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”

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: What Do We Make Here? Some Capabilities and Tools for Your Educational Makerspace

This is Part 3 in my Making a Makerspace series.  If this interests you, catch parts one and two. A makerspace is a space for a group of interesting and creative people to make something.  Makerspaces differ from traditional constructional spaces in schools such as woodshops, auto mechanics shops, tech labs, etc because making brings three ideas into the classroom: collaboration, communication and personal fabrication.  Personal fabrication brings new, ever-cheaper technologies, such as 3D printing and desktop CNC machines, into the classroom for educational use.  Collaboration focuses on group and community work, whether in the shop space, your local community … Continue reading Making a Makerspace: What Do We Make Here? Some Capabilities and Tools for Your Educational Makerspace

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”

Community Watch: Sustainable Living Fest of Houston, TX

This weekend I got the opportunity to enjoy a some beautiful weather & check out Houston’s Sustainable Living Fest held at Market Square Park.  Houston might be the epicenter of the oil & gas industry, but it has a wonderful green and sustainable environmental underground.  There’s a lot of cross-pollination too.  For example, the Galveston Bay Foundation raises salt marsh grass in donated space inside a NRG power plant.  The City of Houston has a number of big corporations headquartered here and its also funds the Houston ReUse Warehouse. Lots of companies, non-profits and government agencies were represented yesterday.  Hope … Continue reading Community Watch: Sustainable Living Fest of Houston, TX

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

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

Courses: Fall 2012

At TX/RX Labs: Woodworking: Create a small hardwood box using router, planer, bandsaw, handplane/jointer, table saw or miter saw (also known as the Tea Box Project) In the School Classroom: Computer Applications: CAD In this course, students will create and build physical and digital representations of the world around them.  The act of drafting, whether on paper or computer, engages a student’s visual-spatial skills and connects intimately with their understanding of geometry.  Students will also engage in a semester long product development course which will support their mathematics course work.  Computer Assisted Design is the use of computers and specialized software … Continue reading Courses: Fall 2012

Community Watch: It’s Build a Box Day!

Today at TX/RX Labs, I’ll be leading a class in building a few of these tea boxes.  I’m sending a box to one random contestant on WoodshopCowboy Facebook page, just in time for Christmas. Remember to like WoodshopCowboy on Facebook! And remember: Make it safe & keep the rubber side down this weekend. Continue reading Community Watch: It’s Build a Box Day!