Tuesday, September 8, 2015

My STEAMy Summer

Hi Everyone! As usual, I've had quite a bit on my plate and have neglected this blog. I am vowing to change all of that this year and will be updating on a regular basis.

So, what have I been up to? Tons. Since I wrote here last (a whole year ago?!?), my life has been consumed by all things Ed Tech. I have been delivering and attending professional development workshops, teaching private STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math) classes to students of all ages, building robots, geeking out at ISTE 2015, and creating a "Makerspace"-style program at the high school where I teach. Oh, and I also produced a music video with some incredibly talented students.

During the last school year at Ocean Township High School, I was teaching both Digital Photography and another course I developed called Digital Media Design (DMD). DMD covered quite a bit in its scope - 3D printing, robotics, graphic design, social media, digital storytelling and more - a veritable smorgasbord of hands-on, project-based learning. Since its initial offering as a course two years ago, it has (thankfully) grown in popularity among students. So much so, that at the end of the 2014-2015 school year, I was asked to expand DMD's offerings and move it into a new physical space. What had been our school's wood shop since the school's opening in the 1960's was to become our new "Makerspace" or "FabLab," depending on the terminology of any given week. Whatever it was to be called, it would be a space where Art and Technology merge.

With this mission and a budget in place, my colleague Tom (who would ultimately be teaching DMD as well) and I got to work researching just what this "Maker Movement" was all about. Over the years, I have been to Maker Faire in Queens, NY (a Woodstock for geeks and techies) and have also spent time at the SI Makerspace in Staten Island, where everyone from welders to home brewers can rent space to make whatever their hearts desire (and with help from the very capable staffers). Our new research would take us deeper - to three sites: New Milford High School, Wall Township High School, and JC FabLab. Three glimpses into the Maker movement in public schools and another look at its commercial execution.

At Wall Township High School, we saw a state-of-the-art space, which incorporated aspects of woodworking, 3D printing, and prototyping. The big takeaway for us was that the woodworking power tools (mostly desktop) were in the same space as the other technologies. We had concerns about this and the associated dust it would generate. They addressed this issue via a powerful exhaust system, keeping the work space virtually dust-free. See images below:

Hand tool closet

Table top power tools with exhaust system

One of the high-end 3D printers

Their Makerbot

Next, we paid a visit to Laura Fleming at New Milford High School. Laura is a media specialist who decided to re-imagine her school's library space as a student-driven tinkering lab of sorts. While she doesn't teach a specific "maker" class, the space is open to students all day, and they may use the space to explore electronics, LEGOs, computer hardware, audio/video production, 3D printing, game design and more. See images below:

Little Bits experimentation station

Laura at the LEGO station

Students at the PC hardware station (love the re-purposed Mac bench seats!)

We then took a quick spin over to Jersey City to visit the JC FabLab (short for Jersey City Fabrication Lab). Situated in an old industrial space, this is a commercial facility that allows members access to woodworking tools, a vinyl cutter, 3D printer, an Epilog laser, silk screening, and a CNC router, among other things. See images below:

Some of the creations made at JC FabLab

The CNC router

3D printer

Epilog laser

This is where you can find JC FabLab

Our visits definitely got the wheels turning. So many variations on this new approach to applied technology. Now we faced big questions: What would our new space need to look like? What aspects of these technologies would we incorporate? How would it all fit together in a cohesive, engaging curriculum that would provide students with tangible, real-world skills? How do we integrate our existing woods program?

Here's our space as it looked in June, 2015:

I will post pics shortly of the space now as it is still taking shape. Regarding curriculum, we will be focusing on 3D printing, Robotics (via LEGO EV3 and Tetrix), prototyping using Arduinos, Makey Makeys and more, and some basic electronics by way of Little Bits, with some podcasting thrown in (if we have time). As the program evolves over this school year (and beyond), the plan is to fold back in aspects of woodworking and metal working.

Very exciting times, indeed!

Rather than ramble on even more, I'll close by mentioning the music video I created with the students of a program called SPEAK. This is my 5th year collaborating with these amazing kids (and their amazing facilitators). The program focuses on an anti-drug and anti-drinking message, so with that in mind, the students wrote lyrics to and performed an original song entitled, "Be A Role Model." The students also served as audio engineers and producers and music video directors. We hope you enjoy it!

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