October 9, 2014

3D Printing in Third Grade | Feeling Successful

One of the best things about maker education or education technology is how they can push kids who are used to having school come easy to them to a place where they have to work. Nobody likes to be frustrated and too much frustration will make a person want to quit. But it is those times when we want to quit and push through the resistance that makes success so sweet. This week the third grade class that I previously wrote about finally had the opportunity to make their own Sonic Blooms and I saw kids take their learning to a new level of innovation.

Their teacher, Ms. Klingel, was brave enough to make this lesson her formal evaluation, and our principal was invited to come and evaluate her on the lesson. That’s a courageous statement given how many things can go wrong with a lesson like this. If you read my last post then you know the class was making a reproduction of an art exhibit in Seattle called “Sonic Bloom”. They are solar flowers that collect energy from the sun during the day and glow during the evening. We 3D printed enough stems for each student in the class. Then they used pipe cleaners to connect a solar panel to an LED in the bulb. The bulb is made of an upside down Slurppee lid, tissue paper glued on with glow in the dark paint, and twisty ties.

The process of the creating the Sonic Blooms.

The process of the creating the Sonic Blooms.

Many projects like this have a moment when nothing seems to work and the students really need to catch a break or maybe just take a break. Unfortunately, the part of the lesson that was evaluated was just that moment. The directions were given, the example was shown, and the kids were on their own to create their flowers and circuits. The process of trial and error began, and for the first part of the lesson there were a lot of errors. Time ran out and the kids had to take a break. I think Ms. Klingel was a little disappointed that it didn’t come together during her evaluation, but then a curious thing happened.

The break must have done some good for the students. They came back in and were given more time to complete their task. Just like there’s a moment in these lessons where nothing seems to work, there’s also a moment when the first one does work. Then, like fire, it spreads. Soon all of the Sonic Blooms were blooming with the little blinking LEDs. The students were able to feel that sense of pride that comes from sticking with something that is difficult. They also had a really cool solar flower to show for their efforts.

The flowers are blooming. The LEDs don't show up well in the picture. You'll just have to take my word for it that they are blinking.

The flowers are blooming. The LEDs don’t show up well in the picture. You’ll just have to take my word for it that they are blinking.

Ms. Klingel gave me the update on the lesson after school today, and she was beaming at how well her students did and how great the flowers looked. One of her favorite parts was hearing one student explain to another that the reason her LED was not working was because the positive side of the light had to be connected to the positive side of the solar panel. It was clear that the students had gained an understanding of the basics of how electricity flows. They learned about electricity by learning about art by making their own.

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