Friday, December 21, 2012

Model Circulatory System | 7th Grade Science

Do you remember learning about our circulatory system in biology class? If so, you may remember looking at diagrams of the heart, memorizing the names of the various valves and chambers, and understanding how blood flows through the system. But in our 7th grade science class, we decided to try something different.... something a little more "Bourn-ified"!

How might we build a model of the circulatory system that would allow students to simulate the flow of blood, the contraction (aka the "pumping" of the heart muscles, and gain an appreciation for how the sequence of events has to be precisely orchestrated in order for the system to function? Christina Nawas, who has done a number of projects with us this semester, came to us with this original question and we rolled up our sleeves to design a hands-on project to do exactly that.

After some brainstorming, Diego got to work building a prototype using plastic tubing to model arteries and aortas and squeeze bottles to model the chambers of the heart. He first started by playing around with those plastic squeeze bottles that you usually see holding ketchup and various sauces at restaurants, but eventually realized their seals don't hold up and leaked water everywhere when squeezed. Tiny travel-size screw-top bottles ended up working better.

The next challenge was finding one-way valves to model heart valves. Diego started by designing some using laser-cut parts and pieces of thin rubber but these didn't end up being as one-way as we'd like. Then one day in the lab, as the two of us were wrecking our brains trying to solve this problem, I randomly wondered aloud whether people who keep fish for pets need one-way valves for their aquariums. A bit of Googling and a trip to the pet store confirmed our suspicions and thanks to Amazon, we were able to get a large batch of these valves in time for class.

To scaffold the activity, we started by asking the girls to build two-chamber hearts in pairs, using a kit of squeeze bottles, plastic tubing, connectors, and one-way valves. Christina also took some time to explain that the type of two-chamber hearts we're building are different from those found in nature. (We were building hearts where one chamber is the left and one chamber is the right; in nature, two-chamber hearts are usually divided into one ventricle and one atrium instead.) Then they had to work together to get "blood" (clear water, for the sake of not having our lab look like a massacre at the end!) pumping through their model system.

After the two-chamber hearts were built, we then asked the girls to get in groups of four and challenged them to put together four-chamber hearts! Again, after they got their system wired up correctly, with all the valves facing the right way, they had to test it by working together to pump the heart chambers in a proper sequence to get blood to flow. Some groups even came up with chants to help coordinate the proper pumping sequence!

Even though everyone got slightly soggy, it was so great to see how this activity really allowed the students to learn about how the circulatory system works! Don't believe me? See for yourself!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Science Saturdays: Light-Up Holiday Cards

One of the things you may not know about the Bourn Lab is that in addition to being a space for tinkering and hands-on projects during the school day and the home of Gatorbotics Team 1700 after school, we occasionally open up the lab to the wider Palo Alto community by participating in Science Saturdays throughout the school year.

Mary Hurlbut, our 6th grade art teacher and Castilleja's site director for the Peninsula Bridge program, and intern Ruby Moreno (Casti alum alert!) work together to organize on-campus events for younger girls from the local community to get them excited about science and engineering. Usually, a hands-on activity in the science labs is paired with a related activity in the Bourn Lab. The extra cool thing about Science Saturdays is that the whole event is supported by our robotics girls!

Back on 12/1, we kicked off the year's first Science Saturday with a holiday-themed event. After a fun and slightly chaotic name game involving tennis balls, the group split up. One half went to the physics lab to do a simple circuitry activity involving batteries and light bulbs. The other half headed down to the Bourn Lab to work on Light-Up Holiday Cards, which also involved ... you guessed it, batteries (little coin ones) and lights (LEDs in this case)!

The girls, both younger and older, had such a great time and each of them got to take home a light-up holiday card. We can't wait for more Science Saturdays next semester!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Intro to GoGo Boards | 6th Grade Science

How would you design the logic of a traffic signal?

This was one of the challenges we posed to our 6th graders, as part of a two-day activity we did during their science class. On the first day, Sarah Barnum (6th grade science teacher) and I, with help from Ann Greyson (computer science teacher) and Megan Chiou (our teaching intern), took students through a quick lesson on inputs and outputs and then a tutorial on how to use GoGo Boards. On the second day, we asked them to use what they learned to design two everyday devices: a night light and a traffic light. At least one of their designs must incorporate some type of input (sensors) that would control the outputs (lights).

In developing this activity, the first hurdle we faced was that GoGo Monitor, the standard software for GoGo Boards, only runs on Windows PCs and our campus is for the most part a Mac campus. In the past, we kept a set of Windows laptops in the lab for this exact purpose. But we wanted to try something different this year and find a Mac-friendly way to allow students to play with GoGo Boards.

(I should probably mention at this point that a main reason for trying something different is that I'm a big believer in making technology less "precious"/as accessible as possible and tend to opt for solutions to that effect. Especially for something like programming and GoGo Boards, I want students to have the software on their own computers, so they feel empowered to explore and tinker further on their own if they want, maybe by borrowing GoGo Boards from us or buying their own, and won't feel that this is something they can do only if they came to the lab.)

In the end, we found a way to control the GoGo Boards using a cross-platform program called NetLogo. In fact, NetLogo turned out to be a great solution because it allowed us to write up a tutorial, based on the original FabLab@School activity, directly inside the program that students can follow along.

Our 6th graders loved playing with the GoGo Boards and were excited to think about how their night lights and traffic lights should work. Some thought that night lights should be motion-activated while others thought they should sense the amount of light in a room before turning on. And for traffic lights, some groups incorporated mechanical switches, which would be placed on the road and activate the traffic light sequence only when a car rolls up and triggers the switch.

Check out the video below for a traffic light demo:

Some girls got so into programming and GoGo Boards that they kept asking Sarah if they'll get to play around with them in class again. So by popular demand, we decided to lend the 6th grade science classroom a couple of GoGo kits. Now, whenever there's some downtime, girls who want to can tinker with GoGo Boards more on their own.

Not exactly a quantitative measure but I would certainly call that a sign that GoGo Boards are a hit!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Bourn Lab wins the Rambus/KCI Innovation Award!

(photos by Karim Mansouri)

Great news! The Bourn Lab is the proud recipient of the Rambus/KCI Innovation Award for 2012!

The Krause Center for Innovation (KCI), located at Foothill College, is a center devoted to the mission of encouraging technology integration and STEM curriculum in K-12 education. On November 28th, I, along with science teacher Christina Nawas, current Castilleja student/Bourn Lab TA Carly and Carly's mom Margot, attended the award ceremony. We brought along a bunch of example projects to show and did a short presentation about Casti and the lab.

Everyone was so excited about the diversity of projects we do in the lab and we had lots of interesting conversation with many inspiring people. Thank you Rambus and KCI!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Building a Body Joint | 7th Grade Science

As part of the unit on human anatomy, Christina Nawas' 7th grade science students (remember them?) came to the lab for a weeklong activity for building model body joints. In preparation for this activity, we spent some quality laser-cutting time making simple cardboard pieces to serve as the foundation pieces, aka "bones."

Students were paired up to first decide and then do research on the specific body joint they want to model. Then it's time to put their clay-modeling skills to the test! Using quick-drying modeling clay, they made everything from "ball and socket" joints to hinge joints.

Once the basic joint structures were in place and dried, the students were next tasked with adding on cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. We laid out a variety of items - bubble wrap, cotton balls, stretchy athletic tape, bandages, string - and asked them to consider the properties of each material and whether it would be a good model for the particular component they are adding. For example, many groups decided that bubble wrap was a good substance for modeling cartilage while other groups preferred cotton balls. There is no "correct" answer of course; rather, we were more interested in how the students thought about and justified their choices.

The final part of the project was to use motors driven by an Arduino board in order to control the two opposing muscles (which we asked them to model using strings) and simulate the movement of the body joint. Thanks to a piece of software being developed by a group in Spain called Scratch4Arduino (or S4A), the girls got to use a programming language they're familiar with (Scratch) to control the Arduino board. Like with the microscope project, we filmed a short instructional video to show the girls how to set everything up.

After putting everything together and resolving a few technical issues (e.g. how to keep the string from slipping off the motor wheel), every group got to see their movable joints in action!
Check out the video below for a few examples:

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Timer is Bourn | 9th grade

How difficult is it to keep time with nothing but cups, straws, popsicle sticks, etc?

That's the question we asked our 9th grade class in a design challenge we have dubbed "A Timer is Bourn". Over four sessions during EOP (extended opportunity period), our freshmen girls were charged with finding a way to keep time for 5 minutes using a standard kit of parts, some common materials like sand, water, capacitors and batteries from their physics lab supplies, and above all, their imagination.

Unbeknownst to the girls, this activity has actually been in the works since even before they arrived on campus. Towards the end of summer, a group of teachers from various departments met to brainstorm interdisciplinary activities that would give the students a taste of design and building while connecting with some of the concepts covered in history, physics, and math. After discussing a few potential topics, we eventually settled on timekeeping.

From the history side, timekeeping is a key topic that sets the stage for learning about the age of scientific discovery. In physics, the measurement of time is critical to many of the experiments students perform in the lab, yet more often than not, we take the measurement of time itself for granted. Like all other measurements, of course, how time is measured affects its accuracy and precision. With all these links to the 9th grade curriculum, timekeeping seemed like a prime topic upon which to develop an interdisciplinary activity. And when the Bourn Lab gets involved, you can count on us to bring a building/design component to it! ;)

In the first session, held on 9/26, students were given an introduction to the importance of timekeeping. History teachers Peggy McKee and Christy Story talked with the girls about timekeeping in the historical context. Then students dispersed into various classrooms where there were models of historical clocks, like Galileo's pendulum clock and clepsydra (water clock), as well as electronic resources to explore timekeeping (e.g. the super accurate clocks of the Olympics). The main goal of this session was to give the girls some ideas for how to keep time and seed them with inspirations for their deisgn challenge.

The second session, held on 10/10, kicked off the project with a video starring our head of school, where the timing challenge was presented. Each pair of girls were then given a Ziploc bag containing assorted supplies. With only that little bit of instructions, the girls were off! Some headed straight for the sink to try out water clock ideas; others saw the buckets of sand and started experimenting with hourglasses. A few groups spied the boxes of capacitors, batteries, and light bulbs and decided to try out what they learned in physics class to build timing devices out of electronic components. The wide array of approaches that the girls took to solving this challenge was absolutely astounding! At some point, one group even asked me if they can use the Ziploc bag as part of their clock - talk about innovative thinking!

After two one-hour build sessions, the end was upon us before we know it. In the final session, we gathered all the groups in one room and allowed them some time to finish/refine their clocks before asking them to take the timing challenge. Timer stations were set up at one end of the room - Diego and I had worked together to make some timer boxes using giant red buttons hooked up to GoGoBoards. (Why? Because giant red buttons are so much fun to push, of course!) To keep the excitement level high, as groups got tested, we projected the live tally of results on the projector so everyone could see the current standings. In the end, the group that got closest to 5 minutes came in at 4 minutes and 59 seconds! Each of the departments involved also gave out awards. Bourn Lab, for example, gave out an award for the most thoughtful design.

Since this was the first time we teachers ran this activity, a lot of lessons were learned and we already have a long list of ideas for improvements next time, including everything from how much build time to allot, how to redesign the first session to run more smoothly, other items to include in the kits, etc. But all in all, the activity was a rousing success! And the best part? It wasn't just us teachers who thought so. We asked students to complete a survey the day after the activity ended and the comments we received were generally quite positive. "It was cool when you were able to successfully overcome a problem you encountered," one student wrote.

Now, how cool is that

(Many thanks to all the teachers who were involved in this activity - Peggy McKee, Christy Story, Eugenie Paick, Jon Rockman, Bryan Valek, Jean Adams, Kim Knapp, Josh Genauer - as well as all the many many people who provided various support along the way, from the kitchen staff who allowed us to use the dining room right after lunch to our maintenance crew who helped us even with strange requests like "please take down all visible clocks in the dining room". While all Bourn projects are team efforts by nature, this one was way more so than all the others.) 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Adventures with iDraw | Carly's Corner

Hi all! I'm Carly, the Bourn Lab TA. I'm a junior, I'm on the robotics team, and my favorite machine in the Bourn Lab right now is the Vinyl Cutter.

One of my first projects as TA was to create wood tracing figures for Ms. Shanks' design class so that they could focus less on drawing a realistic person and more on designing clothes. First, I scanned in pictures of models from a book. Then I imported those photos into iDraw and traced around the lines to cut them out.

iDraw is a powerful tool for the iPad. It's great for anything from doodling your name to accurately tracing a shape to cut out. In fact, I've since used iDraw to trace a horse cutout for clues for my ringer. Ms. Hurlbut's sixth grade art class is also using iDraw for a stamp project on an ancient culture. Yesterday, I went in and taught them how to trace objects, so that they can easily design and cut out their stamp pieces. Most of them loved it and I saw a few actually import flowers and begin tracing by the end of my 20-minute talk.

From iDraw, I then sent the .svg file to the laser cutter computer. I had designed the tracing so that some of the pieces, for example the hands, were not cut all the way through but rather rastered on top. I imported the file into CorrelDraw, the laser cutter program, and then watched as the laser cutter cut my pieces!

Friday, October 26, 2012

How Would You Design a Wallet? | Computer Science 1

Back in September, a few of us teachers from Castilleja went to the Stanford to attend a public "crash course" on design thinking. When we arrived, we were shown to this large conference room filled with people from all walks of life. Eventually, the lead facilitator came in, gave us some brief instructions (but not much since the whole point of the afternoon was "learning by doing"), and we immediately got to work. Strangers were paired together and then in groups of four, we filed into a large room with movable partitions, writable surfaces and Post-it notes everywhere, and lots more facilitators waiting for us. For the next 1.5 hours, we immersed ourselves in a quick-paced, energetic, intense design exercise to reimagine the gift-giving experience. It was fun, exhausting, messy, inspiring, and chaotic, all at the same time.

The exercise made such an impression on me that a month later, when I was asked to host a faculty learning exchange workshop, I immediately thought of doing a similar activity. Instead of redesigning the gift-giving experience though, I used the wallet variation, because it would give people a more practical thing to design and prototype. Anyway, what's being designed isn't particularly important. What I cared most about is keeping the quick-paced, high-energy aspect of the exercise because it shows that yes, design can be messy, chaotic, and confusing... but that there are ways to work within this space to really understand what the needs are and then generate creative solutions to fulfill those needs.

I was glad that most of the teachers who came to the October workshop enjoyed the experience. What I didn't expect was that Ann Greyson, our computer science instructor, actually enjoyed the exercise so much that she asked to bring her entire CS class down to the lab to do the same activity! It turns out that as part of the unit on designing user interfaces, she wanted her students to really think about understanding the needs of a user and how to fulfill those needs... hey, that sounds familiar! 

So this afternoon, a class of juniors and seniors gathered in the Bourn Lab, divided into pairs, grabbed Sharpies, and designed wallets for each other in a short 50-min period. Check out the photos of some of the prototypes, including one for a wallet that will come flying back to the owner when lost!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Measuring the Voltage of the Sun | Biology

Well, in a sense.

Before photosynthesis became a hot(!) topic in Elaine Middleman's biology class, she wanted to use solar cells as a way to show how energy from sun light can be converted to another form of energy. When Elaine approached us at the beginning of the year with this objective though, we didn't have any immediately great ideas on how we can plan such a lesson...mostly because none of us knew very much about solar cells at the time.

But we wouldn't let that stop us, of course! After spending some quality time learning about solar cells, we started looking for a source for them. Our go-to electronics shop sold these grab bags of chipped solar cells, but those turned out to be too rough and not ideal for a short one-class activity. Since class time is precious, we needed a more robust solution so we don't risk wasting time troubleshooting broken cells.

Luckily, it turns out there's a big market for solar cells for educational purposes, so we ordered a batch from Lego Education. (Since then, we've also found that there are other places with a larger variety of cells.) We also came upon some old-school, analog voltmeter panels for hooking up to the cells. Once all our supplies came, it didn't take Diego very long to design a box to hold everything together, so the students can assemble DIY "solar meters".

After assembly, the students took their devices around campus to take measurements of how voltage varies in sunny spots versus shady groves versus indoors. Unluckily for the period 2 girls though, the activity ended up on a rainy day! To give them some variations in lighting without having to go out in the rain, Hong dug through his tool chest and brought out his super bright work lamp (which surprisingly got pretty close to the voltage reading of direct sun).

So if you are curious about the "voltage of the sun," just ask one of the girls in Dr. Middleman's class.  Or better yet, try making your own "solar meter"!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Law of Sines | Algebra 2

Last Friday, Kyle Barriger came by the lab with an idea. In his Algebra II classes, the students are learning about the law of sines. (And truth be told, I had to ask him to be my math teacher for a moment and remind me what the law of sines is!) While students generally have no problems visualizing when the law results in no solutions, understanding why there can be ambiguous cases where there are two solutions seems to be much more difficult.

So Kyle thought maybe we can build some sort of contraption to physically show this concept. After some quick planning and sketching on the whiteboard tables, we got to work building such a contraption.
There were a few design requirements we had to keep in mind:
- a way to set a fixed angle of a certain degree
- a fixed length for one side of the triangle
- variable length for the pivoting side of the triangle
- a way for the pivoting side to actually pivot

A few cardboard prototypes later, we were ready to print out our contraption in wood and assemble it using a few screws and nuts. To fulfill requirement #3, we made various lengths for the pivoting side that can be swapped in and out. We even scavenged some strong magnets from old name tags so the whole thing can be stuck on a whiteboard!

During our initial meeting, we had also discussed the idea of having the students build their own contraptions to explain this law. So in today's class, after Kyle used our wooden version to review the law of sines, the students got to work building their own models with everything from pipe cleaners to string to popsicle sticks.
Although many groups weren't able to fully finish their "explanation contraptions," we enjoyed watching how this hands-on activity got them moving and talking and even witnessed some "ah-ha” moments! Now if that isn't a lovely result for such a quick and simple project, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Project "Casti-Cam" | Film 1

A few weeks ago, one of our arts teachers Winter Mead came by the lab to chat about a potential project for his Film 1 class. He had an idea to ask the girls to design and build prototypes for their own Steadi-cam rigs! He also wanted to emphasize the use of the design thinking process, in that they should build quick prototypes, test, and iterate. Kind of a "fail early, fail often" model, although I generally prefer to think of it more as a "test early, iterate often" model because when you learn something from each attempt, it's not an exact failure, right?

On the day of, the girls were divided into three teams. We originally had the idea that we would not allow them to research online for this project, but soon realized that's both impractical (since they are surrounded by computing devices all day long) and not exactly true to how one would solve real problems these days. Instead, we only asked each team to generate ideas for their "Casti-cams" without using their computers on the first day. Then they could all go home, do some research online, and come to the second day of class with a plan in mind. 

After gathering supplies such as PVC pipes, connectors, cheap Harajuku backpacks, 1/4 20 screws, and large binder clips, the girls got to work! Although each team used some sort of counterweight system, you can see from the photos that they came up with very different designs. Our teaching intern Zubair was on hand to assist and ended up teaching everyone how to use the PVC cutter, which became quite a popular tool in the class.

On the final day of the four-day project, Winter came up with a short challenge - each team had to use their Casti-cam rigs to film and track subjects through a variety of bumpy situations, from walking up and down stairs, opening doors, and running around the circle. When we watched the footages of the challenge later, it was not only really cool to see which design resulted in the steadiest shots, but also how some cheap hardware store items can give you a pretty decent Steadi-cam! 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mechanical Boxes (Cardboard Karakuri) | 6th Grade

Our 6th graders came through the lab during their Wednesday afternoon “flex block” for an introductory activity. I have to admit that this whole event, being so close to the start of school and all, kind of snuck up on all of us (or at least me!) and we barely had any time to prep for it. After a quick meeting with the teachers in the morning, Diego and I scrambled to figure out some fun, interesting building activity that would be doable both in a short amount of class time (45 min!) and with a group of girls who for the most part have not been exposed to building and tinkering. 

Diego quickly suggested that we plan an activity based on some mechanical boxes that he had done with an art class last semester. We can have the parts for the basic box pre-cut and limit ourselves to two mechanisms (the cam and the crank). Then the students can use the resulting motions to make whatever they want, be it a dolphin jumping out of the waves, a bunny chasing a carrot, or a Hunger Games-inspired scene complete with bow and arrow!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Let's Build a Microscope! | 7th Grade Science

If you can build your own microscope, it'd be so much easier to learn how it works, right? At least that's the idea behind the microscope project we did last month.  In collaboration with Christina Nawas, who teaches our 7th grade life science classes, we wanted a way to teach students the basics of microscopy using a hands-on building activity.

After getting some inspirations online, Diego set about designing a prototype using laser cut wood parts. He even tried to make the whole thing look as "microscope-like" as possible and added on an iPad attachment!

Meanwhile, Christina and I visited a bunch of local Walgreens and asking them for old disposable cameras they don't want. With a few shopping bags full of old discarded cameras, we sat down to crack them open and salvaged their small plastic lenses (if you do this yourself, be careful of the flash capacitor in there!). To make it easier from a classroom management perspective, we decided to make an instructional video and have each pair of girls follow along, while having the ability to stop and rewind as needed:

Our biggest lesson learned is that using glue to hold the body tube/lenses in place is way too messy! On the second day, we experimented using wall putty instead - you know, the stuff you use to stick posters onto walls. That made for a much cleaner, easier-to-assemble microscope.

Looking back, I think the most challenging part of this activity was prepping 36 of these microscope-building kits and the lab definitely smelled like a campfire for several days after. But of course, it was all worth it in the end!  Our girls had working microscopes that they built and decorated with their own hands by the end of the two-day activity, learned the basics of microscopy, and gained an appreciation for the super nice microscopes they actually use in the lab.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Intro to the Bourn Lab | Faculty Workshop

The Bourn Lab kicked off the new school year by hosting a short workshop for faculty. With help from the folks at Stanford’s Transformative Learning Technologies Lab, teachers divided into groups and rotated through different demo stations set up in the lab. They got their hands dirty in a quick GoGoBoard exercise, saw the vinyl cutter in action, and watched as the 3D printer churned out a model of a heart in plastic. They even tried their hands at designing name tags for each other on the laser cutter.
All in all, a successful start to the 2012-2013 school year. We’re excited to see all the projects to come this year!