Opening the Floodgates

c4uzeobuoaagtsaOn a recent trip to Fir Grove Elementary School, we had the opportunity to do some deeper dives into Lego robotics. After a brief exploration and research session about the current flooding situation in California, upper elementary students learned how to build and program a working floodgate. We then displayed current weather data from the Oroville, California region, which was grappling with the prospect of a catastrophic failure of the Oroville Dam. For a number of students, it was this information that seemed to kick them into high gear. They were making plans to release some of the water behind the Dam before the next wave of rains hit. Questions and questions we overheard from students were:

“How much water do we need to keep for the farms? What about the fish?”
“What if we add a motion sensor, and let that trigger the gate?”
“How do we make our program to go by the hour? Maybe we can just make a second mean one hour?”
“What if the dam erodes?”

Students were more than just engaged, they were moving with intention and showed empathy in their decision making processes.  We overheard many discussions about the people who had been evacuated, and how scary that must be to wonder if the dam would fail.

We were simulating real solutions to real problems, and beyond that, we were encouraging empathy as the first part of the design-thinking process.  Who is this solution for? What are the trade-offs? What happens if we don’t act? How would we feel if we were there? Who decides what to do and when?

This build was more open-ended than the first robot builds, as students were able to adjust the programming to respond to weather data, or other inputs. However, the floodgate itself was a scripted process that looked basically the same for all students.   This was a necessary step toward a much more open-ended design project to come.  Now that the students have had the opportunity to learn how to use the lego robotics tools, they are ready to design every aspect of an original solution to a design challenge.   Their solution with their unique voice.  Open the floodgates!


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Before we all got iced out, we got more chances to engage in hands-on making, robotics and programming around the district.  The first step was exposing teachers to different options and ideas that were available.  After conferring with grade level and building teams we made a plan to provide the opportunity for students to engage in these activities. The outcome we are hoping for is to see teachers and students continue to use these techniques and technologies to support learning!

Here is a snapshot of what we were up to:

Barnes Elementary

Students and teachers engaged in hands on “Hour of Code ” activities. Kindergarteners programmed the Code-a-Pillar and used Ozmo blocks to solve programming and math challenges. Second graders took their Ozobot skills to the next level by drawing color coded programming instructions to solve maze problems. Fifth graders test flew our brand new LEGO WEDO 2.0 kits, successfully building and programming some basic robots. We plan to return to Barnes for a larger school wide event in the Spring.

McKinley Elementary

All fifth grade students at McKinley rocked hands-on making and programming robots using LEGO WEDO 2.0 kits.  We were psyched to see so much collaboration and perseverance.  The bus will return right after the break to continue into some more complex builds and programming challenges.

Meadow Park Middle School

Meadow park MYP Design Class teachers wanted to expose kids to 3d design and printing. Students worked together in groups to go through the engineering/design process to make working bookends for the library.   They translated these designs to a 3d file in TinkerCad to print.  To make this process more efficient, we worked with a small group of “Tech Sherpas” from each class before the project started.  The Sherpas learned how to load and unload filament, troubleshoot the printers, and print files from various design and slicing tools.  They became the printing experts in the room, helping other students realize their designs.  We were thrilled with the quality and detail of the final projects, and it was cool to really road test the MakerBots and Dremels.  The bus will follow up with these design classes to plan future collaborations.

The calendar is filling up for 2017, we are going to put some serious miles on this bus!  We are excited to continue to learn and grow together, see you in the new year!


Ozobots and Math @ Meadow Park

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“I feel smart!”

-Quote from an 8th grader after writing his first programming function.

About 200 8th grade AGS 1 students from Meadow Park programmed Ozobots to solve challenges.  Using visual coding and quite a bit of math, they persevered to get their tiny robot to run laps, knock down bowling pins, and escape from a maze.

One purpose of our visit was to expose students to programming, and then to use their programs to make a physical object (the Ozobot) perform a task.  For a number of kids, this was their first exposure to any kind of programming.  Kids worked together to teach themselves the programming environment, and how to upload their programs to the Ozobot using light codes from the screen.  They then worked together to see if they could make their Ozobots complete difficult physical challenges.

Another purpose of our visit was to engage kids in tasks that require them to draw upon and apply their math skills to solve problems.  Even the task of programming a small robot to do a seemingly simple task often requires knowledge of angles, geometry, algebra, -and in some cases- cartesian coordinates, and even functions!  We also chatted about the math that must be going on “under the hood” of these robots that allows them to actually activate the motors and sensors that allow the Ozobot to execute the program.

This is the first step- exposure to something new.  Mr. Fewx and Ms. Mann from Meadow put themselves out there to try something new.  This is the essence of a lifelong learner. Along the way, they provided their students with a new opportunity to see math in a different way, and gain skills in programming and robotics.

#BSDFUTUREBUS rocks BEF Camp Achieve!

As part of the Beaverton Education Foundation’s Camp Achieve, the FutureBus provided kids with hands-on making activities all over our district.  We are thrilled to collaborate with the BEF, and look forward to working together on some very exciting projects.  A nice writeup here:

Check out some of our visits:


Check out Colin’s video from Future Night at Raleigh HIlls K-8


This is a follow up to my previous post about our real world table problem. 
If you missed it – here it is:
Below is a video snapshot of the process and some of the tests.

We hope this idea inspires others to try to utilize the engineering method and 3d printers to try to tackle Real World Problems.  Thanks to Keith Kelley for his continuing inspiration!



If you missed part 1, find it here:

We pitched the bus.

First Tech was on board before we even had time to explain the idea.  The details would take time, and there were many more conversations to come, but it was clear we now had a concrete idea around which we could rally.

We wanted to use the bus to explore other creative partnerships with the community, so we reached out next to Autodesk, who makes really awesome 3d design tools.  Autodesk’s response was immediate and supportive.  The great news that I learned was that Autodesk ALREADY gives students access to most of its design tools FREE OF CHARGE.  They are also developing thoughtful teacher guides and learning materials.  Autodesk’s tools like TinkerCad (an awesome 3d design tool especially for younger kids) will be a part of the bus experience.

We started exploring rolling storage carts, awesome hands on activities we could have on the bus, and different events that would include the bus.

Then we realized that there was an important thing that we still needed – a bus.

John Peplinski, the architect of the BSD Future Ready Vision, reached out and the district delivered.  A 27 foot beauty with a lift that was phasing out of service.

We had a vision of kid made things, a growing list of collaborators, and a bus.  It was time to take this vision Further – and physically transform this old school bus into the FutureBus.

For this, we reached out to Gallagher Designs.

John Nougier, Andrea Gaier, and Chris Lowenberg were on board and enormously helpful as we tried to figure out our next move.  As I mentioned more than once, this was our first FutureBus, and there were bound to be some growing pains.  We were excited that this collaboration was going to involve some really special designers with lots of experience doing these sorts of projects.

We wanted the bus to tell a story.  Even before it got close.  Even if there was no one around to tell it.  And we wanted the bus to deliver a message – that school could feel different.  That it could be different, and inspire kids -wherever they were, and whatever their story was- to make something unique to this world.  To break down the walls of school and transport teachers and students to a place that challenged them to reimagine their craft of teaching and student-ing.

And we wanted coffee on the bus.  Everyone knows that teachers work and think better when they have coffee.  Good coffee.

Our next stop was Stumptown.




#FutureBus Part 1

In May of 2015 I shared a story at TEDx Portland.

This was the story.

It was an incredible and affirming experience.  As I was sipping a Stumptown cold brew in the park outside the Keller right after the event I was approached by a woman named Alex who was reaching out to me on behalf of First Tech Credit Union.  She said that her team loved the story and wondered if we could all meet and talk.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this small interaction would lead to a very interesting collaboration that would launch a very cool idea.  At least I think it’s cool.

I met with the First Tech team over the Summer of 2015 and we shared philosophies and dreams about what education could be.  I was unaware until those meetings that part of First Tech’s ethos is to support STEM education in schools.  We had lovely conversations, and they encouraged me to reach back out to them if I thought there was a way we could collaborate.

Fall came, and John Peplinski, who was the architect of our technology vision at Raleigh Hills, took a position as Director of Digital Design at the central office.  This was a great hire, as John’s mind for systems and his leadership style were exactly what our district needed to further our Future Ready vision.  Our community has invested significant amounts of money though a technology bond, and John has already started to scale out his visions across the district.  More about the Beaverton Future Ready movement here.

In our school, we were busy implementing a new program called “The Workshop” which is a project funded by our community through last year’s auction that has two elements. The first element engages K-5 students in multiple “making” opportunities to inspire and cultivate divergent thinking, creativity, and perseverance.  The second element engages 6-8 students in multiple “mentoring” opportunities to develop leadership, empathy, and collaboration.  The workshop was anything we wanted it to be: robotics, 3d printers, electronics prototyping, coding, and more.  You can learn more about some of our adventures on other posts in this blog.

The workshop was underway, and Pep and I would occasionally meet for coffee and talk about revolutionary things with RHS alumni parent and fellow revolutionary  Vince Radostitz.  We are still not exactly sure where the idea came from, but I think it was Vince, who has since officially joined the Future Ready team in Beaverton Schools.

The idea was to make a magic maker bus.

Here’s one example.

Here’s another.

This seemed like a great Vehicle (ahem) to spread the message of “kid made things” – the subject of the talk I gave at TEDx PDX.  Could we scale out the excitement of hands-on making experiences to all of our students?  Could we use the bus as a mobile tool to further the district’s future ready ambitions in a unique and inspiring way?  Could we make school feel less like school?

Inspired (loosely) by other makerbuses and (very loosely) by the great notion of Ken Kesey’s bus Further, we began a conversation to see if we could actually do it.  None of us had ever transformed an old school bus into a time machine that would lead us to the better tomorrow of learning.  A mobile makerspace where kids could MAKE and TAKE and BREAK.  An engine for change and excitement that would light up the city at night and light up kids in the daytime, and vice versa.  A STEAM-powered trojan horse to bring shopcraft back inside the gates of the ivory walled city of education.  The answer to everything – on wheels.

Maybe we were aiming a little high.  A couple of us had never even backed up a trailer.  But lack of expertise or even common sense had never stopped us before.  Pencils went to paper.  I called First Tech.

And the FutureBus was born.



Real World Problem: Folding Table Part One

Can we cultivate a design disposition in kids using 3d rendering programs and 3d printers?  Sure.  Can we develop those skills AND solve a real problem?  Maybe!

True story: I was rolling a table through the halls of our school when I hit a bump.  The table collapsed and sent 3 expensive laptops to the earth.  Fortunately, the angle of impact was just right, so the laptops slid off and down the hallway with no visible damage.  This was lucky, but this was also a problem.  A real world-problem to be solved!

Here is a video that I recreated with the same table and some stunt computers:

Students initially suggested I just buy better tables, which makes sense.  I pretended I had no budget for that and we had to fix it ourselves using only our creativity, Autodesk’s TinkerCad, a MakerBot Replicator Mini, and some hope.

Students paired up, watched this video, and physically examined the table.  They then used measuring tools to brainstorm, design, 3d print and eventually test their solutions.  We use the engineering/design process that our science teachers and this project has the Next Generation Science Standards for Engineering all over it.

They use this Google Presentation as a place to document their process.

In the next blog post we will see what they made!


The Force and #FutureBus

This week we are celebrating the arrival of the new Star Wars movie with a design challenge!  Using LittleBits students were asked to create a bit that allowed them to “use the force” to move the lightsaber toward them.  This activity supports the Next Generation Science Standard practice that states:

Define a simple design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process, or system and includes several criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

Using the workshop set from LittleBits, students were shown the following video to set the scene:

May the Force be with you!

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