Editor’s note: Aaron Vanderwerff, high school science, robotics, and makerspace teacher extraordinaire, writes about his students’ independent projects (and their visible or invisible progress) during these months leading up to Maker Faire.
At Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, we’ve been treading water for about two months now. Walking into our class on Monday, you would see a group of juniors and seniors focused, working on some part of the independent project that they will display at Maker Faire in mid-May. Everyone looks busy, but if you compare where they are now to where they were in January, you’d see that not much visible progress has actually happened.
When this occurred during the first year I worked with students on Maker Faire projects, I got frustrated with the lack of forward momentum. What were they actually doing? When it happened the second year, I started to wonder if it was just part of the process.
What I’ve come to realize is that real work is happening during this time period — it just isn’t visible; it’s going on inside their heads. In the fall, they brainstormed and decided upon their own idea of something they wanted to create, and now they’re trying to figure out what it can actually look like and how to get there. Natalie and Brisia started with a general idea that they wanted to make a tutu that lights up as you dance. Now they are faced with figuring out when they want it to light up, what will affect the lights, and what color the lights will be – not to mention how to hook all of this to a skirt that someone needs to be able to wear while dancing.
The initial euphoria of a cool idea has worn off, and May feels like a long way off. As students are struggling and working to gain a better understanding of what they’re doing, their self-motivation has lulled a little bit. The excitement will eventually grow, as projects start to come together.
This year we are experimenting again. We are hosting a mini faire at our school on the day before spring break, in hopes that it will provide a sense of urgency and excitement. Our hope is that if students can get a functioning prototype done in the next two weeks, their interest in their project will push them to work more enthusiastically in the remaining weeks before they exhibit at the Maker Faire.
So what are our students doing?
Natalie and Brisia are working on a motion sensitive LED tutu. They have created a basic motion sensitive circuit using an accelerometer and are currently working on how to wire the LEDs onto the tutu without it being too bulky.
Cynthia and Flavio are creating a party shirt by combining a light organ and a Hawaiian shirt. They are starting by building a light organ kit they purchased online and have had to learn to decode a schematic in order to do it because the directions are non-existent.
Sandra, Claudia, and Alexandro are building a three-person bike. They started their prototype by creating a PVC frame to mock up the seating area behind a child’s dirt-bike that was given to them by a friend’s parent. They have applied to take a bike modification class at the Crucible over spring break.
Itzi, India, and Raul have been learning to create pages for a pop-up book into which they want to integrate interactive electronics. They have been creating pop-up buildings, lips, and whatever catches their interest. Their project was inspired by the hi-low tech lab at MIT.
Javier, Raul, and Omar are creating an interactive Creeper from the game of Minecraft. They are integrating effects to mimic the character’s behavior in the game into their design. This group has created a remote control base for their robot as well as learned how to integrate an Arduino (for the effects) into a VEX platform (for the remote control functionality).
Billy is building a remote controlled airplane from scratch, using foam board.
Kevin and Saul are creating a solar powered go-cart. They found a frame for their go-cart when they visited a group of electric car enthusiasts in Sebastopol and have been working on getting it up and running over the past few weeks. They have just started working with a welding mentor who is going to help them assemble it all together!
Tony, Raul, and Carlos are converting a light pickup truck from a gasoline-powered engine to an electric motor. They have been working independently on repairing minor mechanical issues and have removed the engine from the truck. They are currently working on getting the adaptor plate to connect the transmission to the electric motor. In addition, Tony created a Indiegogo site for fundraising!
The students are focused and they’re working, even if it doesn’t look like it. Check back in two weeks — progress will likely be visible by then!