We love the innovative ways that educators (in both formal and informal learning spaces) introduce learners to the concept of physical computing with Makey Makey and coding languages like: Scratch, Processing, and Python. Each month, we will feature an educator and a unique project they've worked on recently. To read more educator posts, simply sign up for our newsletter and we'll guide you to our best content.
Kimberly and Bradley are star maker educators! We've been following their work for some time now and are so honored to feature them on the blog this month. Plus, Kimberly was one of our winners of our STEM pack last month!
Together this amazing duo built the STEM lab programs at each of their schools from scratch (pun intended). Bradley’s lab was formerly a traditional science lab and Kimberly’s was one of two of the school’s computer labs. They have been very fortunate to have a ton of freedom and support from their principals in the creation of their maker programs. The new STEM lab programs let students enjoy a level of creative freedom which they had not experienced before.
These STEM lab teachers in Houston, Texas serve two very large elementary schools! They do excellent work in all things STEM, but we wanted to share some of their recent work integrating history, Scratch, and Makey Makey.
Bradley: Sinclair is a STEM and Communications themed magnet school with about 600 students from Pre-Kindergarten through 5th grade. Whether from the neighborhood or on a magnet transfer, all students participate in the magnet classes. These include Digital Media, Music, Drama, and STEM Lab.
Kimberly: Piney Point Elementary is one of the largest elementary schools in Houston ISD. We serve more than 1,150 Pre-K through 5th grade Title 1 students. Our student body is remarkably diverse, even for the most diverse city in the United States with children from more than 50 different countries. Our students are predominantly second language learners.
Our students do not allow their socio-economic and language challenges to stand in their way. Piney Point is one of the most nationally recognized green schools in the city of Houston, a designation earned entirely by our student managed environmental programs.
Bradley: I am the STEM Lab teacher, and I see every one of our students in the lab. I also serve as the Magnet Team leader and as the school’s UIL coordinator. I sponsor an after school Digital Making Club as well as a Robotics Club.
Kimberly: I am the STEM Lab teacher. In addition to teaching, I am the campus GT coordinator, the campus arts liaison, the Green Schools coordinator and the UIL coordinator. I am also the Name That Book, No Place For Hate, and Spelling Bee sponsor.
Bradley and Kimberly: We started teaching STEM lab at our respective schools around the same time. Our journey to the lab began with Code.org, Hour of Code, and Scratch. We actually began using all these coding sites when we were still regular classroom teachers. Once in the lab, and having realized what a powerful tool for learning and expression coding could be, we began to see that keeping our students’ programming experiences two dimensional, limited their understanding of the power and possibilities of coding.
Also, students need hands-on making experience - to grasp basic design and physical science principles, and to just plain understand how objects and forces interact in the real world!
Makey Makey showed us how to combine programming and making in a way that empowered our students to share their learning and ideas in an interactive way that is as engaging to the audience as it is to the maker.
We actively dislike the way knowledge is artificially compartmentalized and hermetically sealed! Math doesn’t exist in a special math-only reality carefully isolated from reading and science and so on! Coding and making are both tools that we teach our students to use as a means of furthering their own understanding and sharing their learning.
A central part of our philosophy of STEM lab is that pretty much every project has a cross curricular connection. Whatever kind of making the students are doing, whether physical, digital, or both, they are working with concepts and ideas from other subject areas.
Bradley and Kimberly: The biography bottle project started with research into a historical figure. 4th and 5th grade students used a variety of digital resources to gather information. They used that information to plan and create a Scratch project about their person. The program was required to have a number of “When __ key pressed” events to support the Makey Makey. Once the programming was complete, students were tasked with making a model of their person using an empty plastic bottle. They had to do their best to recreate the look of the subject’s period dress using construction paper, cardboard, and whatever other maker materials they could gather. With both the programming and making finished, students added the brass fasteners and wiring necessary to add Makey Makey interactivity.
Bradley: My favorite biography bottle is a model of Amelia Earhart made from a handi-wipes container. I love that the students worked out making the buttons on her jacket the touch points for triggering the elements of the Scratch program. My runner up favorite is probably the extremely well dressed milk carton Ada Lovelace.
Kimberly: One of my favorites is the first biography bottle project completed in my lab, a model Martin Luther King Jr. because the maker did an amazing job with the look of the model and the level of detail in the Scratch program. Also, that was the first biography bottle project completed. Two others that come to mind are projects about Vincent van Gogh and Frida Kahlo. They are well done for sure, but my favorite thing about them is the level of interest and excitement the students had in their topics, so much that they continued to learn about the artists even after the project was over.
Bradley: Currently my Digital Making club students are building Makey Makey/Scratch operation games. In January, I will have 4th graders working on a cartography unit that will include making interactive maps.
Kimberly: My 3rd and 4th graders and I will be working on Scratch projects that tell familiar stories from the points of view of different characters. This will include a display board with each character, i.e. “touch here for the bears’ point of view”, “touch here for Goldilocks’ point of view, etc.
If you are interested in the projects by Kimberly and Bradley, check out some of their Labz guides: