Video courtesy of the Foothill Dragon Press
Well, I have encountered a few issues with buying stuff for the DTech pathway. On Wednesday morning I spent an hour and fifteen minutes walking up and down the aisles of Lowe's trying to figure out the last major items to buy for DTech (at least for this year). After calculating out how much money I had left, which was about $980, I ended up with two carts of supplies. I picked up things like a miter saw, jigsaw, belt sander, hardware, and safety equipment. I trundled up to the checkout lady expecting everything to be just peachy, but fate would prove to be a negative Nancy.
Apparently there were some issues with the account, which meant that I could not purchase the items I needed. Imagine having to walk away from two full carts! Not a fun experience. Not sure what to do at this point considering the purchase deadline is in just a few days.
This one isolated incident wouldn't be such a huge problem on its own, but this is just the latest bit of heartburn in a long series of acid reflux. It seems like a situation where I am being dis-incentivized to work more / harder / creatively, which is not a good feeling. I have this sinking feeling that I am not alone when it comes to teachers trying to push ahead for their students only to be shackled by unnecessary and ineffective bureaucracy. Maybe I just have marginal luck...
Over the past several months I have been wrestling with what program to use for 3D design (mostly to use with 3D printers). I started off the year using Tinkercad, but quickly found that though it has great potential, it just doesn't have the power that my students and I need to create custom designs. Tinkercad seems like it would work well for younger students or a more casual setting.
Coming from a little bit of experience using CREO 2.0, I was used to parametric design that is fully customizable. I definitely was not an expert, but I could at least see that CREO afforded a lot more potential for designs than Tinkercad. CREO, however, was not an option because of its size and use restrictions.
I set off looking for a new CAD program and stumbled upon Fusion 360 (made by Autodesk--same company that makes Tinkercad). Fusion 360 looked like the savior to all of my problems--it is free for students and provides a great modeling environment that is extremely powerful. I thought Fusion 360 was the program, until I started running into limitations imposed by its operating system requirements.
First of all, my classroom was stocked with 26 chromebooks, which are not that helpful when the program you need requires Windows or OSX. OK I thought, I will just use some of my grant money to purchase new laptops. Long story short, I bought six new laptops with SSDs (a personal requirement of mine) and ended up spending twice as much money for them due to vendor requirements (that is a whole other story). Well, the six laptops are nice, but what the heck am I going to due with them when I have 36 students next year! On top of that, Fusion has constant updates, which on the surface seems like a good thing. Yet, I can't afford to have students wait around for 10-15 minutes while their Fusion 360 updates. On top of that all, the students couldn't actually use the program when they logged on to their district student accounts due to some cloud filter issue. The tech guy fixed the account issue (thanks dude!), but the delay meant that I couldn't really use Fusion 360 for our 3D printing unit--forcing me back to Tinkercad.
Then, at a baby shower a month or two ago, I ran into this local entrepreneur named Brian (runs Nomad, a company that makes battery accessories) who told me about this cloud based parametric design application called onshape. It sounded too good to be true--a powerful CAD program that could run on any computer hooked up to the internet. I promptly went home and signed up for a free account. Took about 5 minutes and I was in. The CAD environment looks similar to Fusion 360, so no major issues jumping in and starting. When I got to school I tested it out on my chromebooks and it worked brialliantly. I found my program of choice for next year when the first official cohort of DTech enters 10th grade.
The picture above is a quick project I had my students do using Onshape: make a mothers day vase using the "revolve" function. Students quickly figured it out (for the most part) and within one day were printing their designs on the makerbot and airwolf printers. Sweet. Below is a design I am working on for my wife: An iPhone 6 wall mount with included pocket for chapstick and hook for a hair tie.
Just saw the video posted above on Facebook. DTech Inc should really be about building this type of device--one that blends the arts with design and engineering. I was blown away by how cool all of the gears and pieces interact to produce an awesome song that is steampunk-esque. This machine reminds me of the Charles Babbage Difference Engine (see video below), which was one of the first "calculating machines" or a mechanical computer.
Both devices are inspiring me to get our CNC machines working to make gears. My plan is to decorate the pod (now the DTech Inc Lab) with interlocking gears across the frieze of the room. Each gear will drive another all the way across the room. The gears will be powered by an arduino, which will control the timing of the driving gear. The artist above recommended using a website called Gear Generator to build the gear setup. Apparently once you have your design you can print out the gears as an SVG file. In order to open up SVG files I downloaded an app called "Inkscape," which is free.
My plan is to create the gears on the generator, download the SVG, add the files to Inkscape, the submit them to the CNC software. We'll see how it goes--I still need to buy the CNC machines. I am going to get the X-Carve for large format cuts and the Nomad 883 desktop mill for smaller precise jobs.
Sorry about the long gap. Been busy. I swear I will blog more often now. Maybe even vlog.
The last week has been a busy one in dtech. On Monday I attended a professional development session on Career Technical Education and the formation of new pathways. Some interesting tidbits from the meeting include:
After the official PD, we met as a team to firm up the pathway vision. What we figured out was that we will be offering two different pathways: Entrepreneurship and Software. By creating two pathways with similar goals, we will be able to receive two sets of VC Innovates funding. Now, the hard work is figuring out how to spend the money effectively across the four grade levels and two pathways. I wonder if we should just split it evenly between the teachers, or just decide as a group which classes need more infrastructure. From past experience, money is harder to spend than you think when you are in a complex bureaucracy.
For the past week or so, my DTech students have been working on their arduino projects. Arduino has been awesome. Last year we acquired 18 official arduino starter kits from Amazon. These kits are great because they come with a bunch of different electronic components, the microcontroller (called an uno), a breadboard, and a projects book. Along with the arduinos, the students are using chromebooks to upload and power the boards. For several years, arduinos and chromebooks did not mix. In the last year or so, however, several browser based programs have popped up online that now make it possible to use the cheap computers with the boards. We are using a web app calledcodebender to create and manipulate the sketch code used by the arduino boards. So far, it has worked perfectly.
It has been really interesting (from a pedagogical perspective) watching the students work. They come into the class, grab their arduino boards and computers, and get right to their projects. Instead of lecturing them about how electronics work, they are learning by mucking about with the kits. When they need to learn a new concept, they do it because they need to. Everything is contextualized by their progress in the project book. Students are only on the first couple of projects, but already they have started to experiment (unprompted by me) by combining different projects in surprising ways. Eventually the students will need to create their own project outside of the book and document it here or on instructables.
These students are not getting course credit and are essentially giving up half of their lunch to be in DTech this year. The arduino work shows that learning can truly be intrinsic.
So, I have been trying to workout the DTech pathway flow for students from 9th grade through 12th grade. This process is tricky because you have to deal with a lot of logistical problems / questions. For example, our school is around 1000 students, so we don't have a lot of breathing room when it comes to courses offered in each particular grade.
In 9th and 10th grade the students have little room in their schedules to take extra electives, so the DTech courses must either be during an existing class or an advisory period and lunch. For 9th graders, the pathway course will probably be the computer class called "education in the digital age" (EDA). For 10th graders, the pathway course will happen during FIRE (advisory period) and blend into lunch. The 11th and 12th graders have more flexibility with electives, so these classes will be easier to fit into a schedule.
Another logistical piece to this puzzle is figuring out how to match up official CDE pathway courses with the plan for DTech at Foothill Technology High School. DTech will actually have two strands in the pathway: Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and Software and Systems Development. Students need to take at least three courses in each of these strands (one or the other) to be considered graduates of the pathway. Grants tied to the pathway also require at least three courses, which makes sense--a pathway implies multiple steps and an evolution of skills.
The next step for the teacher team at Foothill is to see how we can modify existing courses to fit the official CDE requirements. Looking at the courses we offer, it seems like this step actually won't be as difficult as I originally thought. We already offer courses that are nearly identical to the CDE course descriptions. For example, The graphic design elective already offered matches two CDE courses: graphic communication and computer graphic and media technologies.
The 12th grade course might be a little tricky because one of the goals of the pathway is to get students to get involved with internships. I will have to reach out to community members to see how we can build this requirement into the program.
I have been mapping out our pathway options on an app on my iPad called "Paper." This app is an excellent tool for sketching, mind mapping, or designing. Many of the things posted on this site use the Paper app. You should download it.
I am new to this blogging thing, but all the cool kids are doing these days, so I think I will give it a go. I am the DTech "teacher" at Foothill Technology High School in Ventura CA. I am currently doing two things with DTech: 1) piloting a course during our advisory period (called FIRE) and lunch, 2) creating a "pathway" (academy) program so that students can learn about design, entrepreneurship, technology, and philanthropy from freshmen year, all the way through senior year. We are going to design with a purpose--to help people in our local community or in developing countries.
I, along with several other colleagues and students, am creating this program / pathway because we see a huge need for design / entrepreneurship education in society. FTHS doesn't currently have a program like this--so we are the ones to build it.
I will not be the only one posting to this blog. My students will also be adding their two cents as well. I am interested to hear what they have to say.