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.