Just a minute ago, I read an amazing article on yahoo about dragons. I am that kind of person who loves science fiction. Sometimes I watch stuff about ghosts, the Loch Ness Monster, and other mystical creatures. I want to believe in them, so I do. It doesn’t matter how old you are. You can still believe in that stuff.



Are Aliens Out There? Of Course!

This afternoon I watched the TEDx talk, “Seth Shostak: ET is (probably) out there — get ready.” I totally agree with what Seth says about the statistical probability / near certainly of extra-terrestrial life and intelligence being “out there” in space. I also agree with his point that we need to focus on getting kids between age 8 and 11 both excited and interested in science, because ideas they encounter at that age can have a MAJOR impact on their life studies, interests, hobbies, profession, and “trajectory.” Check out the talk, it’s excellent. I told my 9 year old about this, and she watched it on my iPhone. Woo hoo for videos which encourage STEM interests!

A Personal Tour of the International Space Station

This morning before school I shared the start of this video with Rachel, who is VERY interested in science, space, and all things NASA. It’s a 25 minute tour of the International Space Station by Sunita Williams, who was the commander of the station until this past November.

Rachel, YOU could be recording a tour like this from space in 15 or 20 years!

(I’m posting this here so Rachel can watch the rest of this after school or another day, and you can too!)

Hat tip to Mike Gras who shared this video on Facebook last night.

Alexander’s Cake Model of the Cell (narrated food)

Alexander made a model of an animal cell for his 9th grade biology class this weekend. I asked him to take a photo of it, and (although he protested) he recorded a short AudioBoo describing his project and some of the cell parts. This media reflection is therefore an example of “narrated food,” as opposed to “narrated art.” :-)

Alexander's Cake Model of the Cell

I Want to Be a Scientist

Rachel recorded this last night, following several discussions we’ve been having over the past few weeks about science and becoming a scientist. Last spring I took Rachel to Chris Simon’s classroom at Independence Elementary School in Yukon Public Schools, and she was VERY impressed with the STEM lessons Mr. Simon does with his students. She specifically mentioned that in this short audio podcast.

Rachel has expressed interest in doing more “Talking Science” podcasts, so we’ll likely do that in the weeks ahead. This past August in Montana, Lucy Gray told me about the Maker’s Faire she attended in San Francisco with her kids and how WONDERFUL it was to experience that DIY culture filled with science and engineering projects. I’d love to bring Rachel and my other kids to a Maker’s Faire at some point. A couple of years ago Nathan Parrow (who I interviewed for a podcast on electric car conversions) was working on bringing a Maker’s Faire to Oklahoma City, which would be hosted by our Oklahoma Science Museum. It would be GREAT to have a local Maker’s Faire. Nathan also told me he was part of a group that was putting together a space in Norman for DIY / STEM projects. I’m not sure what the status of that initiative is either, but I’d love an update if you have info or a related link to share.

Young people start forming their identities about who they are and what they want to do EARLY in life! We can’t underestimate the importance of providing kids with MULTIPLE opportunities to experience how fun, engaging, and challenging science, technology, engineering and math work can be. This can’t wait till middle school, high school or college!

Last night William Chamberlain saw my Tweet about Rachel’s AudioBoo and initiated a conversation with Krissy Venosdale about Space Camp for Rachel. I’m going to look into those options. About five years ago our son, Alexander, attended a week-long day camp at the Cosmosophere in Hutchinson, Kansas. I’m going to look into camp opportunities there as well as at the Houston Space Center, which we visited in July 2011. I am SO thrilled Rachel is excited about science and STEM, and want to do whatever I can as a parent to further nurture these interests… whether or not her Oklahoma City Public Schools‘ elementary school provides these kind of learning experiences “formally” or not. Hopefully we’ll be able to host some kind of “Scratch Camp” for parents and kids at her school later this fall or next spring.

Touching a moon rock!

Alexander Answers Questions About His Simple Machine Project with AudioBoo

In March and April this year Alexander worked on a simple machine project for his 8th grade science class. His design process and the results of his project are documented in the posts, “Draft Design for a Complex Machine to Generate Electricity from Water Power” (26 March 2012) and “Good Things Can Come From Science and Engineering Projects in School” (30 April 2012). After sharing those results, I received some feedback via Twitter from Arizona 5th grade teacher Michael Buist. His students looked at the design photos and videos Alexander created, and wrote an extensive series of questions for him about his project, design process, and lessons learned.

This evening Alexander answered a few of the questions using AudioBoo on an iPad. He actually asked to answer with just audio, since he didn’t need to show anything on his actual project in a video to answer the questions. Here are the student questions written by some of Mr. Buist’s students and Alexander’s recorded answers. There were many more questions shared by students, but these were the ones Alexander was able to answer tonight. Thanks Mr. Buist and students for your interest in Alexander’s project and his learning journey as a designer and engineer! I hope the information we share is helpful to you in your own engineering design projects.

Questions from Jonah C:

Did you have fun doing this project, or did you just do this for a good grade? If you did have fun with this project, what were the most fun parts of the project that you had?

If you did not like this and just did this project for a grade, then what did you not like about the project? What kind of help did your dad give you, or did you just do the project by yourself?

Question from Braxton B:

One of the questions that I have about the second design is why even use the pulley when you still have to use your hand to help it along I hope you can answer my questions a thank you for listening.

Answers for Jonah C. & Braxton B.about Simple Machine Project

Question from Lejon D:

If you were to take away one thing from your design what would it be?

Answers for Lejon D. about Simple Machine Project

Questions (1 of 2) from Eric B:

Question 1: Did you think about recycling the water by making a tube back into the bottle or something like that?

Question 2: Where did the water go after it went through once?

Question 3: How long did it take to make your project?

Question 4: How much did it cost to make your project?

Question 5: Did you find this project particularly challenging?

Question 6: Have you faced a project like this before?

Question 7: What inspired the idea?

Question 8: Did you enjoy this project?

Answers 1 of 2 for Eric B. about Simple Machine Project

Questions (2 of 2) from Eric B:

Question 9: The first time you ran your water wheel it failed, why?

Question 10: Could you upgrade your machine in any way?

Question 11: Was your dad very beneficial do you work and the way your machine ran?

Question 12: Did the light turn on?

Question 13: Why do you think the pulley did not work?

Question 14: Was your dad excited when your project was a success?

Question 15: Did you dad embarrass you at the end of the video?

Question 16: Witch design did you think worked the best?

Answers (2 of 2) for Eric B. about Simple Machine Project

Question from Katie:

In your first design you had the water from the wheel turn on a light bulb. Why did you decide not to do that design?

Answers for Katie about Simple Machine Project

Question from Malaya G:

I want to know what grade you got on your project and did you have fun making it?

Answers for Malaya G. about Simple Machine Project

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

Draft Design for a Complex Machine to Generate Electricity from Water Power

Alexander is designing a “complex machine” for his 8th grade science class. He recorded a short AudioBoo today and described his design, which I photographed and embedded below. Please share comments and feedback.

Complex Machine Design

I shared the “Sweeping Down the Plains” STEM project from K20-ALT with him this week for ideas and inspiration. See Video Part 2 on the project page, starting at the 4:46 point to see the design for an electrical generator/dynamo using a wind generator design. The Google Doc lesson plan includes the supplies used for their project. This extremely clever design uses a CD, neodymium magnets from AmazingMagnets.com, a wooden skewer like those used on a BBQ grill, a suction cup, and other inexpensive items. Hat tip to Adam Zodrow for sharing this amazing project with me a few weeks ago. See this post and podcast on Oklahoma EDUshare for more info about this project and K20-ALT.

I’m thinking Alex’s greatest challenge will be building the water wheel, gears, and the dynamo. This is going to be a great opportunity for problem solving, engineering, design and tinkering!

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