Good Things Can Come From Science and Engineering Projects in School

(Cross-posted from Moving at the Speed of Creativity)

This weekend, my 8th grade son and I worked on a project for his science class he’s been planning for over a month. In March I asked him to record a short podcast we posted over on our family learning blog, “Draft Design for a Complex Machine to Generate Electricity from Water Power.” This was his initial design:

Complex Machine Design (original)

After actually building his planned design and working with different materials (largely scrap wood from our local Lowe’s hardware store and various bits of hardware pieced together with a drill and Gorilla Glue) we finally created a product which resembles this design, which he drew tonight.

Revised Design

Last night, he recorded a three minute video explaining his design and what we’d changed from the original plans.

Today, he actually tested the design and we recorded two videos I combined into one: A preliminary failure and a second successful test.

Overall science class this year for him has been (I think) largely a disappointment and a big frustration on several fronts. I won’t elaborate here in detail, but it’s been a case as a parent where I dearly wished there were more opportunities for both student and parental feedback to be integrated into the formal teacher evaluation process. Those frustrations aside, I want to observe that good things can come from projects and specifically engineering challenges which students are given. We spend far too LITTLE time in school and outside of class actually BUILDING THINGS we design and tweaking those models until “they work.” Alexander’s project isn’t likely to win any STEM awards and I’m not even sure what his grade on the project or in his class will be… but those things really don’t matter much. What matters is this science and engineering project gave him a chance to design and build something he imagined in his mind. It gave us a chance to work on building his design together. It was fun, and I think we both learned some new things as well as creating something we’re proud of and will remember for a long time.

He takes his project to school tomorrow to show his teacher and his class what he made and what he learned. “Success in learning,” however, has already been achieved and we don’t need a teacher’s grade or evaluation to know it. We DID, however, need a teacher to assign this project and thereby provide a catalyst for designing and building together. For that I am thankful both to his teacher and his wonderful school, Classen School of Advanced Studies in Oklahoma City Public Schools.

Long live science and engineering projects for students which require creativity, imagination, and really “making stuff!”

Compound Machine (unpainted)

Final Compound Machine (painted)


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Planting Pumpkin Seeds

Today we worked in our flower and vegetable beds in our front and backyard. Among other things, we planted some pumpkin seeds. We’re not sure if we’ll get any pumpkins (or cantaloupes, or ears of corn) but we’re going to give it a shot! Later this month we’re going to plant some tomatoes too. Here are a few photos from today’s inaugural planting, along with a short video narrated by Rachel. I’m thinking these photos will make a great narrated slideshow if we keep taking pictures as the plants grow in upcoming weeks.

We Planted 4 - 6 Seeds in Each Hole

These are seeds for "Big Max" Pumpkins

Putting seeds in the hole

Pumpkin Seeds in the Hole

Covering up the hole with dirt

Minecraft Music Video Parodies

This week as I was looking through my minecraft youtube videos, as I often do, I found these really awesome videos made by a youtuber named . He has spent a lot of time on these as well as bringing in to do the Parodies and some of the animating. They are some of the best videos I have seen not only for the amazing animating but it’s also the extremely creative lyrics that are packed with minecraft references, some that everyone should get but even a few more hidden ones that only real mincrafters would recognize that make them so great. My favorite one is actually called “Revenge” that is a parody of the song DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love by Usher which is actually a song I hadn’t heard before but that makes it even better for me in some ways, but I really love it for its awesome lyrics. The next best for me is called “Fallen Kingdom” which is a parody off of Coldplay’s Viva la Vida. Even though this video has good lyrics too, the visual effects are really what makes this one great. Another cool thing that this youtuber did was make a behind the scenes video for how he and his team made both of them. I found all of these really neat and hope you do too!