30 Days of Creativity


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I am participating in the http://30daysofcreativity.com/. The picture above is a replacement knob for my dresser. I will be installing it later today. I encourage anyone who reads this to join the fun. You can make anything. Tomorrow I am going to make marinara sauce and stuffed shells. I hope to get into a darkroom to print some black and white photos on one of the remaining 29 days. I hope to inspire others to create.

the installed knob


MakerBot and Education


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3D printing has the ability to change the game of education in two ways. It can empower teachers to act as designers, which they do already when designing lessons. (Teacher as Designer compliments of Dr. David Crismond @CCNY) 

The MakerBot enables me to create custom hands on materials specifically for my students learning needs. Just today I created a block of brownstones to demonstrate green roof technology. I drafted the homes to look like the ones that surround my school. I included an area on top to be filled with soil and planted with grass. The students will pour 10mL of water in the planted and non-planted buildings. They will collect and measure the runoff from the drain in the bottom of the building. I would not be able to do this lesson without a 3D printer in my room.

The second way 3D printing will improve education will be when the students act as designers. My second grade students, 7 year olds, designed buildings for an erosion demonstration. Rather than show the students how water can move sand, I had them place their buildings on a model river. The impact of erosion became clear once the children saw the life hazard once a home floated down the river. We also related the project to the devastation caused by the flooding of the Passaic River in Patterson, NJ after hurricane Irene. 

Letting students design and rapidly fabricate their ideas takes project based learning to the next level. By giving children the tools of a professional designer/engineer/architect/artist, we recognize that their ideas are important and should be developed. I can’t imagine the wonderful things that children will develop after having years of 3D printing before even going to high school. Teachers will be able to engage students in rewarding and meaningful lessons that are relevant to their students. A lesson that is a hit in Harlem might be a flop in Flushing. 

A Way Overdue Update On My MakerBot River Project


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Last November my students began a culminating project on erosion to conclude a second grade unit on Earth materials. We used the MakerBot to fabricate small buildings to be placed on the banks of a model river.

River table

The river model demonstrates water’s ability to change the surface of the earth. I made the project more interesting by adding the buildings to the river. This way the children could see the impact that erosion can have on humans.

The children used 3dtin.com to create their buildings. This is a free web-based 3D modeling program. The children were limited to creating their buildings with simple cubes. This constraint was caused by my inability to get WebGL/Chrome to work on our school laptops. This was a good limitation for their first foray into 3D modeling, but I would like to resolve this issue for our next project. Once I resolved, the students will be able to place a variety of shapes in their models(spheres, cones, text, etc).

3dtin.com screenshot

A small number of students in each class took to the drafting program immediately. A majority of the children needed several 45 min periods of time on the program and some coaching from me. Each class had a few students(1-3) who were unable to create a printable building. Printing was an ongoing task. Each building took between 1-2 hours to print. The video below shows MakerBot printing.

After we had most of the buildings printed, we ran the test. Students decided where to place the buildings near the river in a pre flood state. After all the buildings were placed I caused a flood by dumping extra water at the source and increasing the flow of the pump. Students observed the river for about 5 minutes. They also viewed a time lapse video of the river that condensed 1 hour into about 3 minutes. Here is that video:

After conducting the test and viewing the video students completed a worksheet and rubric(03c-RiverErosionRubric) on their building.

The children really enjoyed this project. Now I need to think of our next MakerBot infused project.

This work was made possible by the NYUPoly Center for K-12 STEM Education, MakerBot Industries, PS 3 The Bedford Village School, and 3dtin.com.


Make for a Brighter Future


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There is a thriving maker movement in United States, flea and craft markets filled with beautiful handmade goods, hackers repurposing old electronics, new moms knitting sweaters, urban gardeners canning their own pickles, etc. Americans have a strong desire to create and innovate. Blogs have enabled people to share their crafts with fellow crafters all over the world. Our country needs a brain infusion to get back on our A game. The brains are all around us just waiting to be provoked. The expression “it’s not rocket science” implies resistance to that level of knowledge. We need shoot for the stars to reach our full potentials.

Maker Faire NYC at the NY Hall of Science. Today's innovations were on display in the shadow of these reminders of our proud past.

Many of my students do not have the Internet in their homes. I am going to expose them to the DIY world through the MakerBot. I was recently loaned a Thing-O-Matic 3D printer from MakerBot Industries. The SMART program at NYUPoly has a relationship with the people at MakerBot. My summer research experience enabled me to part of a pilot program introducing 3D printing into the classroom.

My first experience printing in 3D. This Thing-O-Matic is at the BotFarm in Brooklyn.

This machine will allow my students to print solid objects that they create in a 3D modeling program such as Google SketchUp, 3dtin or TinkerCad. I believe children will find this process very exciting. Building in a virtual 3D space will make much more sense once the children hold a tangible object that they created.

My first object. I created these steps on 3dtin.

Our first project will blend science, social studies, engineering, computer science and design. The children will be designing towns on a model river. The river table will teach the children about erosion and the composition of Earth’s surface. They will be researching different types of buildings by visiting various neighborhoods in NYC as part of the social studies curriculum. This will be the example for the children to design their own buildings using 3dtin.Some classes will be working with a civil engineer, Eduardo, to learn about site planning.

I must get some rest now. I will be introducing the MakerBot to my students tomorrow. I am very excited to see their reaction. Have a wonderful rest of the week.

Catching My Breath

Now that it is October, we are settling into our routines. I have been adjusting to life as a new father. My beautiful baby girl was born less than two months ago. I adore every moment with her. I am working out the challenge of balancing work at school and work at home.

Baby holding a frog from the MakerBot.

What is Permeability?


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According to google.com, it is “the state or quality of a material or membrane that causes it to allow liquids or gases to pass through it.” We are specifically looking at the dynamics of water passing through soil. Water must travel around the particles, for the most part. We need to think about the void spaces in between the individual grains of soil. The larger the spaces in between, the more space water can occupy as it travels through. Picture a jar of marbles, how big are the gaps in between the marbles? Do you think water would be able to move more quickly through a jar of marbles or a jar of sand? We will have to try that this week. In order to analyze a soil, we must quantify its permeability. This is important information for a civil engineer when planning a building site. If they want to build on a hill, they might want to know how the water affects the soil in a storm. There could be some sort of land slide potential. Eduardo explained the theory and some of the math that goes into these tests.

This photo shows some of the data we collected. Let’s go to the beginning of the test. Before running the test we compacted the fuzed quartz sample. The fuzed quartz is one of the transparent soils. It did not become transparent during our test, since water does not have the same index of refraction as the fused quartz. You need to use a different liquid for that. We loaded our permeabilty test device with a sample. We had to measure the mass and volume of the sample.

Before being able to run the test, we had to make sure the sample was saturated. The soil is saturated when all the void spaces are filled with water. This means all the air has left the sample. We watched the exit hose for bubbles. Once the bubbles disappeared, we were ready to run the test. We used a stopwatch to see how much time it took for the tank to empty 200mL. We repeated the test three times to have a reliable test.

We marked lines to show 200mL.

The system is ready to test.This test is ready to go. Russ and I were now comfortable running the permeability tests on our own now. We ran a series of tests on a sandy soil.

I need to go to bed now, but next time I will focus on the mechatronics addition to the soil test. I am still taking guesses on our other mechatronic project. I am not going to tell you what it is, but I will share a photo of the latest version.

I took this picture when I gave up with doing fractions on the basic stamp. It was time to float on to Arduino. What does this thing do? I will snail mail a custom postcard to the person who guesses. Have a magnificent Monday good people!

This work is supported in part by the National Science Foundation under a Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Site grant EEC-0807286. We thank the Mechatronics Lab and the Soil Mechanics Lab for hosting us during our summer research program.

Moving from Planning to Production


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The design team agreed on a few changes early this week. I updated the pencil drawing to include those changes and to correct a mistake. I drew the tubes with a 4″ diameter by mistake. This is one of the many instances in which I remind myself of the wisdom of Bob Villa. He taught me to always “measure twice, cut once.” This is why we must always check and discuss our plans before building, especially when the acrylic tubing costs $30 per foot.

Russ and I had the pleasure of getting to help with the fabrication. We cut the tubing to the appropriate lengths. I am not sure about the name of this saw, but it made the task easy.

We cut the sheets of acrylic on a regular bandsaw. The adjustable fence on both saws allowed us to set a length and cut them all precisely.

Russ worked with the drill-press to put holes in the sheets of acrylic. We were able to do the basic tasks, but the more elaborate work needed a machinist. We were working in the shop of Alessandro Betti. He showed us how to use the saws and the drill press. He helped us tweak the design and machined the more tricky aspects of fabrication. This is an image of him cutting the groove for a gasket.

Here is our first prototype:

Do you notice the change we made after putting the parts together? Our next step was to see if the prototype leaked.

It was water tight. Our next test will be to verify the accuracy of the Ping ultrasonic sensor. The sensor will measure the distance to the water’s surface. The basic stamp will be able to calculate the time it takes for a predetermined volume change. This will give us our flow rate through the soil. The Ping sensor will sit at the top of the tube.

I must call it a night. Next week I will feature our soil research. We have been conducting soil permerabilty tests and sieve analysis on soil. The sieves are not able to separate clay and silt from each other. We are hoping to do a soil hydrometer test to quantify the silt and clay.  We are shaking the sieves to sort the soil by particle size.

We are also working on another mechatronic enhanced instrument. Can you guess what this will be used for?

I encourage people to answer my questions by commenting on this post. Y’all have a wonderful weekend!

This work is supported in part by the National Science Foundation under a Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Site grant EEC-0807286. We thank the Mechatronics Lab and the Soil Mechanics Lab for hosting us during our summer research program.

Intro to Transparent Soils


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The soil mechanics lab at NYUPoly specializes in transparent soil research. Last week I included a picture of a jar of Aquabeads. Aquabeads are a water absorbing polymeric gel. They can absorb water up to 200 times its own weight. The following image shows what they look like dry on the left and gorged with water on the right.

Here is a photo to give you a sense of scale for the swollen Aquabead.

For certain tests the Aquabeads can be used to model soil. The Aquabeads have the same refractive index as water. This means that a jar that contains swollen Aquabeads with water filling in the void spaces between the beads is transparent. We say that a sample is saturated when all the void spaces are filled with water. Here is the photo that I posted last week of an unsaturated beaker of Aquabeads:

We can make the sample transparent by adding water.

The bubbles of air are blocking transparency. We can tap the beaker to make them rise. Here are a few other examples with the Aquabeads:

So what makes a transparent soil useful? If we want to study something happening inside the soil, the transparent will allow us to see past the edges. This could be helpful to monitor what happens inside the soil when a force is applied or how a contaminant travels through soil. Russ and I will be carrying out research with transparent and nontransparent soils for the rest of our research experience. The fabrication of our soil permeability test is well on its way. I will feature that process in my next post.

Have a great day my good people!

This work is supported in part by the National Science Foundation under a Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Site grant EEC-0807286. We thank the Mechatronics Lab and the Soil Mechanics Lab for hosting us during our summer research program.

Design, Refine, Repeat


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This is the point where you get knee deep in engineering. Our idea to make a soil permeability test vessel in which water flow is measured by an ultrasonic sensor attached to the basic stamp. Early last week we decided on going with this idea, and felt we were well on our way to solution. I was ready to start building our first or second idea without even having a scale drawing. My reaction was to act as a tinkerer, but Dr. Iskander, Russ, Eduardo, and Andrew made sure we acted as engineers. An engineer must plan and discuss the function of every single part of the plan. This reminds me of my former career as a photographer. When you want to make an important image, you are responsible for every element in that frame. Our rough sketches gave us a focal point for our discussion.

We decided at that time to make the soil container out of acrylic plastic. We started to do the math to estimate the supply costs. We were going to have to spend $300 on plastic alone. This ate up all of our budget. We searched a few dusty corners in the basement, but did not find the right materials.

Dr. Iskander must approve our design before we build. He pushed us to really work the design harder. We came up with a less expensive option. Rather than use acrylic plastic, we would make the soil vessel out of flexible hose supported by plywood. We reduced the cost by 33%. We were confident that this design was it. We needed to make an accurate drawing, so it was time to learn SketchUp.

We spent most of the morning learning the ropes, but by lunch Russ and I were novice drafters. Our design team met to look at the above design. We knew the system would work, but there were some weaknesses. Our design was now two feet tall with a 1 litre bottle of water at the top. Would a this be a good fit for seven year olds? Did it look like a something a scientist would use? Time to break out the notebooks again. We started to flush out a design with our original, more expensive material.

Back to the acrylic plastic tubing.

I think Dr. Iskander drew the above design. Russ made this incredible drawing in SketchUp.

soil permeability test apparatus

I broke out the pencil.

Soil permeability test aparatus

Top view

I am having a blast designing our own piece of lab equipment. I forgot to mention the machinists that are helping us. Sebastian and Alex have been helping us understand what is best for machining. They will be fabricating our design.

This process is incredibly empowering. My students need this experience. That brings me to wonderful class I took last semester. Through a state grant I was able to take a free class called Elementary Science and Engineering I  — EDCE 7502N at CCNY. This class is taught by Dr. David Crismond. He is a pioneer of design in the classroom. You can learn more about his work at the DITC Site. One of the projects we did in his class was to build a model skyscraper. He modeled this activity for us to repeat it with our students. We followed an identical design process with the student activity and the real engineering research at NYU Poly. We had a limited budget to buy materials and land to build our skyscraper. We had to submit multiple detailed designs and budgets in order to receive a building permit from the building inspector, Dr. Crismond. The building had to be as tall as possible and capable of holding a 16oz bottle at the top while undergoing a tilt test. Here is our teams model:

Team Uno's Skyscraper

Our team crushed the competition. Doesn’t our building work well in the New York skyline?

We have a two small revisions to do on our soil apparatus, but Dr. Iskander granted the building permit on Thursday. Russ placed the acrylic order on Friday. We then began planning for our second project, which is also over budget.  The building inspector told us, “An engineer can do for a buck what any darn fool can do for two bucks”. We will be back to the drawing board tomorrow morning.

I will leave you with a sneak peak of two of the things we are working on this week.

What is hiding in the beaker? This soil will become transparent. Tune in Tuesday.

Our garden project needs more micro-controller horsepower than the BS2.

Have a magnificent Monday my good people!

This work is supported in part by the National Science Foundation under a Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Site grant EEC-0807286. We thank the Mechatronics Lab and the Soil Mechanics Lab for hosting us during our summer research program.

Diving Head First Into the Lab


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Last week we sat down with Dr. Iskander to discuss what kind of research project we could work upon.  Our team consists of two graduate students, Eduardo Suescún and Andrew Cave, and two teachers, Russ Holstein and me.  Dr. Iskander is a professor of civil engineering who specializes in transparent soils.  I suggested we try something with soil permeability since my second graders study soil’s capacity to retain water.  This connects well with a civil engineering lab activity so we decided to recreate this experiment for elementary and middle school students.  We also need to include a mechatronics component into the experiment and shall utilize the Parallax Basic Stamp 2 to measure water level in order to record flow rate for falling and/or constant head. The distance from the sensor(the two silver cylinders below) to the surface of water will increase as the water drops from a tank into our soil sample.

I teach my second grade students the basic ingredients of soil: rock, pebbles, sand, silt, clay, and organic material. Rocks, pebbles, sand, and silt are all made of rock, but they are listed in descending order of particle size. The larger the particles, the larger the voids will be between particles. The larger the voids, the faster water will be a able to travel around the particles. If we have a jar of marbles and a jar of sand, which do you think would pass water quicker?

I would like to pay close attention to the design process. Students need to learn this process in order to be able to apply it to real world challenges that they encounter. Our first brainstorming session sought to find a connection with soil engineering, elementary science, and mechatronics. We felt the soil flow test met all of these needs. The defining of our problem moved along pretty quickly. This week we have spent most of our time planning/designing and revising. I will share more detail in next post.

This work is supported in part by the National Science Foundation under a Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Site grant EEC-0807286. We thank the Mechatronics Lab and the Soil Mechanics Lab for hosting us during our summer research program.