Monday, October 16, 2017

Using Virtual Reality in S.T.E.M. Classes

One of my favorite projects as a science teacher is having students use the design cycle to plan and create a Rube Goldberg machine.  This hands-on learning activity helps students build conceptual knowledge regarding systems as well as content knowledge related to simple machines.  Additionally, the process of building a Rube Goldberg machine helps improve student resilience and fortitude through trial and error. 

The few weeks that we work through this project in science is a bit chaotic because there are pieces of everything everywhere.  However, with a new Virtual Reality program called Modbox, students could create their Rube Goldberg machines with no mess at all.  You can learn more about how this program works below.

In Modbox students can easily set up all sorts of artifacts (tubes, balls, dominoes, rockets, etc), controls (switches, buttons), and adjust the gravity.  The possibilities are endless and NO MESS!

Modbox is also useful to conduct science experiments especially ones related to physics.  Give it try and let me know what you think. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Fostering Creativity and Innovation Through Virtual Reality in Design

One of the promises of many stellar schools is an emphasis on developing the Whole-Child for a life of purpose. In our design department, we want students to be more creative and innovative in their thinking.  Good designers are dreamers who are courageous and willing to take risks to make products and solutions that are different.  Building this type of culture and ethos is never easy.  Yet, with the right tools, students in design can grow more comfortable making mistakes and learning how to build on them to keep the project moving forward toward excellence.
One such tool that fosters a sense of resilience, fortitude, and supports a culture of courageous creativity is Virtual Reality.  VR devices like the HTC Vive are incredibly immersive, realistic, and engaging.  When students don a headset, they feel like they are in the real-world.  One of the benefits of VR is that the user can interact with the virtual environment. The scope of these environments is as deep as your imagination.  Students can paint, sculpt, build and design in a surreal context.  Student models can be changed and adapted based on iteration and feedback from others.  This new stage or step in the design process gives students more freedom to make mistakes, learn, grow, and be bold and brave as they are creating solutions to complex design challenges.  For example, students in Grade 9 re-designed passenger train cars to hold more people and combat overcrowding.  Before they built their wooden prototype, students used VR to conceptualize their models and revise.  Many noticed small mistakes in measuring and aesthetic features like the shape and location of their seats.  This important step in the process minimizes fear of making mistakes along the way before printing.

Because of it’s fully immersive nature, VR has enormous potential in education. Virtual Reality is currently used in construction, architecture, house sales, film, health care, marketing, and fashion. Here are some of my favorite VR applications that I use often in my design classes with the HTC Vive:

1. Fantastic Contraption-this is a building game, whereby students must design a cart to transport a Jelly-Ball to a certain location.

2. Bounce-this is a problem solving game whereby students use pipes and planks to get a ball from one location to another in various rooms.

3. MakeVR-this allows users to design, adapt and make objects and then send them off to be 3-d printed.

4. Prospect- this program allows students to example their CAD files and make changes and adjustments.

5. Keep talking and Nobody Explodes-this is an amazing team building and communication game. One student (wearing the headset)sees a bomb in a room and everyone outside the room has a bomb manual and must provide information to the person that sees the bomb to help cut wires and solve clues on the bomb to diffuse it.

What are your thoughts on the use of virtual reality in education?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

From Making to Designing: Moving Beyond Following a Recipe to Big Ideas

As a teenager growing up, I have many fond memories of Shop Class.  In fact, I still have a few of the items I made during my formative high school years.   We learnt many valuable hands-on skills related to woodworking, welding and photography.  Each project or assignment allowed us to follow a set of
instructions in order to build something that looked just like an example provided by our teacher.  Students who excelled were careful and meticulous at following directions. 

Fast forward almost 20 years, and you would have a difficult time finding Shop Class in many high schools across North America.  Many influential thinkers in education, like Sir Ken Robinson, argue that we should be resurrecting vocational education, especially Shop Classes.  Mr. Robinson argues that because of the pressures on governments to focus more on academic excellence many schools have eliminated vocational skills and training.  Alas, these programs, argues Robinson, promote creativity and help schools offer a balanced education that students need. 

Whilst I agree with Sir Ken Robinson, I would push this notion one step further.  The issue with some vocational curriculums is that they fail to challenge and engage students in authentic problem solving.  My Shop Class experience was riddled with recipe following leaving little room for creativity,
inquiry and critical investigation.  We were given a set of instructions to follow in order to carefully build a predetermined product.  At the end of the unit, every student made the same item (some looked more aesthetically pleasing than others :)  We were asked to be makers and not designers.  In my humble opinion, there is a difference.  Please see this chart which outlines my beliefs on the difference between makers and designers.

So, how do we move from Shop Class to Design Class? 

As a International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program Design Teacher, I have learnt the importance of moving assignments or projects from conceptual understanding to conceptual understanding or from making to designing.  Instead of having students make the same thing, whether that is the same box or the same cup, we move to more open-ended products.  One way to ensure this is to use the acronym G.R.A.S.P.S, which stands for Goal, Role, Audience, Situation, Product, and Standards.

For example, let's say you have a 3-d printer in your classroom and you want to use it as a tool to help students engage in learning.  A traditional Shop Class might teach all the students how to use a 3-d modelling program like Tinkercad.  Then, you might have all students create a product like a bag tag.  If we wanted to move students beyond making, the project might look more like this:
Products for All Design Challenge
Your design company has been hired to develop a small prototype of a product for a child with a specific disability.  You will need to do some preliminary thought on who your target audience will be?  In other words, what disability are you making a product for?  Here are some examples, a) missing or amputated arm/hand/or legs, b) cerebral Palsy, c) Multiple Sclerosis, d) Severe Arthritis, e) Parkinson’s Disease, f) Muscular dystrophy, g) Blindness, h) Deafness
Goal-By understanding the perspective of others we can design toys that enable children to fully participation in their community.

Role-You are a product designer who has been hired by the Matel company to design a product or device that makes life easier for someone with a specific physical disability.

Audience-Your target audience will be someone with your chosen physical disability? In other words, what disability are you making a product for? Here are some examples, a) missing or amputated arm/hand/or legs, b) cerebral Palsy, c) Multiple Sclerosis, d) Severe Arthritis, e) Parkinson’s Disease, f) Muscular dystrophy, g) Blindness, h) Deaf Person, i) other?

Situation- Products for people with physical disabilities are often and after-thought. These people are not given the same opportunities are the rest of the able bodied world. Stores often sell products only for the regular population. It is time to consider designing things for people with physical disabilities. 

Product- To research and design a prototype of a product that is 3-d printed for a child that has a physical disability.

Standards- See MYP rubrics for Criterion A, B, C, and D.

Here are other examples of projects or assignments that emphasizes conceptual understanding and help move students from making to designing:

1) The Indian Train project.
2) Hacking Ikea Project
3) Reflecting on Automation

As I stare affectionately at my wooden key chain holder I made in my high school Shop Class, I want to be crystal clear about the message of this blog.  This is not about supremacy of one program over the other.  There is nothing wrong with making, maker spaces and the maker movement.  Children deserve the opportunity to work with their hands and develop skills necessary to build products.  Additionally, children deserve to be cognitively pushed and move beyond making something from a set of instructions.  My interpretation of designing allows them to engage in a problem, think critically and connect to bigger ideas. 

Brown, Tara Tiger. "The Death Of Shop Class And America's Skilled Workforce." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 19 June 2012. Web. 03 Jan. 2017.
Robinson, Ken, Sir. "Why Schools Need to Bring Back Shop Class." Time. Time, 08 May 2015. Web. 03 Jan. 2017