Clear Workspace, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose.

 

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It might not look it, but this is wildly more organized than it once was.

This past week has filled me with energy and excitement. Not because of some awesome project being completed, or students being wildly engaged in our projects, or the prospect of two weeks off just a few short weeks away, but because my space is starting to feel organized.

I adopted a shop classroom that was built in the 60’s just last year. It is massive, well outfitted and perfectly functional. Its greatest fault however is that it is filled with junk. After nearly 60 years, junk accumulates…lots of junk. And the previous 2 teachers have made a dent in even more junk according to my colleagues. But it is still far too much junk.

On Wednesday I went out shopping while students were busy testing. I went to the big box store and picked up new shop vac filters, new big shop brooms, a giant bottle of concentrated all purpose cleaner, along with some replacement drill bits and other sundries. And then I started cleaning, and cleaning and cleaning. I got obsessed, and it was wonderful. Now, the shop is nearly usable.

Most excitingly, I have a crew of students who have signed up to help me with redesigning and re-configuring the woodshop for student use, and this little cleaning session has jump started that project so the students can focus on how they want the shop laid out. I want them to steer the ship on how to practically lay out the space and the tools so that it works for them and the work they want to do. I want to make sure ytools are usable by mt 3’11” 6th graders, and my 7’2″ 8th graders. I want everything in the shop to be visible and accessible. I want clean and organized lumber storage. I want a safe, and inspiring woodshop to encourage students to jump in and make something. But, at the end of the day, what the final product that meets those objectives is firmly in the hands of the students who will use it.

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Before.
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After.

Outside of the classroom, the long neglected woodshop at the neighborhood makerspace, Splatspace got the same makeover treatment. With power in numbers, in a single day, the space went from absolute unusable disaster zone to a space that people are now excited to get into and use. Over the next few weeks and months, I’m going to be looking to improve this space for use by adults and creatives…including the possibility of a Maslow CNC.

At the end of the day, I think the mess and the clutter had been keeping my brain a bit messy and cluttered. Now, with two clean and ready to run workspaces, my head feels cleared up and excited, and more importantly inspired.

Cue the goofy wood turning projects, and silly gift projects for the lovely month of December.

 

 

The flury of a new school year.

Sometimes it seems like these days go by way to quickly. Seems like yesterday that another school year has started, and I haven’t written here in nearly a year. I think I’ve got to slow down sometimes, so that is what we’ll do today.

The School Year

This school year is cruising. The classroom is organized, the projects are working, and here in year two in the new school, I’m starting to get my footing. I’m looking forward to taking on bigger challenges now that I’m comfy and cozy in the space. I want to completely rehab our sad old woodshop, and I’ve already got a student team in place to take on that challenge.

I want to take on more real-world problems for our students to solve, and fixing issues like our decaying ‘outdoor classroom’, or continuing to rehab and modernize our old shop class into a modern fabrication lab are the tasks that keep me happy.

 

Woodshopping

I’ve been spending a good amount of time in various woodshops these days. I took a woodturning course, and now a furniture woodworking course at a local community college. Now the challenge is getting a shop put together that I can use. Between the neighborhood makerspace, my garage and my classroom, I’ve got the tools for a great shop, but none of them are organized and ready to use. I’ve got to make the time and make it happen to have a shop that I would be proud to work in…or maybe end up with two shops I would be proud to work in.

 

 

Javascript & Django & Etc.

I’ve been working on building up a better skill set in full stack development so that I can prototype simple data collection tools for the classroom. I’ve got a bunch of Udemy classes to mill through, and no time to get through them.

Homeowning

Probably my biggest time sink is the new found homeowner lifestyle. Between replacing light fixtures, managing plumbing issues, raking leaves and tending to the yard, there is never a dull moment at home. But obviously I love it dearly. With plans for put together a new kitchen island, and possible add a second bathroom in the very near future.

Brewing

After successfully brewing 3 batches for a friends wedding, I’ve put the homebrewing on pause so I can get the kind of distance from the hobby that will make me want to return to it again. I’ve made some modifications to my system in the mean time, aiming to start putting together 2.5gallon recipes to brew in doors as the winter begins to rear its nasty head.

In Conclusion

I don’t stop to recognize the amount of balls I have in the air very often. I’ve always known I’m the kind of person to absorb to many hobbies and too many things, and I’ll often find time to reset, pull those hobbies back and focus on what I really love. And I’ve really got to use this blog as an outlet to reflect and share.

 

Quick Design Communication & Woodworking Project – 2×4 Challenge

There often comes a time in my class, especially with my 8th grade, where students get restless and feel like they haven’t done anything ‘hands on’ in weeks. Sometimes that’s true, we’ll be buried in our PCs learning more CAD concepts or working on project reports, and sometimes that isn’t all the true. Either way, there comes a point where I know we need to get tools into the kids hands.

Wrapping up my first year teaching Project Lead the Way’s Design and Modeling course, my students had completed most of the curriculum. They had gone through sketching, into CAD modeling and had become very capable communicators of their ideas. I wanted to create a project that was fast, that they could quickly model in CAD and then fabricate as soon as they had a clear CAD model.

…in a bit of a selfish need, I also knew I wanted to get rid of nearly a pallet of 2x4s that were taking valuable woodshop square footage. I think they were from an old catapult project, but I honestly have no idea. There were a relic that came with the shop when I came through the door.

So the design challenge was simple. Students could fabricate anything they wanted out of a 48″ length of 2×4. The only constraints were that they could only make crosscuts and 45 degree miters in a miter box. They were tasked with creating a design model and a complete cut list, and with that completed, they were allowed to grab a board and head over to the miter saw stations (after completing a safety check off).

The project was an awesome success. Students went on to learn construction using drills and drivers, and put down a coat (or a few to many coats) or spray paint to make their final designs. They weren’t always pretty, or complicated (it isn’t easy to do something to crazy with only rough cross and miter cuts), but they designed, fabricated and finished by the students.

I even went on to repeat the project with the 6th grade, with a few more constraints and using another stockpile of 1×2″ scrap boards. They were able to design quickly in Tinkercad, show their designs created with only miter cuts. They were also given the theme constraint of ‘yard games’.

There are a couple of take aways from this project now that it is completed. Firstly, students need some constraints to function. My 8th grade had a massive amount of issues when I told them they could make anything. Once a few theme ideas and examples were thrown out, they very quickly got themselves moving, but the limitless options got them stuck.

Secondly, finding a way to meld design communication into a tangible build brought out motivation in every student. Knowing they had the tools and materials ready when their design was complete had students pushing hard, even graciously accepting my critiques of the designs and getting back to work to revise them.

Third, once the design was out of the way, the cutting and assembly became play. It took me awhile to realize what was happening in the room, but once I saw it, I knew everyone was having fun. The students were playing. Safely, obviously, but they were moving around the room, they were putting in work to rip through the 2x4s. They were taking turns, having friends take over the cutting after they got tired.

This is a project I’ll be keeping in my back pocket. It was quick, inexpensive, effective and most importantly, it was fun. With the semester wrapping up, I’m even looking to move it further up in the next semester, letting students dive into it almost straight away.

 

 

Laser Cut Bowls For Fun and For Good

Each year, we do a fundraiser for local food pantries and homeless shelters. The aim is to raise awareness, and help address hunger in our local area. An integral part of this fundraiser are decorative bowls that are given out as keepsakes of each years events. This year, I was tasked with producing bowls, and needed to splice this task with getting the 6th grade confident in 2D design and laser cutting.

The result is simple laser cut bowls made of concentric layers that are rotated and glued to create the final form. The design process is simple and comes out intricate and quite beautiful.

The designs are done in Gravit.io, an amazing vector illustration tool that runs perfectly in the browser. To get my students into designing quickly. I put together a step by step guide, as well as a walkthrough video that you can use easily to get going. You can see the video and the guide here.

This lesson took two 70 minute periods, one to design and one to assemble. Most of the laser cutting took place outside of classtime in order to keep the project moving forward, but could certainly be done during class time with each bowl taking no more than 10 minutes to cut out. It would be a perfect introduction to the operation of the laser cutter as well.

In the end, these bowls were huge hit. In fact, we were asked to make an additional batch of 15 in a bit of a larger size as gifts for hosts during an Upper School exchange trip. It is certainly one of those rare and wonderful successes in the space this year.

Brew Day Debrief: Kitchen Sink Extract

I haven’t brewed in a long time, way too long. For plenty of reasons, it has been nearly impossible to carve out 5 hours on a weekend to make it happen. Plus, I’ve been prepping for the BJCP exam, so brewing as been second to drinking and studying leading up to that. But now I’ve taken the exam, and I’ve been pushing myself to open up the weekend shop and brewing time. So, I decided to do something quick and easy, an extract batch.

Heres the recipe for a 2 gallon batch:

  • 3.3lbs Briess Light Pilsner LME
  • 1lb rolled oats steeped for 20 minutes
  • 0.3oz Falconers Flight 7C’s – 60 minutes
  • 0.2oz each of Amarillo, Centennial, Simcoe – 5 minutes
  • 0.2oz each of Amarillo, Centennial, Simcoe – Whirlpool / Chilling
  • 0.6oz each of Amarillo, Centennial, Simcoe – 7 Day Dry Hop

This is what I am affectionately calling the Kitchen Sink Extract Pale Ale. It is using up a few older bags of Amarillo, Centennial, and Simcoe I had in the fridge from my Hop Hands clone attempts, and a very old back of the 7C’s I didn’t even know I had. The oats were thrown in just for fun, not really expecting any real contribution…I just wanted to add something. Not sure really wether to call this a Pale Ale or an IPA. It doesn’t quite have the gravity for an IPA, but it has the bitterness.

I nailed that estimated gravity I got from Beersmith. Nice boil for 90 minutes. Nothing out of the ordinary.

I’ve been experimenting with different ways of cooling. I have my wort chiller, but I don’t have a hose line to connect it to, so I use a simple submersible pump. Usually I’ll run that from a bucket in the kitchen, but that has been a bit messy at times, so I started running it in the shower. That has been much cleaner, and moving the 2 gallon container isn’t hard…however, I’ve had to move the vessel again after chilling to transfer into the fermenter bucket. This time, I took the time to plan a bit better and came up with this system:

The next step is to add a valve to this kettle to make transferring to the fermenter easier, and cleaner hopefully following the whirlpool.

On the brew system to do list for this week:

  • Make room in the beer fridge for a fermenter bucket to cold crash / dry hop next week. Maybe do a gelatin fining addition as well? This batch seemed super truby.
  • Put the a valve on this boil kettle.
  • Design / Order Parts for the recirculation sprayer on the electric mash tun system. Maybe clean up the pump arrangement rather than leaving it floating on the table. Maybe look into quick release fittings?
  • Move the fermenter from the hot water bath with the aquarium heater, into the fridge with the microspace heater.
  • Plan batch for brewing this weekend…if I have time over the weekend…maybe a snowday batch?!

 

Game Design & Unfettered Creativity

We’ve just begun a new semester, and the 7th grade are starting the semester with a unit on Game Design. The objective is to highlight systems level thinking, slip in some engineering concepts, and transition to some computer science in the form of video game development. However, I’ve tapped into a level of creativity I haven’t seen in my classroom before.

We started this whole unit by building a simple game. A ‘Race to the End’ game. Inspired by Game Design Concepts by Ian Schreiber, the challenge was to build a simple game whose objective is to reach the end of a path. Then, students add a theme, add conflict and make these game their own, adding their own creative twist.

And boy did they. Nearly every game involves a physical component I would have never though of. Students are playing the role of the famous school house ghost, Priscilla. Students are being forced to ‘smell the trash can.’ There are jumping jacks being done in the back of the room. Spontaneous singing. Some perhaps cross the line, but largely, kids were being kids and fun was being had. Sure, some marker end up on some faces, but that was a small price to pay for the kind of engagement that was happening in the room.

At the end of the day, I’m super happy with a project that let students run in whatever direction they wanted. The balance of a bit of structure with enough open-endedness allowed for meaningful engagement. As we carry the skills that we learned with this game into another, perhaps even more open ended board game, and eventually into developing video games, the fun that was sparked with this project will carry them through to even more amazing end products.

 

Design Challenge: The Foam Wood Derby

I’ve always wanted to run a super face paced pinewood derby style race. As I designed some simple, messy projects for the 8th grade as sort of fun one off projects, I decided to make the idea a reality.

The design is simple. Each group (or individual if your group is small enough) has two deliverables. A car carved out of foam, and a top and side drawing of the car. They get a basic set of materials. A block of floral ‘wet’ foam, 2 axles and 4 wheels. And they get a simple set of tools. Basic measurement tools, speed squares and surform carving tools.

I introduced the challenge quickly, then let the students loose. To avoid having students completely destroy their blocks instantly, I made the drawings a prerequisite to getting the carving tools. The drawings could be simple, but I required a detailed full scale engineering style drawing.

Once the drawings were approved, they were off to the races. However, floral foam is mess. Super messy. I had complaints of allergy like irritation, the foam staining white shirts, dust in their eyes. All sorts of things. However, after stressing caution, using aprons and generally being more mindful, those complaints dropped off. Perhaps this would be a good project to do in a larger space or even outside.

With the designs carved, students were free to attach their axles and wheels. I could have stopped the groups and stressed the importance of being patient with this step, being precise and ensuring straight and square axles. However, I let them at it, though I did stress that our speed squares would be a great benefit to this step.

The axles and wheels came from Pitsco. Sure, you could 3D print wheels if you have the time, but laser cutting in wood was too soft and acrylic was too brittle. A soft thermoplastic is what these wheels need to be made of, and at $0.15 a piece, it was worth avoiding the headache.

Finally, we race. I used a scrap board at first…but we really needed lanes as cars continued to collide with one another. I used some foam board to make short walls hot glued to the edge of the board. Problem solved.

A simple single round elimination was enough to have a good final race, while minimizing the winners vs losers. You can even enforce a ‘When you lose, you become a cheering squad member of the team that beat you’, ensuring an exciting final race while making all of the students feel a part of the races through the end.

Finally, have students reflect on the process. I had a short discussion, then had students go and post to Seesaw. I got lots of really awesome reflections, lots of great critical thoughts, some great doodles and awesome photos.

Looking back, this little design challenge went pretty well. The kids loved it, it was inexpensive (~$1.50 per group), and was quick to run. In the future I think it could be slowed down to highlight the engineering drawings in more detail, perhaps print wheels, and focus on nice and straight axle holes.

Part Cost Cost / Kit Source
Floral Foam (72 when halved) 35.50 (price fluctuates on amazon) 0.50 Amazon
Pitsco Axles (100) 6.50 0.13 Pitsco
Pitsco Wheels (100) 15.50 0.62 Amazon
TOTALS 57.50 1.25

Surform Tools – $2.99

Speed Squares – $2.99

 

AIDS Lifecycle 2016

This summer I had the incredible opportunity to ride my bike for San Francisco to Los Angeles, beside my father and my brother. All while we raised nearly $10,000 between the three of us for the SF AIDS Foundation and the LA LGBT Center…a fraction of the $16,139,537 raised by the nearly 1200 participants in the ride. It was a surreal life changing challenge that I am incredibly greatful that I was a part of.

In an effort to create a lasting memory of the journey, I strapped a camera to myself for the entirety of the ride. After sifting through the many hours of recordings, I’ve spliced it into an edit that I am really proud of.

I hope I have the chance to do something like this again, along side of my family doing something we love, for a cause we truly believe in!

3D Printers as Construction Toy Factories

The 3D printer is the hottest tool to bring into classrooms these days. They are the talk of the town. In lots of ways, they are amazing machines. It possibly more ways, they are tricky classroom tools. Most of them take plenty of tinkering and tuning, print times are long (a 1 hour print for all 50 students in a grade can be a week or more in the making), upkeep is time consuming. Lots of little quarks.

However, where they have excelled in my classroom is in printing construction brackets. If we aim to print small parts to be used to let students build bigger structures you can kill a few birds with one stone. Print times are reduced, and you have a build to pull students away from the computer screen.

I wanted to share a few examples, and how I use them in my classroom. First up, the simplest. Brackets to join straws at different angles. I took inspiration from Makerbot’s Speedy Architect project for this one. These pieces are tiny, taking less than 10 minutes on our Printrbot Simple Metals using my super-duper fast printing profile. Currently, the 6th grade is designing architectural models using these brackets. They will be adhering to uniform proportional scale for the structure (about 1″ to 10′), and will be closely monitoring a the cost of production. Straws cost $100 per inch, and 3D prints cost their real life cost, times a thousand, or about $20 per basic bracket.

I’m super excited to see how this project turns out. There are lots of great math connections to the 6th grade curriculum using the scaling and the economy system. The structures are bit innocuous from the structural engineering perspective, but the amount of iterative design & 3D printing we can pull off while printing such small parts will make this project worth while. We are lucky enough that each of our groups of 4 will have their own 3D printer to operate during class time, keeping the project rolling at a fast pace.

Up next, there are the balsa wood brackets, that came from the Zazouck project on Thingiverse. These parts are a bit different than the straws in that I use them exclusively as construction tool. The parts are all printed ahead of time, sorted into different types and they are used to do rapid fire construction challenges. Most recently students were tasked with building a 12″ bridge, while controlling for the cost of parts and materials used to build the bridges.

These pieces are great for rapid construction. They lack in the structural consistency that using glued joints might give you, but they let students build quickly. Often, balsa breaks in the brackets, but a drill bit reams them out pretty easily. These are great bits, and took about 30 mins to print a set of each piece. To get a classroom set of about 20 of each part, I had the machines running constantly for a few days. But now they are done and we have our own custom construction set…in colors that match the labs floors!

Last up, we’ve got the most complicated component yet. The craft stick brackets. These pose the most difficult design process of the three, but I think it gives the most rewarding final product. Requiring constantly being aware of stick orientation in regards to slot location on the brackets. I think the challenge of the design makes these an awesome candidate for creating a lesson on using Fusion 360 assemblies to virtual design structures before printing them. This is something I’ve got in the pipe for the 7th grade next semester.


All of these follow a basic principle. Find a material that is cheap and plentiful in you lab, and design brackets to join them at different angles. Have students design the parts, even model the whole structure in CAD before printing. Cut down print times, end up with bigger and cooler parts…its a win win all around. Have you done any construction projects like this? Let me know!

Simple, inexpensive classroom woodworking projects.

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I’ve really taken to woodworking this year. I think the ability to transition from high-tech to low-tech in the same space is a powerful experience for my students. Using the lovely mini-week program, I had 7 students for 3 full days of nothing but woodworking. We had a blast, and made lots of amazing things. Today, I want to take the time to show off some of these simple woodworking projects that were big hits, were cheap to do, and reasonably safe to pull off in the classroom.

The Pencil Holder – Introduction to Drill Press

The pencil holder is simple. Start with a 4″x4″ fence post, chop into square 4″x4″x4″ chunks, and let students drive holes to fit pencils. I used an 8′ piece of douglas fir from the big box shop that cost me around 10 bucks. That’ll make 24 pencil holders at a cost of about 40 cents a piece.  I let the students mark out the center points for their holes, and let them at it.

The Tea Candle Holder – Introduction to the Miter / Hand Saw

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The tea candle holder was a simple project. Start with a 2×4, cut it down to about a 12″ section, and drive 3 holes for tea candles using a spade bit. We rounded our corners using the belt/disc sander, and one student split the 12″ section into 3 separate pieces. She even finished with contrasting dark danish oil and boiled linseed oil. It turned out amazing!

Simple Cutting Board – Introduction to the Bandsaw

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The last simple project was a cutting board. I picked up a 6′ length of 7″x3/4″ poplar board from the big box store, and split them into cutting board blanks that were around 10″ long. The challenge was to sketch out a simple design to give the board some character, cut it on the bandsaw, and put down a coat of mineral oil. This was super simple, and super rewarding.

The Finishes

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I wanted the students to experience the challenge and joy of finishing their projects. That meant lots of hand sanding (foam sanding blocks are worth the investment!), and hand rubbed oil finishes. I had a small selection to choose from, a danish oil, boiled linseed oil, tung oil finish and a wipe on poly. This final step in each of the projects too the experience above and beyond and the students had a blast.

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Woodworking doesn’t need to start off with complex joinery, or fancy hardwoods. Some of the best projects take just a few cuts, a few holes and a coat of finish. The students had a blast learning about the tools, and were all extremely proud to walk out with all of their projects.