Friday, December 23, 2011

Selling a STEM connection: My Wish List for January

My wish list is short. It's also simple. It has very little to do with ELA, but a lot to do with the intellectual basis of Literacy. 

I want to be able to design and print wonderful small things in 3D.  I got the idea from a friend of mine, Nick Stoneman, who as Head of Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Minnesota has created a creative STEM center which offers these tools. Way out of my league, I thought.  And then I read this article about a small school in San Antonia where it is also happening. 

Turns out that with a leg up from Santa, I could make it happen in my study, or I could gift it to one of my favorite schools.  This is what I would need:
  • SketchUp for the MacBook - got it!  Free of course, and also available for other platforms.  Design 3D models - simple to complex.
  • SketchUp practice and training - There is a great set of Google-made YouTube videos available, or a different (previous) set at Google.  I walked through the first three of each and think looking at several tutorials - several times - is going to be necessary for me.  I am a 2-dimensional visualizer (which is why I was finally stumped as a math major in the pre-computer age). 
  • ReplicatorG - also for Mac - this is an open source program that turns a SketchUp 3D creation into code that the 3D printer can read.  It sounded scary to me, but when I read through the basic how-to, I realized that it was  not a matter of coding, simply of purchasing a compatible 3D printer.  Read on.
  • Thing-O-Matic 3D Kit from MakerBot - You have to love the name!  But also the mission: To make cool thinking tools available cheaply (so young thinkers can access them) - which is the same mission as SketchUp and ReplicatorG.
Sounds easy!  I think it will be, once I am able to construct the Thing-O-Matic from what is reported to be 2000 pieces.  That is one Literacy connection.  ELA teachers serious about literacy need to harp on reading, following, and writing/communicating concise, precise directions.  This was true before the CCSS and is even more true now.  I personally like the low-tech "draw it - describe it" pair activity, but constructing a MakeBot 3D printer in your classroom would certainly be an eye-opener!

The second Literacy connection comes at either end of the project. I need an idea. I need to articulate that idea. I need to research that idea. I need to justify the expenditure of time and money on that idea.  And, when my renderings are done - I need to sell my product.  These are authentic Literacy tasks. Not necessarily ELA tasks, but certainly connected.  Consider the following:
  • Katniss needs to sell her ideas to her fellow Mockingjay rebel. Same is true of just about every literary hero, except for those like Shane, Beawolf, and Lisbeth Salander, who keep their ideas close to the chest.
  • A trial (legal or personal) in fiction is a sales job: Mockingbird, Inherit the Wind, Little Bee, The Crucible, Don Quixote, Lord of the Rings - not to mention great persuasive speeches
  • Directions are puzzles - they figure into great and very good literature too: I am the Messenger, Alice, Wizard of Oz, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, Whirligig, Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World, Journals of Lewis and Clark - and keep on going
Kids love these challenges.  Why make a board game when you can make a game piece?  

Classroom fantasy: 
  • chess set with characters in novels as pieces (sold to benefit school community)
  • board game with characters and objects in texts as pieces (sold to benefit school community)
  • 3D plot diagrams or timelines, showing interweaving narrations (student designs) - given to library
  • models for school sculptures - contest
  • 3D grammar - sentence patterns and construction
  • 3D Wordle-like sculptures of a text
It seems to me that every classroom should have a Thing-O-Matic 3D Printer.  Or at least the ability to imagine one.

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