Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Engineering and Making in After School Enrichment

For the last four weeks I have been working with an amazing group of engineers.  The enrichment room after school on Thursdays has been filled with students making and exploring a variety of materials in an after school enrichment class.  I have been amazed at the work that students in first through third grade can accomplish in one hour.  Although I try to support their efforts with some preliminary guidelines and the right tools, they have been creative and innovative in their approach and their results.  I have also witnessed awesome collaboration.  This is a group of students who have been put together based on their interest in learning more about engineering through making....but they have shown great teamwork and support as they problem solve (sometimes  frustrating problems).

This post is to share their great work, but it is also to encourage other students to learn through making. Perhaps a project on here will spark your interest.  I have tried to include materials suggestions, but feel free to let me know if you would like more details about any of our projects.

Week 1:
We made Jitterbots.  A basic Jitterbot includes an old CD with 6-8 golf tees hot-glued to one side (for legs). On the opposite side a small motor and battery are added.  Students must wire the battery to the motor, and then create their own character Jitterbot.  In our class we had bugs, aliens, buildings and more! In order to make a working bot, you must understand the basic idea of a closed circuit as well as how to create a jittery motion by the balance and design of your bot.
Week 2:
 We utilized the RES computer lab to learn about computer programming.  We began our time together with Mrs. Rankin acting like a computer. Students came to understand that unless their directions to me were very clear and specific that they would be met with "I am sorry I do not understand that command" in a silly robotic voice.  After a few minutes they got the idea of being specific and direct and we headed to the lab to try coding.    We utilized the website: which is full of great  coding activities at all levels.  The great part about this website is that it walks you through the steps of coding AND it scaffolds your learning as you grow your knowledge.  Several students ended the day with a Flappy the Bird computer game which they had generated.  You can even play one of the games they created here (This one is by second grader, Brady):
Although we did not get to it on this day, I also recommend for basic and challenging coding for students.
 Week 3:
We created squishy circuits.  Students used playdoh and a squishy circuit kit that I created from spare parts and some LEDs.  Squishy circuits are a popular tool for teaching the fundamentals of electricity, while at the same time enjoying the creativity that is sparked by the ease and accessibility of playdoh use.  For more information on how to make squishy circuit dough, or some ideas of activities, check out this site: 
Students made everything from light up trains to bugs as they experimented with how to complete a circuit using dough.
Week 4:
This year Ms. Darby,a third grade teacher, and myself were lucky to receive a grant for RES to purchase equipment which supported increased inquiry and hands on learning.  Part of this grant money was used to purchase Little Bits kits.  These electronics kits are magnetized connectable circuits of many types.  Students used these to build electric toothbrushes, hairdryers, games, jumping animals, lego and kinect cars and more!  

This week we will end our after school class by taking apart some old electronics and making something new.  I will be sad to see this class end, but I look forward to hearing about what these students continue to do on their own AND perhaps what you make after reading this post!

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