the students lead (peer-to-peer and even peer-to-teacher education);
3. Broken is better; and
4. Pass it on!
The remainder of this article will expand on the first principle: Use what you have. We will publish more in-depth articles on the remaining principles in the weeks to come, so stay tuned!
Principle 1: Use what you have.
Whether you are looking to teach history or robotics, there are many learning opportunities within everyday materials, particularly when paired with “smart” devices like computers, microcontrollers, or other Integrated Circuits (“ICs”).
Investing in an appropriate microcontroller* for your classroom gives your students more diverse options for projects and invites cross-disciplinary learning opportunities, a key foundation of NGSS. Microcontrollers can add coding to art, and art to coding. If you need some help choosing an effective microcontroller for your classroom, here’s an overview of some common, beginner-friendly microcontrollers.
Free or inexpensive components can be used in alternative ways: LEDs are also light sensors, motors generate electricity when spun, and speakers can be used as a microphone! Finding alternative uses for parts offers students a fun challenge and is a great way to explore connections across fundamental phenomena: Why is a motor also a generator? What does this tell us about how electricity and magnetism work together?
Encourage your students to ask deeper questions and look for connections.
Is there a closet full of old computers, telephones, printers, etc? Perfect! Old tech is often easier to understand because the pieces inside are larger and easier to see than in newer technology. Larger parts are also easier to harvest, or pull out for closer examination and/or use in other projects.
Guide the students in taking apart unused devices. If it’s broken, can the students figure out why? Is it possible to fix or hack it to do something different? If not, how could the students use the parts in new ways? What parts might the students harvest for other projects?
Here is a list of some parts that can be harvested without specialized tools and used in a wide variety of projects:
  • Motors
    • Motors can be used in a wide variety of projects including robotics, puppet shows, art projects, and creative music-making. This is a wonderful alternative to traditional robotics programs as it allows for a wider variety of ingenuity and a deep understanding of how motors function.
    • There are different types of motors that require different signals to turn on: DC motors, stepper motors, and servo motors are the most common. DC motors can be powered directly with a battery, while stepper motors will require a more finely tuned signal from a computer or microcontroller. Unsure what type of motor you discovered? Use three or four AA batteries or a 9V battery to touch the motor connections and explore how and when it moves.
  • Speakers
    • From special effects to science experiments, sound is exciting! Harvested speakers offer the opportunity to observe how sound waves are generated, how sound travel through different materials, and how waves move in general.
    • Connect a 9V battery to the speaker terminals to move and “beep” it, or use the speaker with a microcontroller and/or other amplifier circuit to create instruments, sound effects, and music. Speakers can also be used as an input when connected to an audio amplification circuit.
  • Electromechanical parts like switches, pushbuttons, relays, and connectors
    • Switches and buttons provide a way for us to interact with circuits and electronics. They can be used to explore analog and digital signals, build logic gates, create cause-and-effect machines, and design communication systems, as well as many other possibilities.
    • A relay is an electronic switch for two separate circuits that make a “click” sound when activated. Relays are one way to control motors with a lower-power circuit.
    • Electrical connectors come in an astounding variety of types, shapes, mechanical and electrical connection mechanisms. They help make the electronics sturdier and easier to store, transport, and modify. And of course, they can be used to add flair to projects sans electricity!
  • Sensors
    • Many electronics have infrared (IR) transmitters and/or receivers, which can be hacked to build remote controls for robots and other projects. Solar path lights and CD/DVD drives contain light sensors, security lights have passive IR sensors, and many printers have optical encoders!
  • Transistors
    • If you have tech that qualifies as antique, you may be able to find transistors that can be reused (in newer tech, they are so small that they are invisible to the human eye). Observing transistors in older tech is an excellent pathway through computer history, design, and hardware function.
    • If observation of transistors isn’t the educational opportunity you need, they can be used to add autonomy and logic to circuits, or can act as a controller for output devices like lights, speakers, or low-power motors.
  • Mechanical parts like springs, gears, drive shafts, etc.
    • One of the main challenges in doing engineering projects is having make functional gears. Avoid all of that by taking apart a printer and pulling out the mechanical components. Electronic toys that move are another good source for gears and mechanical mechanisms, and can be hacked or “mashed” together in combinations that span delightful and eerie.
A quick note on safety when doing take-aparts:
  • Unplug the electronics and leave unplugged for a minimum of two (2) weeks.
  • Avoid large appliances, microwaves, and ink-jet printers (or just take out the ink cartridges)
  • Always wash hands afterwards. Students should keep food and drink in closed containers and off the tables.
  • Do not force anything open or closed. The biggest hazard with take-apart activities are sharps caused by broken parts when someone tries to pull a case open without properly removing all the screws.
Even without harvesting parts, seeing the inside of electronics is an effective and memorable way to explore how these devices are made and how they function. Once students see the insides of a few different devices, they will quickly identify connections across all electronics and have a better understanding of the “magic” behind the tech.
Aside from electronics, there are tons of useful and versatile materials all around us! Cardboard, paper, plastic containers, pipe cleaners, brads, clothespins, and office supplies are incredibly versatile. Use these materials in conjunction with the tech you have available, or as stand-alone project-based lessons in science, math, history, and other subjects. How might your students explore various ways to build moving mechanisms with cardboard and paper brads? How might your students use colored paper to explore how light is absorbed and reflected? How might your students explore and visualize sound?
Often, the key to incorporating project-based learning is providing the appropriate challenge. The best challenges allow for a wide variety of creations, are accessible and relevant to the students’ lives, and are as fun to mess up as they are to achieve! Challenges do not need to be binary or only one goal or path-oriented. The most effective challenges are those with the most room for surprises and “broken” rules.
With all of that said (well, written), the only thing you really need to remember is that you can do a lot, including incorporating and meeting NGSS, with what you already have. Look around, look inside, and look for connections!
Please reach out if you have any questions about this principle or if you’re looking for ideas in getting started. Happy learning!
* Wait wait wait… what is a microcontroller? Excellent question! A microcontroller is a “simple computer” that runs one program at a time. Examples of microcontrollers are Internet routers, TV remotes, and video game controllers.

Science Research is Important! Here’s why.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a paleontologist, geologist, philosopher, and Jesuit priest, wrote: “The history of the living world is an elaboration of ever more perfect eyes in a cosmos in which there is always something new to be seen.” Humans have long sought answers to the mysteries of the natural world. Eventually, our curiosity helped us to develop the scientific method.

 

Today, support for basic scientific research in the United States is shrinking. There are fewer opportunities for careers in research, and we are attracting less and less qualified students both domestically and abroad. This is alarming as the neglect of basic research could be disastrous for our society and our species.

 

As stated by Daniel Kleppner, a physicist at MIT, “If our civilization succeeds in learning to live in harmony with the natural world, science will have played a crucial role in the transition.” Right now, we must convince Congress of this urgent fact. There is much to be optimistic about: the numbers of scientifically literate citizens and members of Congress are growing. But we must speak up about the importance of basic research if we are to save it.

Image result for climate change

Climate change is a serious and life-threatening hurdle for our species. We need new ways to deal with the rapid change in our climate and in our ecosystems. In fact, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”) concludes “that previous reports erred in being to cautious: The time to stem the flow of greenhouse gases is shorter than had been estimated. We face the possibility of a runaway situation in which an increase in global temperature feeds back to accelerate global heating. Such a process would lead to a massive change in climate and a catastrophic elevation of sea level. We face a threat to civilization.”

Basic research has brought us tools and techniques that allow us to measure data critical to understanding Earth and the cosmos. For example, GPS few out of simple curiosity about general relativity, studies of atomic nuclei brought us the invention of MRI, and experiments of molecules in space lead to the development of the laser.

Yayy science for bringing us lasers!!
Humanity needs basic research to explore the mysteries of our existence as well as to ensure our species continues to thrive in harmony with nature. We need scientists from all backgrounds to bring new ideas and novel solutions to the table. We need you, dear reader, to ask your most burning questions and to seek answers using whatever tools and resources are available. And of course, to promote science in the classroom, in the community, and in Congress.

 

Please consider calling your local, state, and federal representatives and urge them to support funding for basic scientific research. Our very lives depend on it.

 

 

The inspiration for this post:
https://doi.org/10.1063/PT.3.4194

FoxBot Founder/CEO at 2019 Ann Arbor Creativity and Making Expo!

AACME-2019-FB.png

Hello to our Maker friends in the Midwest! We are so excited that our founder/CEO, Jen Foxbot, is a featured speaker at the Ann Arbor Creativity and Making Expo on May 19th!

Fox will be doing a live demo involving Arduino and Excel as well as filming a Math Mondays episode at the Ann Arbor District Library. If you’re in the area, swing by, say hello, and learn some cool tech tricks!

To learn more, please visit the AACME website.

Hope to see y’all there!!