This Week in the Classroom: Aerial Photography via Balloon for Under $30

This quarter, my students have been building an incredible number of STEM-based projects in preparation for a show-and-tell science fair in March.  Every year, I often recycle two or three projects, assigning particular journeys to particular students for particular reasons.  And every year, I try to introduce something new.  This year, a student suggested unmanned flight.  I don’t have a quadracopter handy, so we settled on balloon flight.

Just like in the 1800’s.  We were hoping for something that looked like this:

Aerial Balloon Photography from the 1850’s

We were able to capture this:

Up in the Air

Stay on after the jump to see the rigging and get instructions to build your own balloon photography rig for under $30.

Continue reading “This Week in the Classroom: Aerial Photography via Balloon for Under $30”

This Week in the Classroom: The Simple Coffee Table

Some quick pictures of coffee tables that the kids and I built at school this fall.  We sold six of these pieces at $60 each as a fall fundraiser for my classroom.  With the proceeds, we were able to buy mounds of safety equipment, a new drill press and some VOC respirators for finishing.

This project offers a lot of customization for the builder.  The top can be sourced from nearly anywhere: old shutters, heavy duty lumbar, salvaged pine boards, etc.  Lowe’s and Home Depot sell Parson’s Table Legs which can be pressed into service, or you can buy squared lumber.

Or you can have a full woodshop and go Fine Woodworking on this one.

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You can get a SketchUp file and plans for the Simple Coffee Table after the jump.

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Continue reading “This Week in the Classroom: The Simple Coffee Table”

How to Design a Project-Based Learning Unit (with Catapults & Derby Cars)

As a teacher of mostly teenage boys, I can say my kids want to see three things:  something on fire, something crashing, or something flying (and then crashing).  I love teaching middle-school science because I get to teach motion, which sets things crashing and stuff flying.  As written by Jim Steinman and sung by Mr. Loaf, two out of three ain’t bad.  So how do I go from standards to a project idea to a curriculum  unit?

Boom, Boom, Boom. Essential Question:  Can I make a catapult shoot a ping pong ball thirty feet?  And use it in zombie self defense?
Boom, Boom, Boom.
Essential Question: Can I make a catapult shoot a ping pong ball thirty feet? And use it in zombie self defense?

Personally, I take a five step approach:

  1. Reference standards,
  2. Pick a project,
  3. Choose an excellent essential question,
  4. Find cross-curriculum opportunities,
  5. Generate weekly Maker labs.

After the jump, I’ll expand on each of these points and share some of my curriculum planning tools.  Come on in and see how the engine of a classroom might work.

Essential Question:  How can I increase a derby car's velocity?  Proven: adding force (motors) to an object's motion increases it's acceleration and velocity.
Essential Question: How can I increase a derby car’s velocity? Proven: adding force (motors) to an object’s motion increases it’s acceleration and velocity.

Continue reading “How to Design a Project-Based Learning Unit (with Catapults & Derby Cars)”

Making a Makerspace: Building Out the Steamworks

This is the second in my “Making a Makerspace” series.  Catch part 1, Planning the STEAMworks, here.

With my planning done, I turned my attention to “building out” the makerspace.  My original plan called for a long woodworking bench against a pair of bay windows with two tool cabinets and four mobile workstations with integrated tool storage.  I thought the makerspace would look something like this:

STEAMWORKS Plan Final As the new school came closer and closer to completion, I realized my room would begin to more like this:

DSC02897

Keep with me after the jump, as I show of my workspace and even provide plans on how to build a Long Bench and Mobile Workstation for your own makerspace.

Continue reading “Making a Makerspace: Building Out the Steamworks”

Making a Makerspace: Planning the Steamworks

This fall, I move into a brand-spanking new classroom.  As part of this move, I’ve been heavily involved in the planning, organizing and logistics of moving my school’s Math & Science program into our new digs.  In the words of a close colleague of mine, what a great problem to have!  Long term readers of this blog have probably noticed a distinct drop off in posts over the past year – well, this massive move has been the main focus of my long-term planning and energy, leaving little left over for blogging or new projects.IMG_6409

That’s about to change.  This is the first of a series of posts on how I’m transforming an empty 20′ x 20′ room into a Makerspace.  I will be posting progress reports throughout the Fall 2013 semester, so keep checking back.  This post will focus on planning out the Makerspace, which I’ve named the STEAMworks. Continue reading “Making a Makerspace: Planning the Steamworks”

This Week in the Shop: A Simple Pin Marking Gauge

To end the year, my students have been making simple marking gauges.  My students learned to create a mortise and use hand planes to fit a tenon in this particular project. Here’s how we did it. 1.  Cut a 1″ or 3/4″ square oak strip into 8″ lengths. 2.  Cut a 2″ length from a maple strip about 2″ wide, giving you a 2″ x 2″ square. 3.  Use the oak strip to mark your mortise in the center of the maple square.  We did this by marking two diagonals across the maple square and then eye-balling the center.  Mark the square … Continue reading This Week in the Shop: A Simple Pin Marking Gauge

Community Watch: Build a Bench Is Complete!

Of the three or so classes I’ve taught at TX/RX Labs and the twenty to thirty projects I’ve taught at work, the simple bench project remains my favorite.  It is an intermediate level project which can be reached by absolute beginners, it’s cheap to build (approximately $15 w/ finish) and it lends itself to multiple machines (tablesaw, bandsaw, drill press) and hand tools. I present the latest and greatest class yet: Special thanks to Pratt for building extra supports for himself and everyone else, shout out to Sean for the intense questions, my teaching assistants, and everyone else in the … Continue reading Community Watch: Build a Bench Is Complete!

This Week in the Classroom: Pantographs

My school spends a lot of time, energy and financial resources on project-based learning.  In my experience, teachers use project-based learning as a catch-all term for anything from make-it-take-it projects which last twenty minutes to inquiry-driven, rubric-graded, long-term explorations.  Calling the former project-based learning is lazy and misdirection.  Creating incredible experiences for students with the latter definition is exhausting and rewarding.  Most of the time, a teacher must follow a middle course.  This is one of those projects. We started off by designing and building pantographs.  If you don’t know anything about pantographs – check out the video below.  Also … Continue reading This Week in the Classroom: Pantographs

Classroom Project: Try Squares

In my Applied Mathematics class, woodshop has put the shop in applied.  During a unit on fractions, I asked students to build a number of these try squares, all different shapes and sizes.  In order to assess my students ability to read a ruler and calculate fractions, I made all the dimensions wonky.  No 8″ cuts for my students!  Dimensions looked like 8 3/4″, 4 3/8″, 5 “1/16 and all sorts of foolishness.  Once I felt my students had mastered the build process, we took our show to Houston’s Mini-Maker Faire! The construction process for a tool like this can … Continue reading Classroom Project: Try Squares

This Week in the Classroom: Rulers & Frames

Applied Math Made Easy, a hands-on, application-heavy curriculum designed by a pair of teachers from Wisconsin, has a number of great math labs and activities.  Using worksheets to convey directions and learning, the curriculum utilizes a conversationalist tone and “interactive reading” (their term, not mine) to let students learn middle school to high school level mathematics – about a 9th to 10th grade range.  I’ve co-taught with teachers who’ve used this curriculum and I can say this:  it works.  Incredibly well, when your students can read, understand and follow instructions at a high school level. I don’t teach those kids. So … Continue reading This Week in the Classroom: Rulers & Frames