May 23, 2014
I usually have my blog posts roll out Thursday morning, but am running late today. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is that tonight was my Open House and I have been busy getting that ready. The bigger reason, was that this project wasn’t complete until right before Open House started. It ended up being fantastic, and it will stay up as long as I can keep it.
The other day my class went on a field trip to the Santa Barbara Mission. It was a typical field trip but something caught my eye. It was wooden box with the California coast painted on it. All of the missions were represented on the map with lights next to them. There were three switches in the bottom left corner. Each switch was labeled with the founding Padres of the missions. When you flip the switch all of the missions founded by the corresponding padre would light up. I immediately started thinking that three simple circuits would make that work. Then I thought about how my students were capable of creating something like that. I commented to one of the parent chaperons that I might try and make one of those with my class next year.
It turns out that I couldn’t wait until next year. I have a bulletin board of California that I add to all year. As my students complete California History projects, we make an icon and add a QR code to it. When the QR code is scanned you can see their project. We start with the Native Americans, then add the explorers who came to California, then we add the missions and we keep adding until the end of the school year. This year, I did not have a chance to get the missions on the board. We spent our time working on different projects, so the mission project never made it to the board. It made me feel like the board was incomplete.
I shared with my students the idea of using some LEDs and making a few circuits to re-create the board that we saw at the Santa Barbara Mission. The class loved the idea and wanted to get started on it. So that is exactly what we did. We talked about how we would go about accomplishing this. A plan was hatched and they went to work on it. Some of the students went to designing and printing a switch box, some students took on labeling where the missions would be on the map, and some started figuring out how to wire up the circuits. In two days we had a 3d printed switch box that was appropriately labeled and the beginnings of the first circuit that will light up the missions that Father Serra founded. These kids are capable of so much. I really enjoy watching them create these things.
The circuitry on the back side was a different story. While they took off like a shot in taking down the old board, mapping out where the LEDs would go, and wiring them together, we hit a few snags. Mostly from my lack of knowledge. After the third day I had to educate myself on what was going on. I quickly learned that different color LEDs pull different voltage and that we needed a battery big enough to light up more than one light at a time. We solved that problem with a couple of 9 volt batteries, but still had an issue with power. Fortunately, we have already studied circuits and knew we could make parallel circuits to share the power.
Once the kids got the first three bulbs working, they knocked the rest out in no time. It was really great to see the dynamics and ownership of the group. The kids really pulled together to get this done in time, and I couldn’t be more proud. They beamed all night, and showed it to everyone. Who could resist pushing a big red button?