Tuesday, February 6, 2018

What's Growing in the Solarium?

A quick peek into the fifth space in the Light Lab, often viewed a part of Natural Science but deserving of a quick blog post.

When we brainstormed what to grow in the Light Lab Solarium, we realized that our students are really fortunate to focus on traditional growing methods with our expansive outdoor garden and farm.  Each year they plant seeds, spread compost, weed, harvest, and get their hands dirty outside in all the best ways.   

We wanted to give them a different experience in the Solarium by introducing aeroponic and hydroponic methods of farming.  Our fifth graders tackle the building and set-up in the fall.  The maintenance of our three vertical aeroponic towers in the Solarium is ongoing.  They visit as a class weekly to fill the water reservoirs, take pH readings, measure growth, plant seedlings, replace and tend plants, harvest, and most deliciously, eat!

Most of what we harvest is taken to the kitchen where Chef Wadiya incorporates it into our new food program, Lettuce Feed You.  We grow basil which is added to her homemade pizza sauce for Fridays and dill that flavors her famous salad dressings.  

Swiss chard, arugula, leaf lettuce, and kale make up the hearty variety of greens exploding from the towers.  We have a few climbing cucumbers which have proved great for making quick pickles.  (Amazing student take away:  "You mean pickles are actually cucumbers!") The sweet pepper plants are producing some beautiful baby green peppers that will be ready in the next two weeks.

After finding an avocado seedling self-sprouted in the compost outside, we rooted several more avocados (a lengthy process) and converted some old buckets into hydroponic systems.  We now have four beautiful and healthy avocado plants which after another lengthy period of time may yield some fruits that wouldn't be possible in the Pennsylvania climate.

Our aeroponic and hydroponic systems share many things in common.  Liquid nutrients must be added to the water to nourish the plants.  Each system is soil-less; seeds are sprouted in rock wool pods. 

The hydroponic buckets allow the plant roots to sit directly in the water/nutrient solution to take in both as needed.  Roots are supported in baskets filled with pebbles. 

The aeroponic towers allow the roots to grow out into the air inside each tower column and take in water as it "rains" down from above.  A strong pump in the water reservoir forces the water up to the top where it falls through something similar to a shower head.  This design allows us to make good use of the vertical space in the Solarium.  

Of course, the best part of growing is eating.  Tasting new foods is an important way for our students to practice one of our three Lower School guidelines: Be Brave.  

Their faces are priceless. Arugula was popular with about half the group, but everyone tried it!

It's truly amazing how much easier it is to take a chance on an unknown food when you've helped bring it to life and tended it through the entire process.  Stewardship, one of our Quaker spices, is in action!

The last piece that's been missing in our Solarium is an aquaponic system.  Teacher Tiffany and I have been researching and preparing, educating ourselves on how to add fish to our water reservoirs.  The fish make is possible to close the system, eliminating the need for us to add liquid nutrients for the plants.   

Tune in this spring as our students build an aquaponic system and learn the basics of this new sustainable method.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Closing Out 2017

Before we forge ahead into 2018, let's take a look at what I didn't highlight from the fall.  I don't always have time or space to showcase it all and I still won't be able to in this post. But here goes!

My favorite activity this fall was part of 4B's fall project which focused on The Sound of Philadelphia and making music.  4Bers all learned to use Adobe Illustrator to design a custom record - applying so much amazing math like adding/subtracting decimals, concentric circles, and alignment.  The designs were immediately fabricated using our laser cutter.  The rest of this cool multi-disciplinary project included poetry writing for song lyrics and artistic design of the album covers.  They are displayed in the hall outside of 4B so check them out if you're in the building.

4A came in for their annual lemonade making.  That little lemon tree lives happily in Ms. McBee's classroom all year yielding just enough beautiful juicy lemons to squeeze into the ultimate refreshing drink.  The smell was amazing.  You'll have to trust me.

4A focused on puppetry for their fall project with visits from an actual puppeteer who led the students in several amazing workshops in the Design Studio.  In their classroom, they researched famous puppets in history, writing informative and detailed reports.  They also practiced the art of giving feedback to each other in their study.  Check out these fantastic reports hanging outside their classroom. 

Both fourth grades used a combination of science and art class in the Fabrication and Design Studios.  Each student researched a specific bird as part of a larger study in science class.  They learned about the differing types of beak shapes and their purposes.  Ms. Parris and Teacher Tiffany joined forces to help students construct cardboard and paper mache beaks.  Fun and function!

Nursery B visited in small groups to make homemade soaps for gift giving before the holidays. Teacher Tuesday help guided her students in forming some great predictions about the science behind their process.

3B explored Dash & Dot robots during Hour of Code.  They learned how to use block programming to navigate and write codes to help their robots interact with the world around them.  

All Lower School classrooms participated in this year's Hour of Code in a various ways.  Some classes went high tech using software, iPad apps, and robots while other classes focused on low tech ways, like patterning, sequencing, or direction-giving, that coding is a part of our everyday life.

A special thanks to Sue Kirk, Technology Integration Specialist, for planning this coding celebration in our Lower School.  She even had wonderful little details like coding fun facts on lunch tables and personalized certificates for completing the hour.

KB used the sound-proof recording room in the Media & Computing Studio to record their voices for the culminating fall project video chronically all the ways they explored the Arts.  They really learned that art can be almost anything!  While they were there, they used the space to make quick stop-motion videos, program some BeeBots, and build with LEGOs.

Onward to 2018 - a year that's sure to bring many more Maker Ed projects in our Lower School.  My gratitude to all these amazing kids and their dedicated teachers.  I am lucky to be able to showcase their hard work and creativity.  

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

2B Makes Electronic Music

2B has been visiting the Fabrication and Media Studios for the past few weeks exploring circuits and electronic music.  With a focus on The Art of the Drum, this project was a natural extension of the deep learning taking place inside their classroom.

Mrs. Kollender started thinking about making drums with her class last spring when Fall Project planning began as a division.  We brainstormed together envisioning a great deal of experimenting and testing to see what sounds could be generated and what materials would work best. 

We eventually realized we could really expand the students' options for building while adding meaningful science and music connections if we introduced the idea of electronic music.  Do you need a physical instrument to make music?  Can it be done digitally?

Using the Makey Makey Inventor's Kit and the great instrument apps on its website, teams partnered up to test their circuit boards while learning to control the digital instruments.  

They tested everyday materials to find conductors that could be used to build custom circuits.  Foil, playdough, utensils and paper clips were popular and successful.  Seltzer cans worked fairly well.  Students were encouraged to generate their own ideas for materials that might work and to test out their predictions.  Larger metal items seemed to only work when touched close to the alligator clips, generating authentic interest in the "why" behind what we observed.  

Those moments are beautiful to witness - proof of the power of Maker Ed!  It was so fun to conduct electricity ourselves as a necessary part of the circuits.  We brought high fives and hand holds to the next level of cool! 

Students were encouraged to think outside the box and to share ideas.  Some teams decided to use feet instead of hands to complete their circuits; others used full body movements to make connections.

Once teams mastered circuit-building and felt comfortable controlling the instruments, we took the time to plan our designs.  They chose a digital instrument and conductive materials.  They discussed what type of music they wanted to make, choosing descriptors to convey the emotion they hoped listeners would experience.  Each partner also drew their design separately so they could compare and agree before moving forward.

Our final session is coming up.  Teams will complete their design plan and record their music.  We will also take time to reflect on whether our final music captures the mood we set out to create.

We are looking forward to sharing our final compositions and reflections when they are ready.  While the product is always cool to see, the learning is so evident in the process.  

Happy making!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Ed Camp Maker Promise

Last Saturday morning, Friends' Central's Lower School campus was buzzing with the excitement that comes along with great professional development.  Maker Ed, Digital Promise and Ed Camp Philly all came together to kick off of a new educational partnership called Maker Promise. 

Check out Maker Promise for free support and resources in Maker Ed. 

This event was the perfect opportunity to make the Ulmer Family Light Lab studios and resources available to the wider community. We welcomed teachers from a variety of public, charter, and independent schools in the Philadelphia area and beyond, as well as participants planning summer camps, building partnerships, and tech enthusiasts interested in trying new skills.

The Ed Camp model is characteristically an "unconference," meaning participants are encouraged to put up suggestions for workshops and discussions they are interested in facilitating or attending.  The session board was populated that morning while attendees networked, snacked, and perused the fantastic Mobile Makerspace set up in the gym.  

We had some old friends (also Light Lab Advisory Board members) from Maker Ed and Digital Promise sharing the awesome ways they are helping ensure maker resources can get into the hands of more teachers and students.

Digital Promise also offered an easy inexpensive circuit-building activity for testing and feedback. Their "yes and" improv project planning cards were also a big hit - a fun way to push your ideas by using other awesome maker minds to brainstorm.  The registration table was filled with great maker swag.  Educators love free stuff!

Maker sessions took place in all four studios of the Light Lab and expanded out into Lower School classrooms.  Discussions included how to start up a makerspace, how to assess projects, and how to create buy-in from faculty.  Other sessions zoomed in to allow teachers to try specific tools like micro:bit, a vinyl cutter, or a specific type of robot.  

When wrapping up the day, attendees shared their favorite take-aways.  Here are a few:

  • Maker Ed doesn't have to be expensive (so important!)
  • Trying out Wonder Workshop with Dash and Dot robots
  • Exploring micro:bit
  • Creating paper roller coasters
  • Sharing effective forms of assessment
  • Networking with other makers
  • Making a vinyl sticker

When the tables were cleared, chairs folded, and bags packed, I stopped to chat with a colleague.  She shared that she overheard a NYC teacher saying on her way out, "My soul has been fed." 

That's what good PD does.  It's why we, at FCS, were thrilled to play a part in Ed Camp Maker Promise.

This event marked the first (definitely not the last) time we have leveraged our new facility to help provide professional development to a large number of educators beyond our immediate community.  

Big thanks to Maker Ed, Digital Promise, and Ed Camp Philly for asking us to host this amazing event.  And to the army of makers who came with mobile materials, can-do attitudes, and muscle power to set-up/clean-up: You rocked it!  We are grateful.

Are you ready to make the Promise and commit to being a champion for making?  We are!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Our Littlest Makers, Fall Projects, and Pumpkin Fair 2017

The Light Lab Studios have been full of children in all grades making cool things that connect their learning to Fall Project with their homeroom teachers and specialists.  

It's wonderful to see our littlest makers in the Light Lab so often.  Nursery classes have enjoyed using the learning kitchen in the Natural Sciences Studio to make applesauce and pumpkin muffins.  They are practicing measuring correctly, mixing ingredients, and being brave enough to try new foods.  They've also had valuable time building with open-ended materials and listening to great stories during cooking time.

We had a fun Mini Maker Morning from Nursery A and Pre-K A and B when our Upper School Service friends joined us for the day.  Since our Fall Project theme in the Lower School is "The Arts," we decided to make food art.  Beautiful and yummy!

3A and 3B have been in almost every week.  I love seeing how deeply they are diving into their fall project themes and just how varied their maker projects are as a result: cooking southern food, weaving sweetgrass baskets, making ragtime instruments, hand sewing different stitches for Robin Hood hats and satchels, and learning to use the sewing machines - among many others!

The wind tunnel at Pumpkin Fair was a big hit for makers of all ages - even adults!  It was great to see everyone experimenting with everyday materials to make parachutes, gliders, hovercrafts, and cool flying inventions.  I was delighted to witness so many "aha" moments.

Monday's Maker Club started the first fall session by making insulating playdough, building squishy circuits, exploring robots, and using the laser cutter to craft moving cardboard props for animation.  

Squishy Circuits is a product of FCS alumna, AnnMarie Thomas, '97.  How cool that our current makers get to learn from a former FCS maker by using her invention!   AnnMarie is also a member of the Ulmer Family Light Lab Advisory Board, using her expertise and love of FCS to help guide our program as it develops.