Tag Archives: physics

Elementary Electronics – Sewn LED bracelet

As part of our homeschool elementary electronics class, the kids wanted to finish up the class by making soft circuits, especially a sewn LED bracelet.

And I do mean kids because I specifically asked them – after the sewn flashlight difficulties if they were up to another round of sewing. They said yes. In fact, one fifth grader (who struggled a little with the sewing) said, “Well – I don’t know how to do it and that’s the point of learning, right? To try stuff you aren’t good at?” Oh, you could have melted my growth mindset heart!

A picture of three electronic bracelets.

Our family’s collection of hand-sewn LED bracelets.

After the success of the Chibitronics paper LED project, I knew this sewing design had to be more concrete and guided. A couple of hours (and one failed prototype) later), I had a structured lesson to present to the kids the next day.

Sewn LED Bracelet – Paper Prototype

I started by making a paper prototype. This way they could cut it out and see how their bracelet would fit together. The components would have to be placed a certain way so the bracelet could close and you could still see the LED. I also wanted to make it so that when they snapped it closed, the circuit closed and the LED lit up.

Hand-drawn paper prototype to give the kids a guide.

It was definitely helpful to have a paper guide for the students. So many of them wanted to jump ahead and try and figure it out – and that was okay. It was okay when we had to pull out their conductive thread because the circuit wouldn’t make any sense. Hopefully, those were learning moments for them. Mistakes always force us to look at the structure a little more carefully.

Hot glue guns help to move the project along.

Sewn LED bracelet – Process

My younger son and I had made his LED bracelet the night before class – for two reasons. First, I knew that I would need to help the other students and since he’s seven, he would need a lot of help. Second, I wanted to have a simple, finished product so the students could see how the circuits connected.

After everyone chose their LED and figured out how their battery pack worked, I brought them over – one-by-one-  to the hot gluing station. I glued their battery holder and snaps to the felt. This made it much easier for these elementary students to focus on sewing – without having to worry about pins keeping those components in place.

The hardest part was understanding how the battery would be connected to the LED. Since LEDs have be positioned a certain way (positive to positive), I went around to each student and made sure they would line up their LED correctly. They eventually figured it out and even though this class took an hour and a half – every single bracelet connected correctly. And they were so proud (and relieved?) that it lit up after all of their hard work.

Here’s the PDF Sewn LED bracelet (PDF) handout that I created for my students. If you are teacher, please feel free to use it, but do not reproduce or sell it without gaining permission. Thanks!

 

 

Physics – Catapults – Week 6

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4 and Week 5.

Made by C and G - ages 6 and 5. Just from looking at the cover of this book.

Made by C and G – ages 6 and 5 – just from looking at the cover of this book.

This past week, three of our groups displayed their ‘completed’ projects. Considering that this was the first self-directed project for many of our students, I think they did a pretty fabulous job of following through with their ideas. As a parent-facilitator, I feel the need to say that toward the end, my own kids were ready to be done with their projects. It’s not that they didn’t enjoy the process of sawing and hammering, rather I think they had learned what they needed and didn’t feel the need to do more research (especially since the building was all done)!  Afterward, they did feel quite satisfied to complete the projects, even if there were a few extra nudges from Mom.

The Gravity Girls, (ages eleven and barely eight)
These two had a completed poster last week, but needed a few more tweaks with a couple of experiments before they felt ready to present. The youngest member also took the week to really know the material that she was reading from the poster – a very mature choice on her part! She wasn’t forced to learn any of the material, she chose to do it so that she wouldn’t let her partner down. I was quite inspired by her enthusiasm.

J and M (ages 8 and 11) present their findings on gravity.

J and M (ages 8 and 11) present their findings on gravity.

They began by reading off of their poster, which told a lot about how gravity works and about the scientist, Isaac Newton, who formed the first theory on gravity.

The girls hoped to drop two balls (one heavy, one light) to show that they dropped at the same rate. Surprisingly, they had a hard time! But, they talked about their discovering anyway.

The girls hoped to drop two balls (one heavy, one light) to show that they dropped at the same rate. Surprisingly, they had a hard time! But, they talked about their discoveries anyway.

Catapult Building – group of three 9-year-old boys
At the last meeting, the boys had decided to finish up their catapult (a joint effort, I assure you). I also ‘helped’ them to be ready to present their project the following week.*

The boys talked about what they wanted to put on their poster and RG sketched out how the poster might look. I stepped in a little bit to make sure that all of the voices in the group were heard and appreciated, and then the boys divvied up their respectful research assignments for the week. Since they didn’t have a chance to get together during the week, they added their research and pictures to the poster before presenting them to the class.

Creating something to display for their project-based homeschooling project.

Creating something to display for their project-based homeschooling project.

They included research on the history of catapults, the type of lever that a catapult is considered (third class), and the process of choosing and making the final wood design.

A and RC present their research to the class while their handmade wooden catapult waits patiently to be tested by everyone else!

A and RC present their research to the class while their handmade wooden catapult waits patiently to be tested by everyone else!

*In true ‘project-based homeschooling’ I think there are not meant to be time limits. However, I have noticed that kids will often drift from a topic when they’ve gotten the information that they needed – or sometimes when the work becomes tedious. At this point in my parenting (and teaching), I think it’s important for nine-year-olds to understand that follow-through is valuable. If you say you are going to do a project on catapults, then you need finish it up and stop dawdling! I reminded the boys to keep working a bit more this week than in previous weeks, but otherwise they did everything else themselves.

Catapult Building – group of two boys (ages 5 and 6)
After a little bit of encouragement, these two shy and quiet boys happily presented their catapult to the class. Much of this presentation looked liked some classic male one upmanship, but I think that was how these boys worked. They were excited to tell what parts they added and created, and I was quick to point out how they worked together. Either way, everyone had a chance to try out all of the catapults and everyone seemed to have garnered at least some new information.

Everyone had a chance to see how the modifications made the catapult work.

Everyone had a chance to see how the modifications made the catapult work.

In the end, there was a bit of a castle siege with some available castle blocks and the catapults were put to good use. Unfortunately, the castle fell – not from the catapults – but rather from the large number of children playing inside the temporary castle.

I wasn't quite quick enough to catch the original castle...just the remains.

I wasn’t quite quick enough to catch the original castle…just the remains.

A second attempt at a castle siege - this time with the catapult shooting poms poms to the outside.

A second attempt at a castle siege – this time with the catapult shooting poms-poms to the outside.

Read more about our ‘lessons learned’ from doing a project-based learning class through co-op.

 

Physics – Windmills – Week 5

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Week 1, Week 2, Week 3 and Week 4.

N made this book about windmills and how they work.

N made this book about windmills and how they work.

During our last meeting, two of the groups were in the process of finishing up the “main” part of their project – the build. One of the groups was in the process of finishing their display poster, while the other was ready to present his project to the everyone.

As noted previously, a lot of the work is being done at home, which is great for individual projects, but more difficult for group projects. It’s hard to be motivated on your project when your partner(s) are not there. I think this is definitely something we all need to sit down and discuss as a group – should we assign everyone to work on one great, big project? Or should all of the projects be individual, unless you can meet with your partner during the week as well?

Since most of the projects were being “perfected” this past week, I wanted to show off N’s windmill project that he presented to the group. N’s project was an individual project and he did most of the work at home, without much help. He was genuinely interested and excited about his project and you could tell he put forth a lot of effort and creativity.

N created an elaborate farm (with a real working tractor) out of popsicle sticks.

N created an elaborate farm (with a real working tractor) out of popsicle sticks. The door to the barn opens and his windmill also turns.

A written report that he read to the group.

A written report that he read to the group alongside a poster of different types of windmills.

Cover for his homemade book on windmills.

The cover for his homemade book on windmills.

The kids were very attentive and appreciative of all the hard work that he had done. It was really amazing to watch them give him their full attention and for him to present his findings and his accompanying artistic work. Since we are homeschoolers, we have less need to formally evaluate the kids’ learning, but you could show off this book and poster and listen to him talk about windmills and know that he picked up a lot of new information.

Although, it’s not “true” project-based homeschooling, the parent (or teacher) could then suggest this challenge as a way to deepen the learning. You may even want to show them this video after they’ve tried it on their own.  Or, perhaps your child might decide that they would like this set for a birthday gift.

Often, I have found that kids aren’t quite sure how to deepen their learning and that’s where an adult facilitator comes into play. It can still be their choice, but you can help to provide some suggestions. Once they are ready, do the above research with them, so they can learn how to find it themselves.

To continue reading about physics and self-directed learning, go to Week Six – Catapult Presentations.

 

 

Project-based Learning :: Physics :: Week 4

 We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Week 1, Week 2 and Week 3.

There was a lot of sawing and gluing going on this week.

There was a lot of sawing and gluing going on this week.

Although the time spent “in class” was much shorter than previous weeks, I think the kids (and adults) pushed through the tough parts of indecisiveness and now have clear research goals in mind. I wasn’t so sure last week.

As this series is a reflection on project-based learning (as part of a once-a-week class), I have noticed that much of the “learning” that happens seems to be going on during the week at home. It’s been difficult to bring all of the materials that are needed (even though we try), but projects change at the last minute and new materials are needed and at our borrowed space, we just don’t have the tools we need to keep crafting (or learning). We have to bring everything and since the projects are not so clear-cut, this has been our biggest obstacle. What we really need is an open, inexpensive makerspace for kids!

There are also some other “distractions” at this space – lots of indoor play equipment that are beckoning the kids. And, they need that. We understand, but at the same time, it seems there was more focus when we were at the library with no space to engage in physical play.

RG looks over some of the hardware to see if there is anything that will work as an eyelet for their catapult.

RG looks over some of the hardware to see if there is anything that will work as an eyelet for their catapult.

I think the projects are progressing quite well, but I can really only speak to the two groups that my own children are a part of since much of the learning and doing has been going on at home.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but it is perhaps different than what I had originally intended. An hour-long class, at a less than perfect space, hasn’t been as useful once the initial “tinkering” phase has worn off. Also, having to wait a week between each meeting is hard for young kids – they really lose the momentum if they aren’t working on the projects everyday.

Catapult Building – group of three 9-year-old boys
My eldest son is a part of this group and has done some previous self-directed project-based work before this class. Therefore, I could see how easily his group lost the focused momentum during the regular class time. In addition to reminding them about their previous goals, I also made sure to provide some blocks of time for catapult research/design during our home learning time. And, since one of his fellow group members is at our house quite often, it was very easy to incorporate both boys into the mix.

At the end of the last session, these boys had decided to focus on one catapult model that RC had made. Though the boys had seen it during a video chat, RC’s model didn’t make it to the class meeting. So, the boys had agreed to remake the model for the upcoming class. And, as will often happen with these type of projects, the two boys at my house looked at the web site and decided that this model would be easier to make and potentially scale up at a later date. After a quick trip to the home improvement store, the boys came back and began measuring and marking their wood pieces. We already had a coping saw and a regular handy saw and the boys used those to trim up the pieces that they couldn’t get cut at Lowe’s.

Using wood glue to make a catupultAfter sawing most of the pieces, they brought the rest (along with the clamps, saws and glue) to our meeting place for their third team member to help. They consulted the plans and began the long process of gluing, and then nailing the parts of their catapult together. Everyone left the class agreeing that the two boys would complete work on the catapult at our house, while the third boy would begin work on the science research.

After each part was dried, the kids used child-sized hammers to nail in the parts. They learned a lot about keeping a nail straight!

After each part was dried, the kids used child-sized hammers to nail in the parts. They learned a lot about keeping a nail straight!

Catapult Building – group of two boys (ages 5 and 6)
Again, this little group seems to be hindered by the long stretch of time between meeting sessions. One child is barely five and the other is six-and-a-half and these two are the youngest in our group of learners. The focus and interest is there, but it requires more guidance (not necessarily instruction) from the adults. They definitely have their own ideas, but they really need someone to sit with them and keep them on track for a longer amount of time.  Last week, they did manage to cut the dowel for another part of their catapult model and then promptly called it quits. The playground was beckoning!

C and G are marking and measuring a dowel

C and G are marking and measuring a dowel

C is cutting the dowel for the rod part of his catapult.

C is cutting the dowel for the rod part of his catapult.

Since my youngest son is in this group, I made sure to block some time for him to think and work on his catapult design. He was quite determined to add a particular piece to his design and was quite frustrated that I couldn’t see the same picture that he had in his head. So, he decided to draw it.

He needs this type of metal clamp to hold down the twisting part of his catapult.

He needs this type of metal clamp to hold down the twisting part of his catapult.

Once I could see what he was talking about, I realized how I could help him. Instead of running out to the hardware store, we brainstormed some ways that we could make the fastener. He ended up choosing one I had bent out of a toilet paper roll. It served the same purpose and he could use tape (lots and lots) to hold it in place

Of course, he had to cut the dowel to the right size first…after measuring it with a tape measure. I did step in a little bit with some guidance and adult know-how for this part – if only because I didn’t want to run out and get another dowel when he cut this one too short. I merely asked him more about the function of the dowel – to ensure that he recognized that his measurements had a purpose! Previously, he had decided that he wanted to cut the dowel six inches long…because six seemed like a good number. Oh, so cute.

C is cutting another dowel - to attach to the first one - this time at home.

C is cutting another dowel – to attach to the first one – this time at home. Please don’t look at his footwear. I’m finding some comfort in the fact that at least he is wearing safety glasses!

Other Projects
The other projects are progressing nicely and I think that many of them will be moving on to the scientific research stage at the next class. Many of the projects have been explored on their own – during home study time. This is fabulous and although not completely unexpected, I was hoping for more dedicated work time as a group. Oh well. I’m enjoying watching the process unfold and already planning for the changes I will make for our next project-based group endeavor. In the meantime, the kids have two more weeks of class time before they present their findings to everyone. It will be interesting to see how the research and/or display information will evolve among the groups.

Catapult supplies - wood, tape measure and rubberband.

Catapult supplies – wood, tape measure and rubberband.

Project-Based Learning :: Physics :: Week 3

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Week 1 and Week 2.

Catapult prototype, made by A.

Catapult prototype, made by A. One of the three nine-year-old boys…

I needed to wait awhile before writing this post because my initial reaction to last week’s class was a feeling of frustration. It seemed as if there wasn’t much learning going on, but I knew that I needed to step back from my current feelings and let them digest so that I could see what really was happening.

There was learning. Lots of learning. It just didn’t look like you would expect on week three. It looked a lot like week two, but with a little less enthusiasm. They were still experimenting – often with some of the same things that they made last week. I think that many of the parents (myself included) expected there to be a clear path of progress, rather than the messy trial and error that is reflected in the construction of knowledge.

Why do we adults expect learning to progress so quickly and thoroughly? Is it because we have less time? Is it because we feel the pressure to “get things done?” I know I do. A lot. I have to constantly remind myself that the learning my kids will do (on their own) will far outpace the direct instruction I give them…if only I can be very, very patient and wait for the breakthrough. Sometimes I can’t give them the time needed to do that, but for a class like this, that’s the whole point. We need to give them the time to goof around, play and think about their ideas – while still helping them to stay on track.

I think that’s the key – making sure they stay on track. And, if we’re being completely honest here – I think I failed a bit as a facilitating mentor this past week. I fell into the “parent” role and was chatting with my other parents. Oh, it is so nice to chat with other homeschooling parents from time to time. But, not during class. So, next week, we’ll move into a more secluded area where we can focus and not be so distracted by other things. Well…I think that wraps up my personal “lessons learned” from this week, so it’s onto the projects!

Catapult Building – group of three 9-year-old boys
Last week, these boys were building prototypes and despite a Google Hangout meeting later in the week, they were still undecided as to what path they wanted to take next. They decided to keep making prototypes and then to choose one to focus on and build out of wood. Yep. Wood.

Catapult prototypes made earlier in the week out of popsicle sticks.

Catapult prototypes made earlier in the week out of popsicle sticks.

A trial catapult (and ultimate design dismissal).

A trial catapult (and ultimate design dismissal) that used air pressure to launch the “weapon”

These boys were enjoying playing with their catapult designs but were less likely to build new ones and seemed a bit lost with what their next step should be. They definitely wanted to try out some different designs, but none of them had done any research or found any other books or web sites. It was if they thought the ideas would just come to them via tinkering. It’s not a bad way to construct knowledge, but it does take a lot longer and it is very easy to fall off the path of progress. I think this would have been less of an issue if we were in a dedicated space – full of books, computers and supplies.

That being said, I re-read their words to them about making a decision and they all decided to go with a design that RC had found online and made earlier in the week. Although his prototype didn’t last the week (oh, 9-year-old boys), they had all seen it during the online chat and all agreed to move forward with that design.

Their decision for the following week is to each build the catapult using the instructions and figure out how to “scale” it up next week. Research required…which means I’m bringing my computer so they can figure it out in class.

The Gravity Girls, (ages eleven and barely eight)
These girls followed up with some more experiments on gravity and had some “failures” as well. I’ve been noticing that many of the problems we encounter comes from not having the proper materials on hand. Despite our best efforts to bring what they need, sometimes the materials don’t work out and you need something similar, but not quite the same. This post on space makes a lot more sense now.

Gravity experiments

Gravity experiments

Regardless, the girls were reading, tinkering and taking good notes. They decided that next week they needed heavier weights and taller container for their experiments to work properly. They also need to remake the paper clown out of an index card because he was too big.

Taking notes -- handwriting and spelling practice without having to make them do it!

Taking notes — handwriting and spelling practice without having to make them do it!

Catapult Building – group of two boys (ages 5 and 6)
These two continued to make a catapult out of tongue depressors, based on the picture on the front of this book. It was interesting to see them work out ways to adapt the design – what to use for the wood cylinders – dowels or pencils? They also realized that they needed the hand drill to drill holes to connect their non-sharpened pencils to the catapult. I asked how they were going to connect it to the sides and this was their answer, so we’re going to let them have a go at it next week. This is all part of the process of learning – especially for five and six.

The frame is almost ready.

The frame is almost ready.

Windmills and Another Catapult
We have two other projects going on in class, but I didn’t get great pictures of them, nor did I have a good chance to interact and help guide these two boys. N was steadily working on his windmill design and would have kept working if he hadn’t run out of glue sticks.

E was not around last week, but had chosen to do catapults as well and had a blast making one and shooting off pom poms. As a 7-year-old, he is on the cusp of being perceived as “too old to just tinker,” but still a little too young to be expected to create an elaborate presentation on his own. It might be a challenge in the coming weeks to help him go further with his project, but hopefully seeing the older boys will inspire him.

With so many kids doing different projects, I’m finding it difficult to effectively facilitate and be “the record-keeper” for each group. I really want to help the kids to follow their own path, but they are still kids and need guidance, reminders and written documentation to demonstrate their thought processes. We will be treading this line in the next few weeks as we try and help them to dig deeper with their learning and push themselves to discover new ideas.

E's rapid-fire catapult

E’s rapid-fire catapult

To keep reading about self-directed physics, check out PBL – Windmill Presentation – Week 4.