Kickstarting a lab where maker-kids produce amazing peer-educational materials

Andy from Steamlabs writes, "We challenged a sixth grade class to make learning about the power grid engaging and they designed a high-tech, science centre style exhibit over a 3 week period."

At STEAMLabs we’re focused on interest driven, hands-on, project-based learning for kids and adults (aka the ‘maker’ approach). While we’re building our new makerspace, we’re developing in-class learning activities. Help us reach more kids by supporting our Kickstarter campaign!

This class worked in teams based on their interests. Some researched and built models of the 4 main power production methods in their region. Tech teams formed for building a web interface, Arduino programming, electronics and 3D design and printing.

The web group learned HTML and CSS to integrate the power system research from the power plant groups, and Javascript to activate motors on the model that the Arduino coding team had connected. The Arduino coding was done on a Spark Core Internet of Things (IoT) microcontroller. STEAMLabs developed an IoT teaching kit funded by the Canadian Internet Registry Authority that simplifies the Spark Jquery calls to a few lines of Javascript code to make this more accessible.

The electronics team wired up RGB LED strips to the model and attached translucent 3D printed models of all the power consumer categories in the correct proportions. The web team used API calls built in to our IoT teaching kit to grab online real-time power production data and use the RGB LED strips as a graph to show the current power production. They decided that it would be useful to add buttons to go backwards in time to see how the mix changes with the wind, frozen waterfalls and summer air conditioning loads.

This may sound like a private school experience with a tech-focus, but in fact, we ran this program in an inner-city, music-centric school. None of these kids or their teacher had been exposed to these technologies before, but by the end of the 3 week build, they were naturally using them to solve problems. For example, the Wind team had trouble securely connecting their propellor to a motor shaft, so the 3D Printing team designed and printed them a linkage to solve their problem.

Many educators have difficulty in measuring the success of using emerging technologies in the classroom. Seeing these kids’ apply their knowledge and problem solve is the best metric we can think of to highlight their value! Their teacher Abby Pierce loved this project because with us bringing the technology, she had a new super-engaging way to teach a whole bunch of curriculum topics in an integrated way.

The class was invited to present their finished model at the annual DigiPlaySpace exhibition at TIFF on Saturday! They were so proud and empowered by this experience. They ran the show and used the model to teach adults and kids alike about the power grid. You know that this kind of hands-on experiential learning works when you hear an 11 year old girl confidently answering an adult visitor's complex questions about nuclear power plants!

At STEAMLabs we hope to enable many more learning experiences using this style! Help us reach more kids by supporting our KICKSTARTER campaign to equip our makerspace in downtown Toronto!

STEAMLabs community makerspace: Everyone can be a maker [Kickstarter]

How do you visualize Ontario’s power generation in real time? Ask a grade 6 student! [Diana Gunn/Steamlabs]