Making a Makerspace: The St. Raymond Journey

St. Raymond is preparing to host both principals and teachers from all over the San Francisco Archdiocese on Monday, May 22. We will open up our doors to share what we have done so far to build out our Makerspace program over the last three years, relating both what has worked well, and what has not worked well in our journey. Most importantly, we will host a roundtable discussion on Catholic school values and how that relates to Design Thinking and Makerspace programs. We will also examine what it means to change school culture when it comes to Maker integration in math, science and art lessons.

Autodesk came to visit our 4th and 8th grade classes last month to observe how we transition from Tinkercad (used in education around the world) in the lower elementary grades to Fusion360 (a professional engineering package) in 8th grade. Below are three short videos highlighting our Maker program that Autodesk produced from that visit and we are proud to share them with you! Also note the Dremel 3D printer and hand tools students use in Maker projects.
@AutodeskEDU, @Fusion360 and @Tinkercad @DremelEDU

The first video is from the student perspective:

The second video is from the perspective of the educator (the Maker Awaker):

Tinkercad and Fusion360 helps students to go from ideas to physical parts on the Dremel 3D printer. A slightly longer version of the video is here.

The third video is about how we have used a Makercart to serve different classrooms:

1st Grade Revolutions

When we move from 2D Shapes to 3D shapes we "extrude a profile". This means that we take a 2D image and pull it into a 3D volumetric shape. A real world example of an extrusion machine are Playdough sets we grew up with where the clay was pushed though a hole to extrude a particular shape. This most often was extruding a cylinder from a circular hole. 

Another type of extrusion is the revolve. Think about the cross-section of a bicycle tire which is mostly circular, but it is extruded in a torus (donut) shape around an axis (axle). The image below shows the transition in 1st grade yesterday from hand drawn 2D profiles to 3D revolutions of those shapes. 

Student drawn 2D profiles revolved into 3D shapes

Student drawn 2D profiles revolved into 3D shapes

6th Grade Lesson Improvement

Students at St. Raymond often end up simplifying or improving the lesson being offered by the teacher. Below (in the red circle) are two circuit boards connected together as configured by Mr. Hawthorn. The instructions to the students were to connect pins #8-11 on the Arduino to #in1-in4 on the L294 motor amp board. I assumed the students would use the provided wires. Nope! 

Students simply inverted the boards and plugged them in directly (blue circle). Adults don't always have the best, or simplest, solution to a problem.

Geometry with Mechatronics Design Tools

The 8th grade geometry class is exploring using Fusion360 as a tool to build homemade volumetric problems. The class did very well attacking the first example of this problem type with the example below. The next step will be to explore surface area an Ellipsoid early next week by actually building the underlying profile (sketch) and revolving it. We want our students to feel confident picking up math formulas they have never used before and applying them to unfamiliar problems. The if-formulas-are-vehicles analogy is to teach a person to drive a car in an empty parking lot, then give them a semi-truck and tell them to drive it cross-county. That is difficult, a little dangerous, and requires a healthy mix of grit and confidence. Same approach with Geometry. 

Conical Holes in Spherical Volumes - 1st Grade

Yesterday our 1st graders completed their second digital geometry construction challenge. After exploring cones, spheres and rectangular prisms in math class we explored what would happen if we could subtract one shape from another. In this lesson the class went from cone as a noun to conical as a adjective. The challenge was to draw a spherical shape in Tinkercad and then subtract a conical hole. The image below is a collage of the class effort.

The 1st grade class produced the digital models (above) of Conical Holes in Spherical Volumes

The 1st grade class produced the digital models (above) of Conical Holes in Spherical Volumes

Afterschool Spray Paint (Makerspace / 4th - 8th Grade)

Spray paint is not always a bad thing at school. In the context of the St. Raymond after-school Makerspace, it is another useful tool students learn to use in the pursuit of their individual design projects. Last week a student proposed using spray paint to decorate his 3D printed parts. The student was prepared with research on a special paint made by Krylon that bonds well to plastic surfaces. Most (affordable) 3D printers are single color PLA printers. We use a couple of kinds of these printers at the school, including the Dremel Idea Builder. One way to make two color models is to print out separate parts in different colors and then assemble those parts into one model. This is a good idea when you have parts with moving joints with complex geometry, or where tolerances are tight. The second, faster method is to simply print out one large part and use masking tape to block of areas for spray painting. This technique is preferable when the single part strength or simplicity is desired.

The first products combining these techniques look promising. The student leading this effort will continue to develop the technique and publish results on this blog later this year.

Spray paint on campus is not always a bad thing. A student shows off spray painted 3D printed parts.

Spray paint on campus is not always a bad thing. A student shows off spray painted 3D printed parts.

Student Managed Tools in After-school Makerspace

As our after-school Makerspace expands, students are given full responsibility over the management of tools, we have students who manage soldering stations, spray painting, CAD training, power tools and hand tools. At this point in the year, when a new student comes to the Makerspace, the teacher can simply point that person to other students with experience who will train them in the safe and correct application of each tool.

Yesterday we received a Dremel Idea Builder 3D printer. Two of our 4th graders who have shown great interest in chassis prototying were chosen to manage the new 3D Printer. The students were told that the responsibility to manage the printer belongs to them alone. While there was a teacher in the room, there was no adult help setting up and calibrating the printer, nor would there be help using the printer. These students now own the threefold responsibility to use, maintain and teach other students how to use the new tool. The results so far have been successful. They have produced high quality 3D prints from Tinkercad with students learning to care for the tools they use as well as how to use them.

Tools in the After-school Makerspace are 100% student managed

Tools in the After-school Makerspace are 100% student managed

Autodesk Visits St. Raymond

Yesterday Autodesk visited St. Raymond in order to document the 4th and 8th grade Mechatronics classes and our after-school MakerSpace. The crew at Autodesk was interested in our program because we are currently the only elementary school in the country starting students in 4th grade on Tinkercad (a digital design tool made for education) and transitioning them to Fusion 360 (a professional engineering design platform) by the end of 8th grade. Our students shined in the spotlight. The documentary crew was impressed with how our Catholic school students are motivated to design things that help people and make the world a better place.

Look for the videos to be posted in late May to

Above: the 4th grade class is filmed using Tinkercad to study degrees in a circle

Above: the 4th grade class is filmed using Tinkercad to study degrees in a circle

Using Engineering Tools to Make Art - 8th Grade

Often the best way to introduce a new tool to students is to show them how it works, but don't show them examples of what to make with it. The 3 Minute Rose is a project that evolved from showing 8th graders a few features in Fusion 360 and letting them run with it. Fusion 360 is more often used to design machines then flowers, but maybe that is because adults artificially frame what can be done with a particular tool. Leave it to students to go from STEM education to STEAM education, adding an "A" for Art along the way! 

Dancing Flowers - 4th Grade

4th grade completed their first complex machine project. A complex machine is one with two or more circuits. In this case we included a light with one power source and a motor with a separate power source. We used the same vibrating motor found in cell phones used for haptic feedback. Blue painter's tape works great to make the connections because it can be removed many times without losing it's sticky while not leaving behind a residue. 

4th Grade Dancing Flower Project. This projects uses two seperate circuits, one for the light and one for the motor.

First Annual Electric Car Drag Race! - 5th Grade

The 5th grade class spent the last few months building electric race cars. These cars have one motor in each wheel (4 wheel drive), a central power supply and switches rated for 120volts. Yesterday the 5th grade class assembled in the gym to race their cars for the first time. This was a king of the mountain style elimination race with the winner from each race staying on to race the next competitor. The winning car won 9 straight races, some by only a few inches.

Next week each team in the class will debrief on the race and start to look at how their car might be tuned. Where is energy being lost? Are the wheels aligned? How would a change in the wheelbase affect the tracking stability of the car? Are four motors necessarily faster than two? The cars from each team will start to look very different from each other as designs evolve. 

Working on Space Station Hardware - 8th Grade

Earlier in the year our 8th grade class built touchscreen Linux based tablets built around the Raspberry Pi. We are now adding a new board to those computers called the Pi Hat. This is a small circuit board with six sensors (Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Temperature, Barometer, and Humidity). This is exactly the same board flown on the International Space Station by the European Space Agency (ESA). The board was flown as part of Astro Pi Challenge last year. 

Our students learned to control the 8x8 LED matrix last week. Over the next few months we will explore mapping inputs from the each sensor to different positions and RGB values in the matrix. The Pi Hat is attched to the same tablet students are learning to hack MineCraft on. More on that in the next 8th grade blog entry.

The Pi Hat has six sensors: Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Temperature, Barometer, and Humidity. It also has outputs with a 8x8 LED matrix and inputs with a 5 position joystick in addition to full GPIO pin access.

The Pi Hat has six sensors: Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Temperature, Barometer, and Humidity. It also has outputs with a 8x8 LED matrix and inputs with a 5 position joystick in addition to full GPIO pin access.

Yummy Gooey CAD Candy!!! - 5th to 8th Grade

A Graphical User Interface (abbreviated GUI and pronounced Gooey) is made up of all of the buttons, icons, and windows in a computer program. Of all of the software tools we have used in the St. Raymond Mechatronics program, the GUI that generates the broadest instant obsession among students is TinkerCad by Autodesk. Once unleashed in a classroom, it is very hard to get students to put down the tool. The interface is so fun and intuitive that we stopped calling it TinkerCad and started calling it "Yummy Gooey CAD Candy" (Software Developers would recognize this as a terribly sticky pun).

As a teacher, I wondered how students with some exposure to TinkerCad would adapt to a professional engineering design environment like Fusion 360. Autodesk has made all of their educational as well as design software totally free to schools, so I was able let students loose and observe the results in the professional CAD environment. The results were generally stunning. Students between 5th and 8th grade who had some experience in TinkerCad were able start realizing their designs within a professional engineering environment after just a few minutes. In both cases pictured below, I asked students to make a spherical shape from a rotated pattern of torus(s) (tori???). Elapsed times:

Students with some exposure to TinkerCAD pick up professional CAD tools like Fusion 360 surprisingly quickly. These tools are free and accessible from home or school computers. 

St. Raymond at SF Archdiocese Tech Day 2017

The San Francisco Archdiocese held the annual regional Tech Day 2017 on Friday, February 3rd. Technology directors and teachers from the area gathered to learn from each other and share best practices on everything from student digital privacy issues to rolling out MakerSpaces on a limited budget. This year marked a new level for the conference with a national sponsorship. Dremel Tools generously donated a new 3D Printer to the conference. Alexandra Iwaszewicz, Technology Coordinator at St. John High School, won the Dremel 3D printer for her school - Happy 100th year St. John School! Additional thanks goes to The San Francisco Archdiocese for providing funds so every teacher could keep the Arduino microcontroller they used in the training session. 

During the MakerSpace session of the conference teachers had the chance to jumpstart some basic MakerSpace skills. Most session attendees went from no prior experience with microcontrollers to seeing the link between coding, microcontrollers and prototyping tools. There is an exciting trend in both private and public schools across the country exploring MakerSpaces as an integral part of the school campus. Special Thanks to Becky Wong St Thomas More School and Gordon Fair of St Gabriel School for organizing the event. Lots of fun and learning was had by all!

To support seeding more MakerSpaces within San Francisco Archdiocese, St. Raymond school will be hosting a unique 30-hour educator PD session through KCI later this summer. Teachers will be paired 1:1 with students. Each teacher/student pair will explore MakerSpace tools with original projects.

@DremelEdu (3D Printers in Schools)
@ken_hawthorn (Making at St. Raymond)


Left to Right: Ken Hawthorn weaves 3D Printing with Arduino, Alexandra Iwaszewicz wins a Dremel 3D Printer, teachers get hands-on with Arduino

Extending the Rainbow - 1st Grade

Today in 1st grade we learned that the rainbow includes many colors we can not see as well as those we can. There are colors with very short wavelengths (ultra violet) and very long wavelengths (infrared). Heat and cold around us can be remapped with an infrared camera into the visible spectrum so we can see changes in temperature. We can paint with ice by moving it quickly (light to dark blue) or slowly (purple to black) over a period of time on a water-proof canvas. 

Ice Painting in 1st grade. The canvas stays coolest in spots where the ice stays the longest.

The St. Raymond parking lot on February 1st, 2017. Note the hood of the Tesla vs. other hoods in the parking lot. 

It's all About the Developing Student, Not the Technology - 7th Grade

Today the 7th grade Mechatronics class at St. Raymond really elevated the bar nationally in STEM education by reaching a very important milestone. The project includes the use of commercial stepper motors that power so many of the real-life machines around us from 3D printers to the actuators on spacecraft. To do this students in 7th grade were successfully working with the same hardware that students in upper level high school and college programs use. 

None of that is important - at all. These students are young. There is plenty of time to learn this stuff as they get older. The technology is going to evolve so far by the time they would see it again in a high school or college level program. So why do it? 

Grit developed from a 15 week project mixed with an emerging confidence that there is no corner of the technical world that can not be mastered and used to improve the human condition is both the motivation and result of this project. 

Upper left: It is not about the technical lessons learned, it is about early success with technology - like when the machine you just spent 15 weeks building passes an intial test.

Upper left: It is not about the technical lessons learned, it is about early success with technology - like when the machine you just spent 15 weeks building passes an intial test.

An Engineer's Notebook - 7th Grade

Ideas evolve into machines, but their genesis is on paper. One student who comes to the weekly after-school MakerSpace received a leather bound notebook with a nice pen for Christmas. As a teacher, I was thrilled to see the notebook already filling up with drawings that expressed in detail how this student's ideas are evolving over just a couple of weeks. Every engineer I know keeps notebooks capturing ideas for future projects, and they hang on to every notebook they have filled. It is interesting that every writer and artist I know also keeps notebooks to capture and evolve ideas on paper. An engineer's notebook, an artist's notebook or a writer's notebook - it is remarkable how universal this tool of the imagination is among people who shape our world. Leonardo's notebooks, Einstein's notebooks, Steinbeck's notebooks. They changed the past. A child's notebook will change our future. 

The message this parent was sending by buying this notebook for their student was clear: "Your ideas are valuable and deserve a nice place to live and evolve. Take pride in your ideas and spend time developing them"

A student's first Enginering notebook.

A student's first Enginering notebook.

Stop-Motion Lego Movie Making! - 4th Grade

Today students in Mrs. Mattei's class got to work with a special guest speaker. Hannah Moran came out and set up stations where students can make their own lego stop-motion films. As we build out our after-school Makerspace to include students in lower grades we might consider building a stop-motion camera rig and having it available for student use after school if there is sufficient interest. For more information check out this excellent resource.

Above: Mrs. Moran works with 4th Grade Students Learning About Stop-Motion Animation

A short clip showing what 4th graders using stop-motion tools for the first time can do in a few minutes of work.

A Mostly Dremel Mobile Maker Space (2nd - 8th grade)

As we are coming up to the halfway mark in the school year, I thought it would be a good idea to put on my DIBA (Dremel Idea Builder Ambassador) hat and give an update of the equipment we are adopting as we build out the Makerspace at St. Raymond. No one tool can stand alone in a Makerspace. We need to look at workflows - that is the order of tools used in the larger processes students will follow as they build different projects. The application and order that you use tools in a Makerspace is critical to success in brining a design into reality. 

How does the 3D printer integrate into different workflows? Below are project examples that use different tools in various workflows:

Puppy Mobile: This is a great project because it highlights how to use a 3D printer in a class project. Think about your design and apply the 3D printer where it is most useful - on parts that cannot be formed with other tools. In this case, the class is building 17 Puppy Mobiles powered with a 9V batteries. Start in Tinkercad, then 3d print the battery case. Use the router table, drill press and Multi-max to cut and form the wood chassis.

Smart Mirror Frame: The 8th grade class is building Raspberry Pi smart mirrors. Just the frame of the mirrors had morphed into its own project! Instead of using wood and 3d printing separately, this frame (just one corner shown in the picture below) workflow strengthens the traditional wood joint cut by adding a 3D printed exoskeletal element (the blue clamp will be removed after the glue is dry).

Buggy: This project combines Arduino with foam board and 3D printed elements. While scoring and cutting works for most foamcore construction, when it comes to quickly modifying the 3d printed end cap parts without having to wait for a re-design and reprint 6th graders found it very useful to just use the Dremel rotary tools to add features to the 3D printed joints.

I have really found these tools to be useful in the Makerspace and in the Mechatronics classroom. They are safe, easy to store and transport. As teachers from other schools reach out to me and ask more about how we spend our money at St. Raymond in building out our Makerspace, I can say that Dremel as a company really hits the sweet spot for our students. - Mr. Hawthorn